Saturday, July 24, 2010

Struggling with Schopenhauer 3

His Character Continued


That Arthur Schopenhauer was contrary and indeed querulous none can deny. He had many a contretemps and many an argument with other human beings. The most famous belligerent encounter is that between a seamstress called Caroline Marquet and him. One midday in 1823 they ran afoul of one another when he was 35 years old and she ten years his senior. Marquet was entertaining three friends in an adjoining flat and chanced to come out into the hall to bid them goodbye. Arthur, irritated by their noisy ebullient chattering flung open his door and accused them of violating his privacy, and sternly ordered them to leave. When Marquet refused, Arthur physically forced her from the hallway or anteroom down the stairs. To make a long story short Caroline Marquet sued Arthur Schopenhauer, claiming that she was pushed down the stairs and had suffered a grievous injury. The court case lasted some six years as Arthur fought it tooth and nail. In the end the court found against him and he had to pay Caroline 60 talers (three times the yearly wage of a cook or house servant at that time) a year for the rest of her life.

Also in his early life he had many sexual encounters with women, most of them prostitutes. He admits to being highly sexually active in his younger days, and Yalom opines that he was most likely highly sexually driven. Arthur also did not mind if the woman he was to have an affair or fling with was seeing other men as he felt that monogamy was somewhat unnatural. It is also likely that he sired an illegitimate son with a Berlin chorus girl named Caroline Richter - Medon, and he even added a codicil to his will leaving her 5000 talers.

The Sex drive

Unlike many philosophers, both before and after him, Schopenhauer openly discussed the sex drive in human beings, or human bipeds as he liked to call us and avers:

Next to the love of life, sex shows itself here as the strongest and most active of all motives, and incessantly lays claim to half the powers and thoughts of the younger portion of mankind... Sex is really the invisible point of all action and conduct, and peeps up everywhere in spite of all the veils thrown over it. It is the cause of war and the aim and object of peace... the inexhaustible source of wit, the key to all allusions, and the meaning of all mysterious hints.... the hourly thought of the unchaste and, even against their will, the constantly recurring imagination of the chaste. (Quoted The Schopenhauer Cure p. 188)

Yalom argues that Schopenhauer goes on to state that this overriding drive is not just a personal need, but the need of our species. In so claiming he prefigures much of what is found in Darwin and Freud. Indeed, Yalom argues that he claimed that while we can never know the Kantian “thing in itself” or the “Ding an sich” or noumenon, that we can get somewhat closer to it by listening to our own bodies. We can get knowledge from inside, knowledge stemming from our feelings. This knowledge does not come from our perceptual or conceptual apparatus, but from inside of us, from our deep inner feelings. The greater part of our inner lives is unknown to us. It is repressed and not permitted to break into consciousness because knowing our deeper natures (our cruelty, fear, envy, sexual lust, aggression, self-seeking) would cause us more disturbance than we could bear. However, Magee would not agree with Yalom’s rather easy equation of the “thing in itself” with the “unconscious.” A far too easy and facile an equation, Professor Yalom. I agree wholeheartedly with Magee here as our man Yalom reads far too much psychotherapy or psychoanalysis into Schopenhauer’s well-argued and very precise philosophy. I shall return to these concepts later when I discuss Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophy in more detail. However, that the unconscious was prefigured in the overall drift of Schopenhauer’s thoughts and writings is beyond dispute, but certainly equating the above diverse categories with one another is far too loose and cavalier a conclusion.

Insight into Boredom

Schopenhauer gives us, I believe, an interesting insight into boredom, and why it is such a universal complaint among us humans. He argues that boredom is a distraction-free state which very soon reveals to us many underlying unpalatable truths about ourselves, and indeed about our very existence – our insignificance, our meaningless existence, our inexorable and inevitable deterioration and eventual death.

