The concept of impermanence, a central theme in many philosophical and spiritual traditions, has taken on new relevance in the current decade, shaped by rapid technological advances, social upheavals, and environmental challenges.

This pervasive sense of transience and change is poignantly reflected in various creative works across musical theater, literature, jazz, mythology, and ballet. Each of these art forms offers a unique exploration of impermanence, capturing the fleeting nature of life and the continuous transformation of human experiences.

Impermanence and Musical Theater

In musical theater, the classic show Les Misérables, adapted by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, poignantly captures the theme of impermanence through its portrayal of the turbulent lives of its characters against the backdrop of revolutionary France. The musical depicts the struggles, aspirations, and tragedies of characters such as Jean Valjean, Fantine, and Éponine, whose lives are marked by constant change and hardship. Songs like “I Dreamed a Dream” and “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” reflect the transient nature of dreams and the inevitable losses that come with the passage of time. The musical’s sweeping narrative and emotive score emphasize the impermanence of human suffering and the enduring hope for redemption and transformation.

Impermanence and Literature

Literature, too, provides profound insights into the theme of impermanence. Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go explores the transient nature of life and the inevitable decline of human existence. The story follows the lives of cloned individuals created for organ harvesting, delving into their struggles with identity, purpose, and the knowledge of their limited lifespan. Ishiguro’s haunting narrative underscores the fragility of life and the poignancy of fleeting moments, compelling readers to contemplate the preciousness of time and the impermanence of human relationships and achievements.

Impermanence and Jazz

Jazz, with its improvisational essence, inherently embodies the concept of impermanence. The genre’s emphasis on spontaneous creativity and real-time interaction among musicians highlights the transient nature of each performance. John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme is a prime example of this, as the album captures the fleeting, yet profound, moments of musical expression and spiritual exploration. Coltrane’s work, characterized by its innovative and ever-changing melodies, reflects the impermanence of artistic creation and the continuous evolution of personal and collective musical journeys.

Impermanence and Mythology

Mythology offers timeless narratives that address the theme of impermanence. The story of the phoenix, a mythical bird that cyclically regenerates by burning itself to ashes and rising anew, symbolizes the perpetual cycle of death and rebirth. This myth illustrates the impermanence of life and the potential for renewal and transformation inherent in endings. The phoenix’s story resonates with contemporary existential concerns, reminding us that impermanence, while often associated with loss, also holds the promise of new beginnings and growth.

Impermanence and Ballet

In ballet, the ephemeral nature of performance art is vividly portrayed. The ballet Giselle, composed by Adolphe Adam, tells the tragic story of a peasant girl who dies of a broken heart and becomes a spirit. The ballet’s delicate choreography and emotional depth capture the fleeting beauty of life and the transience of human emotions. Giselle emphasizes the impermanence of earthly experiences and the enduring impact of love and sorrow, reflecting the delicate balance between life and death, joy and grief.

These creative works from musical theater, literature, jazz, mythology, and ballet collectively highlight the multifaceted nature of impermanence in the current decade. They underscore the transient beauty of life, the inevitability of change, and the continuous cycle of beginnings and endings. By engaging with these diverse forms of art, we gain a deeper appreciation of the impermanent nature of our existence and the transformative power of embracing life’s fleeting moments.

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Schönberg, Claude-Michel, and Alain Boublil. Les Misérables. Broadway, 1987.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. Faber and Faber, 2005.

Coltrane, John. A Love Supreme. Impulse! Records, 1965.

Phoenix mythology. Various sources.

Adam, Adolphe. Giselle. Ballet, 1841.