The Abyss is not the Buddhist Void, which is a metaphysical and ontological reality, not an existential reality. Void= Mystery that cannot be imagined or conceived, yet is benign, because it is the matrix for the ten thousand things, it links them all to itself and to each other.
The Abyss is a mystery of a different kind. An absence. A ‘ground’ that is missing, an underlying support that is not there, a foundation for existing that does not itself exist. Existence is groundless, it has no deep structure of order and meaning at the root. The root is deep, yet the root is empty. It is not chaos instead of order, a meaningless something instead of meaning. It is abysmally awful in its negation of order, it is abysmally terrible in its nullification of meaning. It hits us with ‘fear and trembling’, and is like standing at the edge of a precipice, growing ‘faint’, lest we fall. We know if we fall, we will fall forever, without end.
The withdrawal of anything that could hold us up from beneath our feet makes us feel, not only ‘dread’, but also ‘let down’, abandoned, forlorn. Deeply let down= deeply forgotten at the root, cast away into Nothing as if we never counted with anything that might ‘spectate’ our dilemma, and care about our fate. Abandoned to our fate, cast off, cast adrift, left to the Nothing into which we will go ‘in the end’ — because there is Nothing beneath existence. Existence provides only flimsy floorboards and they wear out, and when they do, we fall through the floor, and then just keep on falling.
Nothing undergirds existence means nothing ‘secures’ existence, nothing ‘guarantees’ existence, by nature, by definition. Groundless means without foundation, and foundationless means there is not anything that can lay down the ‘basis’ for existence, and is knowable by us such that ‘the basis for existing’, ‘the point of existing’, ‘the significance and purpose of existing’, is clear-cut, provided ready at hand, to reassure us. In existing, ‘insecurity’ is ‘basic.’
Nothing ‘founds’ existence structurally and meaningfully. Existence is suspended over an Abyss.
Yet the root is not only abysmal, it is also profound.
To exist at all, requires courage. Like the fox who ventures out over the ice that is the thin crust of waters thousands upon thousands of fathoms deep, so we know in our bone and blood that to risk existence is a courage we respect. To exist authentically requires a true heroism.
Why do we admire, esteem, look up to, the existential heroism that risks the Abyss by venturing ‘out over the deep’ in a way that is courageous, generous, trustful?
In full awareness of being at risk, the existential hero takes the risk to act in a way that allows meaning to be questioned deeply.
Can meaning — if it is not ready made, so the world is already meaningful — be existentially tested and proved? If not given, can it be searched out, can it be found?
It has to be found where it is most under duress, or the existential nihilism is victorious over us, ‘making cowards of us all.’
Where does the urge toward heroism in our existential situation come from? What is there in us that takes it on?
We can flee from the Abyss. All the ‘existential exactions’ are signals, messages, of the non-structured and meaninglessness of existence. To act from Angst, to let it ‘school’ us rather than defeat us, requires that we take it on.
What in us is willing to do this?
Angst separates us from existence.
Only by passion do we rejoin it.
Passion is what ‘takes it on.’