With the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 became one of the most confusing and chaotic years in recent times as people worldwide struggled to adjust to the changes around them. Moreover, By the total number of deaths due to the virus crossing 4.6 million worldwide in September 2021 pushes the thought of the transience of human lives to the forefront.
What Is Transience?
Transience is a noun that means "the state of lasting for a short while, or temporarily."
If you have read Sonnet 18 – Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day by William Shakespeare, you'd be familiar with this concept of transience. In the poem, the poet makes a brief mention of summer that is soon followed by winter. The tiny buds that bloomed during the warm season fall over due to the heavy winds, emphasising how the beauty of the summer season is transient and hence not perfect.
This sense of transience is prevalent in every person's life but will come to gain more recognition as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim many lives.
What Does Freud Explore In 'On Transience'?
Amid the First World War, Freud wrote his essay 'On Transience' (November 1915) that focused on the nature of mourning and grief. It's a philosophical approach to the love that he holds by introducing the concept of "anticipatory mourning." Freud's usual pessimistic takes saw a strange departure in 'On Transience', where he explored how mourning could help human beings overcome significant losses in their lives.
Freud's more pessimistic thoughts that the destruction would have already taken place by the time you mourn, and it would be too late, is more characteristic of his usual thoughts. This darker undertone underlines the essay in its words.
Thinking Back On Freud's Ideas In 2021
While 'On Transience' is a brief exploration of the writer's thoughts on mourning and grief, it also responds to the prevailing socio-economic conditions when he wrote the essay in the backdrop of World War I. During that time, death and grief were present in the air as the entire world reeled from the destruction such a large-scale war brought about on the citizens. Even with the end of the war, the consequences would haunt people for ages.
Those who were not there to experience the war first-hand might find the stories far-fetched, over-dramatic ruminations of the older generation. While everyone is bound to experience death in their lives at some point, it is impossible to fully grasp the concept of hundreds and thousands of deaths happening all around you unless you relive those times – or something similar to those times.
While the COVID-19 pandemic is not the same as the First World War, it is undeniable that the consequences are pretty severe to take note of. What started as a rumoured virus responsible for body aches and cold soon spread to the entire world and had people reeling from its true destructive nature.
Summing it up
The lull of quiet that had prevailed after the end of the Second World War broke when the coronavirus turned the entire world into chaos. Those who had not experienced any world wars and lived their lives under the false impression that 'stability is permanent' received a rude awakening as they mourned the loss of their "normal." This is similar to the explorations Freud takes in 'On Transience' – a work that you would be able to relate to the most in this current state of instability.