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Number 12: Summer 2016

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

Haya Oakley

For Heidegger an authentic being-towards-death primarily involves revealing to ourselves that we got lost in the inauthentic ‘they–self ’. ‘This will bring us face to face with the possibility of being itself, primarily unsupported by concernful solicitude, but of being itself, rather, in an impassioned freedom towards death—a freedom which has been released from the illusion of the “they”, and which is factical, certain of itself, and anxious’ (311). In this sense, anxiety is perceived as the only authentic way to be in the face of our being-towards-death. This takes us back to the question of the possibility and meaning of the analyst’s authenticity in the consulting room, a question linked to why the analyst is there and to what he/she thinks they are meant to be doing.

The end of analysis is associated with the dissolution of the transference. From the patient’s side of the bargain, there is what Winnicott imagined would be the ‘uncovering [of ] the patient’s true self ’ and, in return, the patient would be able to see us as we ‘really are’. But what is it that we really are that is relevant to the being of the analyst and the doing of the analysis? What of our authentic being is revealed in a possible authentic psychoanalytic encounter? Are we the sum total of our personal qualities as individual characters? Is it our ability or otherwise to make up for the failure in maternal provision in real infancy in the here-and-now of the transference ? Are we the representatives of the internalised object of desire of our patient’s infantile fantasies? Are they ready to leave us when we have given them sufficient good feeds to dispel the derivatives of the death drive? And if we believe that we are truly such wonderful creatures, why would they ever want to leave us, which also raises the ethical issue of why we would ever want to let them go.

Can they ever see us as the real people we take ourselves to be once we have brought about the dissolution of the transference or are we stepping into the fantasy image projected upon us and join forces to dance together around the secret in the middle of the room? Is it our job to reassure our patients that, although we live towards our death, life is worth living and we are all in it together buttressed by the certainty that love can conquer all?

The question of the analyst’s being and her active participation in the analytic process is as old as analysis itself. Ferenczi advocated this kind of feeling sharing and active analysis as early as 1909. It was only his lamentable failure at controlling his sexual appetite towards his patients (in his case, a mother and her daughter) that made the further exploration of his ideas rather delicate.

For Heidegger the only authentic state is anxiety, not the pathological anxiety of the hysteric who does not want to know, of the obsessional who plays an interminable game of chess with the angel of death or of the psychotic who defies death and will shock us with the most dramatic actualisations of it. Like the Rabbi, we have the power to interpret but can never mediate between a man and his personal, non relational living-towards-death here, now and until the end and we know that one would be mad not to be anxious in the face of it. Perhaps all we are called upon to do is to refuse to join the dance of the defences and have the courage of our own authenticity, giving up our omnipotence so that we may truly meet our patients in the nakedness of our healthy anxiety; not in the sentimental need to confide in them or to tell them how we too are only human but by side-stepping our own narcissism and accepting that, at the end of the day, we only allowed our Being to be used in order to represent something which is nothing. Like the Rabbis in the Hassidic story, the only truth which counts is that we came from nowhere and will return to nowhere, without ever knowing why. It is this nothing, if we can allow it to be, which might enable our patients to discover their own anxiety, the one which will get them out of bed in the morning and make them put one foot in front of the other, not because they are afraid of standing still but because it is against the background of our living towards death that life reverberates in a million colours.