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The Topography of Joy and Anxiety

For my friends in UP CW342—with heartfelt gratitude

Joy must have sorrow, sorrow must be transfigured in joy.
—F. W. J. Schelling, Philosophical Inquiries

A wise man said that Venice is lovely not because Venice is lovely but because of the lovers who love there. There is meaning to this.
The world and its beautiful landscapes, its hidden spaces of inescapable grandeur, its quivering sunsets which retrospectively judge that each day be different from the rest, and its, in a word, meaning, are not holographically, as if vainly, projected by themselves, but can only come to mean something—anything—because of the love that they contained. Places, events, that is to say, this world of angry rocks and indifferent terrains, this world of passing seasons, life and death, merely frame the love that can only be born out of itself; they do not make love, but they sustain and bear—witness to?— love. The world first marks itself as the free horizon against which a possible love may be.
But the world, in its free giving of itself, also places its places in danger of not only being places of possible loves, but also places of possible suffering. It can be said that the world weeps when it is no longer a witness to love but is forced to be an accomplice of hate. This explains the boredom of mornings, the silence of evenings, and the vanity the world desperately hides.

Local Vanity
Initially and for the most part, the infinite universe may oppose me by overwhelming me or overturning me. I am no match for its vastness and its power, I am no match for its questions. The world puts me into question. Pascal had already asked: “What am I in the infinite?”—and he won’t stay for an answer.
It is no lack on the world’s part; the problem is with me, with my vision. I can only know and be answerable to what I see, and I know that I do not see everything, nor do I understand much. I have seen different places, perhaps, more than others, surely less than some. This does not assure me, however, that I know less or that I know more. De jure, I can see everything; de facto, I cannot. And even if I travel all the lands, conquer the airs and seek the abysses of the seas, I cannot and will not be able to gather them in one vision at one time and most of the time in one lifetime. Thus, it is not a question of quantity or of quality but already a question of lucidity.
Experiences, if they be lucid and thus meaningful, may unfold anywhere, even mostly in one place: in my home which has withstood the passing time, where I have seen myself grow, where I first saw my sister open her eyes and where I saw my grandmother close hers. Some claim that the whole world is their home and there can be a truth to this; we all want to see the world. But what marks a place, what sets upon it a limit, is the limit within which my vision is captured, contained and sustained. My vision itself frames the place by giving it boundaries, allowing it to have depth, giving it the texture that I feel within me, returning to it a meaning that I first received from it in my gathering it in the attempt to understand it. But, in my re-creative consciousness, I have to give the place back to itself, of course, already and forever changed. Such is how places are transformed: they do not mark me, I mark them—with my own sorrow or joy, with my deep awe and reverence for it or my startled dismay and reservedness before it. I give to places much more than it will ever be able to give to me. That we ridiculously “invest” in property still points to this primary experience of divesting our scattered selves into scattered places. I take this “lot”—this rough, grassy and ugly patch of land—and transform it into my dwelling beneath the skies and before the gods. This, I declare (with no amount of certainty because there is strictly nothing there), shall be home. And it will be home.
In other places I may feel that “I have been here before,” that I may have seen this in my dreams or envisioned it in my imagination. Again, this merely points to the fact that it is I alone who gives meaning to any place—even a new place and not the other way around. “New places” are new not because I have not been there before; they are new because they offer a different configuration and possibility of my self, investing upon it what had long been with me, because it is me, or what has been most familiar to me, what I know most—my placeless self. It no longer matters if I really did see this vista or that sunset before; what matters, what I recall, is a similar consciousness of a similar experience. What looks and feels new does so because I remember experiencing (seeing and feeling) something like this; or in an inverted manner, I remember feeling something unlike this, its total opposite.
I imagine that what I am feeling is peace in a mountain’s solitude because I have been accustomed to the cries of the city. I can understand what freezing temperatures are because of the stink of heat that is my homeland. Absences and presences both mark my experiences and memory of places in the same fashion: a new place is new because I remember what is old—but they are the same. Otherwise, I will not even be able to understand any new place if it is really “foreign” to me; the truth is I am always able to have a “handle” on these strange places, and I am able to orient myself quickly, able to “accustom” and “root” myself in no time because of the strict sense that there is nothing new in the world except for what I may newly offer to it.
All I need to do for a place to open itself to me in its authenticity is for me to open myself to it authentically. Should I give the world a chance, a chance to fill me, or, what comes to the same, a chance for me to flood it, then suddenly my wonder for it turns into familiarity, its novelty lost into sameness. But such loss is easy to sustain because I need such familiarity lest I let the world overwhelm me again—and this I cannot all the time suffer. Thaumazein or “wonder,” what for the Greeks made philosophy possible, lasts only as long as I suspend my self, that is, as long as I withhold judgment (my prejudices) and refrain my understanding (e.g., concepts, categories, structures, etc.) from comprehending the experience. That we nowadays seek the thrills of “new adventures,” incessantly in need for the “unusual,” for what may be “fashionable,” what tastes, feels, smells, sounds “different”—all these point to that wish for difference, the desire for the novel, which is only possible in once again gaining the first attunement of wonder, which, just the same, dies as quickly as one has “tried it out.”
At the moment of my experience—at the moment of understanding and appropriation—I turn what is wonderful into something banal, what is strange into something familiar, what is different into something identical—with me. Like Midas, I am doomed to transform every place into myself: I mark this corner of the world as my territory, I declare this mountaintop conquered and that desert my wasteland. I thus, in the act of protecting my own identity in order to capture what is at first captivating, impose my self unto the nameless world. This is what we call local vanity: because places no longer mean anything by themselves, they are asked to signify and stand for me and me alone who first gives it meaning—as my possession and ownership, territory, conquest, etc.

