Becoming Our Openness

To be thrown is to be a priori thrust into ex-sisting, into having to be as possibility without any reason why. It is to be “brought into one’s openness but not of one’s own accord.”14 It means being “delivered over” to one’s ex-sistence as a “burden.”15 “The human being exists as an entity that has to be how it is and how it can be.”16 Ex-sistence is what Heidegger calls Seinkönnen, the necessity of our ability to know and do things in the free space of meaningfulness. Human being can and must live out of its concrete possibilities, all of this against the ever-impending possibility of death. Heidegger calls this state of affairs “facticity,” the condition of being condemned to the original and ultimate factum: the radically finite meaning-giving clearing, which is “at once the earliest and the oldest of all,” from which there is no escape.17 And the basis of this necessary possibility is necessity itself in the form of our thrownness into possibility, back behind which we cannot go. We are the thrown basis of our own thrownness, der nichtige Grund einer Nichtigkeit, which is a way of saying that we are compelled to be an open hermeneutical space, but without a reason why.18 Although we can experience this condition of thrownness, we can never know it in the sense of understanding its cause or origin.

Such groundlessness is what Augustine long ago described as homo abyssus, human ex-sistence as a bottom-less ocean (ἀ + βυσσός: ἡ ἄβυσσος).

An abyss is an incomprehensible, unfathomable depth. We usually apply the word to a great mass of water. . . . If by “abyss” we understand a great depth, is not the human heart an abyss? For what is more profound than that abyss? . . . Don’t you believe that there is in each of us a depth so profound that it is hidden even to ourselves in whom it is found?19

Augustine, of course, thought that God alone could fathom that human abyss.

14. SZ 284.12 = 329.36: “nicht von ihm selbst in seinem Da gebracht.”
15. SZ 42.1 = 67.7–8: “seinem eigenen Sein überantwortet”; 135.34 = 174.34: “Lastcharakter des Daseins,” and 284.23 = 330.12. Also Augustine, Confessiones IV, 7, 12, Patrologia Latina 32, 698.23–25: “portabam . . . animam meam . . . et ubi eam ponerem non inveniebam.” “I carried my soul [as a burden] and knew not where I might lay it down.”
16. SZ 276.17–18 = 321.11–12: “Es existiert als Seiendes, das, wie es ist und sein kann, zu sein hat.” At GA 2: 56, note “d,” Heidegger glosses the phrase Zu-sein with “daß es zu seyn hat” (“that it has to be”).
17. GA 12: 246.28 = 127.8–9: “Das Früheste und Uralte zugleich.”
18. The German phrase in the sentence above is usually translated as “the null basis of its own nullity”: SZ 306.20 = 354.13. However, the word “null” means “thrown.” See “das geworfene (d.h. nichtige)”: ibid., 306.24–25 = 354.17; and “geworfener Grund der Nichtigkeit”: ibid., 325.36 = 373.14.
19. Enarratio in Psalmum XLI, 13 [re verse 8], Patrologia Latina 36: 473.13–16, .21–23, and 45–47. See GA 29/30: 411.4 = 283.30: Dread reveals “der ganze Abgrund des Daseins.”

Thomas Sheehan - Making Sense of Heidegger