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On Arthur Schopenhauer's essays, "On Authorship and Style," "On Thinking for Oneself," and "On Genius" (all published 1851).
Is the best way to do philosophy (or any art) to self-consciously build on the work of others to advance the genre? Schopenhauer says no! Geniuses are solitary, original, authentic, naive thinkers. They write because they have something to say, not because they're being paid. They don't read too much for fear of being overwhelmed by their influences, and certainly don't try to remember what they read too well like a scholar would. They think before writing, and get at perennial truths from their own, uniquely grown perspective. So don't burden them with responsibilities like jobs and families, okay?
Mark, Wes, and Dylan try to figure out whether these harsh commandments hold water or whether S. is just giving excuses for his own unpopularity. Read more about it and get the essays.
End song: "Drake's Song" from The Maytricks (1992) (chords: Brian Drake, lyrics/melody: Mark) Get the whole album free.
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s. wallerstein says
Really good discussion. You’ve managed to integrate your life experience into your philosophical reflections, without the philosophical reflections losing exactness, which not everybody accomplishes.
Concerning mark’s final comment, i guess the counter to accusations of uselessness of said activity, is the aesthetic justification of life. Rather then utility towards progress of mankind, life justifies itself by being joyful. That’s where the whole thing about authenticity, embodied thruths, style that fit an individual character come in. I can definately see a way in which valuing utility above anything else can lead to a kind of life-weariness, because it typically entails making a lot of compromises and following conventions that might be at odds with ones character… The glimmering in Schopenhauer’s eyes is interesting.
Jake Z. says
Bummed about the Nozick episode. Is Steve Metcalf going to come back for the episode redo?
One of the best episodes in a while. Interesting discussion.
Relevant to Wes’s mention of Led Zeppelin and the fuzzy line between originality-via-synthesis and rip-off —
Wayne Schroeder says
So, if Zeppelin stole “Stairway to Heaven” from Randy California, who did California steal it from? Is nothing or everything original?
I guess the copyright process of novels gets closest to the problem and solution, in that it is hard to copy the idea of Blood Meridian. We couldn’t accuse McCarthy of stealing the concept from Melville’s Moby-Dick, though there are comparisons:
“In the entire range of American literature, only Moby-Dick bears comparison to Blood Meridian. Both are epic in scope, cosmically resonant, obsessed with open space and with language, exploring vast uncharted distances with a fanatically patient minuteness. Both manifest a sublime visionary power that is matched only by still more ferocious irony. Both savagely explode the American dream of manifest destiny (sic) of racial domination and endless imperial expansion. But if anything, McCarthy writes with a yet more terrible clarity than does Melville.”—Steven Shaviro, “A Reading of Blood Meridian”
(But maybe McCarthy copied the underlying philosophy from Nietzsche and is thus unoriginal? And so it goes . . .)
I don’t know. I’m confident that it’s possible to distinguish between “informed by” and “copied from”, though I’m not sure what underwrites that confidence, exactly, since in general I’m not sophisticated enough in the realm of music/literature/etc. to delineate the distinction myself.
Wayne Schroeder says
Professors at universities now have software to run student papers through to see if there is plagiarism. But the PEL guys were trying to identify via Schopenhauer authentic creative thought from inauthentic, rote unoriginal thinking and living, so I was more addressing the general nature of the creative.
Wayne Schroeder says
Quotes regarding Scopenhauer on the nature of genius and creativity as covered on the podcast:
“Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for.” –Socrates
But then Plato said: “If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing, and as men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows.”
“As the biggest library if it is in disorder is not as useful as a small but well-arranged one, so you may accumulate a vast amount of knowledge but it will be of far less value than a much smaller amount if you have not thought it over for yourself.” –Schopenhauer
Ultimately: “Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.” –Schopenhauer. So I guess we don’t really have to debate if we are geniuses (truly creative) since either we ourselves will not see–nor will others, unless . . .
I have always found Schopenhauer one of the best modern philosophers (top 7 definitely). His sincerity shines clearly through for me…this sincerity of “cutting the bullshit and focusing on the real true core”. I respect that tremendously. His writings explored in this podcast reflect that clearly. Most of the criticisms people make against Schopy (my nickname for him) is of his character (and seldom actually amount to substantial philosophical argumentative criticisms), being perhaps overly arrogant or ‘extreme’ in some instances (or pessimistic/negative for example). Nietzsche had public respect for only two philosophers: Aristotle and Schopy (I personally believe Nietzsche to greatly love Socrates as well, but also hate part of him, especially the part of him that came to the fore at the end of his trial); to Nietzsche all the rest were just talking bullshit and not getting at what really matters in philosophy; I can see why Nietzsche thought this (even if I don’t completely agree with it of course); in short: Nietzsche was not wrong in realizing Schopy’s brilliance.
Schopy is a very complex and intricate character with some truly profound insights. I pretty much agree with most of what Schopy says regarding genius. I do however agree that Scohpy goes overboard sometimes with the extremities. Schopy, despite him trying to convince people otherwise, was a romantic when it comes to philosophy and in this case genius…he fails to acknowledge certain obvious empirical realities; for example the ideal of tabula rasa for the genius, the rejection of intellectual influence; I share his romanticism…but I am honest about it being and ideal, not a reality. Intellectual achievement is never solely a function of isolation; it is a co-dependency between the interaction with the world and others/their ideas and ‘retreating inward’ and synthesizing this in yourself.
I don’t want to type treatises here, I can just say that Schopy for me is 85% right (for example in his analysis of genius), the other 15% is actually just him not willing to sacrifice his romanticism (which translates into extreme views, for example when Mark notes how for Schopy it is “black/white, not shades of grey”). Schopy’s critical thinking, his utter sincere attempt to “get at the core philosophical problems” and express these in ‘clear simple terms’ is beautiful to me and places him in the greats of philosophy.
You guys did a wonderful podcast on this text and raised many very pertinent and thought provoking points. Thank you for the podcast, it was a great one. I am really looking forward to the podcast on Godel, should be very fascinating and I look forward to your discussions on his incompleteness theorems, character, logic/formal language works, etc.
I really enjoyed this podcast for its freer, more personal tone. But it’s always fruitful to return to the text. For more on card catalogs (can there ever be enough?), check out Nicholson Baker’s excellent essay, “Discards”. Thanks for the inspiring discussion!
Mark Linsenmayer says
Yes, it went to a cheap place first and then a very expensive place. Scoring had actually burned off the surface of the disk.
The new discussion will for sure be better than the one we lost!
I really enjoyed this podcast. It’s provocative and has practical underpinnings– very useful for any aspiring writer or intellectual. Mark, Wes and Dylan for such a lively discussion.
Doug Pinkard says
While I both enjoyed and, as always, learned a great deal from yet another wonderful podcast, I can’t help but fear your once again choosing the short essays serves to push further and further into an ever-receding distance the likelihood of ever hearing World As Will and Representation given “The PEL Treatment” (yes, that’s a thing now) . I remember getting the idea that one of your merry band (sorry, but I’ve been meaning to refer to you guys that way for ages) floated the idea that because the already-discussed “Fourfold Root” is presumed to form the basis of his subsequent thought, that there may be no real reason ever to tackle the work which all-but-literally gave birth to Nietzsche, intellectually speaking. To take Nietzsche seriously, as I know you all do, is, I believe, to understand the one genuinely important work of his most important influence.