Event—Public Programming

Imagining the End: Thoughts on Mourning, Happiness, and Radical Hope

In a continuation of our inaugural Wagner Lecture series, Jonathan Lear returns for a virtual talk about transience, hope, and psychoanalysis.


View a video recording of this lecture.

About the Series:

Inaugurating the new David L. Wagner Distinguished Lectureship for Humanistic Inquiry Series, Jonathan Lear of the University of Chicago delivers three lectures on how our fears of catastrophe—from pandemic and climate crisis to political collapse—shape the ways we imagine the ends and purposes of human life.

Part II: Transience and Hope: A Return to Freud in a Time of Pandemic

We are transient beings, and in some sense we understand that about ourselves. So, too, are our great cultural achievements, which will pass eventually. Transience, one might say, casts an “intransient” shadow over the human condition. But though one can entertain these thoughts at any time, is there something special about trying to think them in a time of world catastrophe?

The work of Freud can help us find an answer. Only three pages long, Freud’s essay "On Transience" has become a classic--an immortal statement, as it were, about our mortality. Did it make any difference that he wrote it in the midst of World War I? This lecture will return to Freud as a way of addressing a question which confronts us now: how our thinking about the human condition is affected by living in a time of pandemic.

You are welcome, though not required, to read this short essay before the lecture. You can find a PDF of the reading by following this link.

About the speaker:

Jonathan Lear is the John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor on the Committee on Social Thought and in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago. Lear trained in philosophy at Cambridge University and The Rockefeller University, where he received his PhD. He also trained as a psychoanalyst at the Western New England Institute for Psychoanalysis. His work focuses on philosophical conceptions of the human psyche from Socrates to the present, and he is an important interpreter and defender of the philosophical dimensions of psychoanalytic theory. His books include, but are not limited to, Wisdom Won From Illness: Essays in Philosophy and Psychoanalysis (2017); Freud (2015); and Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (2006). In 2009, Lear received a Distinguished Achievement Award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The David L. Wagner Distinguished Lectureship for Humanistic Inquiry Series is funded by David L. Wagner and Renie B. Adams.

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