- Existential-Ontological Psychotherapy: Attuning to How Being Is at Issue
the question of being, ontological insecurity, being-with, worldhood, being-in-the-world
The core insight of Dr. Angelica Tratter’s essay, as I see it, is that we can approach the question of a person’s ways of being in the world in an ‘ontological’ rather than ‘ontical’ manner. Tratter communicates this insight primarily through a rehabilitation of Ludwig Binswanger’s notion of ‘world-design.’ In what follows, I wish both to affirm Tratter’s insight, and also, through my own elaboration of it, to propose some possible divergences of thought.
As Tratter notes, Heidegger was unhappy with Binswanger’s appropriation of his thought. Binswanger, Heidegger claims, mistakenly begins with the subject–object divide, and understands “being in the world” as bridging this divide (Heidegger 2001, 190); he needs instead to begin with being in the world, or with Dasein’s original relatedness to, and understanding of, being (p. 116, 188–190). In other words, Binswanger is still mired in traditional prejudices, which assume an isolated, immanent subjectivity, instead of recognizing Dasein as ecstatic, as transcendence, as always already engaged with being. This led Binswanger, Heidegger claims, to confuse the ontological and the ontical—supposing for instance that Heidegger’s ontological notion of care was a merely ontical attitude belonging to a subject (p. 116, 190), and articulating a notion of ‘world-design’ that claimed to be ontological but was in fact (asserts Heidegger) concerned only with categories that appear amongst ontical beings on the basis of a person’s ontological “world-projection” (p. 203). It is in response to these criticisms that Tratter seeks to rehabilitate Binswanger’s notion of world-design, and to show how it can be understood ontologically by taking Dasein’s relatedness to being and understanding of being to be primary and at issue in the establishment of a world-design. She makes this claim by drawing on Merleau-Ponty’s notion of ‘emblems of being’ and by translating ‘world-design’ into her own ‘implicit world projection.’
Tratter’s rethinking of Binswanger’s ‘world-design’ springs, I think, from a recognition of the fact that the meaning of specific things, events, and others in one’s world is not simply a result of particular acts of interpreting those things, events and others. Rather, ‘world’ is the whole context [End Page 147] within which these particulars take on their meanings; they show up within a certain generalized framework of meaning that has been instituted in and by my past. This can be illustrated by the case of trauma. As Merleau-Ponty argues, the traumatic event is carried forward not primarily as a (conscious or unconscious) memory-representation, but as a generalized framework of meaning, a “style of being” in terms of which things, events and others now make sense (2012, 85, 165). A past experience of being violated, for instance, is carried forward into the present not only or most fundamentally in conscious flashbacks, but rather in the pervasive sense of threat and vulnerability that infects all one’s dealings with others and the world—and thus in a refiguration not of the meaning of this or that, but of the world as a whole. The institution of such matrices of meaning takes place, of course, not just with trauma, but in all lived experience, by virtue of our historicity. We are all caught up in characteristic forms of sense-making—that is what gives us our character. And personal development (like that of a toddler’s overcoming of sibling rivalry and acceptance of coexistence) is just the existential movement from one such matrix to another. World-design, or what Tratter comes to call “implicit world projection,” is not, then, a pathological phenomenon, but an inevitable aspect of our being in the world: there is always an establishment of “fundamental meaning horizons… within which specific interpretive acts occur” (Tratter 2015, 138).1
What makes this an ‘ontological’ rather than ‘ontical’ understanding of ‘world-design,’ I think, is that we understand the ‘world-design’ as not the work of a subject who is establishing a (more or less distorted) connection...