Ever since my dear friend and close collaborator, Bernard Brandchaft, died five days ago, a song, “Everybody’s Changing” performed by Keane, has been stuck in my head; I find myself singing it silently to myself several times each day. The song laments the finiteness and transience of all things human (link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zx4Hjq6KwO0).
The song actually takes me back to the very roots of Western ontology (the study of how beings or entities are intelligible or understandable to us) in ancient Greek philosophy. For Heraclitus, as for Keane, beings—including human beings—are intelligible in terms of their becoming, changing, unfolding, and eventual dissolution. For Parmenides, by contrast, beings are understandable in terms of their permanent presence. One might argue, as Nietzsche did, that a viewpoint like that of Parmenides represents a defensive illusion that evades the groundlessness implicit in a perspective like that of Heraclitus.
Illusions of permanent presence became a cornerstone of Western metaphysics, as Heidegger pointed out, but also a constituent of our everyday understanding of beings. The loss of a loved one (for that matter, any emotional trauma: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780881634679/) shatters these evasive illusions and confronts us with our finiteness and transience and with the finiteness and transience of all those we love. As depicted in Keane’s song, such a confrontation can be profoundly destabilizing. When our emotional world becomes shattered in this way, we need to find a context of human understanding, a “relational home,” in which our traumatic emotional pain can be held and borne.