"Learning to know anxiety is an adventure
which every man has to affront if he would not go to perdition
either by not having known anxiety or by sinking under it.
He therefore who has leaned rightly to be in anxiety
has learned the most important thing."
—Søren Kierkegaard in 1844
Anxiety is being 'afraid' when there is nothing to fear.
We struggle with something in the dark, but we don't know what it is.
From somewhere and yet nowhere seeps out a vague feeling of threat.
Floating around in our body, unsettling our stomach,
a generalized sense of menace possesses our whole being.
This uneasiness has no identifiable cause.
Our anxiety is seldom an object of consciousness that we can focus on;
rather, it seems to be a deep, inner state of our being,
which makes itself felt without the aid of conceptual thought
—indeed against our fervent wish to be free of anxiety.
In angst we confront the fundamental precariousness of existence;
our being is disclosed as unspeakably fragile and tenuous.
And when it bursts thru the protective shell in which we try to encapsulate it,
our anxious dread renders us helpless.
The quotation from
Søren Kierkegaard and the paragraph following
are taken from the opening page of a small book by James Park
called Existential Anxiety: Angst.
If this description
resonates in your depths,
this index page will lead you to many other resources
that will enable you to explore this dimension of your being much more fully.
BIOCHEMISTRY OF THE BRAIN
In our time, the
most common explanations of anxiety
attempt to find abnormalies of brain chemistry.
And it is certainly true that lots of things that go wrong in our brains
do create strange feelings or moods.
And it is also true
can often correct such bio-chemical problems.
anxiety as understood here
is NOT an abnormality of brain chemistry.
On the contrary, "learning rightly to be in anxiety" [SK quote above]
is an advance in human thinking and a high spiritual achievement.
Which kinds of anxiety
have you experienced?
Perhaps you have felt both bio-chemical disruptions of your brain
and the condition of existential anxiety—also called angst.
RESOURCES ON THE INTERNET
If you would like
to read a three-page exploration
of the differences between fear and angst, go to:
the online article: Existential Anxiety: Angst.
Another short account of
existential anxiety is found here:
"The Disclosure of Existential Anxiety
and other Manifestations of Our Existential Predicament"
This presentation is also just 3 pages long.
It is Chapter 6 of Spirituality for Humanists:
Six Capacities of Our Human Spirits.
A slightly different
spin will be found in another chapter entitled:
"Simple Fear & Spiritual Anxiety"
which is Chapter 8 of Opening to Grace:
Transcending Our Spiritual Malaise.
This chapter is 8 pages long.
After that, you might
be ready for a more complete exploration,
in a 62-page book of the same name:
information about the 62-page book: Existential Anxiety: Angst.
This small book is
also published as Chapter 6 of a much larger book:
Our Existential Predicament: Loneliness, Depression, Anxiety, & Death.
If you click the link above, you will see the complete table of contents.
The two-page table
of contents for this book or chapter is found here:
table of contents for Existential Anxiety: Angst.
This link also gives you the first page of the chapter or book.
One small section
of this chapter or small book is called
"Existential Anxiety as a Phenomenon of the Human Spirit".
Here you will be able to read a very positive spin on angst.
Also published on
is the final summary page of Existential Anxiety: Angst:
SUMMARY of Existential Anxiety: Angst.
This presents in just one page the basic perspective
of existential psychology on the phenomenon of existential anxiety.
OTHER BOOKS ON EXISTENTIAL ANXIETY
It may come as a
surprise to people who feel angst regularly
that there are so few books exploring this phenomenon.
Here is the classic source:
The Concept of Anxiety:
Simple Psychologically Oriented Deliberation
on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin
by Søren Kierkegaard
Kierkegaard's Writings, VIII
Edited and Translated with Introduction and Notes
by Reidar Thomte in collaboration with Albert B. Anderson
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1980)
(Library of Congress call number: BT720.K52 1980)
(first published in Denmark, 1844)
This is a careful, scholarly edition of the book previously
translated (by Walter Lowrie) as The Concept of Dread.
what is probably
the first philosophical analysis of existential anxiety.
