The Grand Pessimist
One of my favorite philosophers is the German Arthur Schopenhauer (1778-1860); and one of my favorite books is his “The World as Will & Idea” (1819). Both he and it left a deep impression upon me as a young man1 — and many others, not the least of which: Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), who is my favorite philosopher par excellence. I wrote both my doctoral dissertation (2005) and a book, “The Untimely Educator: An Interpretation of Nietzsche’s Philosophy of Education” (2011), on Nietzsche. Schopenhauer is always present and otherwise in the background of Nietzsche’s thought and writings, as well as mine. Perhaps his most eloquent ode to the man he called “The Grand Pessimist,” appears in one of Nietzsche’s early essays: “Schopenhauer as Educator.” This essay was published in “The Untimely Meditations” in 1874 and represents the core essence of Nietzsche’s philosophy of education and the profound influence Schopenhauer had upon it.
I strongly encourage you to read both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Start with Schopenhauer; and graduate to Nietzsche. That’s how I learned to read Nietzsche from my great professor and guide (and later dissertation advisor) at The University of Hawaii at Manoa, Graham Parkes (he’s at The University College of Cork, in Ireland, now I believe).2 Parkes taught us to read Nietzsche by reading first what Nietzsche read, those philosophers, poets, and writers (Schopenhauer, Emerson, Wagner, Hölderlin, Lucretius, etc.) that the young, aspiring philosopher (really he started as a philologist) admired and made his own. Occasionally, it enhances the reading and thinking experience when accompanied by great music (Beethoven, Wagner especially).3
Reflecting back on Schopenhauer’s influence years later (in 1888), Nietzsche wrote about the
problem of education” (re: a “new concept of self-discipline & self-defense to the point of hardness, a way to greatness”) as follows: “How I understand the philosopher, as a fearful explosive material from which everything is in danger, how I remove my concept ‘philosopher’ miles away from a concept which includes in it even a Kant, not to speak of the academic ‘ruminants’ and other professors of philosophy: as to this the essay [‘Schopenhauer as Educator’] offers an invaluable instruction, even admitting that what was being spoken of is not ‘Schopenhauer as Educator’ but his opposite, ‘Nietzsche as Educator.’ . . .
(Ecce Homo, ‘The Untimely Essays’ § 3). In discovering Schopenhauer, Nietzsche recognized himself — and then overcame the old master.
I think that’s what a lot of us do in this life. When it comes to mentors, masters, friends, even foes — we recognize (admire & emulate) something in them that we admire or cherish in ourself. The Greeks speak of mimesis (imitation) and agon (contest) in such terms as a spur to what Nietzsche calls “greatness.” As fate would have it, often as not, those relationships don’t always last and certainly don’t survive forever. The process of self-cultivation necessarily entails continuous self-overcoming, which means (sometimes) to overcome (among many other things, people, and forces) those closest to us. This process could also be described in terms of redemption.
Take solace and gain a little wisdom in listening to Schopenhauer speak (read it out loud) for himself:
Just as at nightfall the world vanishes, yet does not for a moment cease to exist, so man and animal apparently pass away through death, yet their true inner being continues to exist just as undisturbed. Let us now picture to ourselves that alternation of birth and death in infinitely rapid vibrations, and we have before us the persistent and enduring objectification of the will, the permanent ideas of beings, standing firm like the rainbow on the waterfall. This is temporal immortality. In consequence of this, in spite of thousands of years of death and decay, there is still nothing lost, no atom of matter, still less anything of the inner being exhibiting itself as nature.
- Arthur Schopenhauer “On Death and Its Relation to the Indestructibility of Our Inner Nature”
Huelo Hale, Paumalu 2021
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I clearly remember reading Schopenhauer in the late 1990s and early 2000s and then going surfing. I felt totally, fully invigorated — as if the Will of the Universe (and the Ocean) itself moved through me, drove and guided me. Philosophy was a source of motivation and energy then as now.
SEE his excellent Nietzsche study: “Composing the Soul: Reaches of Nietzsche’s Psychology” (1996); as well as numerous other essays and books including: “Nietzsche and the Divine” (2000) and the Oxford University Classics edition of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” translated with an introduction by Graham (2005).
Hans Zimmer’s film scores are awesome, too. SEE: Thin Red Line; Hannibal; The Last Samurai. Almost everything Zimmer does is great, in my view. There was recently an excellent interview with Zimmer on Alec Baldwin’s podcast: “Here’s The Thing.” Check it out.