In an interview with his biographer Sylvie Simmons, Leonard Cohen identifies the main interests in his work as "women, song, religion". These are not merely personal concerns for Cohen, they are dimensions of the world that he tries to understand as a poet, singer, and thinker.
Now it's something of a cliché to see the modern romantic or post-romantic singer or poet in terms of personal struggles, failures, triumphs, and reversals. Poets sometimes respond by adopting elusive, ironic, enigmatic, or parodic voices: think, in their different ways, of Bob Dylan and Anne Carson. Yet Cohen has always worn his heart on his sleeve or some less clothed part of his body: he let us know, for example, that Janis Joplin gave him head in the Chelsea hotel while their celebrity limos were waiting outside. We want to know all about Suzanne, Marianne, and the sisters of mercy (two traveling young women whom he gave chaste shelter one night). Cohen's many biographers are obsessed with his loves, depression, career ups and downs, Montreal Jewish origins, Buddhist practice and monastic retreats.
Recently, provoked in part by the album Old Ideas, and an ambitious, successful world tour, Cohen's public has shown interest in how he is dealing with aging, or more subtly, with the artist's meeting the challenge of the late career. Rather than focusing on Cohen's life (multiple biographies already exist) I want to think with him about the meaning-or more specifically meanings-of time, a theme he clearly addresses in the album The Future (1992). As the Christian philosopher Augustine said about time, we all think that we know what it is until we ask ourselves to define it.
Copyright © 2014 Open Court Publishing Company. This book chapter first appeared in Leonard Cohen and Philosophy: Various Positions.
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Shapiro, Gary. "The End of the World and Other Times in The Future." In Leonard Cohen and Philosophy: Various Positions, edited by Jason Holt, 39-51. Vol. 84. Popular Culture and Philosophy. Chicago: Open Court, 2014.