The Art of Not Reading

The art of not reading is a very important one. It consists in not taking an interest in whatever may be engaging the attention of the general public at any particular time. When some political or ecclesiastical pamphlet, or novel, or poem is making a great commotion, you should remember that he who writes for fools always finds a large public. – A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.

– Arthur Schopenhauer

Extracted from the book ‘Arthur Schopenhauer Essays and Aphorisms‘ in a chapter titled ‘On Books and Writing’ section 16. Book published by Penguin Classic, translated by R. J. Hollingdale.

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The Poet vs The Philosopher

The poet presents the imagination with images from life and human characters and situations, sets them all in motion and leaves it to the beholder to let these images take his thoughts as far as his mental powers will permit. That is why he is able to engage men of the most differing capabilities, indeed fools and sages together. The philosopher, on the other hand, presents not life itself but the finished thoughts which he has abstracted from it and then demands that the reader should think precisely as, and precisely as far as, he himself thinks. That is why his public is so small. The poet can thus be compared with one who presents flowers, the philosopher with one who presents their essence.

– Arthur Schopenhauer

Extracted from the book ‘Arthur Schopenhauer Essays and Aphorisms‘ in a chapter titled ‘Aphorisms On Philosophy and the Intellect’ section 4; book published by Penguin Classic, translated by R. J. Hollingdale.

A Mere Shadow-Play on the Wall

Newspapers are the second hand of history. This hand, however, is usually not only of inferior metal to the other two hands, it also seldom works properly. The so-called ‘leading articles’ in them are the chorus to the drama of current events. Exaggeration in every sense is as essential to newspaper writing as it is to the writing of plays: for the point is to make as much as possible of every occurrence. So that all newspaper writers are, for the sake of their trade, alarmists: this is their way of making themselves interesting. What they really do, however, is resemble little dogs who, as soon as anything whatever moves, start up a loud barking. It is necessary, therefore, not to pay too much attention to their alarms, and to realize in general that the newspaper is a magnifying glass, and this only at best: for very often it is no more than a shadow-play on the wall.

– Arthur Schopenhauer. Taken from ‘Arthur Schopenhauer Essays and Aphorisms‘ published by Penguin Classic, translated by R. J. Hollingdale.

Schopenhauer and The Nature of Art

“Different from Plato, for whom “ideas” were by definition not visible, Schopenhauer considered art “materialized idea”: You are more or less aware that it presents the condition of life in detail. For Schopenhauer, art is not representation, pointing to something else; it is what it is, an invitation to stillness, and a meditative break where the will is quiet. We watch people die in a film and are moved, but we do not feel threatened. Still, words can interrupt this calm and connect us to the world as representation of the will, drawing us back into the misery of life. This is the reason why Schopenhauer considered music the genuine art and the sound of being. In the playing of and listening to music all our senses, including the sense of the mind, are attuned to the bad and good fortune of living, without music itself becoming a focus of attention. Art is the world mirror and its gift of “lucid stillness” (T. S. Eliot) is ephemeral but—as the Romantics emphatically stated—a way from aesthetics to ethics…..As the “materialized idea” (“anschauliche Idee”), art shows us how life is—without engaging us in its suffering. The event of art, for creator and audience alike, is the exceptional state of calmness.” –  Taken from “The Essential Schopenhauer”  [p. 15-16, 17 E-pub ed. Oct 2010 – HarperCollins e-book]  in a foreword written by Wolfgang Schirmacher.