Monday, February 22, 2010

Cosmic Pessimism

The fellow above is one Arthur Schopenhauer, born this day 1788 in Danzig, Germany. The picture above is of him as a young man, I feel that too many times we remember our "heroes" as older men or women in the twilight of their lives, and we forget that they too were young once. They had the foibles of youth, and the uncertainties of childhood, they did not come "ready made" mature adults right out of the box. They are not made that way, and we should be thankful they are not, perhaps it was something in their trip to adulthood that made them possess the heroic qualities that we so admire. I have referenced him in a couple of previous blog posts, and invite you to go back and read them to help understand the influence (good or bad) that he has had on MY thought. Herr Schopenhauer was born into a wealthy Prussian family, but when he was 17 his father committed suicide. Perhaps that was one of the underlying reasons for the philosophical genius he was to become. He attended the University of Gottingen, where he studied metaphysics and psychology. He began his mangus opus "The World as Will and Representation in 1814, and finished it in 1818. In 1820, he became a lecturer at the University of Berlin where he famously scheduled his lectures at the same time as G.W.F. Hegel, a philosopher of some note that Schopenhauer could not stand. Hegel was already famous for his works, and to schedule your lectures at the same time, while taking guts, was not a way to assure high attendance. Apparently, only five students showed up for Schopenhauer's lectures and he soon gave up academia forever. In 1821, he fell in love with nineteen-year old opera singer, Caroline Richter, and had a relationship with her for several years. He discarded marriage plans, however, writing, "Marrying means to halve one's rights and double one's duties", and "Marrying means, to grasp blindfolded into a sack hoping to find out an eel out of an assembly of snakes." I can feel his pain, but he was probably a little harsh on the institution of marriage. Schopenhauer had a notably strained relationship with his mother Johanna Schopenhauer. After his father's death, Arthur Schopenhauer endured two long years of drudgery as a merchant, in honor of his dead father. Afterwards, his mother retired to Weimar, and Arthur dedicated himself wholly to studies in the gymnasium of Gotha. After he left it in disgust after seeing one of the masters lampooned, he went to live with his mother. But by that time she had already opened her infamous salon, and Arthur was not compatible with the vain, ceremonious ways of the salon. He was also disgusted by the ease with which Johanna had forgotten his father's memory. When he wrote his first book, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, his mother informed him that the book was incomprehensible I(which to people like me it is, but that is not the point), and it was unlikely that anyone would ever buy a copy. In a fit of temper Schopenhauer told her that his work would be read long after the rubbish she wrote would have been totally forgotten, and it would seem he was correct. I have never read one word of his mother's writing, but have spent several (hard) hours trying to comprehend his. In 1833, he moved from Berlin to settle permanently in Frankfurt (to avoid a cholera epidemic), and died there of heart failure at the age of 72. Thus, a hero is born, has a childhood that is not the happiest, loses his father, and dislikes his mother, Goes to university, becomes of the most original, and influential thinkers of his generation, grows old, and dies. Somewhere in that human drama he called life Schopenhauer began to become a star. A person destined to be remembered by history (some fondly, some not so fondly). His work, and his thoughts I will leave you to suss out for yourselves. For two reasons, one I have not sorted them out myself, and two philosophy should be worked through individually, not spoon fed to us through the prism of another person's ideas, thoughts, and prejudices. Safe to say the small amount of his work I have sorted I admire, and it is for that work that Arthur Schopenhauer (February 22nd, 1788-September 21st, 1860, at the age of 72), you are my (181st) hero of the day.

No comments: