Wednesday, September 30, 2009


"There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist. Mark Twain

Talking about the old pessimist Schopenhauer today-- he was a young pessimist once, too-- I mused that he'd lived to a relatively ripe old age for someone so sure that life was a mistake and a burden. (In fact, he made it to just 72. His disposition made him look at least that old, in photographs, long before his eventual expiration date.)

Camus said we must imagine Sisyphus happy. Schopenhauer, too? He does seem to have enjoyed his misery and misogyny and misanthropy, and even to have lived for it. He could've checked out early. Life: love it or leave it. Isn't that the existentialist/pessimist credo? In fact, he rejected suicide on philosophical grounds even though personal events brought it close to home.

"His father killed himself in 1805. [That might explain some things, eh?] However, he insists that suicide is a cowardly act... we do not really [on his metaphysical view] will but are willed by an unconscious agency over which we have no power. The problem with suicide, then, is that it maintains the illusion of willfulness. For Schopenhauer, the only permissible suicide is the self-starvation of the ascetic..." But why is even that "permissible," if we're all under the sway of a voracious and implacable Will, endlessly striving for no purpose larger than its own blind and pointless continuance?

The young Schopenhauer, btw, had not only been a romantic figure for the trendy young pessimists who made him their paragon; he was himself disappointed in love. Matthieu Ricard's statement seems tailor-made for our philosopher: "We can respond to heartbreaks by trying to forget them, distracting ourselves, moving away, going on a trip, and so on, but these are merely plaster casts on a wooden leg." Schopenhauer's cast was metaphysical. Did it assuage his heartbreak? Doubtful.

For the record: "he was found dead sitting in his chair on 21 September 1860." He hadn't missed any meals. Simon Critchley

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