Metaphysical Postcards

Germany’s the land of poets and thinkers, baby, and they don’t let you forget it. Take, for example, this seemingly-harmless greeting card, which you can find in any German post office:


For you non-German speakers, what’s your guess as to the caption? "Determination Means ‘Shaking Off’ Defeat and Starting Again"? — "You’re All Wet, but I Love You Anyway"?  "Heaven is a Cool Pond on a Hot Day"?

All wrong.  The caption actually reads "Even Eternity is Just Composed of Moments." If you’re asking what this little saying might have to do with a dog shaking water out of its fur, you obviously haven’t given the matter enough thought.

The message of this postcard is vital, but it is neither simple nor reassuring. Bello here is completely wrapped up in the moment. He’s grimacing with concentration, focused on nothing more than expelling as many water droplets from his fur as possible. His facial expression does not exclude the possibility that this activity may have an erotic component. We will leave that to one side for the moment.

But what happens after he’s shaken the water off? Then comes another moment, just like the last one. Then another, then another, in a seemingly endless succession. Fortunately for Bello, he is a stupid animal without self-consciousness, so the fact that he spends his life in a completely pointless sequence of discrete activities does not weigh upon him.

But for the human who receives the card and reads the caption, the message is different. The message is (cue condescending German accent): "Your life, whether you are brave enough to admit it or not, is also composed entirely of isolated ‘moments’ within a pointless, howling, ‘eternity’ of time. Like him, you permit yourself to be completely wrapped up in daily distractions, oblivious to the deeper meaning of existence. The only difference between you and this animal — which spends a great deal of its waking time licking its excretory organs — is that you have been cruelly outfitted with self-consciousness. Which means, once in a very great while, when all your distractions and petty concerns recede, you will come face to face with the terrifying fact that your life, within the limitless ocean of time we call eternity, is but an infinitesimally small pinprick. After it is extinguished, the universe will continue implacably, completely oblivious to your existence."

It’s that message which makes this card perfect for a child’s birthday.

9 thoughts on “Metaphysical Postcards

  1. The caption actually reads “Even Eternity is Just Composed of Moments.”No it doesn’t, it doesn’t say “just”. You simply made that up. Even to a superifical observer like me that takes a whole lot of negativity, and therefore the basis of your 3 paragraph ridicule, out of it, but then again I guess I don’t take literary criticism serious enough to start a big blog fight over it. Cheers.


  2. In Canada (not the land of poets and thinkers) we jeer and boo when the “star spangled banner” is played at hockey games. That condescending enough for ya? Go back to Kansas you pathetic yank.


  3. I stand by my translation. Literally, the postcard reads “Also Eternity is Composed of Moments.” But this doesn’t not transmit the meaning of the original. In this context, auch (“also,” or “too”) has a slight concessive function that literal English equivalents don’t have.

    It’s weaker than “but” or “however,” but it’s in that direction. An example would be something like “Timmy Kleinschmidt is the richtest man in Germany. He, too, [auch er] is feeling the pinch caused by higher milk prices.” The sense is: you wouldn’t necessarily expect it to be the case, but nevertheless it’s true.

    That’s why I inserted “just” — to capture the concessive function of “auch” in the original. I read the card’s statment as conveying an implicit broad premise (“You would think that eternity is just one long formless chunk of time”) which is then slightly modified by the sentence beginning with “auch.”

    That’s why I inserted “just.” Because the sentence with “just”, in my view, captures the meaning of the original more faithfully than a sentence without “just” or “merely.”

    That’s my sense of the matter. For a final resolution, I appeal to the native-speakers on the list to step in and let me know whether they agree or disagree! Come on, native-speakers!


  4. @AndrewAwww, fuckit, I’m sitting in a commuter train and this beats watching the guy across the aisle pick his nose:I think the “concessive” (conceding?) nature of “auch” is already well covered by the word “even”. As in “even Timmy Whatshisname is pinched by higher milk prices”.


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