Monday, January 24, 2011

The Impossibility of Possibility

When I began writing this post, my first sentence was, "My grandmother will die within the next twenty-four hours." In the time it's taken me to complete this post, I can no longer claim such prescience. Let us begin again.

My grandmother died Saturday morning: my last living grandparent, the last of that generation. It is a travesty that life is forced upon people whose lives become insufferable. My grandmother suffered for the last several weeks of her life, and I could not bear to visit her any longer. I received some small comfort--fully aware that my comfort is irrelevant--when my sister reported that my grandmother was finally receiving hospice care.

In Being and Time, Heidegger attempts to think through Dasein's being as time, as the relationship one has with her own ever-oncoming death. Authenticity arises within the appropriation of the event of one's own possibility of impossibility, of "being" when one no longer is.

Lévinas and Blanchot would want to overturn that understanding, positing instead the experience of one's death as the limit, the limen, the aporia of one's power. Death saps us of all possibility, even of the possibility to experience our own death, which remains forever beyond our grasp: in dying, we never die. Death, for these two thinkers, reveals itself as the non-relational relation, exposing human beings to our own powerlessness of possibility.

One of my earliest memories of my grandparents was of them speaking, always in the subjunctive, of visiting Hawai'i. My grandfather served in the US military and fought in the Pacific during World War II. Though blinded by shrapnel, he always talked about returning to Hawai'i to see it "after the war." I remember fantasizing as a child about being able to join them on their trip, either by plane or by ship, to those distant tropical islands. Television programs such as Love Boat and Fantasy Island only fueled my delusions of travel.

My grandfather died in 2006. I remember being only vaguely aware of how possibility had slipped away, replaced by the impossibility of returning to Hawai'i. A few days ago, however, as I confronted the imminent death of my grandmother, I was overwhelmed by the fact that we, that she, had reached the extent of power. Even should I make it to Hawai'i someday, the possibility of that trip had been erased, eradicated, destroyed. Hawai'i would be like death: never traveled to, never traversed. Something we could have only ever spoken of in the subjunctive, in the conditional, in the recession of what might be possible and the withdrawal of power itself.

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