The world is made mine. Everywhere “expeditions” are made far and wide to make this earth human. Everywhere “discoveries” are sought with relentless fervor leaving no leaf unturned, no species unnamed, no star uncharted. Because otherwise, the uncanny world is my most dangerous enemy, an enemy that must be overcome at the first possible instance, that is, in the first confrontation. Why? Because I must never tire of guarding myself against its nothingness and indifference, I must never let its powerful strangeness overcome my weak intellect, I can never let its silence deafen me.
Finding myself in an uncanny world that I may not fully understand: what Heidegger called Angst or “anxiety.” Angst is the fundamental attunement (or “mood”) that can only be “felt” or more so experienced in its roots when I give up in trying to appropriate the world into my defenseless consciousness. It is not a fear of this or that (“phobias”) or a distinct nervousness (“worries”) but Angst is anxious about something it cannot pin down much more name. We see this when we are asked by a concerned friend “what’s wrong?” to which we give that pregnant reply: “Nothing.” And I experience that terrible anxiety when I, tired and weary, can no longer protect myself from the world and its blind assault, its sweeping tirade of questions, its putting me into question. In those twilight moments of lucidity and sleep, in those in-between spaces where I cannot put a handle on things or orient myself, I experience the nothingness within me that the emptiness of the world merely summons, merely reflects. This is Angst: finding myself in reference to the world which engulfs me because I can no longer make the world refer to me. True anxiety, according to Heidegger, is only made possible in those privileged moments when I experience myself as thrown (geworfen) into a world which I did not choose, a throwness (Gewoftenheit) of which I had no say to begin with and at its end. This anxiety comes into the fore when I feel my nakedness before the waking world: when I realize the absurdity of my own existence because I am but I need not be; and when I may finally begin to question my own existence in reference to a world that is indifferent as to whether I am or I am not.
The indifference of the world can only double my own anxiety: it suddenly acquires its own vanity, its own meaninglessness, which I though it only received from me. It chooses to remain silent and disregards the world within me, choosing in its indecision to punish me by moving without me. “Why does the sun keep on shining?”—this means that “the wheels of the bus” keep on turning, leaving behind my existence-there (Da-sein). I feel betrayed by the world I thought I owned or I thought owed me its meaning and even its existence. For I foolishly believe that when I no longer exist, the world also ceases to exist: esse est percipi or “to exist is to be perceived” (Berkeley). Infants know this: they believe that their surroundings cry when they cry, that the room is happy when they smile. It is the same case with the dying.
There is no point to exaggerate. There will be times when I can no longer find the happiness I once had in the old playground of my childhood. I may no longer feel the warmth of the fat sun when it begins to signify a new day like yesterday or tomorrow; nor could I feel the cool hand of dusk when it just murders another a day where “nothing really happened.” This indifferent world, in its indecision to not “give me a break” or to “lend me a hand,” becomes the last enemy that I can blame. When I have run out of people to blame (which means that I can really not blame anyone), the world and the circumstances it gives me are easy prey for me who merely wishes that this nameless anxiety end. But the world evades me in its silence, like the flight of the last gods.
In such privileged experiences of Angst, I no longer am able to see farther than the horizon that (suddenly) closes in on me. This enclosure so limits my field of vision that, in inevitably closing in on my understanding itself, it may finally make me retreat to and hide in my self—that last available place. This means that I no longer find anything there outside of myself. If it is true, and if I still believe, that it is me who gives meaning and existence to the world, then anxiety is the profound weakness on my part to give anything (back) to it. And how could I still give to the world anything of myself when it already steals away from me, evades me by not noticing me? The retreat to my self (at times pleasurable, at other times difficult), is the inevitable return that I make because of my weakness and powerlessness before all-existence. Angst exposes the Nothing—and all I can do before what does not exist is to “hold on” to myself that, at least, I am certain exists. Lest I let the Nothing envelope me, intrude my existence and put into question all that I understand, I make the retreat, much like a surrender, into my self, to “regroup” myself, “gather my bearings” and brace for another “go at it.” And to be sure, there is much hope that when I retreat into myself and shelter myself from the assault of the indifferent world, that I there find something, anything.
But there may be nothing there as well. In the highest hour I may discover that in my retreat, I really have no place to go. In that moment of great need and danger I may see that the Nothing has already invaded my existence, that it was waiting there all along. The few and the rare discover that what they thought all along was to be that great solace within—the “self”—was merely a u-topia or “no place.” There was no one there to meet me. Now I understand that the world was only able to betray me because I first betrayed myself. It gives to me what I give it—even nothing. There is no place to hide: “How can one hide from that which never sets?” (Heraclitus fr. 16). Now everything is turned upside down. The world rejects me with its indifference; and the “self” has left me in the wake of a vanishing world.
This is despair. Despair is not a lack of hope. I do seek hope when I seek rescue. I am only talking about my survival here. But with the self and the world’s flight and betrayal, I am left with no other choice but to flee both. I despair—hate, pity, mock—the inner and outer world. Where do I go? I begin to hate my “self,” this alien of a person who pretends to be me, this fraud, this criminal, this coward before the world. Vengeance, the easiest of remedies for hate, and revenge begin to cloud my mind. I have to get even. How? Where do I meet them? I eventually can decide, with no else place to go and unable to find the traitor, to take vengeance into my own hands. I still have something left in me, my will. And that is enough; all I need is the “last straw,” and then my sheer will to avenge myself shall take over. But, again, where do I go?
I may thus finally resolve to thwart my despair by reorienting and relocating the hate back to this body which is supposed to hide the “self.” I seek revenge against my body for this is all I have now, this is my final target. In my despair, I may want to do violence against myself, to rid me even of the hate which I feel against my “self.” And when this happens, I then understand what despair means. Kierkegaard said that the formula of all despair is “the despair to be rid of oneself” (The Sickness Unto Death, 50). In doing violence against myself, that is, in ultimately killing myself, I am able to escape and go to a place other than my self and the world. That is to say, I can go Nowhere—somewhere between tomorrow and goodbye.

