Immortal or Eternal
In Jorge Luis Borges’s short story, “The Immortals,” the deathless Troglodytes care not so much to be in the world.26 They know that if something could happen, it eventually will happen...why rush the inevitable? The immortals are beyond experience. They are no longer Dasein. This is death, the permanent state of being other than Dasein.
Todd May writes, “To exist in eternity is to be immune to time, if only for a little while.”27 One aspect of care is being toward death, according to Heidegger, but this being is most often the being who does not know when Dasein will die. Walter White knows when he will die. He has bracketed care in order to become the eternal, the eternal who has the maximum experience of being Dasein. Is this what Heidegger was seeking? Is the authentic Dasein Walter White, meth cooker? Walter White, the being toward death who knows when he will die, is eternal, but not immortal like the troglodytes. With his death sentence he understands that his experiences are forever for him, and the more he experiences, the more he experiences the eternality of Dasein. Death, the beyond-experience, the world of the troglodytes, is meaningless to him as it is to them. Walter White, the meth cooker, is all about the experience. This is in contrast to the Walter White, the chemistry teacher, who, as Kimberly Baltzer-Jaray, says that Walter White, “sees himself as defined completely by others.”28 What we have to ask ourselves is whether in his transformation to meth cooker do we believe he redefines himself “authentically” or lets the meth “other” redefine his life in a way that is as completely controlling as the others who defined his life before his cancer diagnosis?
We have seen how Walt’s care has devolved into obsession. We see him descend into this fixation, first to build a fortune for his family, then later, to keep the game going to feed the high he receives from his gaming addiction. He is living the life of an eternal, not as Dasein who has all the time to build a fortune for his family, but an eternal for whom there is no risk he can take that will prevent his death in two years. He is a walking dead man; there is no worrying about his mortality. He will do anything he can to keep the game going until the end of Dasein.
Eternality, obsession, and death become intertwined in the experience of Walter White. While we follow Walt’s story as he enters and attempts to master the game, we wonder whether this is something that could happen to us should we be confronted with the certainty of our own death date. We likely do not have to look far.
Many of us, for example, give over our lives to the corporate game. The corporate game provides some measure of personal satisfaction in addition to income. At times the objectives set by corporations are, as in Walter White’s case, too aggressive to be met by legal or ethical means within the available timeframe. A good example is the recent Volkswagen emissions scandal. In order not to suffer the consequences of failing to meet impossible corporate goals, engineers allegedly rigged equipment so that during emissions tests diesel vehicles would meet standards that were not possible during normal operation. The corporate game is a harsh mistress, requiring that one meet goals before a prescribed deadline or face the metaphorical death sentence of termination. Why do they call it a deadline, after all?
What triggers the change of the meaning of Dasein as the being who cares to Dasein who obsesses? It’s difficult to say. Walter White begins by bracketing money as the object of his care. At first he disguises this in the building of a fortune for the family that will survive him. However, as he says, he begins to like being the eternal who thrives on the intense experience of being Dasein, the being toward death. He discovers a surplus of care in his obsession, when not only does he become good at the game, but it wholly becomes what he believes is his “authentic” existence. Before his death sentence, he was, like the rest of us, plodding along like the troglodytes, waiting for whatever might come along. However, we understand that his later “authenticity” has been bracketed by his obsession. His authentic being toward death is therefore an illusion of authenticity.