Life Grows in the Soil of Time

Thomas Mann - Santa Monica, California
Broadcast during the 1950s
Thomas Mann

German novelist and philosopher Thomas Mann sums up his belief in the gift of time. That mankind is aware of our time on earth—its beginning and end—gives us a sense of life's value.

What I believe, what I value most, is transitoriness.

But is not transitoriness—the perishableness of life—something very sad? No! It is the very soul of existence. It imparts value, dignity, interest to life. Transitoriness creates time—and “time is the essence.” Potentially at least, time is the supreme, most useful gift.

Time is related to—yes, identical with—everything creative and active, with every progress toward a higher goal.

Without transitoriness, without beginning or end, birth or death, there is no time, either. Timelessness—in the sense of time never ending, never beginning—is a stagnant nothing. It is absolutely uninteresting.

Life is possessed by tremendous tenacity. Even so its presence remains conditional, and as it had a beginning, so it will have an end. I believe that life, just for this reason, is exceedingly enhanced in value, in charm.

One of the most important characteristics distinguishing man from all other forms of nature is his knowledge of transitoriness, of beginning and end, and therefore of the gift of time.

In man, transitory life attains its peak of animation, of soul power, so to speak. This does not mean man alone would have a soul. Soul quality pervades all beings. But man’s soul is most awake in his knowledge of the interchangeability of the terms “existence” and “transitoriness.”

To man, time is given like a piece of land, as it were, entrusted to him for faithful tilling; a space in which to strive incessantly, achieve self-realization, move onward and upward. Yes, with the aid of time, man becomes capable of wresting the immortal from the mortal.

Deep down, I believe—and deem such belief natural to every human soul—that in the universe prime significance must be attributed to this earth of ours. Deep down, I believe that the creation of the universe out of nothingness and then of life out of inorganic state ultimately aimed at the creation of man. I believe that man is meant as a great experiment whose possible failure by man’s own guilt would be paramount to the failure of creation itself.

Whether this belief be true or not, man would be well-advised if he behaved as though it were.

German-born novelist, essayist, and philosopher Thomas Mann won the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature principally for his novel Buddenbrooks, which is recognized as one of the classic works of contemporary literature. Other of his novels include Death in Venice and The Magic Mountain. Mann died in 1955 at the age of 80.