Abstract: The mainstream naturalistic approach to the human body and mind understands wellness and illness as complete and mutually exclusive states. The existential ontology of Martin Heidegger, on the other hand, is helpful in understanding being well and ill as incomplete and interpenetrating ways of being towards self in terms of the anticipation of possibilities. The movement of human existence is a continuous negotiation of the finite and fragile possibilities of being in anxiety even when wellbeing is experienced. Being well involves arduous negotiation of the fragility, anxiety and pain inherent to existence. When illness severely obstructs anticipatory projections of the fragile possibilities of being, the possibility of wellness is never absent if the finite and fragile structure of existence and the shocks and surprises it continuously throws up are never lost sight of.
Keywords: wellness, illness, finite; anxious, possibility, being, existence
Modern medical science profiles the well and ill conditions of embodied existence rather disconnectedly from the lived experience of wellness and illness. The mapping of health and disease is increasingly seen as a function of technology. While the achievements of the techno- medical approach towards reducing human suffering and towards the prolongation of human life are undeniable, it is difficult to see how this approach alone or even primarily can help understand human experience of wellness and illness. The experience of wellness cannot be reduced completely to the techno-medical and clinical profiling of the healthy body. Even a clinically healthy person need not experience wellness, and reversely a sick person can at the same time experience wellness.
In this paper, I first look at the falling, restive, anxiety-ridden structure of existential projection of possibilities of being according to Heidegger’s existential ontology. I then argue that wellness and illness cannot be unambiguously demarcated from the perspective of the existential experience of wellness and illness. The existential interpenetration of wellness with illness, pleasure with pain, engaged and homely existence with anxious anticipations, I argue, gives the leeway for our existential projections of possibilities in illness to be themselves anticipations of wellness, and not merely the production of happiness. For this, it is argued, the authentic understanding and acceptation of the finite, fragile, temporal and constantly waning texture of our existence, and the surprising, shocking and poignant possibilities this texture of existence constantly throws up are essential. Being well while ill is a way of being towards the self in illness.
Existential Restiveness and Being Well or Ill
Can we describe average human existence as placid everydayness or the ordinary feeling of unspecific wellness or at-homeness with itself? The German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), whose existential-phenomenological ontology of human existence inaugurated an anti-Cartesian ontological turn in European philosophy, describes existence as turbulently plunging or falling away from ‘own’ self in Being and Time (1927).1 If Descartes characterised human being as the rational subject of knowledge, the thing that thinks, certain of itself as the ground of all that is known, Heidegger takes the opposite stance. The self is not a subject-thing or thinking substance that represents the world to itself but a ‘way of being’. Its way of being is existence or standing-out-into the socially leveled space of meaning determined by the public interpretations of phenomena as a whole. Since this way of being in its everydayness is not owned up in terms of ‘my’ authentically meaningful existential possibilities, my everyday self is not ‘I myself’ but ‘the They’. Existence in its appropriation of publicness also, at the same time, notes Heidegger, “drifts along towards an ever-increasing groundlessness as it floats” and “the uncanniness of this floating remains hidden” (Being and Time 214). That is to say, existence in its everydayness is a thoroughgoing concealment of its own uncanniness.
Everyday existence is attuned to the angst and the uncanniness or not-at-homeness of everyday (inauthentic) existence. The turbulence of existence means the following: on the one hand there is the tendency to be lost in the familiarity of the social world and thus to flee from one’s ownmost possibilities, and, on the other, there is the uncanniness of angst that seeks to bring existence face to face with its own authentic possibilities of being. On the one hand, we want to conform to the already determined social world we inhabit; on the other, we want to be “individualised as Being-in-the-world” (Being and Time 233) – that is, individuated in terms of the possibilities available within the social space of meaning into which we enter at birth. Heidegger expresses this existential tension in temporal terms as ‘ahead-of-itself’ (our drive towards possibilities other than the current ones) and ‘already-being- in-a-world’ (our situatedness within the world or horizon of familiarity in terms of which our projection of possibilities takes meaning). Since human existence always has the structure of the ‘not-yet’ as long as it is, there is no complete and perfect settlement to existential turbulence. Existence is always already plunging turbulently into the world of familiarity and conformism, and this plunging, at the same time, makes existence itself as a whole restive and uncanny.
