The Philosopher at 90

PAUL RICOEUR: “You know, the different ages of life meet with different kinds of happiness and unhappiness, as well as with, how should I say, different traps. The two traps of old age are sadness and boredom. Sadness? “It is so sad that one must leave all this, that one must prepare to go . . .” So here, I say, one must not succumb to sadness . . . To assent to sadness is what the old monks would call acedia. There is no modern word for acedia: it is a kind of melancholia, which is not Freud’s melancholia, but perhaps it is Dürer’s, when he paints Melencolia I, where one can see a women, with her head lowered, a fist under her chin, looking at geometrical figures which no longer signify anything to her; and there is the clock which marks the hours. That is acedia: Dürer’s melencolia. And the remedy is the
pleasure of an encounter, the pleasure of always seeing something new, of  rejoicing. And in the same gesture, I answer the second great temptation of old age—boredom. Not the boredom of children who, when bored, say: “Mummy, I don’t know what to do.” For me, it is the opposite. I do know what to do. But it is to say, “I have already seen all this, and I have already seen all that . . .” Well, the remedy is similar to that for sadness: to continue to be astonished. What Descartes at the beginning of his Treatise on Passions, called admiration.”

(From, Memory, History, Forgiveness: A Dialogue Between Paul Ricoeur and Sorin Antohi, p. 20-21)


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