Posts Tagged ‘sarte’

Schopenhauer was right: Part 4 – The road to self discovery

Thursday, August 21st, 2008 by William Reynolds

Modern philosophers are chiefly good for one thing: They force us to reflect on each our own being. Whether it be as in the extreme case of Descartes who stripped away every knowable thing from his perceptible world less his own self-consciousness i.e. cogito ergo sum, or a more fashionable ‘search for meaning’ as empowered existentialists such as Jaspers, Sarte, and Camus, modern philosophy, beyond any remedial advice for living in the modern age, reminds us how far removed we are from the world to which we hold. If we can’t know the things-in-themselves, then we best know ourselves. Kind of a “…love the one you’re with” sort of directive. And who do we know better than our mirror’s twin?

Being of the tender age 18 and newly initiated to college life, my intellectual depth was so deficient it would need high tide to warrant the term shallow. Nevertheless, if I had anything I had curiosity and a deep desire for acquiring knowledge. You couldn’t have convinced my parents of this at the time, but I turn and ask you, who hits the library looking for a book upon the recommendation of a piece of graffiti? Jumping online is one thing, but back in 1984 a person had to brave the elements, walk to the library, walk up an abundance of stairs, consult a card catalog (50 point bonus for ironic verbal accessory), and then go diggin’. Make no mistake, this activity required an investment of time.

After the encounter with Mr. D___, the pentecostal buffalo (self titled, which I failed to mention in my prior post), I returned my attention to Schopenhauer and The World As Will and Representation. The first two lines of book 1 read:

The world is my representation: this is a truth with reference to every living and knowing being, although man alone can bring it into reflective, abstract consciousness. If he really does so, philosophical discernment has dawned on him. It then becomes clear and certain to him that he does not know a sun and an earth, but only an eye that sees a sun, a hand that feels an earth; that the world around him is there only as representation, in other words, only in reference to another thing, namely that which represents, and this is himself.

I read this particular passage over and over for nearly an hour. I didn’t understand a word of it. The book I held in my hands was of the old, cloth-cover, case bound variety; the linen was worn and frayed and the pages smelled musty as anything I could find in an abandoned root cellar. The small but heavy strokes of the letters on the pages brought to mind a bespectacled shopkeeper mottled with ink smudges, furiously pedaling away on his Gutenberg. In that moment, I felt part of a long tradition reflected in the character and condition of the book I held. Mental fortitude was a strength of my youth where resources were lacking, so I continued reading this passage over and over and over until I understood it.

And finally, I understood.

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Schopenhauer Was Right: Part 1

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008 by William Reynolds

The other evening, I listened to Zen Arcade (Husker Du for those lacking cognizance and/or familiarity with the state of punk circa 1984), and was quickly transported back to my freshman year in college. Zen Arcade came out in July of 84 as did Double Nickels On The Dime (Minuteman for those lacking….oh nevermind). Looking back, July was a remarkable month considering how seminal both of these efforts proved to be.

My freshman year of college saw many transitions in my personal development. I began college as a pre-dental major, but in short time came to a sad realization that molars, incisors and bicuspids were not nearly as compelling as Freud, Sarte and rock and roll. Fast forwarding a bit to 1986, after brief dalliances with history, theology and pastoral studies (I’ll discuss this another time), I finally settled upon philosophy as the major most likely to guarantee my future unemployment.

In 1984, I attended the University of Minnesota. The U of M is split into east and west banks separated by the Mississippi river and connected by a bi-level bridge allowing for car traffic below and pedestrian traffic above. In December of 1984, while crossing this bridge to attend a class on the west bank, I noticed a new piece of graffiti sprayed on a small, square piece of wall lining the enclosure through which students cross back and forth. It was a short message written with white paint that read, “Schopenhauer was right!” I stopped in my tracks, and began staring as if at a newly found form of tropical insect or bird. Just prior to stopping, I had put a cassette of Zen Arcade into my walkman, and so there I was, staring curiously at this unintelligible declaration in front of me while the opening chords of “Something I Learned Today” ripped through my headphones. I’d never heard of Schopenhauer, so I couldn’t attest to the rightness or wrongness of his utterances. I thought to myself, “Who is Schopenhauer, and what does he have to be right about?” I needed to find out.

I remember the air that day was bitterly cold, and my breath rolled from my nostrils like an avalanche of hoarfrost as I stood there transfixed. This was the first of many touchstone moments to come during my collegiate years. I removed a pen and notebook from my backpack, wrote down the inscription, and continued on to class. That night, I went to the Wilson Library on campus, and checked out The World As Will and Representation. A bit overmatched was I given my youth and unfamiliarity with philosophical nomenclature. Nevertheless, I never looked at the world through the same eyes again.

To be continued….

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