Modern life, according to Heidegger, has escalated the restiveness or homelessness of existence, for modernity means the self-assertion of human will through which humanity “wills homelessness [Heimatlosigkeit] as such” (“On the Question of Being” 292). Production of realities at will disconnects human existence from its engaging space of meaning in the familiarity of which it wants to rest free. Modern life, by its very attempt to tide over the restiveness of existence through the willful production of realities with the aid of technological/instrumental rationality, plunges further deep into it. The instrumental/ technological understanding of all beings, writes Heidegger, is grounded on the willful belief that “through the peaceful release, transformation, stockpiling, and delivery of natural energies, man could make man’s being bearable for all and happy in general” (“Why Poets?” 221). He warns that willful production in the hope of easing up human existence plunges it further deep into meaninglessness/ homelessness: “the peace of this peacefulness is merely the undisturbed, lasting frenzied restlessness of self-assertion deliberately thrown back on itself”(Ibid.). The modern techno-medical profiling of wellness and illness is one of the most significant ways by way of which the self-assertive human being makes her/his being ‘bearable for all and happy in general’.
Any attempt to understand the experience of illness (as well as wellness) needs to look into the fallen and engrossed and yet uncanny structure of everyday existence.2 A perfectly and fully happy and healthy condition is not quite there for human existence. Even when it is claimed, the claim stands for a possibility, a potentiality for being, rather than for a fact achieved. Even when existence appears placid and peaceful, a moment’s stocktaking reveals how it is entangled in several layers of anxious anticipations and discontents. Wellness, therefore, has to be a condition despite existential anxiety, not one without it. To that extent, wellness is a way of our negotiating existential anxiety, though not that alone.
Other than the negotiation of existential anxiety, what more is wellness? Illness is a human condition wherein even our negotiation of existential anxiety, which lets us experience wellness, is made difficult, critically troubled and sometimes even fatally distressed. From this perspective, the techno-medical distinction between physical and mental illness cannot adequately capture the phenomenology of different ill conditions. Wellness, on the other hand, is that condition, which lets us negotiate existential anxiety without grave impediments and violations, so that we can open ourselves meaningfully, even if not without existential restiveness and anxiety, towards possibilities that matter to us.
We say we are ill rather than well when our fragile and finite existence is impeded in various degrees in its temporal projection of meaningful possibilities. Even when a clinically harmless migraine strikes us, our existential projections are violently obstructed. When we do not experience an illness in any tangible manner but still are clinically profiled ill, our openness to meaningful possibilities is thereby still impeded. As it is very often said in phenomenological literature, illness thus becomes disease (see Svenaeus, “Alienation, Illness” 206-8).
Illness is existential impairment in relation to the meaningful temporal projections of our embodied self.3 In my personal struggle with painless but clinically diagnosed condition of multiple myeloma, nothing seemed to impede my temporal projections of meaningful possibilities, not even chemotherapy, but the anticipation of the terminal nature of the disease, its medically profiled incurability, its prognosis of impending organic collapse. A painless, undiagnosed medical condition, which becomes a disease when diagnosed, does not become an illness until it violates our temporal projections of meaningful possibilities. In contrast, a painful condition per se, even if it is not a troubling disease, is an illness from the outset and interrupts our wellness because it disrupts our embodied projections or, as Heidegger says, our ‘bodying forth’ (Zollikon Seminars 86-87).4
The Constitutive Incompleteness of Being Well and Ill
If wellness means the experience of the open leeway for negotiating existential restiveness and anxiety without grave obstructions, we need to understand illness as constitutive of existence just as restiveness and anxiety are. The restiveness of falling away from authentic selfhood into the familiarity of the world and the anxiety that the turbulence of existential fall gives rise to are constitutive of existence. Similarly, since wellness and illness are dynamic conditions of being human, it is rather difficult to say when either of them is absolutely absent from the ambit of the open leeway we stand out into in order to exist meaningfully. This existential structure of wellness and illness would become clear if we consider how elemental pain and pleasure are to the constitution of existence. Heidegger’s observations on pain lead to the claim that it would be impossible to imagine existing well as first and foremost pain-free. Paradoxically, if we go by the techno- medical approach, illness need not always be associated with pain. Painless disease can be as existentially unsettling as painful disease is when the former is techno-medically profiled.
