Anxiety as Authenticity in the Face of Our Being-Towards-Death
…Anxiety in the face of death is anxiety ‘in the face of ’ that Potentiality-for-Being which is one’s ownmost, non-relational, and not to be outstripped. That in the face of which one has anxiety is Being-in-the-world itself…Anxiety in the face of death must not be confused with fear in the face of one’s demise. This anxiety is not an accidental or random mood of ‘weakness’ in some individual; but, as a basic state-of-mind of Dasein, it amounts to the disclosedness of the fact that Dasein exists as thrown Being towards its end (Heidegger, 1967: 295).
This paper offers to revisit Heidegger’s claim that anxiety is the only authentic way of being in the face of our ‘being-towards-death’ and ask what this means as regards the end of analysis and the possibility of an authentic psychoanalytic encounter.
I will start with a Hassidic story. Life for Hassidic Jews centres around one’s chosen Rabbi. The Rabbi teaches the scriptures and acts as the ultimate interpreter, not only of the holy books but also of the hundreds of religious man-made rules that govern every detail of everyday life. It is the style and the nature of the interpretation which give each Rabbi his fame and the power to be the ultimate arbiter in disputes between his followers. It is believed that the more enlightened the Rabbi, the more the spirit of God is likely to communicate directly with him about the meaning of life and the secrets of the universe. A handful of most esteemed Hassidic Rabbis have been granted the title of Genius, always in reference not to the man’s intellectual prowess but to the degree of intimacy he has allegedly achieved in his personal proximity to the Spirit of God.
And so as one of the many Hassidic stories goes, one cold winter’s day, whilst crossing the great Russian countryside on a train, a group of Hassidic Jews chaperoning their very own renowned Genius discover that, on the same train and at the same time, the inner circle of another outstanding Genius is making the same long trip. Both groups of followers have the idea that, if they can get the two great men to meet, they might witness a once in a lifetime encounter which would hopefully transform their lives. To their delight, both men agree to the meeting without reservation. The followers find an empty compartment which is exactly half way between the two Rabbis’ allocated seats and where they escort both Geniuses, leaving the crowd of followers in the corridor, ears eagerly pressed against the flimsy curtained doors in excited anticipation of the pearls of wisdom soon to come out of this fortuitous encounter of great minds. After twenty minutes of complete silence from the compartment, anxiety mounts amongst the followers who urge one of them to peer through the curtained door. To his great amazement, he sees the two frail old men standing in the middle of the compartment, completely naked. Slowly they start to put on their clothes, nod to each other, shake hands and go back to their respective seats.