The Art of Literature

Top of Schopenhauer

Book 8
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The contents of this, as of the other volumes in the series, have been drawn from Schopenhauer's Parerga, and amongst the various subjects dealt with in that famous collection of essays, Literature holds an important place. Nor can Schopenhauer's opinions fail to be of special value when he treats of literary form and method. For, quite apart from his philosophical pretensions, he claims recognition as a great writer; he is, indeed, one of the best of the few really excellent prose-writers of whom Germany can boast. While he is thus particularly qualified to speak of Literature as an Art, he has also something to say upon those influences which, outside of his own merits, contribute so much to an author's success, and are so often undervalued when he obtains immediate popularity. Schopenhauer's own sore experiences in the matter of reputation lend an interest to his remarks upon that subject, although it is too much to ask of human nature that he should approach it in any dispassionate spirit.

In the following pages we have observations upon style by one who was a stylist in the best sense of the word, not affected, nor yet a phrasemonger; on thinking for oneself by a philosopher who never did anything else; on criticism by a writer who suffered much from the inability of others to understand him; on reputation by a candidate who, during the greater part of his life, deserved without obtaining it; and on genius by one who was incontestably of the privileged order himself. And whatever may be thought of some of his opinions on matters of detail—on anonymity, for instance, or on the question whether good work is never done for money—there can be no doubt that his general view of literature, and the conditions under which it flourishes, is perfectly sound.

It might be thought, perhaps, that remarks which were meant to apply to the German language would have but little bearing upon one so different from it as English. This would be a just objection if Schopenhauer treated literature in a petty spirit, and confined himself to pedantic inquiries into matters of grammar and etymology, or mere niceties of phrase. But this is not so. He deals with his subject broadly, and takes large and general views; nor can anyone who knows anything of the philosopher suppose this to mean that he is vague and feeble. It is true that now and again in the course of these essays he makes remarks which are obviously meant to apply to the failings of certain writers of his own age and country; but in such a case I have generally given his sentences a turn, which, while keeping them faithful to the spirit of the original, secures for them a less restricted range, and makes Schopenhauer a critic of similar faults in whatever age or country they may appear. This has been done in spite of a sharp word on page seventeen of this volume, addressed to translators who dare to revise their author; but the change is one with which not even Schopenhauer could quarrel.

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About the author

Arthur Schopenhauer (22 February 1788 – 21 September 1860) was a German philosopher. He is best known for his 1818 work The World as Will and Representation, in which he characterizes the phenomenal world, and consequently all human action, as the product of a blind, insatiable, and malignant metaphysical will.

Proceeding from the transcendental idealism of Immanuel Kant, Schopenhauer rejected the contemporaneous post-Kantian philosophies of German idealism. Instead, he developed an atheistic metaphysical and ethical system that has been described as an exemplary manifestation of philosophical pessimism. Schopenhauer was among the first thinkers in Western philosophy to share and affirm significant tenets of Eastern philosophy (e.g., asceticism, the world-as-appearance), having initially arrived at similar conclusions as the result of his own philosophical work. His writing on aesthetics, morality, and psychology would exert important influence on thinkers and artists throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

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Nov 23, 2015
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Body, Mind & Spirit / Parapsychology / General
Philosophy / Essays
Philosophy / General
Philosophy / Mind & Body
Social Science / General
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Book 9

In these pages I shall speak of The Wisdom of Life in the common meaning of the term, as the art, namely, of ordering our lives so as to obtain the greatest possible amount of pleasure and success; an art the theory of which may be calledEudaemonology, for it teaches us how to lead a happy existence. Such an existence might perhaps be defined as one which, looked at from a purely objective point of view, or, rather, after cool and mature reflection—for the question necessarily involves subjective considerations,—would be decidedly preferable to non-existence; implying that we should cling to it for its own sake, and not merely from the fear of death; and further, that we should never like it to come to an end.

