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Preventing death is the first ethical priority – it’s the only impact you can’t recover from

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Preventing death is the first ethical priority – it’s the only impact you can’t recover from.

Zygmunt Bauman, University of Leeds Professor Emeritus of Sociology, 1995, Life In Fragments: Essays In Postmodern Morality, p. 66-71

The being‑for is like living towards‑the‑future: a being filled with anticipation, a being aware of the abyss between future foretold and future that will eventually be; it is this gap which, like a magnet, draws the self towards the Other,as it draws life towards the future, making life into an activity of overcoming, transcending, leaving behind. The self stretches towards the Other, as life stretches towards the future; neither can grasp what it stretches toward, but it is in this hopeful and desperate, never conclusive and never abandoned stretching‑toward that the self is ever anew created and life ever anew lived. In the words of M. M. Bakhtin, it is only in this not‑yet accomplished world of anticipation and trial, leaning toward stubbornly an‑other Other, that life can be lived ‑ not in the world of the `events that occurred'; in the latter world, `it is impossible to live, to act responsibly; in it, I am not needed, in principle I am not there at all." Art, the Other, the future: what unites them, what makes them into three words vainly trying to grasp the same mystery, is the modality of possibility. A curious modality, at home neither in ontology nor epistemology; itself, like that which it tries to catch in its net, `always outside', forever `otherwise than being'. The possibility we are talking about here is not the all‑too‑familiar unsure‑of‑itself, and through that uncertainty flawed, inferior and incomplete being, disdainfully dismissed by triumphant existence as `mere possibility', `just a possibility'; possibility is instead `plus que la reahte' ‑ both the origin and the foundation of being. The hope, says Blanchot, proclaims the possibility of that which evades the possible; `in its limit, this is the hope of the bond recaptured where it is now lost."' The hope is always the hope of being fu filled, but what keeps the hope alive and so keeps the being open and on the move is precisely its unfu filment. One may say that the paradox of hope (and the paradox of possibility founded in hope) is that it may pursue its destination solely through betraying its nature; the most exuberant of energies expends itself in the urge towards rest. Possibility uses up its openness in search of closure. Its image of the better being is its own impoverishment . . . The togetherness of the being‑for is cut out of the same block; it shares in the paradoxical lot of all possibility. It lasts as long as it is unfulfilled, yet it uses itself up in never ending effort of fulfilment, of recapturing the bond, making it tight and immune to all future temptations. In an important, perhaps decisive sense, it is selfdestructive and self‑defeating: its triumph is its death. The Other, like restless and unpredictable art, like the future itself, is a mystery. And being‑for‑the‑Other, going towards the Other through the twisted and rocky gorge of affection, brings that mystery into view ‑ makes it into a challenge. That mystery is what has triggered the sentiment in the first place ‑ but cracking that mystery is what the resulting movement is about. The mystery must be unpacked so that the being‑for may focus on the Other: one needs to know what to focus on. (The `demand' is unspoken, the responsibility undertaken is unconditional; it is up to him or her who follows the demand and takes up the responsibility to decide what the following of that demand and carrying out of that responsibility means in practical terms.) Mystery ‑ noted Max Frisch ‑ (and the Other is a mystery), is an exciting puzzle, but one tends to get tired of that excitement. `And so one creates for oneself an image. This is a loveless act, the betrayal." Creating an image of the Other leads to the substitution of the image for the Other; the Other is now fixed ‑ soothingly and comfortingly. There is nothing to be excited about anymore. I know what the Other needs, I know where my responsibility starts and ends. Whatever the Other may now do will be taken down and used against him. What used to be received as an exciting surprise now looks more like perversion; what used to be adored as exhilarating creativity now feels like wicked levity. Thanatos has taken over from Eros, and the excitement of the ungraspable turned into the dullness and tedium of the grasped. But, as Gyorgy Lukacs observed, `everything one person may know about another is only expectation, only potentiality, only wish or fear, acquiring reality only as a result of what happens later, and this reality, too, dissolves straightaway into potentialities'. Only death, with its finality and irreversibility, puts an end to the musical‑chairs game of the real and the potential ‑ it once and for all closes the embrace of togetherness which was before invitingly open and tempted the lonely self." `Creating an image' is the dress rehearsal of that death. But creating an image is the inner urge, the constant temptation, the must of all affection . . . It is the loneliness of being abandoned to an unresolvable ambivalence and an unanchored and formless sentiment which sets in motion the togetherness of being‑for. But what loneliness seeks in togetherness is an end to its present condition ‑ an end to itself. Without knowing ‑ without being capable of knowing ‑ that the hope to replace the vexing loneliness with togetherness is founded solely on its own unfulfilment, and that once loneliness is no more, the togetherness ( the being‑for togetherness) must also collapse, as it cannot survive its own completion. What the loneliness seeks in togetherness (suicidally for its own cravings) is the foreclosing and pre‑empting of the future, cancelling the future before it comes, robbing it of mystery but also of the possibility with which it is pregnant. Unknowingly yet necessarily, it seeks it all to its own detriment, since the success (if there is a success) may only bring it back to where it started and to the condition which prompted it to start on the journey in the first place. The togetherness of being‑for is always in the future, and nowhere else. It is no more once the self proclaims: `I have arrived', `I have done it', `I fulfilled my duty.' The being‑for starts from the realization of the bottomlessness of the task, and ends with the declaration that the infinity has been exhausted. This is the tragedy of being‑for ‑ the reason why it cannot but be death‑bound while simultaneously remaining an undying attraction. In this tragedy, there are many happy moments, but no happy end. Death is always the foreclosure of possibilities, and it comes eventually in its own time, even if not brought forward by the impatience of love. The catch is to direct the affection to staving off the end, and to do this against the affection's nature. What follows is that, if moral relationship is grounded in the being-for togetherness (as it is), then it can exist as a project, and guide the self's conduct only as long as its nature of a project (a not yet-completed project) is not denied. Morality, like the future itself, is forever not‑yet. (And this is why the ethical code, any ethical code, the more so the more perfect it is by its own standards, supports morality the way the rope supports the hanged man.) It is because of our loneliness that we crave togetherness. It is because of our loneliness that we open up to the Other and allow the Other to open up to us. It is because of our loneliness (which is only belied, not overcome, by the hubbub of the being‑with) that we turn into moral selves. And it is only through allowing the togetherness its possibilities which only the future can disclose that we stand a chance of acting morally, and sometimes even of being good, in the present.

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