“Still, I think there is something right in Schopenhauer’s dismal conception of our relationship with our ends, and that it can illuminate the darkness of midlife. Taking up new projects, after all, simply obscures the problem. When you aim at a future goal, satisfaction is deferred: success has yet to come. But the moment you succeed, your achievement is in the past. Meanwhile, your engagement with projects subverts itself. In pursuing a goal, you either fail or, in succeeding, end its power to guide your life. No doubt you can formulate other plans. The problem is not that you will run out of projects (the aimless state of Schopenhauer’s boredom), it’s that your way of engaging with the ones that matter most to you is by trying to complete them and thus expel them from your life. When you pursue a goal, you exhaust your interaction with something good, as if you were to make friends for the sake of saying goodbye.
Hence one common figure of the midlife crisis: the striving high-achiever, obsessed with getting things done, who is haunted by the hollowness of everyday life. When you are obsessed with projects, ceaselessly replacing old with new, satisfaction is always in the future. Or the past. It is mortgaged, then archived, but never possessed. In pursuing goals, you aim at outcomes that preclude the possibility of that pursuit, extinguishing the sparks of meaning in your life.
The question is what to do about this. For Schopenhauer, there is no way out: what I am calling a midlife crisis is simply the human condition. But Schopenhauer was wrong. In order to see his mistake, we need to draw distinctions among the activities we value: between ones that aim at completion, and ones that don’t…”
“Why, then, did [Ludwig Wittgenstein] so strongly discourage pupils from becoming teachers of philosophy? I think it was because Wittgenstein knew from his own experience that in philosophical thinking there are long periods of darkness and confusion when one just has to wait. In philosophy above all things there is a time to speak and a time to keep silent. Wittgenstein had a great horror of what Schopenhauer once described as ‘professorial philosophy by philosophy professors’: people having to go on talking when really they knew in their own heart that they had nothing of value to say.”
— M. O’C. Drury, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Symposium. Assessments of the Man and the Philosopher
The idiosyncratic life and bleak philosophical outlook of Arthur Schopenhauer has long been a source of fascination for me. I first encountered him when researching his influence on the work of Samuel Beckett (and Ludwig Wittgenstein). In a recent article for the Times Literary Supplement, Julian Young acknowledges Schopenhauer’s profound influence on writers of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century; Young defines it as an influence “greater than that of any other philosopher”, which can be traced through the work of “Tolstoy, Turgenev, Zola, Maupassant, Proust, Hardy, Conrad, Mann, Joyce and Beckett”. (more…)
To begin, could you say a little bit about Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui?
SBT/A is a refereed academic journal that publishes essays in English and French on Samuel Beckett’s oeuvre.
When first launched in 1992 by the late Marius Buning and the present coeditor in chief Sjef Houppermans, it took the form of a bilingual annual review publishing selections from international meetings or solicited essays on special topics, but also featuring a section of submitted articles. By 2016, the year SBT/A morphed into a semiannual journal under a different academic publisher (Brill), twenty-seven handsome hardcover volumes had appeared under the Rodopi imprint. My association with SBT/A goes back twenty years with an essay in the “Crossroads and Borderlines” volume of 1997, further intensifying with my coediting the volume based on the “Beckett in Berlin 2000” symposium, after which I was invited to join the editorial board. I served as coeditor in chief from 2008 to 2016. (more…)
After experience had taught me that all the usual surroundings of social life are vain and futile; seeing that none of the objects of my fears contained in themselves anything either good or bad, except in so far as the mind is affected by them, I finally resolved to inquire whether there might be some real good having power to communicate itself, which would affect the mind singly, to the exclusion of all else: whether, in fact, there might be anything of which the discovery and attainment would enable me to enjoy continuous, supreme, and unending happiness.
I say “I finally resolved,” for at first sight it seemed unwise willingly to lose hold on what was sure for the sake of something then uncertain. I could see the benefits which are acquired through fame and riches, and that I should be obliged to abandon the quest of such objects, if I seriously devoted myself to the search for something different and new. I perceived that if true happiness chanced to be placed in the former I should necessarily miss it; while if, on the other hand, it were not so placed, and I gave them my whole attention, I should equally fail. (more…)
From the age of 45 until his death 27 years later Schopenhauer lived in Frankfurt-am-Main. He lived alone, in ‘rooms’, and every day for 27 years he followed an identical routine. He rose every morning a seven and had a bath but no breakfast: he drank a cup of strong coffee before sitting down at his desk and writing until noon. At noon he ceased work for the day and spent half-an-hour practicing the flute, on which he became quite a skilled performer. Then he went out for lunch at the Englischer Hof. After lunch he returned home and read until four, when he left for his daily walk: he walked for two hours no matter what the weather. At six o’clock he visited the reading room of the library and read The Times. In the evening he attended the theatre or a concert, after which he had dinner at a hotel or restaurant. He got back home between nine and ten and went early to bed. He was willing to deviate from this routine in order to receive visitors. (more…)