Angst became one of the buzz words of the 20th century,
but here we have a careful discussion
of what existential anxiety feels like from the inside.
Anxiety also appears in a number of other books by Kierkegaard.
Several quotes from
Concept of Anxiety
appear in "Existential Anxiety: Angst"
which is Chapter 6 of Our Existential Predicament.
Kierkegaard here deals with the relationship between
angst and existential guilt, traditionally called "original sin",
—a sense of 'guilt' that is not related to moral misbehavior.
The thought is profound, but Kierkegaard has not worked out
the phenomenon of existential anxiety
as carefully as Heidegger would do it in the 20th century.
draws heavily upon Christian theology
(the sub-title should have "doctrinal" rather than "dogmatic"),
this book may be somewhat difficult for the general public
—but not for people familiar with Christian philosophy.
The Concept of Anxiety is one of Kierkegaard's central books.
Other existential writers have created better formulations of angst,
but it all began here—and it will continue into the future.
For a deep philosophical
read Being and Time by Martin Heidegger:
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)
(first German edition 1927)
Two translations into English:
John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson
(New York: Harper & Row, 1962) 589 pages
(Library of Congress call number: B3279.H48S43 1962a)
(Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996) 487 pages
(ISBN: 0-7914-2677-7; hardcover)
(ISBN: 0-7914-2678-5; paperback)
(Library of Congress call number: B3279.H48S43 1996)
For many years,
this book was said to be "untranslatable"
because of the extreme difficulty of Heidegger's language,
including the number of new expressions
and new uses of old words that he introduces.
The careful reader will benefit from reading both of these translations.
But if you must choose only one,
use the Macquarrie & Robinson version.
may be the foremost Heidegger scholar in the world.
The Macquarrie & Robinson translation
conveys the meaning of Heidegger
into English better than the Stambaugh translation.
But the Stambaugh translation is easier to read in English
because she has avoided creating
new technical expressions in English
for the more difficult of Heidegger's concepts.
However, some of Stambaugh's choices are simply puzzling.
For example, why is the expression
usually translated as "beings-in-the-world"
sometimes rendered by Stambaugh as "innerworldly beings"?
No matter what
translation one uses,
Heidegger remains a very difficult philosopher to read.
I recommend giving a careful reading only to those parts
that the reader finds meaningful.
The other parts can be left to the professional philosophers.
For example, some parts of this book
deal with the question of being as such,
which Heidegger says is central to his philosophy.
But here Being and Time
is being reviewed as a book of existentialism.
Now that I
have read both translations carefully and aloud,
I have decided to adopt a new practice for my own references to B&T:
I have created my own paraphrases, drawing on both translations.
This practice makes Heidegger
more accessible to the English-speaking reader.
Scholars can read the German original
and all translations they find helpful.
The most important
ideas for existentialism
explored in Being & Time are:
existential anxiety as distinct from ordinary fears,
existential guilt as distinct from moral conscience,
being-towards-death or ontological anxiety
as distinct from the fact of biological death
and our fear of ceasing-to-be,
discovering ourselves as creatures conditioned by time:
the past, the present,
and—most important—the future we project.
reader of Heidegger
should probably not try to read this book
by beginning at page 1 and attempting to read thru to the end.
Such an approach will probably cause you to give up too soon.
Read first the parts that seem most interesting to you.
These best parts are worth many readings in any case.
Then go back to pick up the parts your skipped
if you are still interested.
If you can't
understand Heidegger by reading him directly,
read some other books about Heidegger first.
Once you have the proper orientation and conceptual framework,
you may find Heidegger a rich mine
of new insights into human existence.
be studied and studied
as long as there are humans who can think.
MORE RESOURCES NEEDED
Please suggest additional
books and Internet resources
that should be added to this page about existential anxiety: angst.
Send your suggestions to: James Park: e-mail:
INTERNET ONLINE DISCUSSION GROUP
you might be interested in an ongoing discussion
of themes related to existential anxiety,
have a look at this Yahoo group, called the Existential Freedom Group:
This is a modest
group at present,
but it can grow as new people discover it.
If you experience existential anxiety,
this group of kindred spirits might be just what you are looking for.