Finishing up some books…

I am almost to the end of one of the two books I’m going to talk about, but I don’t think that much is going to affect what I write about it, and so I shall put together this post and settle in for an evening of reading.

But first up, some thoughts on The Folly of the World by Jesse Bullington. I had previously read his book, The Enterprise of Death, and found it strangely intriguing. The Folly was no less intriguing, and I’m still not sure if I actually liked it, or if I fell in love with certain aspects of it while glossing over others.

As in Enterprise, this book was chock full of earthy, explicit, downright nutty and completely unexpected dirt and devilment of the Middle Ages in northern Europe. The main characters were as flawed and unpredictable as I could hope, and I love some flaws and unexpected twists. Sadly, not all of the twists were unpredictable, but by that time I was reading at full speed ahead. There was just something incredibly joyous about the act of reading his prose. Even when he was describing something I’d rather not read about.

I don’t know if this is a book I will read again, and for that I’ll be bringing it back to the library, from which “free book” shelf it originally came. But I am glad I read it, as it was a welcome break from reading the book that I shall mention next.

This book, The Essential Schopenhauer, translated and edited selections from The World as Will and Representation, was one of those books that I found on one of my many rambles through the local Barnes & Noble. The only reason I picked it out, from among the many other offerings on philosophy, was because I remembered the name “Schopenhauer” from the movie “Life is Beautiful.” Sometimes, my reading gets eclectic and the reason behind my selections gets a little random.

The pages were dense in most places, although here and there, I found amazing metaphors that leapt from the pages to lodge in my mind. One example: “…our life is like a payment made to us in nothing but copper coins, for which we must then give a receipt; the coins are the days, and the receipt is death.”

More eloquent and educated philosophers and writers than I have expounded on Schopenhauer’s messages, particularly regarding the nature of “will” as the only “being-in-itself.” All else is matter and eternal and comes from the will. This concept sank deep and I am still mulling it over, wondering if my understanding of his concept is the same as what he meant.

Two thoughts in particular came to mind as I was reading. The first was Schopenhauer’s references and reliance on Eastern philosophy and religion, which was unexpected to me, but on second thought was likely not so very strange in the 1800s. Plenty of food for thought, and although I haven’t read the original German and thus cannot compare the translation to the source text, I found it an enjoyable read.

The other thought – and this was something that struck me hard. For all that Schopenhauer – and many of his highly-educated, deep-thinking brethren – turned their vast, critical eye on the human condition and the nature of existence, and for all that the 1800s man of philosophy saw himself as moving the discipline forward in new directions – not one of these men of letters was able to move beyond the intellectual confines of his own time and culture. Especially when it came to women. It is a pity how Schopenhauer writes such enlightened prose on the transitory yet enduring nature of human existence – but then fails to extend this existence to half of his fellow humans. Needless to say, I basically skimmed over the “On Woman” essay. Nothing very new there.

The reading project continues. Schopenhauer will find a place on my shelf, and perhaps in twenty or thirty years when I need that reminder that mortality is just a receipt coming due, I will take him back down and read him again. Perhaps next time in the original German. For now, it is time to finish up the last selection and continue on to the next book.

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