Sense of Tragedy

Our cheerful philosopher friend argued also that human life eternally revolves around an axle of need followed by satiation. We eat and drink when we are hungry and thirsty respectively. We sleep when we are tired; make love when we feel like it. And yet, how are we when these needs or desires or wants are satiated? Well, Schopenhauer would argue that we might then become bored. We are like Tantalus who was punished for his hubris by being eternally tempted but never satisfied. And finally? Well finally, we die. Life, consisting of an inevitable tragic downward slope, is not only brutal but capricious. As Bertrand Russell said, Schopenhauer had a wonderfully deep appreciation of the tragic in human life.

Yalom remarks that it is disquieting to discover such a great a thinker as Schopenhauer and yet “so socially challenged, so prescient yet so blinded.” (Ibid., p. 210) I will hazard an educated guess here, being a teacher of Autistic teenagers, that perhaps Arthur Schopenhauer was Asperger’s. That, I feel, is a distinct possibility.

Schopenhauer the Man

As a human being Arthur had no social circle, no close acquaintances and absolutely no sense of community. However, as a philosopher he was astonishingly personal in his writings and Bryan Magee cites this as one of the most endearing characteristics of his favourite philosopher, with whom he reminds us, he often disagrees. It is indeed odd to note this fact that this most personal of philosophers should have lived so impersonally. He had a rigid daily schedule in Frankfurt where he lived the last thirty years if his life. He began each day with three hours of writing, an hour or two playing the flute, a daily swim in the Main River all year round and took lunch at the same club. He also enjoyed shocking people by discussing inappopropriate topics, for instance, the fact that he was wont to dip his penis in a certain chemical solution after having sex to obvert the catching of any venerial diseases.. He also paid for the seat next to his at his club as he could not abide the company of inferiors in intellect. To the end he was an arrogant and conceited man. Yet he wrote beautiful and sublime prose which contained equally beautiful and sublime ideas.

Struggling with Schopenhauer 2

Struggling with Schopenhauer 2


Some years back a SNA acquaintance remarked of one of her charges that “that poor boy is a tormented soul.” Anyone who attempts to read Schopenhauer will realise quite quickly that Arthur was such a tormented soul, but one who was so extraordinarily gifted that he managed by reason alone to come to some equanimity and peace of mind. In the days before psychotherapy, this man worked to heal his own soul as best he could, and, to some extent he managed that. Obviously, Yalom and many others would argue that this is true, but that reason will only bring us so far, and that living the life of a recluse cuts us off from healthy human relationships and much needed human nourishment.

Arthur’s mother, being a single-minded woman, focussed largely on her own career and what she really wanted out of life after years of an oppressive marriage, desired to keep her son at a safe distance where he would not interrupt her goals. However, her letters to him show that she did care much for him, and that she knew his character very well indeed. It could also be said that, unusual for a woman at the time, that she showed him what we today call “hard love,” and laid the foundations for the intellectual success of her son. Indeed, I feel she gifted him with the precious pearl of freedom to pursue his intellectual pursuits in as strong a fashion as she pursued her own literary and cultural ones. The letters quoted by Yalom show not alone a determined and strong woman, but also a deeply understanding woman who knew her son only too well. I would say she was a very good psychologist – no wonder she became a good novelist. I especially loved the following lines from one of her letters to the young Arthur:

“That I am very fond of you I am sure you will not doubt. I have proven it to you, and will prove it to you as long as I live. It is necessary for my happiness to know that you are happy, but not to be a witness to it. I have always told you that you are very difficult to live with.... The more I get to know you the more strongly I feel this.” (Quoted The Schopenhauer Cure, p. 123)

The therapist’s skills and insight in Yalom see Arthur’s immense guilt about his father’s suicide as a major factor in his tormented personality. He would have felt guilty that it was Heinrich’s suicide that finally freed him to pursue his intellectual pursuits in philosophy. He also feared that he might have precipitated his father’s death by his lack of interest in the commercial world. Shortly, this guilt transferred itself into his fierce defence of his father’s good name, and his vicious criticism of his mother’s behaviour towards his father. There is not a little misogyny in Schopenhauer, and here we have its genesis.

