The Abyss of Freedom

“”This is the sadness which adheres to all finite life…From it comes the veil of sadness which is spread over the whole of nature, the deep indestructible melancholy of all life.”
F.W.J. Schelling

“Schelling is one of the first philosophers seriously to begin the destruction of the model of metaphysics based on the idea of true representation, a destruction which can be seen as one of the key aspects of modern philosophy from Heidegger to the later Wittgenstein and beyond. He is, at the same time, unlike some of his successors, committed to an account of human reason which does not assume that reason’s incapacity to ground itself should lead to an abandonment of rationality.”
– Andrew Bowie, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling

What is this sadness that adheres to all finite life, and what must this indestructible melancholy be to have forced Schelling into so dark a turn in his philosophical thinking?

Andrew Bowie, speaking of Schelling, tells us that “we cannot, he maintains, make sense of the manifest world by beginning with reason, but must instead begin with the contingency of being and try to make sense of it with the reason which is only one aspect of it and which cannot be explained in terms of its being a representation of the true nature of being.”[1] He goes on to say that Schelling contends that the identity of thought and being cannot be articulated within thought, because thought must presuppose that they are identical in a way which thought, as one side of a relation, cannot comprehend.(ibid.) Schelling tells us:

“Activated selfhood is necessary for life’s intensity; without there would be complete death, goodness slumbering; for where there is no battle there is no life. The will of the depths is therefore only the awakening of life, not evil immediately and for itself….Whoever has no material or force for evil in himself is also impotent for good…..The time of merely historical faith is past, as soon as the possibility of immediate knowledge is given.” [2]

David L. Clark – speaking of this sadness, this indestructible melancholy, tells us that “all life, as life, is originarily dispossessed insofar as it mourns a loss—this, even though Schelling has just claimed that it is human, not divine, existence that mostly feels the burden of indebtedness to the ground. There is a great loss, Schelling now concedes, one so great that even God feels it, sadly.”[3] Freud once told us that “… libido clings to its objects and will not renounce those that are lost.” Clark asks, “Is this melancholia then evidence of a failed or refused work of mourning?'(ibid. p. 113) He sees this indestructible melancholia as the name for an impossible mourning:

“Impossible, because in this instance the lost object (as the irreducibly dark ground against which the living stand out) is always already absent, and thus utterly unsalvageable. God himself cannot renounce this loss, ending his interminable “clinging” to his own ground so as to become all in all. In other words, this work of mourning is profoundly melancholic because life, as life, must negotiate interminably with a loss for which there can be no complete recompense, no eventual renunciation, not if the living are to remain alive.” (ibid. p. 113)

In a dark vitalist moment of insight he iterates Schelling’s ultimate sadness in the ungrounded ground of existence:

“…life in effect divides itself from itself; or, more accurately, it is divided from itself from the beginning: life is this division. Life is no more and no less than the originary incorporation of its ground, the binding of itself to the absent alterity that sets existent beings on their perilous, mortal way. Ineradicable melancholy names the absolute conditionality of life, the subjectless, structural “recognition” that life has from the start “lost control” over its condition.” (ibid. p. 113)

This loss of control over the ungrounded ground of existence is at the heart of Schelling’s dark materialism, one that even sees the Absolute (God) as being a part of this indestructible melancholy and interminable sadness. As Schelling tells us “the subject can never possess itself as what it is, for precisely as it addressees itself it becomes another; this is the basic contradiction, the misfortune in all being.”  Daniel Tutt in an interesting essay which brings a Lacanian reading to this Schellingian gesture has this to say,

“The subject’s atemporal founding gesture of its own consciousness remains forever out of grasp because the act remains behind the veil of repression that structures all reality after the moment of mergence into the socio-symbolic realm. This structural necessity that founds the unconscious is kept unconscious, according to Schelling because it produces a horror of freedom for the subject, or an “abyss of freedom” that can never be realized.”[4]

Is it not this “abyss of freedom,” this impossible possible that forces us to recognize our own unfounded being-in-the-world which is at the heart of Schelling’s dark insight? Tutt tells us that the “Schellingian-Lacanian-Zizekian tradition shows that there is no positive/realizable version of human freedom, and the ontological process is structurally embedded on a failure of access to one’s own freedom. The subject realizes itself in relation to an abyss of freedom it can never fully fathom.” (ibid.)

1. Andrew Bowie, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling
2. Philosophical Inquiries into the Nature of Human Freedom, F.T.W. Schelling
3. Intersections: Nineteenth-Century Philosophy and Contemporary Theory, (C) 1995 State University of New York, p. 111
4. The Subject Rendered Bare: Biogenetics and the Ontological Impact on Psychic Subjectivity

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s