January 28, 2023

Save the Net Books

Blogazine on Books, Arts, and Music

Schopenhauer & “The Will to Live” (on the day of his birth, February 22, 1788)

The will to live

“They say Schopenhauer is pessimistic. That doesn’t say much. [His] is a grandiose and tragic vision that unfortunately corresponds perfectly with reality.”

– Witold Gombrowicz, A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes

Arthur Schopenhauer was a competitive man
who felt nothing but contempt for Hegel.
So he planned his philosophy lectures
on the same day and at the same time
and therefore Hegel had a full audience
while only a handful of us – a Polish writer,
an ex-girlfriend, a couple of wayward apostles
and I – have heard Schopenhauer’s lectures
about Descartes, doubt and the will to live. Life is a slut and then you die. It all starts from that phrase. Many philosophers, professional sad sacks,
be merry with women and whiskey at night.
Not Schopenhauer. He was logical. Eat
a delicacy such as pressed foie gras
a good Sauterne only proved that nothing
exists except for temporary gratification
of a hunger that will return and a thirst
without which no liquid tastes good.
Joy is just the absence of pain
not a thing in itself, and the same can be said
peace in relation to war. And yet – look at all the things we have to endure –
Death and pain, struggle and fear –
For the species to survive
and such is our resolve to live
that we endure these hardships
a good face on things hurricanes
and suicide bomber, the death of adulthood
and the renunciation of the beautiful
English language. And yet – One of the apostles asked about suicides.
What about that, replied Schopenhauer.
“Don’t they invalidate your theory?
of the will to live?” “Not at all,”
he smiled for once. “They prove it in suicide
the will to live is greater than they.” There were two proofs:
(a) God must exist
if we can imagine God
(b) God must, but cannot, exist
if we can imagine it
nothing bigger than that
can be or be conceived.
That’s why,
God must exist
as a logical possibility
impossible to refute
or credit.
That’s what he said.
I wrote it down.
You might think it was him
a world-class pessimist
but then you didn’t know him
like me in Berlin
Hundred years before Hitler.

– David Lehman (from Michigan Quarterly Review)