Suicide is only possible because the suicide can no longer kill anything outside of itself—how could it when it is powerless before it and has already surrendered to it? Upon retreating to what should protect him, it there finds an empty throne and an absent kingdom, until finally it finds no other possible space which may receive it expect for the last place that awaits for it—the nowhere. It was said above that the world is my enemy. Alone, I can only hide from seeing “the veil of sadness which is spread over all nature, the deep, unappeasable melancholy of all life” (Heidegger, Schelling’s Treatise, 79). Or again: I may finally gain insight into what I am only when my anxiety leads me to the question of my own existence that begins to acquire its most proper weight when I directly receive it from the world, experience the question against it, and find myself in terrible need of an answer that can no longer be found in it. Thus, Heidegger says that
man is not an object of observation placed before us which we drape with little everyday feeling. Rather, man is experienced in the insight into the abysses and heights of Being, in regard to the terrible element of the godhead, the lifedread of creatures, the sadness of all created creators, the malice of evil and the will of love (ibid.).

I thus receive the question of my existence only from the world. But initially and for the most part, the question of my existence never comes to the fore, never becomes questionable. It is easy to evade the world, easier to cover it up with “daily life” and transform it into a “workaday” world. This is the case for most: “Rising, streetcar, four hours in the office or the factory, meal, streetcar, four hours of work, meal, sleep, and Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday according to the same rhythm—this path is easily followed most of the time” (Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, 12). This results in the “modern” sickness known to all, that worm which eats at men’s hearts: boredom. But sometimes “It happens that the stage sets collapse” (Ibid.). And when the scaffolding upon which my frail life hangs, or when the steady ground below my feet shifts, all of a sudden, the dreadful world reveals its terrible face and begins to challenge me: to hold on or to give up?—to be or not to be?
Examples of these experiences abound in existentialist literature: dread, anguish, despair; guilt, sin, death; malice, revenge and hate, etc. Karl Jaspers calls these “limit” or “boundary” situations. And the word describes it well: man may experience himself being stretched to the limits of his understanding and strength of will. If, as it happens, that understanding and will “give way” or “beak off,” then, as Jaspers correctly says, you find that there is nothing else to be done but to decide. Such decision, however, is no longer informed by reason—like absurd Mersault killing the Arab in the sun-drenched Algerian beach for no reason.
However, it must be asked, whether these “limit situations” need only be limited to the vocabulary of Angst? Or must anxiety be the sole mood which enables me to open up my existence against the world?—must anxiety be the sole looking glass through which the world and its nakedness can be seen without guise? If, according to Heidegger, our moods give us access to Being itself, that our moods, as it were, color the world, then are there other possible moods which also allow me to see the world in perhaps a different manner?—a manner unlike what I see through the darkened lenses of despair? In a word, need I be in despair to reveal the world and my self as they are?
Heidegger already gives a clue in “What is Metaphysics?” He mentions it but would never develop it. He says there:
There is another possibility of such revelation, and this is in the joy we feel in the presence of the being—not merely the person—of someone we love (Pathmarks, 87).
Heidegger’s passing remark raises a new question: How does joy, too, reveal the lived inner and outer world? Or better, how does love shed led light upon Being itself? And since Heidegger never pursues this thought—he merely opens the window and quickly closes it—love’s joy and how it opens up the world must be determined for the rest of the essay.

Anxious Joy