Mother and son fought bitterly, and indeed there were two combatants in the fight, but it is hard not to believe from the evidence marshalled by Yalom, Russell and Magee and many other scholars that Arthur was mostly to blame as he possessed such a contrary view of life and of people. For the last twenty five years of her life mother and son were never to meet again or even to correspond.

As regards Arthur’s personality, it is quite an understatement to say that he was prickly. He habitually failed to inspire loving, generous and joyful responses even as a child. Also his father had been chronically depressed for the last few years of his life, always anxious, stubborn, distant and singularly unable to enjoy life.

From a young age, Yalom avers on the evidence adduced from correspondence between parents and son show Arthur’s disinterest in social activities. His diaries, even as a young boy, reveal his precocious ability to distance himself from most worldly concerns and to view things from a cosmic perspective. Arthur always prided himself on this objectivity, this cosmic perspective, or as he put it himself, his ability “to view things from the wrong end of the telescope.” (Quoted The Schopenhauer Cure, p. 172)

Also, as Bertrand Russell has pointed out there are two other traits evident in the young and indeed the old Arthur, viz., a deep misanthropy coupled with a relentless pessimism. Schopenhauer became a bitter, angry man who referred to all humans as “bipeds.” He would definitely agree with Thomas a Kempis that “Every time I went out among men I came back less human.”

Schopenhauer’s misanthropy is present all through his work and exquisitely expressed in his parable of the porcupines. Indeed, this parable of his is so well known that it is quoted in a major twentieth century work on human development edited by Eric Raynor et al (See Human Development: An Introduction to the Psychodynamics of Growth, Maturity and Ageing, p. 223). This parable runs thus:

One cold winter’s day a number of porcupines huddled together quite closely in order, through their mutual warmth, to prevent themselves from being frozen. But they soon felt the effects of their quills on one another, which made them move apart. Now when the need for warmth once again brought them together, the drawback of the quills was repeated so they were tossed between two evils, until they discovered the proper distance from which they could best tolerate one another. Thus the needs of society, which springs from the emptiness and monotony of men’s lives drives them together but their many unpleasant and repulsive qualities once more drive them apart. (Quoted The Schopenhauer Cure, pp.207-208)

To finish this post, it is interesting that Raynor et al see this parable as “capturing a task facing every couple” in their relationships. (Op. cit., p. 223)



To be continued.

Above the famous statue of the Miner in city of Catazaro, a photo I took last week.  In a sense we are all miner's of our own meaning!!

Struggling with Schopenhauer 1

Struggling with Schopenhauer 1


And so we come to the hero, even villain of the piece, namely Arthur Schopenhauer. If anything at all is worthwhile in this world it involves great struggle. Now, this is no cheap trinket that I toss on the table of your attention for you to consider buying. Rather it is a deeply held conviction and indeed wisdom of the ages learned from much experience. In more metaphorical terms, it is a priceless gem I place reverently on the table of your attention for your perusal only, for no money can buy it. Who can become a brilliant athlete without the suffering that goes into training? Who can become a brilliant mathematician without the suffering that goes into all that problem solving? Who can become just himself or herself in all their own modestly accumulated and developed talents without much sacrifice? What woman would not forego the pangs of childbirth if it were possible? Each and every one marvellous woman will pay the painful price for the beauty of new life.

Next, I bring the reader’s attention to struggling with the meaning of that life. As I have put it many times in these posts – we are a meaning-searching and a meaning-making animal. We are, to use the existential terminology I have constantly used in these pages, literally “thrown into” an alien or hostile world and expected to come to terms with that, with the help of significant others of course like parents at the start of our lives, to make sense of the existence we have literally been handed out of nowhere. As Jean-Paul Sartre puts it, we must attempt to embrace whatever freedom we experience and shape our very own life project. We are, then, the shapers of our own life project; our own meaning-makers. To do so, and indeed to be so, is essential to the human condition. To live life to the full in this way is to deem it valuable beyond monetary price.

