Richard J. Severson

For almost a century, phenomenologists have been trying to describe the peculiar experience of being in the world.  You would think that they should be done with this seemingly straightforward task by now.  But they are not.  That is because being in the world is akin to poetry and other unique experiences that transcend our abilities to capture, describe, explain, or domesticate.    

In our everyday existence, we devote ourselves to work projects that make us forget the uncanniness of our mortal predicament in life.  Being in the world is meant to expose that forgetfulness for what it is, and, thereby, to enliven the aboriginal sense of fear and trembling that is part and parcel of what it means to be human.

Being in the world is a revelation, a shell-shock that casts away the ordinariness of existence.  To partake in such an experience—for instance, to live as if you are about to die at any moment—is only possible in very small doses.  Otherwise, it would be as overwhelming as a panic attack, which is a closely related phenomenon.

Authenticity is the lifeblood of being in the world.  In our most authentic moments, the discordant sense of internal time-consciousness—the pull of memory that takes us backward into the past; the push of anticipation that takes us forward into the future—is briefly silenced.  The only thing that matters is the unself-consciousness of being in the world.    

Living in close proximity to our own mortality is the call of conscience that invokes our authenticity.  Being in the world is what life becomes when anxiety (mortal terror) delivers us from the frivolousness of our own lives.  Anxiety is something we experience as the collapse of time, which throws us into rough contact with our own impending death.  Being in the world, therefore, is the calm that follows after the storm of my own impending death has shaken me to the bone.    

Click to view Being in the World, a documentary film by Tao Ruspoli.

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