'The Past is Perfect': Leonard Cohen's Philosophy of Time

Type of resource
'The Past is Perfect': Leonard Cohen's Philosophy of Time
The author analyzes the concept of time and aspects of temporality in Leonard Cohen's poetry and prose, both published and unpublished. She points out that through imagination and memory, Cohen (1934-2016) continuously explored his past as a man, a member of a family, and a representative of a culture. The complex interconnection of individual and collective pasts constituted the core of Cohen's philosophy informed by his Jewish heritage, while its artistic expression was indebted to the literary past. The Montreal poet/novelist/songwriter was famously designated as "the father of melancholy". The author argues that it was his focus on the past that made his works appear pessimistic. Cohen, she points out, paid less attention to the other two temporal aspects, present and future, which were seen in a generally negative light until his most recent publication. The author suggests that although Cohen's attitude to the past did not changed radically from Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956) to Book of Longing (2006), his views changed from bitterness prompted by time's destructive force to acceptance of its work and the assertion of the power of poetry/art to withstand it; there is neither discontent with the present nor prediction of a catastrophic future. Although Cohen's spiritual search extended throughout his life, his essential outlook on time and the past was already expressed in the early books; his latest publications combined new pieces and selections from previous books of poetry and prose works, confirming the continuity of ideas and general consistency of his vision.
PhD dissertation
University of Ottawa
Ottawa, ON
Vesselova, Natalia. “‘The Past Is Perfect’: Leonard Cohen’s Philosophy of Time.” PhD dissertation, University of Ottawa, 2014. http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/thesescanada/vol2/OOU/TC-OOU-31065.pdf.
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