I owe much to my reading the wonderfully enlightening, self-affirming and soul-making (to pinch a felicitous phrase from a favourite poet John Keats) books of Professor Irvin Yalom, psychiatrist and psychotherapist. In his books I have re-discovered Arthur Schopenhauer whom we only cursorily glanced at in my college days as a footnote to the great Immanuel Kant. I propose in this short introductory note to say a little about his life before saying anything about his philosophy per se.

This Most Complex and Contrary Man

This heading is mine – for indeed, Arthur Schopenhauer was a most complex, a most difficult and a most contrary human being. Actually, I quite like this about him, and I hazard the opinion that this complexity of character has drawn many readers to his profound thought and large opus. Immanuel Kant was rather a boring man who lived rather a boring life, that is, if, unlike me, you subscribe to any life ever been boring. What I am getting at here is that Schopenhauer’s life was exceptionally interesting, colourful and complex, far more so than that of Kant’s. That’s all I’m saying here – nothing more, nothing less. It was such colourfulness of life that led me years ago to read as much of Coleridge as I could lay my hands on, while developing a less than lukewarm attitude to the poetic output of Wordsworth.

Schopenhauer’s dates are 1788 -1860. First of all, he is a complete pessimist. He also dislikes Christianity, hates Islam, and has a predilection for religions of the East like Hinduism and Buddhism. He has wide cultural interests that embrace the world of the arts. Another endearing factor is that he is free from nationalism. He was born in Danzig (modern Gdansk in Poland) and could speak, read and write German, English and French. His father was a leading merchant – of grains, timber and coffee - whose greatest hope and desire was that his son would follow his footsteps as a business man. However, his family left Danzig when it was annexed by the Russians. I would be unsurprised if he knew some Polish and Russian also, though this is not mentioned in the books I’ve read, though Yalom refers to the fact that he had a working knowledge of Italian and Spanish and that he went on to master dozen modern and ancient languages before his death. (See The Schopenhauer Cure, Harper Collins, 2005, p. 89) From 1793-1797 he lived in Hamburg, Germany and the following two years he spent in Le Havre, (though Bertrand Russell in his wonderful History of Western Philosophy gets this wrong and states that he spent these two years in Paris) at the home of one of his father’s business partners, Gregories de Blesimaire, and later in 1803 we find him at boarding school in England. What an interesting education this must have made for, being exposed at a young age to the best in education three major countries had to offer?

He is known to have had at least one good boyhood friend, namely Anthime, the Blesimaire son who was the same age as Arthur. They were close as youngsters, but the friendship did not endure. A friendship which had more of a profound effect upon Schopenhauer was that with a childhood playmate in Hamburg, Gottfried Janish who sadly died when Arthur was living in Le Havre. The shock of his first acquaintance with mortality left an indelible mark on the young Arthur, as all our first acquaintances with mortality tend to do in the lives of us human animals. And so death always loomed large in the oeuvre of Arthur Schopenhauer, and obviously coloured his attitude of pessimism towards life.

In those times also most marriages were by match-making, certainly those of the richer classes – be they merchant or nobility. Sometimes these matches were felicitous, but more often than not they were stormy mismatches. It would seem that Arthur’s parents’ marriage was one such disastrous mismatch. His mother Johanna, speaking of her marriage to Heinrich, Arthur’s father, recounts in her diary: “I no more pretended ardent love than he demanded it.” (Quoted The Schopenhauer Cure, Harper Collins, 2005, p. 42)

Arthur respected and honoured the memory of his father, but had a very stormy relationship with his mother, eventually ceasing all contact with her towards the end of her life. Perhaps they were too similar in some ways. She was to become, after her husband’s death, a well-known author of novels and the owner of a prestigious literary salon in Weimar. Her letters also reveal her to have been an extremely intelligent and talented woman. She was well loved on the contemporary social, literary and cultural scene and her novels sold widely.