Joy can only reveal the world in a new manner if it is a joy that is not grounded on itself. Joy enjoys something—it cannot enjoy itself. Joy does not have the reflexivity of anxiety which may be anxious of its self (being anxious), already doubling its abyss. Once joy disappears (that is, once what joy enjoys has fled) joy cannot fool itself by pretending to still enjoy. On the contrary, a profound sadness just as quickly pervades me at joy’s flight—not that I have anything to be “sad” about, but, I precisely feel melancholic because I am no longer “happy,” though not necessarily already “sad.” It then follows that there is joy while what I enjoy is still “present” for my enjoyment.
Heidegger’s clue discloses that what joy enjoys is the presence of the being—not merely the person—of someone we love.
To enjoy, what I enjoy must be present, that is, it must be in the “now.” But more important than temporal permanence, what I enjoy must be present to me, either before me or with me. The inextricable relation between “the present” (time) and presence (space) is not to be relegated to wordplay. These words reveal the truth that what I enjoy must not only sustain time but also remain in its place. In a word, for joy to be, what I enjoy—the other than myself—must be with me, here and now. We already know this: I best “feel” that profound joy upon seeing her arrive and advance to me; I feel the glory of her presence when she stays with me and beside me; a gentle peace overcomes me when I know that she will remain and will not leave me. Initially and for the most part, I require that what gives me joy stay near me so I can take delight in seeing her, in feeling her presence, and knowing with certainty that such seeing and feeling shall not pass like the rest of passing things that surround me.
Evidently, the contrary disrupts the peace that I experience in joy. When I do not see her, when my eyes “miss” her within the field of my vision, I may begin to suffer the curse that are my eyes ,of seeing yet not being able see the only thing I want to see. If I no longer feel her presence, when she is not with me here and now, or even if she is indeed here but is “elsewhere” or “lost in space” or “not really there,” her absence of presence may overcome her presently being here with me and finally disqualify her as the present object of my joy. And finally, a pain with no name envelopes me when she departs, either temporarily or even permanently. Temporary absence: when she leaves for a while, that “while” when the time of her presence is suspended momentarily until she comes back. Permanently: when her presence turns into irrevocable absence. This happens when she dies.
But this is still anxiety. That I trust in the presence of the other, in her who gives me joy, can only make me think that what I trust and what I enjoy will last, stay and remain—unto forever. We all know that this can never be the case. This is no fault on my part or on the object of my joy: I long for an eternity she can never give. They all pass and pass away, and I should have known that already when I saw that all things grow old, and when I learned that what becomes old necessarily fades and fades away—unto their withdrawal and retreat, unto their disappearance and final absence. Yet: how can I still long and insist and require that what gives me joy should remain with me forever to give me infinite joy? How can I both long for joy without warding off the certainty that it shall pass and fade away? How can I enjoy when I am certain from the first that what gives me cause for joy inevitably gives me cause for anxiety? In a word, how is it possible for joy to be in the face of nugatory anxiety?
On such matters it is better to be silent. Or, what comes to the same, we may speak brazenly at the expense of neither being able to explain nor answer or decide on anything. Nevertheless, we read these lines from Nietzsche’s Zarathustra: “For joy, though woe be deep: Joy is deeper than heart’s agony” (IV The Drunken Song 8 331). Or: “Did you ever say Yes to one joy? O my friends, then you said Yes to all woe as well” (10 331-332). Or better:
For all joy wants itself, therefore it also wants heart’s agony! O happiness! O pain! O break, heart! You higher men, learn this, learn that joy wants eternity of all things, wants deep, deep, deep, eternity! (11 332).