Even if we do not go by the techno-medical profiling of disease but look at it rather as some form of restraint or even an indefinable incapacity associated with our negotiation of existential anxiety, which does not let us experience being well, wellness as such need not be considered pain-free at all. Existence constitutively is a mongrel of pain and pleasure, a pain-pleasure mélange. Wellness becomes wellness with the finest mixture of pain and pleasure; indeed, when they are finely mixed, pain and pleasure shape into wellness. Work (all existential exertions) and pain, Heidegger notes, are intrinsically related. In linking up the Greek words logos and algos (agony), Heidegger says that existence or standing out into the social space of meaning already implies pain because pain involves the most intimate gathering of meaning (“On the Question of Being” 305-6), which is what is meant by logos. This is what the best tragedies of literature remind us. That which is meaningful affects us most powerfully as the tragic in a good tragedy does. The entanglement of pain with pleasure is clear from the way what is sought for pleasure can sometimes turn painful or from the way what is sought for intense pleasure sometimes is never achievable without pain. Pain- pleasure mélange is integral to existence as affected openness to meaning. Heidegger adds that to create and have the world of meaning implies pain as well because:
everything that is alive. . . is imbued with pain. . . Everything that is alive, is painful. . . By virtue of this power it is fit to join in that harmony of mutual bearing by which all living things belong together. In keeping with this relation of fitness, everything that lives is fit, that is to say, good. But the good is good painfully (“On the Way to Language” 181).
Pain interrupts the predilection of human selfhood and its possible isolation, and unites it with life and nature as such. Embodied existence becomes itself when affected by pain. Since being human also means being open to the inclemencies of the weather, the hardness of the earth and the eventuality of being jabbed as well as caressed on the skin, without pain the texture of our selfhood is incomplete. That which divides a caress on the skin from turning a pleasurable sign of affection or eros to a painful pinch is a thin line indeed, on which is tenuously ground the structure of erotic being.
Similarly, the wellness-illness distinction is not as well- demarcated as we clinically take it to be. The ambiguity of the wellness- illness distinction can be explored in a number of ways. One who is clinically well need not experience wellness as in the case of a phantom pain. Painfully unwell conditions sometimes occur without any clinically traceable structure as in the case of an inexplicable migraine. Painful illnesses and medical conditions are sometimes responsive to placebos which do not have any clinically traceable therapeutic effect. All clinically traceable conditions of illness need not figure within the structures of the experience of illness.
Experience of wellness and illness, like pain and pleasure, cannot be a well-rounded, complete and absolute category. Being open to existential possibilities and being impeded and violated in our standing out towards possibilities cannot be two strictly separated ways of being. Even when we are clinically well and apparently there is no reason to be unwell, our negotiation of existential possibilities can be inexplicably hindered. The condition of wellness or health is never completely achievable as long as existence is the turbulent negotiation of possibilities that are not yet in terms of the already given space of meaning. There is always an element of illness, the impeding difficulties of negotiating our possibilities, even when we are apparently well. At the same time, it is not when all these negotiations cease at death that we are either well or ill; it is precisely when we grapple with them that we can meaningfully speak of being well, able or unwell and unable to negotiate them.