At fifteen years of age Arthur’s father offered him the choice of accompanying him and his wife on a long tour, then called “the grand tour of Europe” or staying behind to pursue his intellectual pursuits and study. If he accompanied them he would have to settle down and become a professional merchant. If not he could do as he wished. What fifteen year old boy or girl would choose not to go? Arthur accompanied his parents and true to his word settled down to be an apprentice merchant for some two years. That grand tour ended in 1804.

Then some nine months after the end of this long rich man’s holiday a staggering event occurred which had a lasting effect on the life of Arthur Schopenhauer. His father ended his own life at the age of 65. Heinrich had been ill for some time, he appeared jaundiced, was fatigued, depressed and very often confused to such an extent that he often failed to recognise old acquaintances. I will let Yalom take up the story here:

On the twentieth of April, 1805, he managed, despite his infirmity, to travel to his Hamburg warehouse, slowly climb to the upper loft of the granary, and hurl himself out of the window into the Hamburg Canal. A few hours later his body was found floating in the icy water. (The Schopenhauer Cure, pp. 107-108)

Needless to say, such a tragic event could not but badly affect any young boy in his mid-teens, and would have a lasting effect on Arthur’s life. In respect for his father’s wishes the young lad persisted with his apprenticeship in the merchant world, even though he could easily have dropped this option. However, some little time after her husband’s demise Johanna sold up the business and went to Weimar to open her literary salon and write her novels. The young man could now, fortuitously, pursue his education as he willed, being more than adequately provided for in a legacy from his father’s will.

Above, a picture of an anchor I took at Badolato yesterday.  In a sense we are all searching for an anchor in our lives!

Retreat from the World


Summer Retreat


In Ireland we say that the main reasons for being a secondary school teacher are June, July and August. Having been a teacher for thirty years now, 1980 – 2010 I have long experience of the benefits of those months. These benefits have, invariably for me, made up for the various shortcomings of the said profession, namely very moderate pay (which I personally have little problem with), recalcitrant teenagers (with whom we all have problems), complexity of the work in the twenty-first century where the teacher is expected to be father, mother, social worker, psychologist, if not psychiatrist, and a host of other things to the modern teenager as well as writing up all the termly and weekly plans required for good teaching, and then setting and correcting homework and exams. Then, of course, there are the inevitable cutbacks which have had disastrous effects on education: growing class sizes, less Special Needs Assistants for SEN students and many poor and inadequate buildings. Now, having got that off my chest, I feel that I deserve my three months to recharge my batteries before “resuming hostilities” on the last week in August – to use a rather military metaphor used by an esteemed colleague.

I am doubly lucky to have a summer retreat down in the South of Italy (which I share with my two brothers) where I do little else besides eating, sleeping, drinking gorgeous wine, reading novels, philosophy and psychology (my two favourite subjects as the numbers beside the relevant tags will indicate) and then attempting to write poems in the Irish and English languages, write entries to various blogs which I attempt to keep going. I also spend my time looking at DVDs of films I have missed in the cinema as well as learning more of the beautiful Italian language. Consequently, I very seldom think of my workaday world at all until I walk back into my classroom.

I call tyhe above picture, taken by my brother Gerard a few days ago, Buddha on the Beach.  Perhaps a Beached Buddha would be a better description!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Schopenhauer Cure 2

The Schopenhauer Cure 2: Book Review Proper


Now let’s get straight to reviewing this book. As a novel with a plot or story does it work? Superbly. As a book which has something to teach us about psychotherapy does it work? Again superbly. Also that this book is in no way didactic in the moralistic sense of that word is gratifying. It is never preachy and never takes the high moral ground. Irvin Yalom has managed to inextricably weave knowledge, experience and the whole gamut of human emotions as illustrated in the characters of this novel into one extraordinarily complex and totally human tapestry which is this book. Indeed, he has managed to write a classic which will be read for years to come.

It is also insightful to learn that Yalom, when he was revising his two seminal university textbooks on group therapy and existential psychotherapy respectively, inserted references to his novels where the student might be able to access examples of the theory in practice.

What have we then in this novel? Well we have a beautifully wrought tale of the final year of a therapy group. This group has been going for some two years prior to this. For anyone who is not au fait with what happens in therapy groups this is a brilliant, enlightening and moving introduction. For those familiar with the workings of such groups, this little classic will only confirm them in their belief in their efficacy.

The central character is an eminent psychotherapist and psychiatrist called Julius Hertzfeld, of the Jewish nation, and he possesses much of the equilibrium and wisdom we find in Yalom, being himself also of the same racial background. This man has just learnt that he has inoperable and terminal cancer and has, at best, one good year left in his life. As the great Dr Johnston once remarked there is nothing more powerful than one’s imminent demise to focus one’s mind on what life is all about. Julius, therefore begins to re-examine what he has done in life, and in so doing map out the most personally beneficial and profitable course for his final year on earth. He begins to look back over old case notes and many old clients spring to his mind. However, he begins to obsess over one character whom he had failed to help even after three years of individual therapy. It was his only real failure. He decides to seek out this character, one Philip Slate, a sex-addict whom he had failed to help.

When he meets Philip the latter claims to be cured – miraculously transformed by the pessimistic teachings of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. Philip is also a counsellor in training. To qualify as a counsellor he needs a supervisor, and he asks Dr Hertzfeld to take him on in this capacity and that in turn he will teach him all about Schopenhauer. The wise psychotherapist is not convinced by Philip’s claim of being cured, but agrees to be his supervisor on the condition that he join his intensive therapy group for this last year.

And so we are now introduced to the therapy group’s two main characters and thereafter to Pam, a learned English professor, to Rebecca, a successful lawyer, to Tony, a carpenter, to Bonnie, a librarian and to Stuart, a medical doctor. The interaction of these seven characters with one another is totally realistic, believable and, indeed moving, exasperating, illuminating, inspiring, depressing and uplifting by turns. The ambiance of the group is so well portrayed that we feel that we, too, are members of Julius’s wonderfully realistic and healing group. It is their realistic and totally uncontrived interactions and indeed the one or two little surprises that the group offers the reader that makes this a good novel.

Amazingly, this book works well as a novel despite its heavily philosophical take in the person of Philip Slate, and despite the alternating chapters on Schopenhauer’s life that thankfully are written in a light journalistic or novel-like style. Somehow, these chapters complement rather than interrupt an interesting narrative.

This novel is an accurate account of what goes on or down at a very good group therapy group session. It is also a marvellous insight into the search for meaning by all of the characters, and especially that search by the three central ones Julius, Philip and Pam.

And so, friends, if you read this novel you are going to be gripped by the neck, if you forgive the metaphor, and dragged into an existential world of real therapy which deals with the anxiety inherent in the raw facts of life, with what we existentialists call the human condition. These raw facts are that we are mortal, that we inevitably and inexorably face death, that we enter and leave existence alone. However, and this is a rich message from the text, we are to a greater extent than we realise, the authors of our own life design and of the shape of reality itself, and that we are by nature meaning-making creatures, who as Heidegger and other leading existentialists proclaim, are literally thrown against our will into a universe which possesses absolutely no meaning in or of itself. Therefore, our existentialist friends argue that we must set about making our constructing our own meaning. Jean-Paul Sartre called this our life’s project. Whatever meaning we construct for ourselves, it must surely be strong enough to carry us through our lives.

