web counter VISITORS SINCE JUNE, 2006

Monday, March 23, 2009

Against Happiness (an author with a massive case of egocentrism)

Against Happiness: In Defense of Melancholy argues an interesting premise. The argument's main premise is that in some fashion we should all stop running away from "the blues" and embrace melancholy's awesome power to make us live a fuller life. I first saw a review of this book in the spring of last year, and was deeply attracted to it. I had the opportunity to purchase a copy in Washington, D.C. in late summer, but was unable to get to it until now. I should say here that I am usually conciliatory even in my harsh criticism of books I don't particularly enjoy. This is one of those cases, but it has proven difficult to be in the slightest conciliatory and positive about a book gone so wrong. Of course, I DO have respect for Dr. Eric G. Wilson's many accomplishments. As an academic, I don't think I am in the position of criticizing his work since he certainly out ranks me by many, many titles and "miles." He is (as the back cover and inside flap of the dust jacket explains) "the Thomas H. Prichard Professor of English at Wake Forest University and the author of five books on the relationship between psychology and literature." I am a lowly member of the English department at a college prep, all-girls academy and the author of two unpublished novels and numerous (or should I say countless) Moleskine notebooks that will never see the light of public print. Having said that, I caution the reader/write of any level or caliber to read this book and not identify all that is wrong with it; most strikingly, its author sense of ego and "self-centeredness."

Any voracious reader/writer (even at the amateur level) understands that the writer, by definition and craft, must make appeals to his/her readers. The writer needs the reader to understand his words and one way of doing this is to cater to some of the reader's ideas, interests, and opinions. Nevertheless, when this is done too much, the book loses focus and the reader finds herself/himself in the midst of a personal confession of biblical proportions (to borrow a Dr. Kissinger line). Again, I think even the most experienced and published and successful authors/writers have difficulty with this from time to time. They tend to have a bit too much passion for their topic, and, when this takes place, the text becomes pedantic and boring. I was at first afraid of writing such a scalding entry on this book, and even now feel hesitant about my own personal/academic qualifications to do so at the level that I am going to do. I fear that if Dr. Wilson reads this he might say something like "who the hell does this punk think he is?" Fortunately, we live in America, the greatest and most free democracy in God's green earth, and if a writer can't stand any form of criticism on his work, he/she should remain in his secure hole away from prying eyes and "wanna-be" scholars like myself.

