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Unheimlichkeit

It may be useful to give a short introduction to the series Unheimlichkeit. The few lines below are giving some indications about the underlying concept which is common to the photographs of this series.

The experience of meaninglessness and the creation of meaning are closely related to the experience of Angst or existential anxiety. This occurs against the backdrop of the personal realization that I am ultimately alone in the world and that I have to contend with my mortality and other limitations, taking responsibility for myself in the face of endless challenges and confusions. This crisis of meaning was first described by Kierkegaard (1844, 1855), who thought that it was a great deal preferable to begin to feel anxious about life and question it, rather than to live in the despair of those who deny the need to think for themselves. Kierkegaard thought that human beings would only gradually become capable of such questioning. He believed that people are vegetative to start out with, not taking much notice of the meaning of anything at first. They then grow sentient as they are beginning to follow their senses and relate more intensely to the world. After this they grow conscious of the world around them and as they begin to form judgements about things, eventually they become knowing about some of what is. Out of knowing can grow self-knowing as we apply the ability to think and recognize, compare and judge for ourselves. Out of self-knowing can come a self-awareness that leads to autonomy and the ability to make choices and decisions for oneself. This process plunges us into Angst, or existential anxiety, likened by Kierkegaard to a dizziness of freedom. He thought that experiencing Angst was the sine qua non of us assuming our responsibility as individuals and that without it we could never come face to face with the demands our life makes on us.

Anxiety or Angst is a core concept in existential philosophy, which sees it as the basic ingredient of vitality. Learning to be anxious in the right way, i.e. not too much or too little is the key to living a reflective, meaningful human life. As Kierkegaard put it:

Whoever has learnt to be anxious in the right way has learnt the ultimate. (Kierkegaard 1844:155)

Anxiety has to be distinguished from fear. The former is a generalized feeling of Unheimlichkeit (Heidegger 1927), of not being at ease, or at home in one’s world, whereas the latter has a concrete object. It is anxiety that allows us to define ourselves as a separate person and to become responsive and responsible as well as aware and alert. Although we may become overwhelmed with anxiety, so that it becomes counterproductive, on the whole anxiety is to be seen as a positive breakthrough towards the goal of the fully lived human life.