Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Will to Live

They say that Schopenhauer is pessimistic. That is not
saying very much. [His] is a grandiose and tragic vision
which, unfortunately, coincides perfectly with reality.

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

1. Arthur Schopenhauer was a competitive man
who felt nothing but scorn for Hegel.
So he scheduled his philosophy lectures
on the same day and at the same time
and therefore Hegel had a packed auditorium
while only a handful of us—a Polish writer,
an ex-girlfriend, a few wayward apostles,
and I—heard Schopenhauer's lectures
on Descartes, doubt, and the will to live.

2. Life's a bitch and then you die. Everything proceeds from
this proposition.

3. Many philosophers, professional sad sacks,
make merry with women and whiskey at night.
Not Schopenhauer. He was logical. Eating
a delicacy like pressed goose livers with
a good Sauterne proved only that nothing
exists except the temporary satisfaction
of a hunger that will return and a thirst
without which no liquid tastes good.
Pleasure is merely the absence of pain,
not a thing in itself, and the same may be said
of peace in relation to war. And yet—

4. Look at all the things we need to endure—
death and pain, struggle and fear—
in order for the species to survive,
and so great is our determination to live
that endure these hardships we do, putting
a good face on things, hurricanes
and suicide bombers, the death of adulthood
and the abandonment of the beautiful
English language. And yet—

5. One of the apostles asked about suicides.
What about them, Schopenhauer replied.
"Don't they invalidate your theory
of the will to live?" "Not at all,"
he smiled for once. "In suicide they prove
the will to live is greater than they are."

6. There were two proofs:
(a) God must exist
if we can conceive of god
(b) God must but cannot exist
if we can conceive of that
than which nothing greater
can be or be conceived.
God has to exist
as a logical possibility
impossible to disprove
or credit.
That's what he said.
I wrote it down.
You may think he was
a world-class pessimist
but then you didn't know him
as I did in Berlin
a hundred years before Hitler.

-David Lehman

Copyright © The University of Michigan 2007
All rights reserved.

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