Dr. Wilson begins well enough in the introduction by stating the difference between "specific American type of happiness" and by "not questioning joy in general." He does not romanticize clinical depression making a clear distinction between this terrible illness and the melancholy that he is writing about. I think this is a good start, and certainly a safe one that puts the reader at ease. He clearly states that he is "not willing to argue against medications that simply make existence bearable for so many with biochemical disorders." It is around page 20 where things take a turn for the centric. The statement "My sense of politics is the same [to the idea previously presented relating to the 'stay happy until the next time we meet']. Formerly an area in which the difficult principles of democracy were debated and validated, politics has now become entertainment." I couldn't agree more. The statement and the prose that follows is valid in content, especially since it is so intricately link to the premise of the book. It is, however, that "My sense of..." that shifts the book into a "confession/look-at-me" narrative rather than the objective examination of melancholy it so eloquently promised at the start. Dr. Wilson begins using the pronouns that one usually associates with a writer trying to gain the acceptance and the sensitivities of his readers; this is, however, so overdone as to render most of the rest of the book useless. I suspect the reader doesn't really want to know that much about Dr. Wilson's melancholy. He harnesses "I" and "we" and "us" and then pins himself and the sympathetic reader to "them" as in "the others," or "happy types," as he calls them. So the argument of the book becomes a "us versus them" type of narrative. "All of us, of course, no matter how melancholy or not, are controlled by our preconceptions, by the abstractions that rule our minds...." is not as bad, certainly as "Unmoored from these familiar things, I am forced to look within myself, into my most mysterious interiors. Gazing within, I realize that I am ultimately alone in the world, that one one can live my life for me; not my wife, not my parents, not my culture...." and then "Why on earth do we do the exact opposite of what we should be doing? We are in love not with the actual atmospheres but with abstract predictabilities.... We melancholy souls no doubt keenly feel the loss of our great old cityscapes and our forests and marshes. We love the beautiful ruins of aged buildings. We love the intricate architectural designs, the carvings and the mosaics and the rough stones. We love high ceilings and crown moldings. We love worn-down hardwood floors...." I appreciate the turn for the poetic (and this passage goes on for a few more sentences), but I don't think it adds anything to defining the "melancholic" soul concretely. Again, the use of the "we" turns it into an appeal to sympathy from the reader that does not work at all in what this book promised in the introduction: a clear examination between melancholy and the artificial American happiness. It goes on in the remaining chapters as well: "We've had enough of sanders and shiners, of those who would make our ragged, rough world smooth all over. We want to lose ourselves in the mottled mixes of the botched cosmos. We want for hours to gaze at an old face in a black-and-white photo, one of those ancient pictures found in an attic and stained with rain...." Dr. Wilson then turns his sharp melancholy eye on those "fake melancholy" people, the ones who play a role and dramatize their melancholy for the world to see: "But those who have committed their lives to dejection are no different [than the 'Happy types']. These sad types--those black-clad posers who identify only with the darkness--choose sullenness as one picks a religion or a haircut. Like their brighter opponents, these self-consciously depressed denizens cut half of life away.... These petulant performers gall us as much as do the happy types." I am not particularly sure that one can generalize the fact that changing religion is a simple act of suddenly realizing one has different "taste" for something, including a haircut. At the risk of really sounding like an old school teacher scolding a student, I have to say that religion and haircut (when based on the hasty generalization I point out before) appear as a false analogy, an unforgivable logical fallacy in any argument. And calling these "goth" types "posers" rings of intolerance... isn't that what inclusive, liberal, well-educated, college professors should be arguing against?

Again, to engage in appealing to the reader to the level that Dr. Wilson does ruin the objectivity of the topic and argument. It is no surprise or secret that America has "gone liberal." There's absolutely nothing wrong with it; the political pendulum swings one of two ways as a result of the two party system. Eight years of George W. Bush was enough to turn the most deep-rooted conservative into a half-open minded agent of inclusion rather than exclusion. I am convinced that Dr. Wilson's views are liberal in essence and there's nothing wrong with that fact. Where polemic ignites is in what I consider the worst of all the offenses in this book. I should indicate here that I am neither conservative or liberal, but I see myself as a follower of reason and logic (defunct elements in the political world today). Again, appealing to the reader, Dr. Wilson states: "[H]appy types ultimately don't live their own lives at all. They follow some prefabricated script, some ten-step plan for bliss or some stairway to heaven. Doing so, they separate themselves from the present moment, immediate and unrepeatable and pressing. They live in the past, holding sentimentality to the affirmations handed down by their parents or priests or self-help gurus, or they live in the future, hoping for the perfection they deserve, that they've been living all of their days to realize.... Does this blindness partially account for a recent study, reported in 'Psychological Science,' that found that happy people are more likely to be bigots than sad people? Does this inability to see clearly further accounts for the fact, revealed in the 2006 Pew Report on Social Trends, that Republicans, who can be a somewhat warlike bunch, are happier than Democrats? Is our nation's happiness, its crass self-satisfaction, its wretched contentment, partially responsible for its getting behind a recent war that never should have occurred?" I find this passage disturbingly biased and unfair. Again, I don't say this to defend the Republican ideology that drove us to the present conflicts (I think that for the most part that position is indefensible), but I do have to call out bias where I see it. It is this sort of "not-well-thought-out" appeal to the reader that ruined this book for me. Yes, I do remain a sort of melancholic type, and I purchased the book mainly on the basis of that self-recognition, but if you ask me, I will tell you to get the book from your local library. Don't spend the $20.00, it's really not worth it. Sorry, Dr. Wilson, sir... good luck on your next effort!