When we speak about the enigma of health, first of all we recognise the turbulently burdensome character of existence and the possibility of wellness within deeply anxiety-ridden existence. The literature of popular psychology on positive thinking and the numerous techniques offered on healthy living in the modern times like the yoga exercises are primarily technologies of managing the burden of existence. Secondly, health is an enigma also because it is difficult to know what makes us healthy and well despite the burden of existence. It is difficult to know what brings bodily health and existential wellness despite the many reasons to fall sick and become unwell. Health is an enigma because it means experiencing the condition of wellness despite the burden of existence and the burden of the unhealthiness, corrosion and deterioration that is inextricable to existence. With deeply entrenched environmental pollution and ecological imbalance, it is no exaggeration to say that the conditions for biological and human health are increasingly waning, and the supplementations and techno-medical interventions themselves are appendages upon deteriorating conditions of biological life. Illness is more easily explicable than wellness. To this extent being healthy and well is never full and complete.
The definition of health of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in its Constitution is wider than the usual medical definition of health as absence of disease but it still does not consider the incompleteness of the condition of health and wellbeing. The WHO’s 1948 definition of health that it is ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well- being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’ assumes that health is more than physical and mental wellbeing (wideness) but also assumes that health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing (completeness). Note that this definition does not consider the incompleteness of the wellness-illness condition of human existence. The WHO’s definition of health is typical of the modern age, which seeks a well-rounded and complete picture of the universe, things and of human existence as such.
This approach looks unremittingly for complete wellness and plunges into despair when complete wellness is not attainable. Furthermore, from this point of view, in illness and disability, especially when it is chronic and sometimes terminal, wellness becomes permanently impossible and unattainable. That is why even when technological control can ease human suffering and can contribute to attain a considerable degree of wellness, existing well with illness and disability is increasingly becoming a fainter possibility. With greater possibilities of existing well in conditions of illness through techno- medically achievable relief, existing with illness is paradoxically turning more burdensome, depressive and distressing.
We must here reassert the unavoidable ambiguity hidden in the pleasure-pain constitution of our corporeal way of being, which is correlated with the wellness-illness structure of our embodied existence. Bodily pain, and existential anxieties and agonies affect our being well to the extent that they violate our temporal projections of meaningful possibilities. This ambiguity and the existential structure of the interpenetration and entanglement of pain and pleasure as well as wellness and illness have crucial significance when we think about the existential-ontological possibility of wellness in illness. Our everyday condition of wellness is experienced in and through painful and even ill conditions, not without them. What we price and cherish in our temporal projections is primarily this negotiation of painful and ill conditions in order to move towards being well (or wellbeing). However, wellbeing never fully is; it is always not yet in its temporally projective character. Its incompleteness is constitutive of our temporal-existential anticipations, and the carrying forward of existence as such. It is not only that wellbeing never fully is. It is constantly violated and challenged by existential angst, illnesses, pains and agonies of various types arising out of our fragile, finite, ecstatically temporal, embodied existence; and, hence, wellness should mean the temporal projection of meaningful existential possibilities in spite of the angst, pain, agonies and the ill conditions of existence. Hence, by the fragility and finiteness of existence, I mean the fact of human existence —that it is inextricably intertwined with angst, pain, agonies and ill conditions.
Being Ill and Happy, or Being Ill and Well?
If we, on the other hand, temper the naturalistic imagination of wellness and illness, of health and disease, and understand both these human conditions from the point of view of our ability or the lack of it in opening ourselves to meaningful possibilities, I shall now argue, it is possible to experience wellness even while being chronically or even terminally ill and disabled.
In “Can I be Ill and Happy?” (2007), Havi Carel argues for being happy while ill by referring to several phenomenological and empirical studies that give accounts of differing experiences of illness with substantially varying encounters with wellness. A transformed understanding of the sick body and the creative and adaptive ways of experiencing happiness while existing with disease, she argues, are important to supplement the naturalistic profiling of the sick body. The phenomenological approach, according to Carel, opens up “the plurality of responses and attitudes between individual cases and also within each case” (104). This leads her to conclude that perhaps ‘a genuine ambiguity attaches to the meaning of chronic illness.’ I have argued that there is a genuine ambiguity not only about the meaning of chronic and terminal illness or disability but about the very wellness-illness distinction. I have connected this ambiguity to the pleasure-pain distinction and to the distinction of inauthentic and authentic existence. “When studies ask about illness,” writes Carel, “the interviewees’ responses focus on illness. But if they ask about health within illness, new and more positive dimensions of chronic illness emerge” (104). In saying this, Carel is in fact speaking about opening ourselves to various possible ways of existing in illness, and of course in wellness, and some of these ways can in fact be ways of experiencing wellness even with distressing illness and disability, just as there are ways of being ill even when one is apparently – that is, naturalistically speaking – well.
