Thursday, 16 January 2014

Anglo-American Claptrap

The Cambridge Companion to Schopenhauer

A Review

"Statt der selbsteigenen Werke der Philosophen allerlei Darlegungen ihrer Lehren [...] zu lesen, ist wie wenn man sich sein Essen von einem Anderen kauen lassen wollte." Thus spoke Schopenhauer. But as he probably knew himself, the savouring of regurgitated food is not an uncommon practice in the animal kingdom. Schopenhauer was a master of clarity, and sensitivity to beautiful prose should help one a long way towards understanding the philosophy of someone who was also a master of the German language. Nevertheless, there are two obstacles of which one should be wary. (i) A full understanding of Schopenhauer's philosophy requires familiarity with the philosophy of Kant. (ii) One should have read and understood his doctoral dissertation dealing with the four varieties of objects qua representations - viz., real objects, concepts, space-time, selfhood - and the laws by which their becoming is governed. Owing to these two obstacles, introductory texts are likely to prove worthwhile. Unfortunately, the collection of essays on hand fails to serve its purpose. The ultimate objection to this collection is that its editor seems to have failed to understand that the contributors must be asked to do their utmost to maintain their focus on the subject matter: the philosophy of Schopenhauer. Anything that may prove disruptive to such a focus must be treated as anathema. Furthermore, the most difficult themes must be identified - for instance the immutability of the human character - and treated of in a rigorous manner. The latter demand is met in an admirable fashion by Günter Zöller, David Hamlyn, and F.C. White, whereas most of the remaining essays can be said to oscillate between the silly and the irrelevant. And finally there are essays dealing with themes which are less than challenging, viz., an intelligent reader is in need of no assistance when it comes to understanding these particular aspects to the philosophy of Schopenhauer. Silliness and its cases in point: Moira Nicholls's crude understanding of Nibbana - her main source in this regard is the catechism of Sri Rahula, available in all New Age bookstores - proves less than helpful in terms of comparing Schopenhauers doctrine of salvation with its Eastern counterpart. Christopher Janaways's essay entitled "Schopenhauer's Pessimism" is an instance of theoretical exercise in the quest for eudaimonia: (A) Strive toward X (B) Attain X and rejoice (C) If not, pout. This is sure to bring back memories of philosophy courses at high school. Another point of criticism is the appalling myopia of these Anglo-Americans. A survey of their footnotes reveals a great deal. The only contributor who is not active in the Anglo-American domain, is Günter Zöller. An examination of his footnotes shows that he is familiar with both English and German sources on Schopenhauer. As for the others, they seem to be relying almost exclusively on Anglo-American sources. One is tempted to ask the following question: is no relevant research on Schopenhauer being carried out in his own country? There are several excellent books on Schopenhauer in the German language, which should have been listed in the bibliography section. The most elementary texts on Schopenhauer in the German language, keep track of things that seem to have bypassed these Anglo-American experts on Schopenhauer. For instance, Sebastian Gardener writes about "Schopenhauer's frequent asylum tours" (p. 386) and refers to an essay by R.K. Gupta in which it was, according to Gardener, "claimed" that Schopenhauer used to visit mental asylums (n. 59, p. 412). Incidentally, Schopenhauer does write about these visits himself in his Handschrifliche[m] Nachlaß (I:87) and in WWV (I:3:36), as pointed out Klaus-Jürgen Grün in his rather unpretentious introduction to the philosophy of Schopenhauer (p. 121). If Gardener's lack of familiarity with the corpus of Schopenhauer is in any way representative of the level at which the other contributors find themselves, then there is every reason to shun this collection. Schopenhauer's philosophy views the world as a riddle, it attempts to account for all the contradictions to the human existence, and it culminates in mysticism; precisely for these reasons it does not lend itself to analytical hair-splitting: Schopenhauer's "methodische Drehen und Wenden der Standpunkte umeinander und gegeneinander - in der Sekundärliteratur häufig übersehen oder als Widersprüche im Denken Schopenhauers, als Denkfehler abgetan - sucht die dogmatische Festschreibung einer einzelnen Betrachtungsweise zu verhindern" (p. 10). The follies against which we are warned by Volker Spierling, are committed again and again in this collection, not least by the editor himself. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to all my foes.