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Edward Gorey, An Old Memory, and the Meaning of Genius

I don't know exactly where to begin this post because it all happened very fast. It was one of those cases in which if one is not present-minded or observant enough, the moment might just pass by and the opportunity lost. I was at Barnes & Noble the other day. I intended to spend most of my day off simply writing down things, impressions, in short, whatever came to mind. Before I headed to the cafe, I followed my ritual of browsing the discount racks. It was there that an art book caught my eye in the strangest way. I walked by it, but then turned back suddenly and picked it up. Again, it was just a "moment," something difficult to describe. If we are lucky to harness a moment like this, the possibilities are limitless. I don't normally include this type of entry in this blog. This is from my main Moleskine notebook where I write in the second person. I began doing this to avoid going on first person rants that lead nowhere. This could be considered a rant as well, but the ideas that came to my mind made me very happy that day, so you'll have to excuse my naive notion and half-baked ideas of creativity and genius. It is spontaneous writing, and I try to keep very little control of where the ideas go.

"You become obsessed with finding out this bit of a fact on Edward Gorey. Back in 1984, when your cousin pointed out to you the introduction to PBS's "Mystery!" a program he'd begun watching on a regular basis, you didn't think too much about it other than to think it looked interestingly Romanesque/Gothic. You didn't know what these things mean back then, at least not by name, but you realized there was a deeper meaning to them instinctively. Now, picking up the book on Edward Gorey, and remembering the stylistic part of his art that helped you make the connection, you search for the information on the PBS program. There's no index, but rather an academic looking bibliography. You look and look and can't find anything until you get to a timeline of the artist's life. It is there that you find what you were looking for: In 1980, Edward Gorey contributes his art for the intro segment of the PBS program "Mystery!" He does so in collaboration with another artist whose name you didn't bother to make a note of, but you end up assuming he did the animation part of the work. The animation is done in the style of Chinese paper/shadow puppets. All of that from a single glimpse at a cover of a book you never seen before. The connection of two ideas/memories connected only by art. You didn't know the artist's name back in 1984 when you first saw the introduction to "Mystery!" but you were able to identify it simply based on the stylistic aspect of his work as displayed in the cover of the book. It is 2009 now, and your curiosity has been ignited. Why remember that one evening back in 1984 so clearly? You were a different person then, living with a different purpose but you had already been given the key to the life you lead now. You simply rejected it deciding instead to follow a different type of passion. Eventually, you would land where you are now, but not before continuing to sabotage your efforts by again following other passions that, while very noble in principle, had nothing to do with the life of the mind. From 1984 to 2009, what is it, what deep force made you recognize the art of Edward Gorey, and why with such intensity? These are the moments when you think about the meaning of genius. There's the rub of definition. Much like love, the definition of genius has eluded thinkers, historians and poets alike. So, was it genius that made you remember Edward Gorey's art? Is "original style" genius when it comes to visual art, and, if so, how does one write about it? How do you write about something for which there's no universal definition? Perhaps you being to boil it down to the individual rather than starting with the universal. For example, with the art of Edward Gorey it was his originality, his uniqueness, his sense of individualism that identifies him from both the past and his contemporaries (and you dare say the future but that's a whole different argument altogether). Did he think about it? Did he sit for hours consciously making an effort to come up with something entirely new (despite its Romanesque/Gothic influences), or did it just happen spontaneously in a flash of inspiration? Does it have to do with medium? The simplicity of ink and paper? The stroke of that pen so uniquely his that it readily identifiable even if he didn't sign his name to his work? It is as if every stroke of the pen, every line, shadow and figure screams "I am Edward Gorey. I am an artist!" Was this what drew you to the book? Did you hear that scream calling you back? As this the sound that helped you make the connection from 1984 to today? Edward Gorey, artist, inarguably a genius, unique in art and allegory, calling you back to the cover of that book and saying, "hey, remember me?" Perhaps this short sound is what describes genius. Genius is in the act of appreciation; with the viewer/art lover, Gorey's art is simply a collection that amounts to nothing but some dark chaotic mathematical formulae. It means nothing without the audience to make sense of it and give it life.

