Sorge: care and cure

I must admit that when Roberto Urbano asked me to write this text, I had a doubt about its purpose. The proposal consisted of explaining Sorge, a word which Martin Heidegger gave great importance to in his work and from then on it remained incorporated in the philosophical lexicon. At no time did Roberto want to explain to me what was the connection that he wanted to make between his work and the concept which he, nevertheless, clearly proved to have researched. On the other hand, it was not the first time Roberto had contacted me: approximately a year before we had exchanged some emails in which he was asking me about the same subject. Due to my insistence, Roberto showed me several samples of the work he wanted to exhibit, but again without giving me any clear indications about how the concept of Sorge could be related. If he had any idea about it, he seemed determined to keep it for himself. For this reason, after giving it a thought, I decided to start writing a rather dry introduction to the concept, hoping that things would trace its connections in the process.

The German word Sorge is usually translated as ‘care’, although philosophers and translators who transferred Heidegger’s concepts into Spanish made different choices. For example, José Gaos chose to translate it as ‘cure’ ambitiously aiming at preserving some etymological similarities (SorgeBesorgenFursorge / cure-cure from-caring for). In contrast, Eduardo Rivera, decided to use less forced concepts to preserve the naturalness of the text (if it is even possible to speak about such thing in Heidegger’s work) and translated Sorge as ‘care’. In his version the etymological similarities of the German words get lost (SorgeBesorgenFursorge / care-preoccupation-solicitude), but in return Rivera makes the text more readable. On some occasions (and quite often in philosophy) approaches with more freedom and less literalness are more faithful. Ortega y Gasset, who was always openly attracted to Being and Time, created similar topics in his own philosophy, often related to ‘concern’ which structures human experience. According to Ortega, human beings are generally ‘busy’ with doing things, devoted to and absorbed in their chores. However, before doing any specific activity or any particular job, human beings are already and always ‘pre-busy’. That is to say, they are in a state of unspoken reference to all the things and people they live surrounded by. This world, or even better, this sphere of being pre-busy in which a human being is inextricably thrown into, organizes the business of every person, although they are not usually an object of it themselves.

Through etymologies which are closer to Spanish, Ortega’s concept of ‘being busy’ and preoccupation tackles a theme similar to Heideggerian’s Sorge. By ‘care’ Heidegger means constant addressing of human beings towards things, the structure of their activities and their state of being always ‘pre-busy’. It has to do with something so close to our experience that it easily goes unnoticed. On the first pages of Being and Time, Heidegger proposes a clarifying example of what he means by ‘addressing to things’. We often say: ‘the table is next to the door’ or ‘the chair touches the wall’. Strictly speaking, none of this is possible. According to Heidegger, that would have to be said on the assumption that the wall is able to be present before the chair. In some sense at least, entity can ‘be close’ or ‘touch’ the other ones if the latter can ‘be present’ before it and only if ‘by nature’ the entity in question has a world inside through which other entities are susceptible to ‘be touched’ or ‘be adjacent’. Neither the chair nor the wall belong to this kind as they are perfectly turned towards themselves and they do not show any kind of business, preoccupation or Sorge in relation to other entity. Things stay there, in the world and turned towards themselves; however, a human being, or Dasein in Heidegger’s terminology, is projected and turned towards things and constantly addressing to them. In attempt to understand its full extent, ‘world’ is everything that is being addressed. When human beings face the very things, they deal with a world, this is to say that they are projecting towards everything else and from a sphere which is always presupposed for it.

In Heidegger’s terminology, the structured collection of ways of being concerned with things is called Besorgen, a word that Gaos translated as ‘cure from’ and Rivera as ‘preoccupation’. However, absorbed in their chores, human beings are not only constantly addressing to things, but also to the others: their fellow beings. Heidegger calls this dimension of care Fursorge, translated by E. Rivera as ‘solicitude’ and ‘caring for’ by Gaos (in his determination to preserve the etymological link). In presence of other entities, which also show the characteristics of existence, a specific phenomenon occurs: they are not only in the world, but also have ‘a world of their own’. Even more, it’s not that each one has ‘their world’ (an expression that can rather be used to describe the coexistence of patients in a psychiatric hospital), but they regularly share the world with others. In Heidegger’s words, ‘the world is what I have always shared with others.’ 