The Schopenhauer Cure 1

Review: The Schopenhauer Cure 1


One of the delights of being on holiday is the time spent relaxing doing little or nothing except being. Another delight, of course, is the time one has at one’s disposal to reflect on where life is taking one. Irvin Yalom has long been a favourite therapist and psychiatrist. He belongs to that school of psychotherapy called existential therapy which takes the patients/clients exactly where they are, and then progresses from there to greater self-awareness literally through being in a healing relationship with the therapist. I have discussed existential therapy many times in these pages by reviewing two books by the late great Rollo May and another book by Irvin Yalom. The book I have just finished reading is the one named in the title of this piece, namely The Schopenhauer Cure.

Creativity and Psychotherapy:

Another one of my hobbyhorses is creativity, that is, the use of the imagination for self-development and for the nourishment of the soul. I have long been a creative writer of poems and stories in Irish and English. Some few pieces of both have been published, though not a huge amount. Mind you, the publication of the same is not necessarily the main objective, though the delight in seeing what one has written meet the light of day in a magazine or journal is a marvellous confidence booster and soul-affirming achievement. However, as someone once remarked, it is in the very act of writing, painting, sculpting or whatever that we are healed, not necessarily in the public acclamation of that act. That there are more poems and stories written than ever see the light of day is in itself very true, but the point lies in the writing of them, in the very healing act of the writing itself. I have drawers and files upon files of unpublished poems and stories – and a lot of it of little or no literary merit - but, so what, they witness to, what John Keats called the great effort of “soul-making.”

Novels that illustrate Academic Texts

Irvin Yalom, as a psychiatrist and therapist has two major separate but parallel interests, viz., group therapy and existential therapy. Indeed he has written learned texts on these twin interests, texts which he has continued to revise and which are widely used with student therapists and psychiatrists. He calls these “heavy textbooks.” Indeed, having studied this subject for the last twenty years or so, I would agree that much of the writing on psychotherapy and psychiatry can be heavy, even if geared to students, and often even when supposedly written for the lay reader. However, Yalom realised that such texts can only go so far in explaining his theories, and he finds the creative medium of the novel to be ideal for conveying how such theories work out in practice. He felt that his two major and widely used textbooks left something undone: “They failed to present the human side of what really happened in therapy. Professional prose did not permit me to convey what was truly the critical part of the therapy experience – the deep, intimate, human, risky, caring (even loving) texture of the therapist-client relationship.” (The Schopenhauer Cure, Post Script, p. 10) Hence, he turned to the novel to illustrate in story form what he was getting at in his more academic texts. In this he follows in a marvellous literary/philosophical/psychological tradition, e.g., Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, two great philosophers he mentions who turned to the novel form to give life to their theories. I wholeheartedly agree with Yalom here. While the great Russian writers Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy were neither academic philosophers nor psychologists they were indeed great explorers of both these subjects in story form. Indeed, we often find great and deep thoughts in both philosophy and psychology, as well as many other subjects, in the creative works of literature, and this should surprise no reasonably well educated reader.

In The Schopenhauer Cure Yalom seeks to do the following:

(i) illustrate how group therapy actually works, (ii) how philosophy in general, and the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer in particular, might influence the practice of psychotherapy, (iii) how Schopenhauer’s strange life history along with his obviously tortured pathology influenced his philosophical conclusions and finally how (iv) the awareness of death can be used productively and positively to live one’s life more fully.

Now, anyone familiar with Buddhism will know that reflection on the reality of death is an essential aspect of Buddhist practice. Knowing that my life is mortal, that the very seed of my death is somehow inextricably interwoven in the very fabric of the seed of my life, that somehow the seed of all life contains within it the seed of death, that the seed of all death also contains within it paradoxically the seed of all life. Here the reading of such classics as The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, anything by the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hanh or any other Buddhist writer is nothing short of illuminating and life-enhancing or indeed soul-making. That Schopenhauer was the first Western thinker to take Eastern and Buddhist thought seriously comes as no surprise to anyone who has read his work either in the original or even in philosophical compendia.



To be continued.