Earlier you mentioned something about genius and the future, and the fact that it was another argument altogether. What you hinted at when you said future and how Edward Gorey's art identifies itself against the past and his contemporaries deals with the current challenge of not identifying genius by its ability to defeat time. That is to say, present academic circles shun from identifying genius by the use of the proverbial "stands the test of time" equation. In 100 years perhaps there will be a handful of scholars who may specialize on Gorey's art and keep his memory and art alive. Or perhaps there might be a revival in 50 or 60 years and Edward Gorey will be elevated to the canon of Western art right along Picasso, Richter, Miro, etc., or who knows who might still be recognized as genius then. While you don't hold any particular liberal or conservative stance on this argument, you do believe that it is a shame to keep something so unique as genius out of any canon of academic study simply because it is out dated, or because it offends some politically correct sensitivity. Yes, Shakespeare and Hemingway and even Martin Luther were anti-Semitic (and rabidly so). Certainly you are not advocating this type of irrationality (hate), and even more because while you were baptized and raised as a Catholic, deep down inside, at the very core of your being, you know you are a Jew. Your argument simply states that, for example, Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" is highly anti-Semitic, it shouldn't be excluded from academic study. We shouldn't hold Shakespeare to our moral standards. Yes, indeed, we do know better and as the result of our knowing it falls upon us not to judge Shakespeare by our standards. His past (and the past in general) was anti-Semitic; anti-Semiticism colored everything... it was the gestalt and as natural as attending Catholic mass every Sunday. Thankfully, the post-World War II woke us up. But you digress... at the core of the argument stands the salt of it: any limitation to serious academic and scholarly study or creative pursuit is censorship and censorship of any kind is counter to the artistic and scholastic spirit and the pursuit of genius. Nothing is outdated. Nothing is offensive. There's room for all in the great tent of the mind."

Of course, I rambled more than I made sense while writing this, but, like I said, it was just one of those moments that makes the mind explode and the avalanche of words is too fast for the hand to keep up. Long live memory and Edward Gorey's art! Genius beyond argument!

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, March 15, 2009

William Hazlitt: On the Pleasures of Hating

Amazing little book, this one. And going by Terry Eagleton's review of Duncan Wu's biography of the subject in this month's issue of Harper's Magazine (April 2009), it is nearly impossible to think how William Hazlitt escaped practically the entire 20th Century. Yet he is now being re-discovered in England and here in the Colonies as well thanks to "William Hazlitt: The First Modern Man." I didn't read this volume but rather a short collection of Hazlitt's essays entitled "On the Pleasures of Hating." On the article reviewing Wu's biography of Hazlitt, Eagleton describes Hazlitt as a wonder: "Rarely in the annals of British culture have art, politics, and philosophy been so densely interwoven" than in the writings of William Hazlitt. Eagleton goes on to explain that Hazlitt's "work of art obeyed no law but its own and could therefore be seen as a model of human autonomy." One has to revel in such a description, especially when the reader discovers that he is, indeed, in the presence of a thinking of tremendous caliber. William Hazlitt pulled no punches, and left everything on the page. I intend no pun with my previous statement, but the essay "The Fight" describes Hazlitt's travel to the spectacle that must have been boxing in its early stages very nicely. This essay made me think of Carol Joyce Oats' "On Boxing," and wondered if she ever (more than likely she has) read Hazlitt. The essay really doesn't say much about fighting or the fight itself, but to describe briefly the events that take place. The travels to and from the fight are filled with amazing description of 1800s England and its customs.

The essay "The Indian Jugglers" begins by Hazlitt encountering a street performer, and, being the critical man that he was, he begins by dissecting part by part the intricate motions and definitions of talent that make the juggler such an attractive subject. From this brief scene, Hazlitt takes on a topic I just happened to be thinking about the other day (coming up in a later post). Hazlitt's essay examines what precisely is that which we call genius, and draws a fairly good balance between the mechanical abilities (concrete/tangible) and the metaphysical intangibles of art. "This power is indifferently called genius, imagination, feeling, taste; but the manner in which it acts upon the mind can neither be defined by abstract rules, as is the case in science, nor verified by continual unvarying experiments, as is the case in mechanical performances... The hand and eye have done their part. There is only a want of taste and genius. It is after we enter upon that enchanted ground that the human mind begins to droop and flag as in a strange road, or in a thick mist, benighted and making little way with many attempts and many failures, and that the best of us only escape with half a triumph. The undefined and the imaginary are the regions that we must pass like Satan, difficult and doubtful, 'half flying, half on foot.'" He does limit the translation of the subject to the old-age formulae of that which "stands the test of time," a definition that more and more people are challenging today. Hazlitt, however, defends this position with the conservatism of his day, despite the fact that he was considered a radical and was a son of all the subversiveness of the Romantic age.

