On time, transience and literary creation: Freud and rilke a century ago

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In November 1915 Freud wrote one of his most beautiful, albeit extremely short, texts: 'On Transience'. This text, consisting of a dialogue between Freud and a poet whom we now know was Rilke, is a rumination on the meaning and implications of transience in our life: does transience rob life of its value and meaning, or does it add to that value? In this article I explore the reflection on the passing of time that 'On Transience' suggests: how the passing of time interacts with our attribution of meaningfulness and shapes our approach to life. The article also deals with the tension between repetitiveness and the uniqueness or specificity of objects within time, and explores the question of the persistence of value, especially literary value, in the face of time and transience, and the link between death and literary creation. Finally, the article refers to the immediate historical context of this reflection on the ephemeral, namely the destruction brought about by war.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)464-479
Number of pages16
JournalForum for Modern Language Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press for the Court of the University ofSt Andrews. All rights reserved.


  • Death
  • First World War
  • Literature
  • Rainer Maria Rilke
  • Sigmund Freud
  • Time
  • Transience


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