Sunday, November 13, 2011

Six Questions for Arthur Schopenhauer

I find this article Six Questions for Arthur Schopenhauer quite entertaining, although I think the impersonation of Schopenhauer by author Scott Horton doesn't quite have the angst of my Schopenhauer...
3. During your life you said a lot of very unkind things about the Jews. Some say that you were one of the enablers who made rank anti-semitism respectable, paving the way for the holocaust. Considering what happened, do you regret having made some of those harsh statements?

Of course. My negative comments on Judaism were directed towards a religious-philosophical system which—from my perspective—was excessively materialistic. But I made some very unfortunate statements, which reflect the fact that I am by nature something of a misanthrope. Still, perhaps you have lost sight of the fact that there is one nation of which I am, and always was, far more critical: the Germans. They fill themselves with self-importance, with notions of exceptionalism. They sputter polysyllables that they rarely in fact understand; indeed they need all those syllables just to give themselves time to think, because their brains work so slowly. Their nationalism is the worst of all European nationalisms. My father said, back when the Prussians marched into Danzig, that this German nationalism will be the ruin of all of us. He was right, of course. In the meantime, though, the Germans have been tamed. They’re good Europeans.

It finally occurred to me in the most recent revision of JULIA & BUDDY to address what some perceive as Schopenhauer's anti-Semitism. I have Julia respond to that perception by making the same point as this article makes.

But in response to charges of misogyny against Schopenhauer Julia says: "If you ruled out every great man in history on the basis of misogyny, you wouldn’t have any left." I think this is a funny tossed-off line, although it has yet failed to get a laugh in any reading. And actually it's a bit unfair to good old John Stuart Mill, a contemporary of Schopenhauer. Unlike Schopenhauer, Mill was by all accounts a genial and egalitarian soul, who did some important work in the development of the scientific method and who wrote The Subjection of Women. It is an important early feminist essay and about a hundred years before its time, or as the Wiki article states: "At the time it was published in 1869, this essay was an affront to European conventional norms of views on the status of men and women." The essay The Subjection of Women can be read here.

And he also practiced what he preached - after 21 years of friendship with Harriet Taylor they married when she became a widow and continued their intellectual collaboration until Taylor's death. If there's any "great man" in history who should be revered, it's John Stuart Mill.

I actually did put in a plug for Mill in several versions of the script, but eventually realized I had to leave it out, it was breaking up the flow of the dialog. Oh well... maybe I'll do a play about Mill one of these days.

But back to prickly old Arthur S - as with the anti-Semitic remarks, Schopenhauer's misogynistic remarks were tempered by more positive things he said later about women.

I think Schopenhauer is one of the greatest philosophers, due to his insights about the Will, and the importance of art, but it's hard to warm up to him because of his prickly, cranky nature. But it's just those attributes that make him so much fun to portray on stage.

Very few people have any idea who Schopenhauer is, but those who do know might well believe he was a rampaging anti-Semite. The discussion above clarifies things a bit - really Schopenhauer's biggest beef was with the "materialistic" monotheistic religions of which Judaism was just one. Although certainly Schopenhauer showed signs of low-level standard anti-Semitism that was I'm sure pretty typical of his time.

But this article doesn't even mention Hegel. He does make some unflattering remarks about his contemporaries: ...and then we have that scoundrel Fichte who made a very bad pass at the same thing, together with Schleiermacher, who got off to a decent start but went sour. But making Schopenhauer rant against Hegel was the best fun in that section of my play.

And my absolute most favorite part of this article is in the intro:
The transcription was complicated a couple of times due to the vexatious barking of his poodle, “Butz.”
In the Schopenhauer section of my play, I have it end when we hear the barking of Schopenhauer's poodle "Atma" and he has to take him out for his walk. I put that into the play long before I read this article so it's funny that both Horton and I had the same thought about mentioning the poodle. I knew Schopenhauer also had a poodle named "Butz" - but although Butz is a funnier-sounding name than Atma, it's a bit too much, especially in English, to use in the context of the play. And Butz, I suspect, doesn't have a Brahminic meaning as Atma does.

I find it so poignant that isolated lonely old Schopenhauer refers to his pet as "World Soul." Here is a portrait of Schopenhauer from the book Life of Arthur Schopenhauer:
About four o'clock Schopenhauer, still in dress-coat (of an unchanging fashion) and white neckcloth, started for a " constitutional." By the help of description we can picture the stout, broad-shouldered, and rather undersized old gentleman, with beardless chin (in later life, he had come to think beards indecent), over-full mouth, ample and furrowed brow, bright blue eyes, deep-set and widely parted by a broad nose tending to aquiline, and with the suspicious look of the partially deaf. In these strolls his regular companion was a poodle, one of a succession (varying in their colour) which had shared his room and board since student-days at Gottingen. About the year 1840 and later it was a white one, and went, as special favourite, by the name Atma (the world-soul of the Brahmins); from 1850 to his death, a brown poodle, called Butz. Of this dog he was very fond, noting its looks and movements with philosophic eye, and so attentive to its wants, that if, for example, a regimental band passed the house, he would get up in the midst of an earnest conversation, in order to put the seat by the window in a convenient position for his little friend to gaze out. The children of the neighbourhood soon came to know the poodle, and when they came home from their play on the Main-Quai they would, among their other experiences, recount to their parents how they had seen "young Schopenhauer" sitting at his window.

I learned something valuable from this article - I had Julia address Schopenhauer as "Herr" but clearly the proper way to address him is "Professor Doktor Schopenhauer."