Prognosis, Diagnosis and Therapy are the titles of the three sections into which Ernst Jünger divides up his Essay. How and as what does Jünger experience nihilism? What are the salient features of nihilism? With a view to answering these questions we will turn to the section entitled: ‘Diagnosis’.
Nihilism is a ‘mighty Destiny’, a ‘basic force whose impact can not be avoided’. What we are inclined to call nihilism, Jünger takes to be simply the ‘symptoms’ of nihilism, its most characteristic features. In this way he makes it clear that for him nihilism is not to be identified with its symptoms; rather, that the latter are implicated in an essence which can only be determined by a suspension of its symptoms — a task which falls to the thinker rather than the writer.
Even before Jünger talks about the symptoms he brings out their main features through a concept of the reduction . Insofar as the world is characterised by nihilism, it is, ‘in accordance with its essence, a reduced world and a world which can always be further reduced ‘, and which as such approximates to the null point. Reduction however implies contraction, and by the latter is meant a negating withdrawal.
All the symptoms of nihilism are experienced as phenomena of reduction and contraction. In the nihilistic world the ‘dominant sentiment’, that which is determinant for humanity in the nihilistic epoch, is this feeling ‘of the reduction and of being reduced . It is the growing experience that the former ‘abundance is being diminished’, so that, through this contraction, humanity, in all walks of life, experiences itself as ‘used up’.
In the life of humanity the nihilistic reduction bears, on the one hand, upon ‘the beautiful, the good and the true.’ On the other hand, the nihilistic contraction also shows itself in such walks of life as ‘economics’, ‘health’, ‘politics’. At the same time, reduction and contraction also ‘apply to other spheres with growing power and efficacy.’
Other notable features of nihilism Jünger finds in ‘the disappearance of the wonderful’, the decline in the ‘forms of respect’ and in ‘astonishment as a source of knowledge’. The basic attitude of astonishment, the kind of astonishment which inspired Goethe’s interest in natural phenomena, has given way to wondering about and bewitchment by ‘figures in the spatial and numerical realm ‘. Science, which originally grew out of wonder, has become ‘a science reduced to pure calculation .
The nihilistic reduction in science is also to be seen in this, that ‘rest is deconstructed and wholly given over to movement . Even the ‘growing tendency towards specialism’ in the sciences, the ‘splitting off of, and the concentration upon, the isolated item’ is seen by Jünger as a sign of nihilism.
Devaluation of the highest values ‘leads to new claims being advanced in the thereby evacuated regions’. ‘Innumerable substitute religions’ arise, to which ‘natural sciences’, ‘world views’ and ‘sects’belong. The historical time of nihilism is a ‘time of the Apostle without a mission.
Another field of nihilistic contraction is, for Jünger, that of ‘art’.
There is no longer any such thing as the perfected work of art’.
‘Nothingness feeds on the work of art with monstrous force’.
As a further area of nihilistic reduction Jünger mentions the ‘erotic’ whose sensual void is filled with a compulsive drive towards sex.
At the end of his review of the symptoms of reductionistic nihilism, Jünger notes that ‘the collapse of the eternal Hierarchies with all the accompanying consequences’ has already occurred quite frequently in human history but that hitherto ‘vast reserves still remained available’. This kind of collapse (in the history of culture) did not arise out of a historical nihilism. The nihilistic contraction on the other hand has taken hold of ‘the entire world’.
As the most revealing indication of the nihilistic reduction in all fields of human existence, Jünger cites ‘the reduction of number to a cipher or even of the symbol to simple systems of relations’. The most ‘far-reaching reduction’ is for Jünger ‘that to pure causality’.
First of all the already reduced world gets reduced still further in that it approximates to the null meridian. This movement is that of a developing, not that of an already fully developed nihilism. From this historical moment however, a moment in which the line can be crossed, Jünger tells us that ‘a new orientation of being’ comes about, one through which ‘we begin to glimpse what really is’.
THE DASEINS-ANALYTICAL, HISTORICALLY-APPROPRIATIVE MEANING OF THE NIHILISTIC REDUCTION
Heidegger responds to Jünger’s topographically described nihilistic reductionism by conducting a topological enquiry into the historical essence of nihilism. If we want to follow him in this new line of enquiry, we first need to come to terms with what might be meant by a Daseins-analytical, historically-appropriative characterisation of the nihilistic contraction to the reduced world.
