Saturday 30 April 2016

Thomas Mann and Schopenhauer

Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks. Thomas Buddenbrook suddenly finds a part of a famous book by a famous philosopher (who remains unnamed in the novel), and reads for four hours on end, enraptured, and enthralled: that is the word. "On death and its relation to our personal immortality." Which turns out to be from Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea. This book, and the author in general, turns out to have had a huge influence on the world of art. see John Desmond Peter, Vladimir's Carrot: Modern Drama and the Modern Imagination, at

See also Irvin D. Yalom, The Schopenhauer Cure: A Novel, which seems to be a novelistic life of Schopenhauer, much along the lines of the same author's novel on Nietzsche and Freud (When Nietzsche Wept, 1992). The whole book seems to be available on the net. And I find it fascinating.... So far, all it does is talk about an older man, Dr Julius something, a psychiatrist? counsellor? - and a younger man, Philip, philosophy teacher. Julius has discovered cancer, and is shocked by the thought of impending death. He decides to live as best he can the year ahead of him. He decides to follow up on some unfinished business, one of these being the case of Philip. Philip thinks Julius wants advice how to face death, and loads him with Schopenhauer, the death and Schopenhauer episode in Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks. In exchange, Philip wants supervision from Julius so that he can be qualified as a counsellor. Julius agrees, hesitantly, but only on condition that Philip attend a group therapy session: he feels Philip does not have the empathy required in a counsellor. Philip agrees, reluctantly. Where does Schopenhauer come into all this? He does not, or at least, it is not a novelistic life of the philosopher. I had simply read the title wrong. The title is "The Schopenhauer Cure."

Does Schopenhauer and Nietzsche have anything to say to us today at all? And yet I am fascinated by this book.

«He who would be everything cannot be anything.» (Schopenhauer) Alternatives exclude. For every yes there must be a no. 

"When, at the end of their lives, most men look back they will find that they have lived throughout ad interim. They be surprised to see that the very thing they allowed to slip by unappreciated and unenjoyed was just their life. And so a man, having been duped by hope, dances into the arms of death."

He recalled Philip`s words about childhood in the last meeting. No doubt about it: Nietzsche and Schopenhauer had that part right. Julius nodded his head sadly. It was true he had never truly savored the moment, never grasped the present, never said to himself, «This is it, this time, this day—this is what I want! These are the good old days, right now. Let me remain in this moment, let me take root in this place for all time.» No, he had always believed that the juiciest meat of life was yet to be found and had always coveted the future—the time of being older, smarter, bigger, richer. And then came the upheaval, the time of the great reversal, the sudden and cataclysmic deidealization of the future, and the beginning of the aching yearning for what used to be.

Aperson of high, rare mental
gifts who is forced into a job
which is merely useful is like
a valuable vase decorated with
the most beautiful painting
and then used as a kitchen

[Schopenhauer's father commits suicide.] Every suicide leaves a wake of shock, guilt, and anger in the survivors, and Arthur
experienced all these sentiments. Imagine the complexity of feelings Arthur must have
experienced. His love for his father resulted in intense grief and loss. His resentment of
his father—later he often spoke of his suffering from his father`s excessive hardness—
evoked remorse. And the wonderful possibility of liberation must have evoked much
guilt: Arthur realized that his father would have forever blocked the path to his becoming
a philosopher. In this regard one thinks of two other great free–thinking moral
philosophers, Nietzsche and Sartre, who lost their fathers early in life. Could Nietzsche
have become the Antichrist if his father, a Lutheran minister, had not died when
Nietzsche was a child? And in his autobiography Sartre expresses his relief that he was
not burdened with the search for his father`s approbation. Others, Kierkegaard and Kafka,
for example, were not so fortunate: all their lives they were oppressed by the weight of
their fathers` judgment.

«Nietzsche,” interjected Philip, «once said something to the effect that when we
awake discouraged in the middle of the night, enemies that we had defeated long ago
come back to haunt us.»

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