Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Schopenhauer and the postmodern: part one

File:Schopenhauer 1852.jpg
Arthur Schopenhauer 1788-1860, daguerreotype.
Sometimes, when you are looking for something, you find something even better. I was gathering works by Arthur Schopenhauer looking for a particular essay which had influenced both C. G. Jung and Wolfgang Pauli, but before I found it, I had purchased an eBook of a collection of his essays which had no table of contents. The essay I was looking for was not included but within its pages I found the solution to a problem that had bothered me for years: why is academic postmodern writing so bad?

By nature, I am not an obsessive person but, being intuitive, I find that some problems have that effect on me. I know there is a solution, a perfect solution, but it alludes me and I cannot rest until it is resolved. A hint to my obsession of this particular problem is the number of times that I had provided a link to the "pomo-generator" on this blog and in countless list postings and emails (although I probably could count most of them, I really do not want to!).

For those of you who have come across this post through a web-search, and at the risk of boring my regular readers (who can skip this paragraph with my blessings), the pomo-generator machine-generates absolutely meaningless essays about postmodernist thought. Every time you refresh the page, an entirely new essay is produced. The classic example of this sort of thing is known as the Sokal hoax and was perpetrated by physics professor Alan Sokal in 1996 who created, and had published in a journal of postmodernist studies, a paper of random quotes from postmodernist writing strung together so as to have the appearance of a serious work but it was actually gibberish. Sokal's purpose was critical of postmodernism but also played on the editors willingness to buy into something that seemed to validate their preconceptions. Unfortunately, no one ever saw the broader picture (myself included). Needless to say, it upset a lot of postmodern writers, but they, too, did not see what was really behind it all.

You might be wondering what on earth could Arthur Schopenhauer have said about postmodernism as he died so long before the term was coined. Later writers (including C. G. Jung) have certainly foreshadowed postmodernism, but all ideas have their time and such foreshadowing is typical of many great ideas. When I was busy trying to develop new things when I was in business (I was the "idea person" in our company), I knew that if I did not act upon one of them, someone else in the world would soon do so. I understood that I was,  to a very great degree, a product of my time. This is actually true of anyone who is not stuck in some personal past. The answer is that Arthur Schopenhauer noticed something  that was not really about postmodernism at all, but what he noticed is currently expressed in postmodern writing. This means that some future philosophy will manifest the same sort of awful writing. We have been looking at a symptom and not at the disease. Tomorrow, I will reveal it all, mainly with the words of Schopenhauer, himself.

After that, I will be following with some other essays about Schopenhauer, including what I was originally looking for with regards to his influences on Jung and Pauli. Some will be single posts, others will be short series. 

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