Jørgen Veisland (Bio)

The appropriation of being: dismantling totalitarianism in Unto Madness, Unto Death by Kirsten Thorup

In his essay “On Time and Being” (1972; “Zur Sache des Denkens”, 1969), first given as a lecture in 1962, Martin Heidegger states that “Being is determined by time as presence” and then proceeds to analyze the relation between time and Being, ending his argument by calling that relation Ereignis, Appropriation. Appropriation as the relation between time and being means involving Being as concrete being, i.e. human being, in an active process of becoming that unites past, future and present, present conceived as presence, Being coming to itself but never conclusively or fully so since Appropriation, is a process of unconcealment that, paradoxically, yet conceals itself because the statement “There is Being” - Es gibt Sein (Dasein) – denotes a state of giving and sending whose source is concealed precisely because that source is not an absolute, not an ousia as a transcendental gift of Being but an Appropriation that expropriates itself continuously in the interplay between time and Being. This interplay is not only three-dimensional but also four-dimensional, the fourth dimension being time-space, a giving (es gibt) revealed as approximation, nearness, Nahheit. Determining this kind of indeterminacy is philosophically impossible, as Heidegger admits. One is reminded of Molloy’s musings in Samuel Beckett’s novel Molloy (1955) to the effect that “I knew only in advance, for when the time came I knew no longer”, a statement that epitomizes the futility of thought and knowledge for knowledge is bound to wind down to ignorance, the absent source. For Søren Kierkegaard thought cannot conceive of existence, and Being is becoming, a continuous process. Further, becoming enhances the ethical, as Being, concrete human being, is posited in a state of mellemværende, meaning being-between and being ethically accountable. Ethics as concrete action and active compassion is at the core of Kirsten Thorup’s novel Indtil vanvid, indtil døden (Unto Madness, Unto Death; 2020) where the protagonist, a Danish woman named Harriet, is visiting a friend in Munich, Germany, during the fall of 1942 at the height of the siege of Stalingrad. Harriet experiences close up the implosion of nazism, a logical event since the essence of Nazi ideology is the fixation and totalizing of Being in the totalitarian state. The novel thus discloses and exposes the metaphysical fallacy of totalitarianism, a fallacy also involving the fixing of time itself in an eternal future. Harriet is herself, a Being conceived as becoming and as different, possessing a constantly evolving difference from others. She performs altruistic acts in helping the workers from the East, Ukraine, that are oppressed as workers, or slaves rather, in the house of her friend, a Danish woman married to a nazi officer. The outward proof of the disintegration of the nazi state is the ubiquitous presence of falsehood in the form of propaganda, the implication of the masses in the lies told by the state apparatus; propaganda and surveillance precipitate an inauthentic Being where Being in time and time in Being are removed from the dimension of openness that is Appropriation of Being.