“MARTIN HEIDEGGER – Dialogues with Philosophers In Coronavirus Times” by Saurabh Todaria
Care Consciously! # DEFEAT CORONA

The last night of rain has washed the green fields in the courtyard. The far-off Deodars and Alpine forests around the hills are also looking verdant after the last night’s rain. Morning breeze is full of the earth’s aroma.

Despite lockdown prevailed in this small, idyllic town located in Garhwal hills, one could still feel the life buzzing here. Lockdown situation is not  entirely new to hills as the recurrent natural disasters and heavy rain often forces the people to stay indoors. Just a few months back, heavy rains had completely disrupted the normal functioning of the town. At that time, people were afraid that if the highway road gets devastated due to downpour then this town would get completely isolated. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

But still this situation is different as one is inside the house all the time. You can’t go out even for chatting. Whenever you go out, you observe just a few people wearing  masks. No smile, no greetings exchanged, no chatting; people just are in hurry to go back. There is no one to talk except over phone.

So why this unhomeliness feeling inside the home? Why are we not feeling at home when we are inside the home? Does humans feel at home only when they left home? 

After brooding over these questions whole day, I turned my mind towards the philosopher who thought of essential homelessness in man, Martin Heidegger.

Me- Hello Martin

Heidegger(H)- Hello

Me- Why we are feeling lonely at home?

H- Hmm. You tell me first.

Me- I guess that man is a social animal, hence.

H- You mean to say that this loneliness is basically a psycho-social issue?

Me- Yes, what else it could be?

H- Then it means that there should not be any personal distress once you are with people.

Me- That is not the case. Even with others, we sometimes not feel at home.

H- This means you are not at home with anyone; either inside home or with others.

Me- Are you going to predict something pathological about human existence?

H – No, nothing pathological but yes, we are here discussing  human existence. Anyway, just tell me how would you explain your laptop?

Me- Well, laptop is the object which helps me in doing my work, official or personal.

H- This means that basically it is a tool.

Me- Yes, one can say so.

H- All right, then everything you call as an object is fundamentally an instrument ‘ in-order-to’ do something. I open the laptop in order to do my work; I work in order to accomplish my targets at work; I accomplish my target in order to ensure that I am fulfilling my life-goals.

Me-  Correct.

H – Doesn’t  it occur to you that ultimately we  do everything because it matters to us, to our existence!

Me- How?

H-Since existence is an issue for me; I am not satisfied with what I am; rather I want to be. Existence is an issue for us.

Me- Sounds confusing but interesting.

H – Well that is the general impression of my writings esp of Being and Time!

Me- Yes, I heard of it. Philosophers consider it as the most significant philosophic work of this century.

H – Anyways, my point is that all our worldly activities are significant for us because it makes our existence meaningful. So when we are suddenly exposed to the situation when we cannot work the way we ordinarily function then suddenly this question of existence starts to loom large on our mental horizon.

Me- Yes, esp. when someone all of a sudden gets ill or get out of the job with no fault of hers; at that time, he cannot function in the usual manner. And this experience triggers anxiety.

H – Yes and thus anxiety is the result of the suspension of the world.

Me- Suspension of the world? World can never be suspended!

H- I am not talking about the nature. The world of each person is different depending on his or her hopes, anticipations and projections. The world of artist is different from the world of business man.

Me- Yes. Buddhists calls it as Samsara.

H- Hmm.Suspension of world means when we are no longer be able to carry on with our activities as per our established pattern. For e.g, we are always at a loss when someone dear passes away. At that time, we actually don’t know how to respond in that situation.

Me-Hmm. I experienced it.

H- So when the loss of world happens because of some eventful situation then we are suddenly exposed to this abyss of existence.

Me- Abyss of existence?

H- Man does not have any essence! In these extreme moments, whatsoever we thought of as reliable seems to wither away. Just think of a situation. I love my father extremely and I started to work in another city so that I can make his life comfortable in the old age. But in lockdown, he suddenly passes away and I can’t even see him in his last time because of the lockdown. So there is no logic or reason in which I can ground my existence and that’s what gives me existential angst, the sense of extreme loneliness.

Me- So what people should do when people are exposed to this situation.

H- Normally people just try to conceal the anxiety by becoming even more active in the mundane things. As I said in Being and Time, ‘In fear people run from the things; in anxiety people run towards the things.’

Me- What does this statement means?

H- When people are afraid then they run away from the things. If you are afraid of some dreadful creature or situation, your first response is to escape. However, in the case of anxiety, you just try to ignore it by switching on the TV, chatting over phone, browsing meaninglessly, playing pubg!

Me- I see

H- The absence of any essence makes human essentially homeless.

Me- Wait! What do you mean by the essence? It keeps on recurring!

H- Essence means any telos, the destiny of humans; either rooted in theology or in the scientific or political discourse.

Me- All right

H-  As humans (whom I call as Da-sein) does not have any essence to fall back on therefore it fills them with the dread and angst regarding existence and we anxiously look for some essence either in theology, scientific worldview or political ideology. However, the fact is that this urge to be at home somewhere is because essentially we are not at home everywhere.

Me- You mean to say that we need to create an essence while remaining aware that it is not essential?

I was keen to listen his response but Heidegger remained silent  and slowly picked up his hat and started to walk back towards his hut.Perhaps it was the time for philosopher to walk in the woods where most of his ‘thoughts’ happened.

As I was walking down to the landour road, I saw the fumes coming out from the chimneys of the far-off homes in the valley. Darkness had started to envelope the valley and the yellow lights peeping out of the windows were looking mesmerizing. The homes in valley always look beautiful at night as if many stars are twinkling together! While walking towards my home, I  was reflecting on the essential homelessness of humans.

This pandemic has suddenly forced us to ponder on the finitude of existence. Isolated and exposed to the finitude of existence, perhaps we are in the Heideggerian world. Death is not some distant and future event but the pulsating possibility interwoven with life.

As if  we are the character of Ivan Illich in Tolstoy’s story where he was suddenly exposed to the reality of death. But like him we also need to discover the beauty in these moments.

Disclaimer: The opinions endorsed by the speaker is solely the author’s and not in any way endorsed by the Institute/Programme.