"On the Spirit of the Monarchy" is an attack upon the institution of royalty the likes of which took many thinkers to their premature death at the hands of authorities. Despite the fact that this essay is a bit dated, there's much here about politics that apply to today's political stage. A king ordained by God seems to Hazlitt ridiculous; his heretical views are in full display here--a rarity for his day. Similarly, the essay "What is the People?" bespeak of many of present day issues concerning Civil Rights, their violation or lack of observance and Supreme Power in general. Who are those that we elect to "serve" us, and how can we make sure they are doing their job? Hazlitt concludes that no amount of check and balances could assure such a thing, and, that the people are better of securing their own liberty by any means necessary.

"On Reason and Imagination" is the most philosophical of all the essays. Here Hazlitt considers what the rights of a conquered nation are (and here he is referring perhaps to the colonization of Africa by European powers), and how should the colonizing power administer the same. This is another essay that rings true today and it is certainly applicable to the War on Terrorism. Hazlitt is unabashed about his views; if he was intending not to be a militarist, he certainly failed a bit here. For example: "... the excesses committed by the victorious besiegers of a town do not attach to the nation committing them, but to the nature of that sort of warfare [war of annihilation], and are common to both sides." This type of thinking is what qualifies Hazlitt as a philosopher who was willing to consider all angles and not limit himself for the sake of acceptance.

The title essay, "On the Pleasures of Hating," is less polemic. There were very few passages that stood out, but that's just mainly my own interpretation. Of the many, however, that I underlined I believe this one best carries the meaning of the essay: "Does love of virtue denote any wish to discover or amend our own faults? No, but it atones for an obstinate adherence to our own vices by the most virulent intolerance to human frailties. This principle is of a most universal application. It extends to good as well as evil: if it makes us hate folly, it makes us no less dissatisfied with distinguished merit. If it inclines us to resent the wrongs of others, it impels us to be as impatient of their prosperity. We revenge injuries: we repay benefits with ingratitude. Even our strongest partialities and likings soon take this turn." I perhaps agree with this statement a bit too much to be objective in its interpretation. I do have to say that I enjoyed reading Hazlitt a great deal, and wouldn't mind picking up Duncan Wu's volume and learning more about this great man of letters.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Friedrich Nietzsche: A Titan Man among Children...

Let me begin by saying that I don't agree with Nietzsche at all, not once... not even with his theories of music and the mind. Having said that, my love for his writings, the immense amount of time that I have spent both reading and re-reading and teaching his works to my students is not the result of being an academic oxymoron. I love the fact that he spoke when the rest of the world turned to platitudes. What Nietzsche gave to the world was an alternative, albeit the fact that it was a terrible alternative, and a very destructive one. His thoughts, however, are as brilliant as he was misunderstood in his time.

