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Ontological Singlehood and the Illusion of a We



Not As We
Alanis Morisette


Reborn and shivering
Settled on new terrain
Unsure, unkind, insane
It's faint and shaken


Day one, day one
Start over again
Step one, step one
I'm barely making sense
For now I'm faking it
'Til I'm pseudo-making it
From scratch, begin again
But this time I as I
And not as we


Gun-shy and shivering
Tear it without a hand
Feign brave but still intent
Little and hardly here


Day one, day one
Start over again
Step one, step one
I'm barely making sense
For now I'm faking it
'Til I'm pseudo-making it
From scratch, begin again
But this time I as I
And not as we

Eyes wet toward wide open fright,
If God is taking bias, I pray he wants to lose,


Day one, day one
Start over again
Step one, step one
I'm barely making sense
For now I'm faking it
'Til I'm pseudo-making it
From scratch, begin again
But this time I as I
And not as we


***


When I woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, I found myself in bed alone. A moment later came the flood of responsibilities I was to play out again that day, as in the day before and the day after. There were "things that had to be attended to," things without which life would be both boring and at the same time happy because quiet. I looked at the small blue clock by the television which I was surprised to find was still open, and there a pseudo-astrologist was dispensing today's horoscope as one gives away fliers of cheap condominiums in malls (she said my star was in direct opposition to Mercury, the god of communication, and that I was headed for conflict that day). It was already getting late. One has to wake up early nowadays. I did not want to suffer the punishment reserved for those who dream in daylight. I got up from bed.


What interests me is that twilight moment between sleep and lucidity when one has not yet fully assumed one's persona or worn his mask. Assuming one's person is required by the world and the decision to comply with it orders the march of actions and responsibilities reserved for one's role. But that is easy because that is automatic. It is the delay which is more difficult and thus entertaining (the lonely clown, the angry priest, the wretched rich man). You cannot suspend and stave your self off for too long before it hounds you and inevitably possesses you. It will always be there--the self: "How does one hide from that which never sets?" (Heraclitus). Whence the intermittent joy and profound melancholy of always being alone.


In dreams, yes, perhaps one can say that one is not alone--at least some times. There are such dreams when one does not have a point of view, and this means not being a subject (like God?). But all too usually your waking life is also your sleeping life. There is no rest from your self: it will always assert itself, a will-to-self. How to get out of this solitary imprisonment and go beyond this sole horizon which is always before me because it comes from me--where I will always, and I cannot but, have to be an I?

***

It is said all too easily that the loneliness of the I can be overcome by the arrival of another I. Upon the coming of the Other the I or the Same becomes exposed to a dark sun which reverses its own white light, topples it though never extinguishing it, destroys it in making it surrender to it, receives it by also loving it. This is all good.


And we are reminded, of course, that the I does not surrender its subjectivity in order to turn into an object for the Other; it only relinquishes its rights over the Other in being responsible for him, in rejoining the first come and responding to the call from elsewhere. In loving the Other, the I is supposed to turn into a me where the point of reference of the subject is no longer its self as an I, but already in reference to him, thus making the I a me-here-for-the Other.


Now the philosophers of alterity will insist that the I, in turning into a me, does not diminish its self but only strengthens it in a re-covery because I am also an Other for the Other: the I, which found itself as a me, as a subject-for-another-subject, ultimately is established as a subject-with-another-subject--or the miracle of miracles, when the I becomes a we.


Now my question is this: Which is more originary?--the solitude of the ego (the Same) or its alterity (Difference) or its relationality (the We). This is not a question of priority but a question of what is primordial: not on which comes first, i.e., that I initially and for the most part wake up to find myself alone and then only discover "later" that I am in the end a being-for and a being-with; but more so whether I to begin with and up to the ultimate end am and will always be alone, which may or may not find itself with an Other (through its own volition and will, a will to be-for and be-with, or through mere circumstance and luck, through destiny or from the initiative of the other--whatever it may be), which means, intrinsically so, that I am fundamentally because ontologically alone.


In a word: Is Being singular and alone?


Let us see.

***


Answering an ontological question, that is, a question which asks about one's being, necessitates an ontic and existential entry point, that is, an experience common to us which may formally indicate and lead to an insight about our fundamental being or what we in each case are. Thus in order to find out something about our being we may have to pass through ordinary experiences or moods or "feelings" which say more than what they say and show more than what they show in and through themselves; and that "more" is what may deliver us into the province of our being.


We are then looking for an experience which makes us question whether or not we are really singular and alone, or always already with others (being-with) or ultimately ontologically for the other (being-for). Simplistically again: am I "fully" alone, or "partly" together with another, as if there's a space in me which the other fills and fulfills, or am I "wholly" "incomplete" without another, that I shall be deprived of completion without an other?


We may already have two experiences, for the most part in opposition with each other, that indicate whether or not we are "made" to be alone or with an other: there is the sadness which envelops a man when he is alone--(aptly called) loneliness--and there is the joy in the presence of an other which one loves--happiness. Now the question is if loneliness and happiness can say something about what we are fundamentally--if I am alone or not.