The world that is addressed here is the world of day to day life, the life-world. Life is here however grasped not from the standpoint of consciousness but from that of Dasein. So that the world is conceived as a human world (Daseins-Welt), the world of a humanistic being-in-the-world of human being. By world itself is however meant a whole composed of significant relations, of things making sense by being encountered as meaningful in the context of a world.
They are encountered by Man in his life-world or his being-in-the-world, in his concernful dealings with in-human things and in his solicitous dealings with other human beings, those with whom he shares a common world. The inner worldly things with which he is confronted are discovered by him, brought to light, uncovered, in their worldly significance. He is however disclosed to himself, and in himself, through his concernful and solicitous dealings. In this very self-discovery the other is disclosed to him as another human being (Dasein).
The self-disclosure of his own being and the disclosure of the being of the other as well as the bringing to light of inner worldly beings are all essentially historically determined events. The disclosure of self and other and, correlatively, the discovery of entities, alter historically with each historical alteration in the discovery of the world and of being. Nihilism belongs along with this historical alteration.
The phenomena which Jünger describes topographically as the reduction of the world and its existential domains give expression to a nihilistic contraction in the way in which the self and the other are disclosed, as also in the correlative bringing to light or uncovering of entities and the whole realm of existing things. The nihilistically reduced world is altered as it is contracted within the worldly comprehension and comprehensive discovery of beings. Just as all forms of sensitivity are rooted in a mode of disclosure of human being so the nihilistic attunement of mankind corresponds to a particular way in which self and other are disclosed.
THE THOUGHTFUL CONSIDERATION OF THE ESSENCE AND OF THE ESSENTIAL ORIGIN OF NIHILISM
Turning to, and away from, Being
The thoughtful consideration of the essence of nihilism belongs ‘within an examination of the essence of being’. For nihilism is a historically determined way in which Nothingness prevails and the essence of the latter belongs to the essence of being. Examining the essence of being with a view to a disclosure of the essence of nihilism, Heidegger seizes upon Jünger’s expression: ‘ the turning toward of being’.
What is the relation between being and this ‘turning toward’? Being is nothing in itself which might ‘in addition and from time to time’be turned toward humans. Rather, the essence of being itself consists in this very turning towards. Already in this initial attempt at an examination of the essence of being it transpires that, from the first, the essence of being can only be exhibited out of this very relation, a relation which, as a turning toward in historically appropriative thinking, can be named en-owning or the en-owning project. In this way the examination of the essence of being is committed to the unfolding of the essence of being as en-own-ment.
So even here where only one feature of the historically appropriative essence of being is distinguished, the analysis already focuses upon the relevance of the nihilistic Nothingness for the essence of being. Being as a turning toward the essence of mankind not only happens alongside nihilism but as nihilism, namely, in so ‘peculiar a way’ that it ‘turns away’.
What is here called the ‘turning away’ of being is not the opposite of turning toward but rather a genuine way in which turning toward happens and prevails. So ‘turning toward’ has to be taken in a broad and a narrow sense. In the broad sense, the essence of being consists in the relatedness of the relation to the essence of mankind. Hence the talk about a turning away from being can not mean a breaking off of that relation but only an altered mode.
Turning toward in the narrow sense names what Jünger has in mind when he talks of the ‘new’ turning toward which takes place as an alteration of turning away. In the turning away, being withdraws ‘into an ab-sence’. But this turning away and this withdrawal are not nothing but take place as a change in the relational essence of being, whose most essential feature belongs to the essence of mankind. That the relational essence of being in the mode of turning away and withdrawal does not amount to a breaking off is to be seen in this, that we experience this nullifying withdrawal even more compellingly than the turning toward.
We experience the compulsiveness of the turning away as that eerie undertow which draws us forth and which sucks us in, or even sucks up, ‘our actions and aspirations’. This experience of being sucked in and sucked out is however that very nihilistic phenomenon which Jünger describes as the reduction.
If turning toward and turning away from being only happened ‘from time to time and under certain conditions’then not only would being itself but also human being be ‘something in itself’ that only from time to time and under certain circumstances succumbed to this turning toward and away of being. Contrary to such a conception, the being of human being is so constituted ‘that it constantly lives and lasts in this turning toward and away’.