However, Carel’s approach enters into the question of being happy while ill in the belief that we can produce happy existence out of creative and adaptive approaches towards ill existence. For her, we can be happy while ill because ‘illness induces adaptability’ and ‘adversity is the source of creative response to it’. I am not convinced why such an approach should not fall into the productionistic-humanistic metaphysics of existence, which is culturally privileged in modern times, leading to the naturalistic, techno-medical approach to profiling human illness, or, put in another way, why such an approach should not lead to, say, ‘buying time with medicine’ as at least one of its major possibilities.5 This is why I have carefully avoided the term ‘happiness’ and have stuck to explicating existential wellness itself as an attunement and understanding mixed with fragility, pain and limitations, which nevertheless makes our meaningful negotiation of existential anxiety possible. Being well is not simply being happy, often by way of experiencing the pleasant evasion of one’s ill condition; existential wellness entails owning up one’s existential possibilities authentically. The question now is: when our meaningful negotiation of existential anxiety and fragility are severely obstructed by illness, could we still hope to attain some type of handle over the obstructions placed upon our existence by the condition of illness? My answer to this question is already clear in its simplest form: since we are not new to fragility, anxiety and agony as existents even when we experience wellness, the severe forms of these existential obstructions can also be meaningfully negotiated through astute existential alertness. I shall now proceed to argue this case through the use of Heidegger’s existential-ontology, which I have already been using above to arrive at an existential understanding of wellness and illness in terms of our ability in wellness to open ourselves towards meaningful possibilities and the various degrees of occlusion of this ability for openness towards possibilities in illness.
Encountering Illness Authentically
Authentic encounter with illness means being attuned to the fragile, angst-ridden, pain-filled temporal closure that existence as such is. Heidegger’s insistence that existence is predominantly the finite stretching between the two temporal points of birth and death in terms of the background horizon or space of meaning, the general cultural interpretation of intelligibility or Being as such, which we inhabit at birth,6 and his consideration in the Zollikon Seminars that “bodying forth is co-determined by my being human in the sense of the ecstatic sojourn amidst the beings in the clearing. . .” and that “[t]he limit of bodying forth. . . is the horizon of being within which I sojourn. . .” (87) underlines the finite, fragile, temporal, embodied structure of existence. Accordingly, Heidegger says that existence or the temporal projection of possibilities means a way of being towards our finite closure at death. For Heidegger, human beings alone are ‘mortal’ beings because they can authentically live or be towards their end in death. The other animals cannot live towards or anticipate death. “Only man dies,” says Heidegger, “and indeed continually, as long as he stays on this earth, so long as he dwells” (“. . .Poetically Man Dwells. . .” 219). As long as we exist we also wane, wither, decline and die. Facing up to the impending closure of our finite horizon of meaning at death is the primary meaning of being awake to existential fragility, anxiety and closure. All the fragility and turbulence of existence, illness and pain, anxiety and agony, first of all, is to be placed within the structure of existence as the violently projective succumbing towards the end. This is why we are mortals who are capable of death. This is why pain is so central to existence; this is why the deepest sadness and the deepest joy are both painful in their own way according to Heidegger. Nothing takes us beyond mortal humanity. Hence, “pain so touches the spirit of mortals that the spirit receives its gravity from pain. That gravity keeps mortals with all their wavering at rest in their being” (“On the Way to Language” 153). The pain and the agony of illness cannot be encountered authentically without placing them within the corporeal-painful or finite-temporal structure of existence. Understanding pain existentially in terms of the gravity of our mortality is already the first step towards encountering illness authentically. The more modern technological society establishes painless wellness, the more is the existential angst and trauma arising out of the inauthentic encountering with illness and death. Buying time with medicine can often mean, though not necessarily, the inauthentic evasion of death. The insinuation is not to abandon the techno-medical approach to illness; rather, it is to find ways to keep alive the authentic way of encountering illness, pain, decay and death, even as we can remain open to the techno-medical profiling of disease.