If, for instance, we give Zarathustra’s song a chance to speak to us, then, while it claims that joy is deep woe, its inverse then can—must—also be imagined. That is to say, it must be thought how anxiety itself can be transfigured in joy. It must be asked if and how joy—ultimately finite joy—can nevertheless last and stand the assault of anxiety in order to save it from local vanity. Or in other words, I ask if can I invert her absence into presence?—the sorrow of her disappearance into the joy of her fullness?

Recapitulation of the World by the Other
If the world is my enemy, it is so because I am alone in standing against it. But with the arrival of the Other, I no longer have to ward off anxiety alone nor do I merely experience the world as my own—my own making, my territory, etc. (local vanity). Because upon the arrival of the other, she not only gives me my first possible real experience of joy but also grants me my first possible experience of joy in the world. But how so?
That I must and can only meet her within the horizon of time and space; that she, finite as I am, can only appear to me as a body likewise ruled upon by the world itself; that she, too is but could not have been—all these make me see that she does not only share with me the sufferings of mortality, but she may also, as the gift of joy that comes the world itself, be the Other who no longer makes the world vain but be the very other who makes the world once again—beautiful. Alone, all is vanity. But upon her arrival, the hitherto vain and anxious world suddenly becomes transfigured into a world which makes joy possible.
The indifferent world all of a sudden becomes party to the possible love that she brings: the world’s places then become possible spaces where we can love. My horizon is opened up, enabling me to see that the vastness of space need not be terrifying, but it is that very infinity which could possibly contain my infinite joy. And because joy exudes joy, my joy then marks itself, “leaves a mark,” in every place where I love, in every place love was made. Every place is a place where love can be placed: and I no longer mark places but they mark me, they mark me as places where love was and can be. No place is saved from any possible love: and the infinite space can now only mirror my infinite love.
Days, too, are painted anew upon her arrival. Their neutrality now offers a blank canvas where love can be imagined and created. Days contain within them possible times to love and be loved. Today, we love, tomorrow, we can love again. Though time itself is finite, this may not keep me from imagining what I do not experience: eternity, forever, etc. Consequently, this makes it possible for me to give what I cannot really give—love’s promise. No matter, because the moment (Augenblick) of joy already contains within it all eternity; each moment of love is a moment of all possible loves in all future times and in all future places. This is why joy is ecstatic (ek-stasis): this means that joy leaps out of its stance and goes forwards future days and backwards past days as well.
This, finally, is why I am able to really remember. I remember (Andenken) because I am thankful (Danken) that different places and different times accommodated our joy and love. And whenever I see that familiar bench in the park or pass by that silent street we once walked side by side, I do not merely remember her as past or as a love that has passed, but I think (Denken) of her as truly present, as joyously present—she who comes to mind. My remembering never comes to thoughts of her, it is she who comes to meet me everywhere at all times.
And though she be gone, the love shall remain. Though it is true that the love stays with me and may continue to give me a joy that survives her, the love also remains in the world’s places. When she first arrived, she transfigured the world. And though she may never return, the world can still speak for her absent talking, it can nevertheless point to her or stand for her, signify her by retaining her trace. She may be gone, but the world remains and reminds me to think of her. She is gone. But I still have the world, I still have her in the world—and, perhaps, that is already more than what a lucid mind can ever bear.

March 6, 2008

John Atkinson Grimshaw, Lovers in a Wood,  1873


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