***

Let us take a look at the experience which is more accessible to us: loneliness.


Initially and for the most part we conceive loneliness as the sadness of being alone. A lonely man is thought to be a man without friends or company, going about his business and days all by himself, devoid of a partner, a katuwang, a kasama, an other. And we usually pity such cases ("kawawa naman mag-isa siya," "malungkot siguro siya"); and this entails that we see it as only "normal" and even necessary to be with someone (friends, marriage, family), something (service to country or God)--in order to lead a "happy" and "meaningful" life. That no man is an island means that no man can ever live by and for himself; and that without even knowing or wanting it, the lonely man is still part of something other and something greater than himself.


Being alone therefore is only possible as a negation of the reality that we are not alone, that is, we are always with and for others--but the lonely man just negates this or is deprived of it. Loneliness then, as sadness, as a longing for others, for love, for meaning--loneliness then only seems to indicate that human existence is from the first never alone: that sadness then is gone through in order for us to want to be with others again like sickness leads us to seek for health; and that sadness is something to be avoided because loneliness is a curse or punishment--like the fallen Satan who sits alone on his icy throne.


There is, however, another experience which retains the formal fact of being alone but is essentially nothing like loneliness and is in no way melancholy. This experience, which is always there as a possibility for human existence but is rarely embraced and oftentimes avoided, is what we call solitude.


To be sure, solitude retains loneliness's state of being-alone: they look the same, they do the same and they seem to be the same. But that is where their likeness ends. For very much so solitude is nothing heavy, brooding, miserable, or despairing--but to the contrary.


Solitude is light-footed and sure of step; it takes its time because it need not hurry for anyone else, so it enjoys its own company. Solitude enjoys itself. Here, one becomes a joyful experience to its self--a celebration which does not need others to take part in. The solitary, unlike the lonely man, celebrates himself--he is able to laugh, sing and dance alone. The theologian Paul Tillich summarizes the difference between the two as such: "Loneliness is the pain of being alone, solitude is the glory of being alone."


But seeing that both loneliness and solitude are factically or objectively the same yet totally different in mood--the one cannot stand its self while the other embraces its self--what has to be determined next is which of the two is primary and more fundamental--in order to know whether or not we are originarily alone. Am I primarily lonely, and that the solitude I sometimes enjoy is only a positive derivation of my loneliness, an escape from it, and an unusual occurrence, as it were? Or am I fundamentally at peace with myself in my solitude, that the loneliness I sometimes feel is only a disruption of that original peace? Which is a derivative or a negation of which? An experience which shall finally settle the matter should be here sought. And one such experience is the finality of death.


Death, as being always only mine, delivers each human existence before its self. Death, said to be absolute, is not only so because it cannot be avoided but because it cuts all my relations off in an absolute manner: there is nothing else, no one else, who can save me from it, who can stand in my place, who can love me so as to deliver me from death. All the pretty talk about love and the eternal and hope crumble before the shrine of death. My brother, my lover and my God cannot save me from death's fall: it is I and I alone who has to suffer it. Death only exposes what I had feared the most: that I was truly alone. And in death I march into that loneliness without end and without recourse to a hope or to an other.


Death is a privileged case which simplifies the duality between loneliness and solitude: it simplifies the two because it shows that the two are really one and the same. Loneliness, which comes now and then to a man, is the foretaste of death's bitterness; in solitude one tastes its sweetness. I see in my loneliest loneliness that beyond my willing it I am before a world which is not mine because it is not me. It is this opposition, for the most part covered over by familiarity and habit, by relations and illusions, which is slowly and quietly revealed to me in loneliness. When the world suddenly opposes me by withdrawing itself from me, when it silently "slips away" from me, I uncover the reality that I am a being in a world which I do not belong to because of the sheer fact that my being is not the being of the world.


Heidegger called this quiet shudder before the world Angst or anxiety. In anxiety I disclose myself as a lonely being before "the receding of beings as a whole." But such Angst, Heidegger clarified, is nothing like sadness, nervousness or fear: "Much to the contrary," Heidegger says, "a peculiar calm pervades it"--very much like the calm and peace that solitude brings.


And it is through such peaceful anxiety that I finally understand what death, and life, mean: that I have all along been marching towards both the pain and the glory of my own death, and that I have always been alone.




Comments

  1. Anonymous9/22/2009

    I think this is incredibly sad. I cannot deny that all my life, I am burdened with this undeniable, uncontrollable yearning for an other. And yet it is true-- I was born alone and am to die alone. Man never had a chance, I guess.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, this is the punishment for seeking lasting happiness in a world which easily changes its mind, in yearning for the eternal in a world marked by time, in thinking I can love someone forever--when I know that she, too--and not only I--shall die.


    But, of course, we can always forget. And in the presence of someone you love--when you are truly happy--you suddenly understand what eternity means and death is no more.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous9/24/2009

    Yes, yes, that is true. Thank you so much. I didn't see it that way. That is a glimmer of hope. Thank you. :)

    ReplyDelete

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