Health is an enigma because how an individual, embodied, mortal human existence stays healthy despite the numerous vulnerabilities for illness and disease, and how a healthy existent contracts disease or is taken ill is never fully and reductively cognizable. This element of ambiguity and surprise/shock in terms of the specificities of the living organism that the human being is, and in terms of the ecstatically temporal openness towards the space of meaning that human existence is and the anxious projections this involves, are never fully and reductively known. This element of existential surprise is clearly evident when we think about death. Christian literature relates this surprise in saying that the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night (1 Th 5:2; Rev 3:3). Heidegger notes that we face death most authentically when we face it as “a possibility which is constantly certain but which at any moment remains indefinite as to when that possibility will become an impossibility” (Being and Time 356). There is never the possibility of imperishability and complete health about life, and there is never the possibility of total anxiety-freeness and fully being well about existence. Thus, the authentic encountering of illness also means being awake to the surprises and shocks of existence inherent to our mortal being, resisting the modern temptation of complete wellbeing and indefinite prolongation of existence promised by the naturalistic, techno-medical profiling of the human condition.
In being ecstatically open to the painful, finite, fragile and anguished possibilities of existence as such alone can we encounter authentically possibilities of meaning out of the situation of illness. The limits and possibilities of the techno-medical approach to disease can be encountered freely from such a plane. The most painful and terminal possibilities of illness can also be encountered meaningfully from such a plane. When we, for example, approach a terminal condition religiously, the question of God’s justice can haunt and despair us. If we approach the same situation first of all existentially and authentically, and then either theistically or atheistically, we can, thus, open ourselves to the possibility that the question of justice as such does not apply to our finite and fragile existence, but is a question that has significance only in connection with interpersonal relations. Opening ourselves to the meaningful unfolding of our own existence before our very eyes releases us to the acceptation of its terminal and painful condition, which itself has to be lived meaningfully/ authentically or meaninglessly/ inauthentically. The modernist temptation to understand wellness as perfect happiness and pain-freeness through techno-medical support, without authentic encounter with the finiteness and fragility of existence, plunges ill existence ever more deeply into distress, agony and despair. Indeed, techno-medical relief itself can become meaningful for truly what it is only when it is placed within the context of finite and fragile existence, not outside it.
The possibility of being well while ill appears when we release ourselves courageously to the acceptation of the fragility, materiality and temporality of existence, and open ourselves, thus, authentically to the existential possibility of being ill. Painful illnesses and traumatic events can thoroughly obstruct our existential projections of meaningful possibilities and can impede our self-understanding to destructive degrees. In such cases of illness, techno-medical assistance, empathic care and openness to the finiteness and fragility of existence can lead to meaningful self-recovery. Illness can lead to self-discoveries, which have long-term existential consequences, when illness brings us face to face with the authentic possibilities of existence. If illness leads to self- discovery at all, we become open to this possibility through releasing and freeing ourselves towards our own authentic self in its finiteness and fragility.
Heidegger’s discussion of resoluteness in Being and Time and releasement (Gelassenheit) in the later writings should mean such courageous openness or releasement towards our existential possibilities, whatever they are. Heidegger writes in Being and Time that with such anxious openness towards an authentic possibility “there goes an unshakable joy. . .” (358). The ‘joy’ of facing up to our ill condition should mean the possibility of wellness in illness. Without this ‘facing up to being ill’, we can either plunge into depressing distress and sorrow or give ourselves over to false hopes, both of which are inauthentic ways of being towards illness. As Heidegger repeatedly claims, when we are open to the truth of the meaning of the phenomena we experience and be towards it in terms of its essential meaning, we are already freed from being overwhelmed and devastated by it7. Evading it and projecting possibilities upon it without facing its truth are both inauthentic ways of being towards a phenomenon.
