chapter  9
15 Pages

Mortality and finitude


The Heideggerian phenomenology of being mortal claims to concede to death whatever is radically unthinkable and impracticable about it, while showing how there can be a thinking and practice of what is here unthinkable and impracticable. But is that not ultimately the most subtle strategem by which we continue to convert the negative into a positive, and to give a meaning to what has none? This is the suspicion roused by Sartre who, taking Rilke, Malraux and Heidegger together as associates in the same idealist attempt to recuperate death’, does not hesitate to speak of the ‘sleight of hand’ by which Heidegger, with ‘an evident bad faith in the reasoning’, individualizes death by means of Dasein and Dasein by means of death. Although this ‘humanization of death’ by Heidegger suits his own purposes, Sartre still proposes to ‘re-examine the question from the beginning’.1 This ‘re-examination’ is in fact based upon a radical failure to appreciate what makes of Dasein – which, following Henri Corbin, the first French translator of Heidegger, Sartre translates as ‘human reality’ – an ability-to-be-thrown, and of facticity an assumption of contingency. So it is not surprising to find Sartre asserting that ‘death is not my possibility of no longer realizing a presence in the world, but rather an always possible nihilation of my possibles which is outside my possibilities’, and concluding in opposition to Heidegger that ‘far from being my own possibility, my death is a contingent fact which as such in principle escapes me and belongs originally to my facticity’.