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The Art of Literature by Arthur Schopenhauer
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The Art of Literature

by Arthur Schopenhauer

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Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860) penned his books of philosophical essays in the last years of his life. This particular collection includes eight essays within The Art of Literature: On Authorship, On Style, On the Study of Latin, On Men of Learning, On Thinking for Oneself, On Some Forms of Literature, On Criticism, On Reputation, On Genius.. For the purposes of this review and to give a reader a taste, here are a number of quotes along with my comments:

On Authorship
“There are two kinds of authors: those who write for the subject’s sake, and those who write for writing’s sake. While the one have had thoughts or experiences which seem to them worth communicating, the others want money; and so they write for money.” --------- One big reason I enjoy reading reviews and comments here on Goodreads is that everyone on this site is writing for the sheer love of sharing ideas, opinions and feelings as part of a worldwide community of book lovers. Nobody is writing for money or writing for an editor. Nothing is as stale as reading writing done to complete an assignment, that is, when the writer is under the direction and schedule of another rather than writing from self-initiative and inspiration.

On Style
“He who writes carelessly confesses there by at the very outset that he does not attach much importance to his own thoughts. For it is only where a man is convinced of the truth and importance of his thoughts, that he feels the enthusiasm necessary for an untiring and assiduous effort to find the clearest, finest, and strongest expression for them.” ---------- This is sound advice. If we really care about our writing, we will take the extra time needed to make our words and meaning as clear and as elegant as possible. Reading sloppy writing is no fun for anybody.

On the Study of Latin
“There is no better recreation for the mind than the study of the ancient classics. Take any one of them into your hand, be it only for half an hour, and you will feel yourself refreshed, relieved, purified, ennobled, strengthened; just as though you had quenched your thirst at some pure spring.” ---------- I’ve found this true from my own experience. It doesn’t matter what ancient writer, subject or tradition – East, West, plays, philosophy, poetry – exposure to any of the ancients expands and deepens our life.

On Men of Learning
“All branches of learning have thus been so much enlarged that he who would “do something” has to pursue no more than one subject and disregard all others.” ---------- This is a true dilemma of our modern society – we have many specialists and technicians knowledgeable in their respective fields but how many well-rounded, well-educated people have you encountered recently? Case in point: I met a surgeon on my last airplane flight who told me he hasn’t read anything outside of medicine in the last twenty years.

On Thinking for Oneself
“So it is, that much reading deprives the mind of all elasticity; it is like keeping a spring continually under pressure. The safest way of having no thoughts of one’s own is to take up a book every moment one has nothing else to do. Reading is thinking with someone else’s head instead of one’s own.” --------- I do not entirely agree. Take a novel: as readers, each in our own way, we recreate the vivid dream – characters, setting and other elements of the story. Such reading requires a large measure of thinking and creative effort.

On Criticism
“There are critics who severally think that it rests with each one of them what shall be accounted good, and what bad. They all mistake their own toy-trumpets for the trombones of fame.” ---------- Of course, we all have our different likes and dislikes, which is fair enough; the problem arises when we crossover into judging a book objectively good and bad without providing supporting evidence. In any case, before we cast harsh judgements, especially when judging a classic, it would be wise if we maintain a healthy dose of modesty.

“Now, most books are bad and ought to have remained unwritten. Consequently praise should be as rare as is now the case with blame. It is quite wrong to try to introduce into literature the same toleration as must necessarily prevail in society towards those stupid, brainless people who everywhere swarm in it.” ----------Oh my goodness – I might have to duck for cover! Since I only give five stars and review so many books, perhaps Sir Arthur’s comments are pointed directly at critics and book reviewers such as myself. Actually, I couldn’t disagree more with his opinion here since I highly value individual creativity and highly value the variety of literary works available to an entire range of readers. Thus, in my view, the more individuals who let their creative juices flow and write novels and short stories, not only literary fiction but in all genres - sci fi, mystery, fantasy, romance, Gothic, - the better. For, as Joyce Carol Oates says: “If you have a natural talent for writing, and a love of the imagination, you risk a lifelong deprivation if you fail to cultivate it as vigorously as you can.”


German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) ( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
no reviews | add a review

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Arthur Schopenhauerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Saunders, T. BaileyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The great pessimist who believed in the best and expected the worst from writers here applies his caustic wit to literature and the literary scene. Schopenhauer's piercing analyses of style, critics, literary values, learning, and genius make this volume a handbook on writing ? illuminated by the author's own shining, powerful style. The best way to discover the finest qualities of style and to form a theory of writing, he advises, is not to follow a trendy mannerism, but to study the ways in which great authors executed their best work. Schopenhauer provides excellent examples for aspiring writers in this collection of essays from his celebrated work Parerga. Translated by T. Bailey Saunders.… (more)

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