ALB - 12

ALB - 12 - Art Love and The Terror of Time 1 1 Today I want...

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Art, Love, and Beauty 12 2/24/08 1 12. The Terror of Time 1 Today I want to discuss what I call the terror of time. From the very beginning it has been lurking in the background of much that has been discussed in this course. It should become clearer when the nature of that terror is understood. But first the obvious question: What do I mean here by the terror of time? Perhaps I can explain it most simply by returning once more to the story of the fall, according to which man lost his place in paradise because he ate of the tree of knowledge, but not of the tree of life. In their present condition, human beings are not only vulnerable and mortal, they know about their mortality. We know that all we are now, all that we can still be and will ever achieve, some day be will be past. Time will take away all that we can establish or build. What point is there then to our existence? And the more developed our sense of history, of time's passing, the more pronounced this terror is likely to be. There is a deep need in human beings to defeat the terror of time. Let me cite here a passage from Marcuse's Eros and Civilization , to which I shall return later, that points in essentially the same direction: The brute fact of death denies once and for all the reality of a non-repressive existence. For death is the final negativity of time, but joy wants eternity." Timelessness is the ideal of pleasure. . .. The mere anticipation of the inevitable end, present in every
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2/24/08 2 instant, introduces a repressive element into all libidinal relations and renders pleasure itself painful. This primary frustration in the instinctual structure of man becomes the inexhaustible source of all other frustrations — and of their social effectiveness. Man learns that "it cannot last any way," that every pleasure is short, that for all finite things the hour of their birth is the hour of their death — that it couldn't be otherwise. 2 The terror of time is a strong undercurrent in Plato's Symposium . Consider once more the understanding of beauty Plato gives us in the Symposium . Beauty was defined there as the object of eros. And what was eros? Human beings, according to Plato, are fundamentally erotic beings because they exist in time, yet as belonging to and as desiring being, in search of eternity. Or, if you wish, as beings who have fallen from their true home into time and now dream of a homecoming to that true home beyond time. Eros is nothing other than this desire for being, this desire to escape from the terror of time and to return to a home time cannot ravage. But is there such a home? Or are there only surrogates, finally unsatisfactory surrogates. Think back to Diotima's discussion of eros. On its lower levels eros pursues immortality by making sure that something of the individual will survive him in time, children, for example in whose memory we may continue to live, as we continue to live when we have acquired
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This note was uploaded on 04/12/2008 for the course HUMS 255 taught by Professor Karstenharries during the Spring '08 term at Yale.

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ALB - 12 - Art Love and The Terror of Time 1 1 Today I want...

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