The examination of the essence of being is now taken up in such a way as to bring out the second feature of en-own-ment, the relation of the essence of human being to the essence of being. The essence of human being consists in its existing. Existence lives and lasts in the turning toward and away of being. This lasting living finds expression in the appropriately human accomplishment of existence. The essence as a lasting living is not a perpetual but a specific mode of being, a historical happening. How does human being ex-sist, how does it live and last in its very being in the turning toward and away from being?
Ex-sisting displays a three in one structure. It takes place specifically, in such and such a way, out of the projective appropriative turning toward and away. In this sense, the lasting living has the character of thrownness. And because thrownness happens as appropriating, the lasting living takes place as appropriated.
Brought to light as thrown in and out of the turning toward and away, ex-sistence comes to pass as projective, that is, as the projective disclosure of a mode of appearing. The being of human being lives and lasts in this mode of thrown, appropriated projection. What is historically projected in an appropriating project and thereby appropriatively re-jected as an historically e-jected mode of appearing of being calls for re-covery in and as the un-covering of beings. Re-covery happens as covering, or as an existential letting oneself be covered, or an ex-sisting covering which is itself appropriated.
The ex-sisting covering of the pro-jected-re-jected mode of appearing takes place in and as a dis-covering approach to beings. Living lasting, as the being of human being, is carried through as a projective appropriated covering dis-covery.
Not only does the threefold existential essence of human being live and last out of this turning toward and away, or out of what is now better known as pre-sence and ab-sence, it is existing human being which ‘collaborates’ with being .
The projective appropriated covering itself belongs within the complete happening of being, in the complete essence of being which, on account of the way in which it takes place is also called essencing. The complete essencing of being displays a countervailing trait: the appropriating pro-ject in contrast to the appropriated, re-jecting covering. Whereas en-owning connotes the former and more primary feature of an appropriating pro-ject, en-own-ment signifies the correlation of approriating pro-ject and appropriated re-jected dis-covery.
Not only is the essence of being nothing in itself which can in addition take up a relation to human being, the essence of human being is also nothing in itself which can just take up a relation to being. Just as the essence of being resides in this turning toward and away from human being so the existential relation to being already pertains to the essence of human being. The relational turning toward and away of being with regard to existence is as such the relation in the sense of a relating and ‘needing'(39), which also needs the existential relation of human being to itself.
The counterposed directionality of the relation of turning toward and away from being to the essence of human being and the existential relation of human being to being can now also be characterised as the correlational structures of proposal (Geheib) and disposal (Gehür).
The turning toward of the appropriating project happens now and then, that is, historically, as pre-sence to human being and this pre-sence is pro-posal , is a call, which, from time to time, that is historically, calls the essence of human being, its existence, into the historically addressed mode of appearing of being. It is only out of the call of pre-sence that the essence of human being ‘belongs’ [gehört] in the sphere of pre-sence, that is, in that clarification of being to which it is called.
This belonging is a new word for the thrownness and approriated character of existence. Only out of this existing belonging (thrownness) can human being exist as attunement to the call. Attunement stands here for the project, the projective disclosure. Existence comes about as a belonging listening, as a thrown appropriated project. Heidegger envisages this belonging listening as ‘disposal’ [Gehör] . ‘Dis-posal’ is a word expressive of thrown, approriated pro-jection.
The complete essencing of being to which the essence of human being belongs, is the ‘belonging together of call and disposal, or again, of pro-posal and dis-posal.
If the complete essence of being shows itself in the belonging together of call and disposal, then being and the being of human being should no longer be understood as words which isolate and separate. We treat both words as isolating and separating when we look at the relation of being to human being and human being to being.
Even the talk of a belonging together of being and human being is only capable of setting the two in an incidental relation to each other. The talk of belonging together is only sufficient if the essence of being and the essence of human being are held in mind not as subsequent upon, but rather as original structures of, a counter-poised appropriating proposal and appropriated disposal. But the counter-poised structure of appropriating proposal and appropriated disposal is nothing other than en-own-ment.
If Nothingness as a turning away or, as ab-sence, is a mode of essencing of being such that the complete essence of being still happens as the event of en-own-ment, then even Nothingness belongs in the event of en-own-ment, and the nullifying turning away (in distinction from the turning toward) has to be characterised more specifically as a manifestation of the event of en-own-ment.