With the acceptation of the ‘truth’ of illness within the horizon of the truth of existence as such, being well while ill becomes a real possibility. Wellness is neither serene contentment nor the poised flow of pleasantness. It is, rather, making peace with the turbulence and burden of existence. Wellness in illness is making peace with the violent obstruction of our negotiation of meaningful possibilities. The violence of this peace, when faced authentically, opens up numerous possibilities of being towards ill existence, even if it is painful, chronic or terminal. Indeed, terminal illness is a moment of existential authenticity, for it brings us face to face with the possibility of death, a possibility which we cannot surpass and which no one can take away from us. Existence at every moment is not outside this possibility of impossibility. With grave illness, we come face to face with the truth of the possibility of our own impossibility. To this extent, authentic encounter with illness is also authentic self-discovery.
1 For Heidegger, only human beings ‘exist’. “The human being alone exists,” he writes. “Rocks are, but they do not exist… God is, but he does not exist” (Introduction to “What is Metaphysics?” 284). Latin ‘existere’ has the meaning ‘to step out’, and hence ‘to appear or be in existence’. Heidegger’s contention is that meaningful appearance of any entity is always mediated through human existence, which means standing out towards possibilities of one sort or another. In the western tradition, existence of a thing is differentiated from its essence. According to Heidegger, “[t]he ‘essence’ of Dasein lies in its existence” (Being and Time 42), meaning to say that the human being has no fixed ‘essence’; she/he always exists in terms of her/ his possibilities of Being.
2 For a discussion of illness as unhomely Being-in-the-world, see Svenaeus, The Hermeneutics of Medicine; for a dialogue with Svenaeus’s conception of illness as unhomely Being-in-the-world, see Ahlzén; and, for a discussion of illness as uncanniness of the body, see Svenaeus, “The Body Uncanny,” and “Alienation, Illness.”
3 Charmaz argues that illness can be an avenue for self-discovery or self- transformation. This possibility is not denied when we say that illness is existential impediment of meaningful temporal projections. However, an authentic self-understanding of the ill person precedes such self-discovery.
4 For the bodily roots of ecstatic temporality, see Morris.
5 See Vuckovic’s discussion of modern medical approach to health as the attainment of quick relief and the prolongation of the sick person’s time. Carel rightly points out that phenomenological and naturalistic approaches are complementary and adherence to one need not entail the rejection of the other. But this benign coupling of the naturalistic as well as existential approaches to illness does not help us look at the cultural privileging of the naturalistic approach and the paradoxical despair it can give rise to even when the ill condition is actually improved. Only when we consider wellness and illness in their existential breadth can we begin to think of being well in illness. Otherwise, wellness and illness remain two sharply distinct naturalistically profiled aspects of the body and mind, and illness can be experientially made barely bearable often evasively through the clever productions of happiness and pleasure. Carel is preoccupied by the question of the medical professional’s approach to the ill person, so that she suggests that since what they encounter is the sick person and not the biological body, ‘the naturalistic view should be augmented by a phenomenological perspective’. I rather think that the phenomenological approach should take precedence especially in dealing with the chronically and terminally ill or disabled persons and their wellbeing and quality of life. My focus in this paper is on one’s personal negotiation of the condition of being ill; not the care-giver’s approach towards the sick person.
6 We read in What is Called Thinking?: “Man only inhabits the keeping of what gives him food for thought— he does not create the keeping” (151). That is to say, we interpret everything meaningfully in terms of the space of meaning or the general interpretation of all-that-is (Being) we inhabit at birth. Hence, we do not create this space; we rather participate in it through speaking the language of our community.
7 For instance, he says thus regarding our approach towards the cultural nihilism of technological modernity. Encountering nihilism in its essence is a freeing experience. See “The Question Concerning Technology” 26, and “Memorial Address” 55.
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SIBY K. GEORGE. He is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai, India. His area of interest is twentieth century European philosophy, especially phenomenology, in non-western contexts. His recent publications include a chapter, “The Cosmopolitan Self and the Fetishism of Identity”, in Questioning Cosmopolitanism and a paper titled “Imagining Postscience: Heidegger and Development Communication,” in Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture.