Posted on 08/10/2013

Photo taken on March 26, 2011

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Nature preserve
Pages 90-91
Staring at the Sun
Irvin Yalom

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On Transience

On Transience
Excerpt "Staring at the Sun" Irvin Yalom

Every pleasant moment is corroded by the background thought that everything now experienced is evanescent and will end shortly. An enjoyable walk with a friend is undermined by the thought that everything is slated to vanish – the friend will die, this forest will be transformed by creeping urban development, what’s the point in anything if everything will turn to dust?

Freud states the argument (and the counterargument) beautifully in an incidental short essay, “On Transience,” that recounts a summer walk he took with two companions, a poet and an analytic colleague. The poet lamented that all beauty is destined to fate into nothingness and that all he loved was shorn of its value by its ultimate disappearance. Freud disputed the poet’s gloomy conclusion and vigorously denied that transiency negates value or meaning.

“On the contrary,” he exclaimed, “An increase! Limitation is the possibility of an enjoyment raises the value of the enjoyment.” Then he offered powerful counterargument to the idea that meaninglessness is inherent in transiency:

^ It was incomprehensible, I declared, that the thought of the transience of beauty should interfere with our joy in it. As regards the beauty of Nature, each time it is destroyed by winter it comes again next year, so that in relation to the length of our lives it can in fact be regarded eternal. The beauty of the human form and face vanish for ever in the course of our won lives, but their evanescence only lends them a fresh charm. A flower that blossoms only for a single night does not seem to us on that account less lovely. Nor can I understand any better why the beauty and perfection of a work of art or of an intellectual achievement should lose its worth because of its temporal limitation. A time may indeed come when the picture and status which we admire today will crumble to dust, or a race of men may follow us who no longer understand the works of our poets and thinkers, or a geological epoch may even arrive when all animate life upon the earth ceases, but since the value of all this beauty and perfection is determined only by its significance for our own emotional lives, it has no need to survive us and is therefore independent of absolute duration.^

Thus Freud attempts to soften death’s terror by separating human esthetics and values from death’s grasp and positing that transiency has no claim on what is virtually significant for an individual’s emotional life. ~ Page 90-91
4 years ago.