What a man!
‘This world is the battleground of tormented, agonized beings who devour each other for survival.’
‘If a God had made this world, I should not like to be that God. The misery in the world would break my heart.’
Who needs bikinis and aerobic tights when you can be with Schopenhauer?
If you’re content with the illusions we are fed from day one then Schopenhauer will not be to your liking. For what mommy and daddy tell us, as a rule, is only so that we take good care of their DNA, pass it on, allow it to continue copying itself from one organism to the other in the form of a flow of babies.
But what if you have looked at the world and found something, or everything, amiss? If you ask: Why are things like this? What is going on? Why are so many people nasty and greedy? Why do I suffer?
What’s behind the never-ending conflict we see all around us?
Then this is your man. This is what one poet said of the Sage of Frankfurt:
‘Here at last was someone who had the courage for the insight that somehow the foundation of the world was not in the best of ways.’
The list of great people influenced by Schopenhauer is too long to type. Nietzsche discovered Schopenhauer’s masterwork, ‘The World as Will and Representation,’ in a used book store. He ran home with the volumes tucked under his arm and read the book right through–an amazing feat as anyone familiar with the book will understand. Nietzsche was amazed. He said he felt as if Schopenhauer was speaking directly to him.
Wagner also fell under the Schopenhauerian spell and said the great man was the major stimulant behind the writing of Tristan and Isolde. Same too with Tolstoy, Tommy Mann, Wittgenstein, Hardy, Proust, Lawrence, Turgenev, Borges, Mahler, Strauss and Freud. Carl Jung said that he read Schopenhauer from his teenage years and for the rest of his life. Beckett reached a stage late in life where he said the only person he could read was Schopenhauer.
’Ah yes, so the Nile has finally reached Cairo.’
What does the man say? In simple terms that there’s a universal force driving everything and this he calls ‘Will.’ It’s insatiable, never stops and leaves us with an endless stream of desires that can never be satisfied. If we do find temporary satisfaction we are delivered over to that other great curse of Mankind, boredom. Schopenhauer notes that if life itself had any value then boredom would not exist. So we are like caged hamsters who run in the wheel, like the pilot who radios his base saying, ‘I’m lost, but I’m making good time.’ Like the photographer who keeps walking hoping to get a closeup shot of the horizon.
We are then doomed to suffering. Our only release is through ascetic contemplation, an elevation of the mind outside this reality via art or music–or death. But Schopenhauer’s ‘Will’ laughs at our death. The individual is unimportant to it. Look at the number of babies being wheeled through a shopping mall. Countless new people waiting to take your spot and suffer same. There is nothing else in the world but this ‘Will,’ he says, and so, ‘it feeds on itself.’
So this ‘Will’ is behind the constant strife we face every single day.
I am astonished how many otherwise well-educated people have not read his book. He is called a ‘pessimist.’ But why is that term used? I’ve heard of no philosopher who is called an ‘optimist.’ Schopenhauer knew he would be attacked for his gloomy worldview, ‘yes, because I tell the truth,’ he said.
And he noted that those who wanted cuddly stuff should go and see their priests, or sham philosophers who will tell them only what they wish to hear. In fact, his ideas are in no way more ‘pessimistic’ than what is in the Bible, where, he says, the words ‘suffering’ and ‘life’ are used synonymously.
He’s one of the greatest minds this world has ever seen. His writing is second to none and I rank him with Plato as one of the two best writers who’ve ever lived. And he’s funny as hell to boot.
I wouldn’t recommend his magnum opus mentioned above, but for those interested to start with his, ‘Essays and Aphorisms.’
When he became famous late in life, after decades of being ignored, our Sage said, ‘Ah yes, so the Nile has finally reached Cairo.’
‘When one considers how vast and how close to us is the problem of existence—this equivocal, tortured, fleeting dream-like existence of ours—so vast and so close that a man no sooner discovers it than it overshadows and obscures all other problems and aims;
and when one sees how all men, with few and rare exceptions, have no clear consciousness of the problem, nay, seem to be quite unaware of its presence, but busy themselves with everything rather than with this, and live on, taking no thought but for the passing day and the hardly longer span of their own personal future, either expressly discarding the problem or else over-ready to come to terms with it by adopting some system of popular metaphysics and letting it satisfy them;
when, I say, one takes all this to heart, one may come to the opinion that man may be said to be a thinking being only in a very remote sense, and henceforth feel no special surprise at any trait of human thoughtlessness or folly; but know, rather, that the normal man’s intellectual range of vision does indeed extend beyond that of the brute, whose whole existence is, as it were, a continual present, with no consciousness of the past or the future, but not such an immeasurable distance as is generally supposed.’