Will Durant reaches Nietzsche after a coaster ride at top speed through the history of thought. Accordingly, Durant gives credit to Schopenhauer's theories for the young Friedrich disdain for the establishment. More specifically, Schopenhauer's "The World as Evil" had an impact on Nietzsche, a young lost soul at the time looking for some fuel to the sparks of the life of the mind he was trying to ignite. He certainly found his theoretical foundation in Schopenhauer, but it was Richard Wagner that gave young Nietzsche the forest fire from which the world will remember him. Of course, Wagner and Nietzsche later had a fall out, but the "damage" had been done, and Nietzsche was to write some of the most celebrated and important work of the late 1800s. First, the challenge against conventional morality that Nietzsche mounted was enough to send a chill down the Pope's back. Here was more than Schopenhauer's philosophy of pessimism; this was original... the disrobing of morality as a bluff, a useless obstacle to the fulfillment of men's potential. Nietzsche asked the following question: if men were held down by the use of morality as a harness, then who was exercising the power. He believed in aristocracy then, as the manifestation of the Will to Power, Napoleon I being a masterful example. The idea of extraordinary men (a race of supermen) exercising their power over the ordinary men (the servants or powerless) was later used by the Nazis as justification for their ridiculous and mythological madness. The reason behind this was Nietzsche's sister, really, an advocate of the German post-Treaty of Versailles hate for all things French, British and most certainly American. Nietzsche had been dead for thirty-something years when Hitler came to power, and by that time Nietzsche's sister had done some serious editorial damage. Oh well, how can any of this make any sense now it's beyond me. What is important today about Nietzsche is his contribution to counter-conventional wisdom ideas that challenged the status quo. Of course, "Thus Spake Zarathustra" eventually became Nietzsche's greatest contribution--that fact could never be misappropriated, denied or misinterpreted.

I am often reminded of Nietzsche's views on "Failure." How easy it is to be frightful of failure today, when we have become so accustomed to an obsession with success. Alain de Button presented a short film about it which is available for free on Google Videos HERE. If anything, this should give pause to the present economic situation. Nietzsche believed deeply that failure was humanity's greatest classroom, and that instead of running away from it, men should embrace it and learn from it fully. I show the de Button film to my students and encourage them to see their hardships with a different set of eye glasses on.

"The Story of Philosophy" was a great re-read. I say "was" because I will be finishing it tomorrow or Tuesday, but I won't be writing about what Durant refers to as "Contemporary Philosophers." It is hard to comprehend how Durant writes of Bergson and Bertrand Russell in the present tense :-) I find it fascinating that Durant was alive when William James was at his academic zenith. The last two sections of Durant's book deal with Contemporary European and American philosophers, especially of Pragmatism as the original American philosophical contribution. Since I will be reading Professor Louis Menand's "Pragmatism: A Reader" later this season, I will wait to write about this awesome theory then. Next on the list is William Hazlitt's "On the Pleasures of Hating and Other Readings."
Interestingly, Terry Eagleton just wrote a review of a volume on Hazlitt in this month's copy of Harper's. Serendipity strikes again.

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 09, 2009

Herbert Spencer: Misunderstood and Forgotten

The problem with Spencer's philosophy is not that it lacks brilliant ideas, but rather it is the story of a man who "bit on more than he could chew," according to Durant. Following on the footsteps of Kant, Spencer gave life to the pragmatic idea of rational and metaphysical philosophies. Unfortunately, Spencer was not able to speak or theorize with the clarity and mastery of Immanuel Kant. As a result, most of the premises (which incidentally Durant recognizes as brilliant) were either misunderstood or declared hogwash by his contemporaries. The vastly misunderstood ones, according to Durant, eventually came to be recognized later as insightful and valid; only after many years, when Europe turned back to its spiritual roots, was Spencer recognized. With Comte and Darwin as his main influences, it is little wonder why Herbert Spencer's legacy turned out to be what it is today. I don't say this in a derogatory way, but Durant seems to think that because Spencer began with the ideas of "the Unknowable," and was only able to explain it metaphysically, the result was more confusion than clarity of ideas. Where Spencer gains clarity is, ironically enough, in his early studies of "The Evolution of Psychology, or the study of the mind," and "The Evolution of Society," which eventually lead to scientific procedures in the study of the changes in society. With religion, Spencer was less kind: "Religion is at first the worship of a multitude of gods and spirits, more or less alike in every nation; and the development of religion comes through the notion of a central and omnipotent deity subordinating the others, and coordinating them into the hierarchy of special roles. The first gods were probably suggested by dreams and ghosts." The insubstantial matter of Spencer's metaphysical theories were as constant as his changes of mind. Will Durant's account of this great philosopher is absolutely on target even back in the 1920s (when "The Story of Philosophy" was published). Morality and ethics were fields that Durant explained well according to Spencer's philosophy, but that too has continued to change, and poor Spencer has been left in the shadows of philosophy.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, March 02, 2009

Schopenhauer is a Major League Pessimist... but in a good way!