Now whether human life corresponds, or could possibly correspond, to this conception of existence, is a question to which, as is well-known, my philosophical system returns a negative answer. On the eudaemonistic hypothesis, however, the question must be answered in the affirmative; and I have shown, in the second volume of my chief work (ch. 49), that this hypothesis is based upon a fundamental mistake. Accordingly, in elaborating the scheme of a happy existence, I have had to make a complete surrender of the higher metaphysical and ethical standpoint to which my own theories lead; and everything I shall say here will to some extent rest upon a compromise; in so far, that is, as I take the common standpoint of every day, and embrace the error which is at the bottom of it. My remarks, therefore, will possess only a qualified value, for the very wordeudaemonology is a euphemism. Further, I make no claims to completeness; partly because the subject is inexhaustible, and partly because I should otherwise have to say over again what has been already said by others.

The only book composed, as far as I remember, with a like purpose to that which animates this collection of aphorisms, is Cardan's De utilitate ex adversis capienda, which is well worth reading, and may be used to supplement the present work. Aristotle, it is true, has a few words on eudaemonology in the fifth chapter of the first book of his Rhetoric; but what he says does not come to very much. As compilation is not my business, I have made no use of these predecessors; more especially because in the process of compiling, individuality of view is lost, and individuality of view is the kernel of works of this kind. In general, indeed, the wise in all ages have always said the same thing, and the fools, who at all times form the immense majority, have in their way too acted alike, and done just the opposite; and so it will continue. For, as Voltaire says, we shall leave this world as foolish and as wicked as we found it on our arrival.

Book 1

If my object in these pages were to present a complete scheme of counsels and maxims for the guidance of life, I should have to repeat the numerous rules—some of them excellent—which have been drawn up by thinkers of all ages, from Theognis and Solomon[1] down to La Rochefoucauld; and, in so doing, I should inevitably entail upon the reader a vast amount of well-worn commonplace. But the fact is that in this work I make still less claim to exhaust my subject than in any other of my writings.

[Footnote 1: I refer to the proverbs and maxims ascribed, in the Old

Testament, to the king of that name.]

An author who makes no claims to completeness must also, in a great measure, abandon any attempt at systematic arrangement. For his double loss in this respect, the reader may console himself by reflecting that a complete and systematic treatment of such a subject as the guidance of life could hardly fail to be a very wearisome business. I have simply put down those of my thoughts which appear to be worth communicating—thoughts which, as far as I know, have not been uttered, or, at any rate, not just in the same form, by any one else; so that my remarks may be taken as a supplement to what has been already achieved in the immense field.

However, by way of introducing some sort of order into the great variety of matters upon which advice will be given in the following pages, I shall distribute what I have to say under the following heads: (1) general rules; (2) our relation to ourselves; (3) our relation to others; and finally, (4) rules which concern our manner of life and our worldly circumstances. I shall conclude with some remarks on the changes which the various periods of life produce in us.

Book 10
The style of “Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung” is sometimes loose and involved, as is so often the case in German philosophical treatises. The translation of the book has consequently been a matter of no little difficulty. It was found that extensive alteration of the long and occasionally involved sentences, however likely to prove conducive to a satisfactory English style, tended not only to obliterate the form of the original but even to imperil the meaning. Where a choice has had to be made, the alternative of a somewhat slavish adherence to Schopenhauer's ipsissima verba has accordingly been preferred to that of inaccuracy. The result is a piece of work which leaves much to be desired, but which has yet consistently sought to reproduce faithfully the spirit as well as the letter of the original.

As regards the rendering of the technical terms about which there has been so much controversy, the equivalents used have only been adopted after careful consideration of their meaning in the theory of knowledge. For example, “Vorstellung” has been rendered by “idea,” in preference to “representation,” which is neither accurate, intelligible, nor elegant. “Idee,” is translated by the same word, but spelled with a capital,—“Idea.” Again, “Anschauung” has been rendered according to the context, either by “perception” simply, or by “intuition or perception.”

Notwithstanding statements to the contrary in the text, the book is probably quite intelligible in itself, apart from the treatise “On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason.” It has, however, been considered desirable to add an abstract of the latter work in an appendix to the third volume of this translation.