On the other hand, coexisting or living together are not only another way of mixing with other entities or certain kind of entities, but it is a place from which the sense of entity is regularly determined. Suffice it to say that all activity is doing it for others, with others or against others. Care structures always belong to a shared world or, in other words, the interpretation of being in which every person is always comes before; it is given.  It is not about ‘thinking’ what others are telling you to do. The latter can occur without a doubt, but with reference to the openness of the entities; there is no-one ‘in charge’. The public interpretive condition, according to Heidegger, is of impersonal nature and cannot be conceived as a structure of the subject. At this totally primitive level of Sorge there is no-one who thinks or does, but only things which are ‘thought of’ and ‘done’. Impersonal passive is a tool that grammar offers to express that ever-previous characteristic of mundanity which precedes any subjectivity. In a regular activity of every person, the world is already forever open by the impersonal, even though at first sight it may seem hidden under the appearance of what is merely given or obvious. The entity stays open, available for daily ‘being busy’ through the public interpretive state; but in the very act of openness the entity which is present before the others hides its origin. ‘In the act of being absorbed in the world, the phenomenon of the world itself is overlooked’ says Heidegger.

Being completely absorbed in the public interpretive state which arranges Sorge structures, ‘everyone is the other and no-one is themselves.’ That opens up a possibility that, taking the state of absorption as a starting point, the Dasein will resume themselves and its condition of existence will become apparent. To achieve that, it is necessary for ‘being busy’ to momentarily distance itself from the entity, towards which it is normally turned to, making it available for the experience of being. Being and Time mentions some affective expression, particularly levels of anxiety, which makes such thing possible. Fear is always directed towards entity or a group of particular entities: fear, reasonable or not, is felt of something, a thing perceived as harmful or of a person considered dangerous. However, anxiety has no clear reference and whatever it is caused by, does not seem identifiable as entity. According to Heidegger, this is due to the fact that the anxiety trigger indeed is not particular entity, but the entity as a whole, the very being itself. It turns out that it is mere existence what threatens anxiety, leaving them both identified.

However, anxiety is not the only way to access. One of the ways that Heidegger suggests to approach the truth is art. Have a look at this comment about a series of boots that Van Gogh painted in the 1880s: ‘What is occurring here? What is taking place in the painting? Van Gogh’s painting is making visible what the utility, a pair of shoes of a farmworker, really is. This entity goes into a state of not hiding its very being. […] If what is occurring in the artwork means manifesting entity, what it is and what it is like, then truth is happening.’ What does Heidegger refer to as ‘manifesting’ and ‘truth’? For sure, he does not mean faithfulness of a ‘copy’ or a ‘model’ or its correct ‘representation’. The truth that he makes reference to, is rather the sense that entity has in all that is addressed to the world and through which the world is revealed. In the painting, mundanity in general is exhibited through particular entity: ‘The dark hole of the worn-out inside is like a mouth yawning away the tiredness of hardworking steps. The rough heaviness of the shoe represents tenacity of a slow march along furrows of earth. The leather gathers the humidity and grease from the ground…’ The care and cure in which a certain Dasein exists have been revealed here, going beyond an object form of represented entity and towards demonstrating its mundanity. Therefore, the ‘similarity’ is dispensable and can even get completely lost as long as the work of art preserves its ability to reveal. In fact, its topic wouldn’t necessarily have to be a thing (boots). All in all, in Heidegger’s philosophy, art actually allows to ‘move from being a prisoner of entity and embrace being.’

Let’s think about the material nature and forms chosen by Roberto: its difficulty and toughness brought out by sharp and rough steel surfaces are not at the service of any representation. What environment have these floors, walls and curtains created? Do they refer to any form of life, some kind of ‘being busy’ or Sorge structures? As opposed to Van Gogh’s boots, there is no ‘world’ revealed. One might even say the opposite: this environment rather refers to concealment of origin, to what precedes the work of existence, to what surrounds the clarity of being where the world takes place. This environment demonstrates crudeness and opaqueness of entity, before any kind of mundanity steps in.

Perhaps, after all, we will see things show their relationships by themselves: ‘In the act of being absorbed in the world, the phenomenon of the world itself is overlooked’ said Heidegger. The being of entity, the mundanity of the world,  nests Sorge structures and regularly hides in its silent acting. Before opening through the modes of care, even when they have been inadvertently inherited, the entity as a whole can only offer what is not yet ‘world’ in the strict sense, just like the one Roberto’s work offers. Brought back to its opaqueness, entity stands out what is usually hidden: sense-giving and openness that is silently carved in the structures of Sorge.

Jan Canteras