Philosophy of Transience
May 12, 2006 10:04 AM   Subscribe

What can be said of a philosophy of transience?

I’ve recently been intrigued with the philosophy of “embracing impermanence,” as a friend once worded it. I’ve been romanticizing train-hoppers, squatters, and those who choose to live their life constantly improvising and on the move. It fits well into my own life where I find relationships and interests stagnate quickly without movement and constant flux.

Who is the greatest thinker on this subject? Is there any documented anthropological evidence supporting humans being wired more for being nomadic life than a sedentary existence? What are some great quotes? What are some criticisms? What are your thoughts and experiences?
posted by trinarian to Religion & Philosophy (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Coming to terms with transience is what Buddhism's essentially about.
posted by Gyan at 10:13 AM on May 12, 2006

What Gyan said, and give the Tao De Jing a looking over if you haven't already.
posted by peeedro at 10:22 AM on May 12, 2006

You definitely want to read Chatwin's The Songlines - its a travelogue but the thesis of the book is that we are intrinsically nomads, walkers, travelers. This is why we can beat any other animals at running marathons, why a baby is most at peace when its held by a walking mother etc. etc. He attempts to make the case that at heart we are nomads and that settled existence is contrary to our nature.
posted by vacapinta at 10:22 AM on May 12, 2006

There are frequently transience standing at the freeway exits in my neck of the woods, holding cardboard signs. The heck with transience!
posted by everichon at 10:54 AM on May 12, 2006

Actually, now that I'm done being asinine, my favorite pertinent text bar none is Zhuangzi Speaks. Yes, it's a "comic" but I've seen no better translation of Zhuangzi's ideas and social context. Smart and charming.
posted by everichon at 10:58 AM on May 12, 2006

everichon: it's funny... those are the homeless i help the most. i used to flip the car around and buy them fastfood whenever i saw them by my local highway off-ramp. i dunno... they just seem like travelers in a bind.
posted by trinarian at 10:58 AM on May 12, 2006

If you want a scholarly, footnote-riven but really superb take on emptiness, the Mulamadhyamakakarika is well worth the effort. Excellent translation and commentary by Jay Garfield.
posted by everichon at 11:04 AM on May 12, 2006

I read a Herman Hesse book awhile ago called 'Narcissus and Goldmund' that explored that idea quite a bit -- the Goldmund character basically spent his life wandering around. Good read, I recommend it. I think we all feel the dichotomy between the nomadic life and the settled life. One of Hesse's points was either path can be a valid way of understanding life, but the settled folk will really be suspicious and fearful of the wanderer.
posted by Bron at 11:07 AM on May 12, 2006

Emptiness != transience, but they are tightly related.
posted by everichon at 11:09 AM on May 12, 2006

In western philosophy, you'll want to go back to the Pre-Socratics, particularly Heraclitus, with his famous aphorism, 'You never step in the same river twice.'
posted by kimota at 11:14 AM on May 12, 2006

No discussion of transience is complete without mention of the Odyssey and the Aeneid. Decade-long transience must have been common in the ancient grecco-roman world for Homer and Virgil to make use of it as a central theme in their works.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:27 AM on May 12, 2006

I was going to recommend Nagarjuna too.

You might enjoy Buckminster Fuller's ideas about the "Great Pirates."
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:37 AM on May 12, 2006

You might try -- if French theory is your thing -- Deleuze & Guattari's thoughts on nomadism & the rhizome in A Thousand Plateaus. For them, human history is kind of an unacknowledged and unending war taking place on all levels (cultural, scientific, as well as militarily) between the nomadic and the sedentary, the multiple and the one, the chaotically-branching rhizome and the stationary, heirarchical root-tree system of the State, the smooth horizontal plane vs. striated vertical space.

If French theory isn't your thing, try Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone. Covers very similar territory.

And check out Burning Man, if you haven't already.
posted by treepour at 12:46 PM on May 12, 2006

It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentiment to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words, "And this, too, shall pass away." How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride; how consoling in the depths of affliction! "And this, too, shall pass away." And yet, let us hope, it is not quite true. Let us hope, rather, that by the best cultivation of the physical world, beneath and around us, and the intellectual and moral worlds within us, we shall secure an individual, social, and political prosperity and happiness, whose course shall be onward and upward, and which, while the earth endures, shall not pass away.

--- Abraham Lincoln, 1859
posted by SPrintF at 6:21 PM on May 12, 2006

You don't have to become a trainjumper to embrace transiece. You could live in the same house your entire life and it would be unavoidable.
posted by fshgrl at 7:57 PM on May 12, 2006

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