Book 11

In boundless space countless shining spheres, about each of which, and illuminated by its light, there revolve a dozen or so of smaller ones, hot at the core and covered with a hard, cold crust, upon whose surface there have been generated from a mouldy film beings which live and know—this is what presents itself to us in experience as the truth, the real, the world. Yet for a thinking being it is a precarious position to stand upon one of those numberless spheres moving freely in boundless space without knowing whence or whither, and to be only one of innumerable similar beings who throng and press and toil, ceaselessly and quickly arising and passing away in time, which has no beginning and no end; moreover, nothing permanent but matter alone and the recurrence of the same varied organised forms, by means of certain ways and channels which are there once for all. All that empirical science can teach is only the more exact nature and law of these events. But now at last modern philosophy especially through Berkeley and Kant, has called ] to mind that all this is first of all merely a phenomenon of the brain, and is affected with such great, so many, and such different subjective conditions that its supposed absolute reality vanishes away, and leaves room for an entirely different scheme of the world, which consists of what lies at the foundation of that phenomenon, i.e., what is related to it as the thing in itself is related to its mere manifestation.

“The world is my idea” is, like the axioms of Euclid, a proposition which every one must recognise as true as soon as he understands it; although it is not a proposition which every one understands as soon as he hears it. To have brought this proposition to clear consciousness, and in it the problem of the relation of the ideal and the real, i.e., of the world in the head to the world outside the head, together with the problem of moral freedom, is the distinctive feature of modern philosophy. For it was only after men had spent their labour for thousands of years upon a mere philosophy of the object that they discovered that among the many things that make the world so obscure and doubtful the first and chiefest is this, that however immeasurable and massive it may be, its existence yet hangs by a single thread; and this is the actual consciousness in which it exists. This condition, to which the existence of the world is irrevocably subject, marks it, in spite of all empirical reality, with the stamp of ideality, and therefore of mere ...

Book 12

If the intellect were not of a subordinate nature, as the two preceding chapters show, then everything which takes place without it, i.e., without intervention of the idea, such as reproduction, the development and maintenance of the organism, the healing of wounds, the restoration or vicarious supplementing of mutilated parts, the salutary crisis in diseases, the works of the mechanical skill of animals, and the performances of instinct would not be done so infinitely better and more perfectly than what takes place with the assistance of intellect, all conscious and intentional achievements of men, which compared with the former are mere bungling. In general nature signifies that which operates, acts, performs without the assistance of the intellect. Now, that this is really identical with what we find in ourselves as will is the general theme of this second book, and also of the essay, “Ueber den Willen in der Natur.” The possibility of this fundamental knowledge depends upon the fact that in us the will is directly lighted by the intellect, which here appears as self-consciousness; otherwise we could just as little arrive at a fuller knowledge of it within us as without us, and must for ever stop at inscrutable forces of nature. We have to ] abstract from the assistance of the intellect if we wish to comprehend the nature of the will in itself, and thereby, as far as is possible, penetrate to the inner being of nature.

On this account, it may be remarked in passing, my direct antipode among philosophers is Anaxagoras; for he assumed arbitrarily as that which is first and original, from which everything proceeds, a νους, an intelligence, a subject of ideas, and he is regarded as the first who promulgated such a view. According to him the world existed earlier in the mere idea than in itself; while according to me it is the unconscious will which constitutes the reality of things, and its development must have advanced very far before it finally attains, in the animal consciousness, to the idea and intelligence; so that, according to me, thought appears as the very last. However, according to the testimony of Aristotle (Metaph., i. 4), Anaxagoras himself did not know how to begin much with his νους, but merely set it up, and then left it standing like a painted saint at the entrance, without making use of it in his development of nature, except in cases of need, when he did not know how else to help himself. All physico-theology is a carrying out of the error opposed to the truth expressed at the beginning of this chapter—the error that the most perfect form of the origin of things is that which is brought about by means of an intellect. Therefore it draws a bolt against all deep exploration of nature.

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