Our forefather of Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, was not only the most influential thinker of our time, but he was a virtuoso in the art of writing as well. His essay, “On Transience,” reminisces a conversation he had with the famous poet, Rilke. As they walk along the countryside on a beautiful summer afternoon, Rilke becomes mesmerized by the breath-taking scene, but pauses in hesitation as he is suffocated by a deep sense of sadness. Freud, enjoying the company of a friend and the aesthetically gripping mastery of mother nature, is taken back and asks him what’s wrong. It is this proneness of decay and this sense that the ephemeral nature of all things beautiful, whether created by the earth or human hands will all someday be overcasted by the destruction of impermanence.
In the case for the demand of immortality, it was something Freud couldn’t argue against. Perhaps, it was true that beautiful things do meets its demise and that the transience of all things were inevitable, but that couldn’t stop Freud from shifting his perception towards meaninglessness. If anything, it made it that much more beautiful.
The scarcity of these things gave it that much more value. He cites that “ The beauty of the human form and face vanish for ever in the course of our own 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.”
Both talk well into the night as the question still debunks Freud, and although determined to provide an answer to his friend, he is unsuccessful in the attempt to reach out to him. It is this failure that has him take a step back and observe the indifferences. He finally concludes, that it is the detachment of those things dear to him and the mourning which follows that becomes the sole focus. Rilke becomes too drawn to the process of mourning that the surrounding beauty that’s experienced leading up to the end is completely blurred. Essentially, it is this start of the mourning process before the loss of a loved one that leads him to dig his own grave.
John McConnell, a present day psychologist, additionally builds upon the idea that we’ve taken the freudian term of “anticipatory mourning” and have applied it to our contemporary understanding of it today. Why is it that one can’t commit to a partner, why are some isolated, why are some people so afraid to connect with others? It is these questions that linger and in response we label them as selfish and narcissistic.
Jason Silva, in his short video, Existential Bummer, pieces the idea that because of this idea of impermanence, even when in love, we’re a bit nostalgic at the fact that this feeling won’t last forever or when we think of those that we haven’t even yet lost there’s a very melancholic feeling that takes over us, there’s a lingering “sadness to the ecstasy” as he suggests.
Freud ends on the note that we must keep going. As the essay was written a year after the first World War, he responds that although we have lost precious people and objects from the war we have “lost nothing from our discovery of their fragility.” This is the ultimate reminder that regardless of the inevitable death of such things, we choose to love and hold on to those we cherish a bit tighter because of the temporal nature of it.