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« Walter Hill | Main | Walter Hill redux »

September 10, 2002

Schopenhauer redux

Friedrich --

Glad to hear you're enjoying Schopenhauer. I'm no Schopey scholar, but I've loved what I've read: grimly (but enjoyably) pessimistic, poetic, influenced by some of my favorite Eastern ideas. Schopenhauer's basic vision of life suits me pretty well, but the writing is what makes me love his work. It's breathtaking. Plus his view of art suits me. Here's a nice passage from Bryan Magee, a British professor who writes first-rate intros to philosophy:

In Schopenhauer's view there is one way in which we can find momentary release from our imprisonment in the dark dungeon of this world, and that is through the arts. In painting, sculpture, poetry, drama, and above all music, the otherwise relentless rack of willing on which we are stretched out throughout life is relaxed, and suddenly we find ourselves free from the tortures of our existence.

For a moment we are in touch with something outside the empirical realm, a different order of being: we literally have the experience of being taken out of time and space altogether, and also out of ourselves, even out of the material object that is our body.

You go, Schopey.

Schopenhauer: Cheerful Zen pessimist

Confirming once again just how shallow and pleasure-oriented I am -- go ahead, call me an aesthete -- I find that I react much more to the quality of writing in philosophy than most readers seem to. The tone, the words, the style, the energy -- all mean a lot to me, at least as much as the ideas. I love and (not that anyone needs to know) basically agree with Hume, for instance. But if he weren't so drily amusing and incisive I wouldn't bother with him at all.

Hume: Cosmic yet bemused

There's more meaning in the writing itself, or so I'd contend, than is usually acknowledged. I remember once discussing Nietzsche with some professor and doing my lame best to ask him why more discussions of Nietzsche didn't take his humor and style into account. (I always found it hard to take Nietzsche's goofy ideas seriously -- but what a dazzling writer.) The prof (a perfectly bright and helpful guy) kept doing his best to steer me back to the exact meaning of the words.

Which was probably the sane and responsible thing to do. Because when you read philosophy scrupulously, it's helpful; you sharpen your brain a bit, you polish your tools, and you find out pretty quickly which team you're cheering for.

But, good lord, it can also be pleasurable, dammit, and that's not nothing. I marvel that that isn't discussed more. But perhaps I'm weird. I find that generally I'm more interested in what reading a philosopher is like than I am in his ideas, which seem to me to be mere parts of a much more rich experience. And in most cases I'd rather talk about the experience than hash over the ideas.

How do you tend to read philosophy? For the ideas alone? For the literary pleasure?

I guess I really should engage earnestly with the substance of Schopenhauer's arguments. But that (zzzzzz) may have to wait a few lifetimes.



posted by Michael at September 10, 2002


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