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Number 12: Summer 2016

Anxiety as Authenticity in the Face of Our Being-Towards-Death

Haya Oakley

Klein attributed the presence of the image of the threatening parents to a projection of a derivative of the death drive. If not balanced by sufficient ‘good experiences’, such experiences would lead to a failure to progress from the paranoid-schizoid position to the depressive position, resulting in neurosis or even psychosis, depending on the innate strength of the original life/death conflict, according to Klein.

In his paper ‘A Personal View of the Kleinian Contribution’ (1962: 171-178), Winnicott lists thirteen of what he considers to be Klein’s most valuables contributions to psychoanalysis and recommends that all Freudians should adopt them on top of what they learned from Freud, including the concept of the depressive position, manic defences, Talion fears and the splitting of the object. He objects to some of the terminology used by Klein, preferring, for example, his formulation of ‘the development of the capacity for concern’ to the term ‘depressive position’ but he took no real issue with the concept itself. However, as far as concepts go, he did not accept Klein’s use of the theory of the life and death drives as clinical phenomena and did not believe that, ultimately, the child’s destructiveness could be explained by heredity and envy. Winnicott is also of particular interest in this context because of what he called the analyst’s professional attitude in light of his attempts to introduce the highly problematic concept of the ‘real mother’ in the transference, an attempt that ultimately alienated him from the psychoanalytic community.

For Lacan, it is the fear of the subject’s annihilation that faces us at one end whilst, at the other, we are threatened by language which, by setting limits, forces us to face death but, at the same time, gives us the means to think about it. How does authenticity come into it? Is it ever possible or are we all destined for alienation once we have clapped our eyes on our image in the mirror? How can one be authentic in the consulting room and what exactly does it mean? Authenticity is not something you teach or do; it is a question of being.

For the opening sentence of Being and Time, Martin Heidegger chose a quote from Plato: ‘For manifestly you have long been aware of what you mean when you use the expression ‘being’. We, however, who used to think we understood it, have now become perplexed’ (1967: 1). Heidegger sets out to study the meaning of our being-in-the-world which he believes is disclosed to us in our human experience of time, space, mood and body. It is a being concerned with itself and its mortality, with our being-towards-death. It is this latter component and its relation to authenticity which I would like to limit myself to within the confines of this paper.

Heidegger starts with the assertion that one’s being can never be whole:

It is essential to the basic constitution of Dasein that there is constantly something still to be settled. Such a lack of totality signifies that there is something still outstanding in one’s Potentiality-for- Being…When Dasein reaches its wholeness in death, it simultaneously loses the Being of its ‘There’. By its transition to no- longer-Dasein, it gets lifted out of the possibility of experiencing this transition and of understanding it as something experienced (279 & 281).

It is only when we die that it can be said about us he/she was… We reach wholeness then but, until this point, we are constantly in the process of becoming. Once we die, we are at once no longer ‘there’ and unable to experience this wholeness nor are we there to experience our death. As humans, we have access to the death of others, but even this access, Heidegger claims, does not give us access to the experience of death. We can spend time with the dying and dead person, have memories of them, experience the loss but have no way to access their experience of loss of being or their suffering.