Cheery old Schopenhauer had me giggling from the start. He starts with a bang, with a section on the Suffering of the World, detailing that life is penance we live for the sin of being born. Pleasure is less pleasurable and pain is more painful than we expect. We need suffering or we would bore ourselves to death. The futility of existence is then explored, how we’re focused on longing for the future then find that we didn’t appreciate life. Boredom as proof that existence is valueless because boredom is the sensation of the emptiness of existence.
I’ll brush past a few sections that were beyond my grasp, the antithesis of thing in itself and appearance. He touches on the fact that will vs. intellect, will wins and carries over after our death. There is the moment now (phenomenon) and then the forever of before life and after life. My problem with palingenesis is that we have more and more people (billions more now), so the denominator is getting astronomical, which makes us weaker people if we are all still sharing the same numerator of will. He’s adamantly against the idea that suicide is wrong; what is wrong is to be forced (against your will) to live just to soothe others.
There’s a fun chapter on women, full of nonsense I won’t dive into, which leads me to believe Schopey was unlucky in love and lacked diversity of companions (he later states that beards are sexual/obscene, which is why women like them). My ire beginning to rise, I then read the section which provoked and humbled me, his assertion that those who read a lot do not think original thoughts. “The thoughts of another that we have read are crumbs from another’s table, the cast-off clothes of an unfamiliar guest.” And the painful idea that “Reading is merely a surrogate for thinking for yourself.”
Religion he struggles with, as a foe of philosophy (real truth vs. allegory). Then a comparison of poetry to philosophy, “the poet can be compared to one who presents flowers, the philosopher one who presents their essence.” He criticizes the mass of men as idiots and bemoans that the greats must be dead before they are recognized.
He dives into comparisons of the vices listed in the Bhagavad Gita and Buddhist, Chinese, Indian texts. “The foundation of morality ultimately rests on the truth expressed in the mystical formula tat twam asi (This art Thou).” He moves from ethics to aesthetics, “the melancholy effect of the inorganic nature of water is in large part abolished by its great mobility, which produces an impression of life, and by its constant play with light : it is, moreover, the primal condition of our life.” He lists his favorite novels, the “crowns of the genre” as: Tristam Shandy, La Nouvelle Heloise, Wilhelm Meister, Don Quixote; “the task of the novelist is not to narrate great events but to make small ones interesting.”
The psychology section had me underlining several choice bits, including “Genuine contempt is the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another; it permits of indulgence and forbearance…” and “If you want to know how you really feel about someone take note of the impression an unexpected letter from him makes on you when you first see it on the doormat.”
On Books and Writing also got lots of highlighting from me. Don’t write until you’ve thought, don’t write if you have nothing to say. Throw books down if they are bad because time is precious. “Only he who takes what he writes directly out of his own head is worth reading.” He suggests that newspapers should have fines on people who use incorrect grammar, poorly chosen words, or repetitive words.
Finally, he bemoans the loss of Latin as a unifying language, saying that the common language brought him closer to writers across all the European centuries, he would feel less connected to the books if language barrier was up.
If this is what it has come to, then farewell humanity, noble taste and cultivation! Barbarism is returning, despite railways, electricity and flying balloons. We are finally losing another advantage enjoyed by all our forefathers: it is not only Roman antiquity which Latin preserves for us, it is equally the entire Middle Ages of every European land and modern times down to the middle of the last century. Scotus Erigena from the ninth century, John of Salisbury from the twelfth, Raymond Lully from the thirteenth, together with a hundred others, speak to me directly in the language natural and proper to them as soon as they began thinking on scholarly subjects: they still approach close up to me, I am in direct contact with them and learn to know them truly. What would it be if each of them had written in the language of his own country? I wouldn’t understand as much as half of it, and real intellectual contact with them would be impossible: I would see them as silhouettes on the distant horizon or, worse, through the telescope of a translation.