I've heard it said that pessimists always tell the truth. I am not quite sure of the statement or its provenance, but supposedly the pessimists do so in order to ruin it for everyone else. That's a long shot from where Schopenhauer started from, and certainly his intention in coming up with his theoretical argument for pessimism has a bit more credibility than simply hearsay. Will Durant's "The Story of Philosophy" presents a Schopenhauer consistent with the new ideas flourishing in the very late 1700s and early 1800s. Schopenhauer resisted the comfortable line of reasoning that preceded him and presented the world with a few that many deemed "incorrigible" and "denigrating." Durant presents a man obsessed with breaking the mold of complacency; very much the same way Nietzsche will do in a few years.

Schopenhauer theories of the reason behind procreation were not only breakthrough theories at the time, they would probably create havoc in a world obsessed with individual rights. With this I mean the scenario in which you'd have to explain to an individual that despite the hundred of thousands of dollars in tax payers money, they simply cannot conceive. Of course the warranty of life, liberty and the pursuit only extend that far, it doesn't really include the "happiness." The pursuit is warrantied, not the happiness. Now, imagine telling that very same person that the reason tax payers couldn't continue paying for their fertility care was simply because, as Schopenhauer so stubbornly put it and I snobbishly repeat, "the inclination or impulse to recreate is controlled by will, and with the perverse idea that somehow we all need to leave something behind when we depart this world." Schopenhauer not only accuses our infertile friends as fools (his word), but also connects their desire to be parents with an egocentric tendency; the "it's all about me" mentality that drives individual desire. And that's simply a short outline of Schopenhauer's reproductive theory.

Where things get really heated is in "The World as Evil." Here Schopenhauer gives us cause to pause and consider, is it really worth it to live in a world that simply wants our destruction. Do we really want to be part of a world where desires are masked as successes when in reality they are just an increasing list of our demands on that world? "... because 'will' itself indicates 'want,' and its grasp is always greater than its reach... For every wish that is satisfied there remain ten that are denied. Desire is infinite, fulfilment is limited--'it is like the alms thrown to a beggar, that keeps him alive today in order that his misery may be prolonged tomorrow...'" Durant seems to explain Schopenhauer as the seminal existential theoretical background, and considering Nietzsche fell in love with "World as Will and Idea" (Schopenhauer's book), and went on to develop his "survival of the fittest" from this growing idea of meaninglessness. But, what should we live for then? In the words of Harold Bloom, "Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?" Don't bother looking for it in academia, or the Great Ideas of the humanities... Schopenhauer explains that "If the resistance of the 'will' against the apprehension of some knowledge reaches such a degree that that operation is not performed in its entirety, then certain elements or circumstances become for the intellect completely suppressed, because the 'will' cannot endure the sight of them; and then, for the sake of the necessary connections, the gaps that thus arise are filled up with pleasure; thus madness appears. For the intellect has given up its nature to please the 'will;' the man now imagines what does not exist." Certainly Durant quotes Schopenhauer accurately here, and one is left to follow the rest of the outline on Schopenhauer with a feeling of despair bordering on existentialism (as per Sartre). But, of course, there's much hope. Durant spends the rest of the chapter on "The Wisdom of Life." Out of the despair that "The World as Evil" implies comes the hope that "a life devoted to the acquisition of wealth is useless unless we know how to turn it into joy; and this is an art that requires culture and wisdom." This sounds like the proverbial "those who say money can't buy happiness simply don't know where to shop" adage. With wealth, a person could devote himself to a life of learning and of spreading the wisdom of art and culture. That much is very accurate, and how many of our great financial minds need to heed this advice today.

The sections on art and religion also carry with it a powerful punch. Like I said, Schopenhauer was really the seminal thinker of what Nietzsche assessed as the "Will to Power" but too aggressively, and later Sartre would turn into the drudgery of existentialism. I respect and love Schopenhauer now more than ever. I think this re-read is turning into a great learning experience.

Labels: , , , , ,