By Amée LaTour
“The image of a human being as a ‘thrown project’ is highly useful in working out what it means to become stranded. A metaphor may help. Imagine yourself as a little boat that has been thrown into a fast but shallow stream – the stream is ‘the they’. The rudder by which you steer is disengaged; however, the stream alone is not propelling boat-you; your engine is pushing you along as well. You’re both projecting yourself and being carried along by the current. But in order to be truly in control of your course (that is, your possibilities), something needs to turn you toward your steering system.
Becoming stranded is the opportunity to engage your own steering system. When boat-you runs ashore – in other words, when something interrupts your ‘just going with the flow’ – suddenly, nothing is directing you. In the absence of outside direction, you can then become aware of the fact that you can steer your own thinking: that you have the ability to reflect, think and judge for yourself, see what possibilities actually lie before you, and tap into your unique emotional engagement with the world and others.
So how does one become stranded? Heidegger often discusses the disengagement from ‘the they’ as a spontaneous, fleeting occurrence that strikes out of the blue. We are assailed by some mood, such as profound boredom or anxiety, in which we realize that the security and comfort offered by ‘the they’ are false. In such moods we realize that we’re only really grounded if we ground ourselves, as individuals, taking back our understanding and attunement, orienting ourselves toward our discourse, seeing possibilities beyond the status quo, engaging with our emotional investment in life and the world in a more personal way.
There are two approaches boat-you can take at this point of realization. You can plunge your rudder into the water and navigate your own way out of your stranded situation, returning to the world of things and people with a newfound sense of individual agency over your trajectory. This approach requires a lot of energy, responsibility, and, ultimately, struggling with the big questions. Or you could rush back to the current of ‘the they’ with its directive force, casting off the trials and tribulations involved in steering your boat-self, and opting instead for the more passive and comfortable approach to life. Just flowing downstream is the easier option; but steering your own thought is more authentic, because you actually are an individual with your own disclosive capacities.
Although Heidegger was conservative concerning the number of opportunities for becoming stranded, and skeptical of the lasting power of authentic being, I’m a bit more hopeful: I think that the stranded moments Heidegger attributed to special, rare moods, crop up constantly. For instance, we become stranded when a long-held belief is shaken or refuted. Or we become stranded when we ask where our long-held beliefs came from, or when someone else asks us this same question. We become stranded when we start to question why we’re doing what we’re doing. Of course, something has to disrupt our inertia – in keeping with the above analogy, has to run us aground – but this could be a book, an inspiring story, the death of a loved one, even a conversation. I don’t believe that these disrupters are in short supply. We just have to be willing to become stranded long enough to hear ourselves, and brave enough to to engage our steering systems when we do.
© Amée LaTour 2018
Amée LaTour has a degree in philosophy from Marlboro College in Vermont, and works as a writer.