Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Schopenhauer On Fame

Schopenhauer’s Bust in Frankfurt
I think Arthur Schopenhauer might be the greatest stylist among philosophers. It is surprising to see a “philosopher” using such elegant and lucid prose to express his ideas. Here’s an excerpt from his essay, “Fame” (The Wisdom of Life; Part IV, Section V):
Whether authors ever live to see the dawn of their fame depends upon the chance of circumstance; and the higher and more important their works are, the less likelihood there is of their doing so. That was an incomparably fine saying of Seneca's, that fame follows merit as surely as the body casts a shadow; sometimes falling in front, and sometimes behind. And he goes on to remark that "though the envy of contemporaries be shown by universal silence, there will come those who will judge without enmity or favor." From this remark it is manifest that even in Seneca's age there were rascals who understood the art of suppressing merit by maliciously ignoring its existence, and of concealing good work from the public in order to favor the bad: it is an art well understood in our day, too, manifesting itself, both then and now, in "an envious conspiracy of silence."
As a general rule, the longer a man’s fame is likely to last, the later it will be in coming; for all excellent products require time for their development. The fame which lasts to posterity is like an oak, of very slow growth: and that which endures but a little while, like plants which spring up in a year and then die; while false fame is like a fungus, shooting up in a night and perishing as soon.
And why? For this reason; the more a man belongs to posterity, in other words, to humanity in general, the more of an alien he is to his contemporaries; since his work is not meant for them as such, but only for them in so far as they form part of mankind at large; there is none of that familiar local color about his productions which would appeal to them: and so what he does, fails of recognition because it is strange. People are more likely to appreciate the man who serves the circumstances of his own brief hour, or the temper of the moment—belonging to it, and living and dying with it.
The general history of art and literature shows that the highest achievements of the human mind are, as a rule, not favorably received at first; but remain in obscurity until they win notice from intelligence of a higher order, by whose influence they are brought into a position which they then maintain, in virtue of the authority thus given them.

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