The Experience of the Void

  • George Pattison


From Hegel to Nietzsche, the philosophy of modernity exploited the Augustinian picture of the divided self as the basis for a new metaphysics that is at one and the same time a metaphysics of subjectivity and a metaphysics of nothingness. Whether that metaphysics constitutes itself as the exposition of absolute knowledge (Hegel) or as the quest of a projected unity that endlessly slips away from completion (Nietzsche — and Sartre: ‘Man is a useless passion’1), being is conceived only as it appears in and through the horizon of nothingness, a horizon within which the mystery of the in-itself can make no further appearances.


Religious Experience Christian Theology Pure Intuition Married Love Beatific Vision 
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    Luce Irigaray, The Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991) p. 31. For further approaches to a feminist appropriation of the language and imagery of nothingnessGoogle Scholar
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    In offering this analysis of Kierkegaard’s view of the experience of nothingness I acknowledge that it places Kierkegaard closer to Heidegger’s project of offering a fundamental ontological analysis than Heidegger himself seems to have allowed, while also claiming for it a religious significance that Heidegger would not have claimed for his own work. The proximity between Kierkegaard and Heidegger for which I am arguing could also be explored with regard to Heidegger’s own repudiation of Sartrean existentialism in the 1946– 7 Letter on Humanism and his critique of Nietzsche from the 1930s onwards. However, there does remain the difference that whereas Heidegger seems primarily oriented towards the question as to how what is here being called the ‘experience of nothingness’ can be thought, Kierkegaard’s thrust is to assist his readers in making that experience actual in their own existence. More simply, Heidegger remains a philosopher, Kierkegaard a religious apologist. For a further exploration of this tension see Michael Weston, Kierkegaard and Modern Continental Philosophy (London: Routledge, 1994) especially Chapters 2 and 4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    If, at this point, some might argue that it is Nietzsche who gives a more authentically temporal view of the self, it is worth pondering Shestov’s comment that ‘the important thing in “eternal recurrence” is not the word being defined, but the word doing the defining, i.e. not recurrence, but eternity.’ In L. Shestov, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Nietzsche (Ohio University Press, 1966) p. 292. However, it is not my intention in saying this to enter into an argument as to whether it is Kierkegaard or Nietzsche who has most honestly confronted the voracity of the temporal flux, since neither of them can evade the ambiguity of all attempts to represent that flux. What both do achieve is precisely to bring that ambiguity into the sharpest possible focus.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© George Pattison 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • George Pattison
    • 1
  1. 1.King’s CollegeCambridgeUK

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