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Sunday
Jul172011

On Schopenhauer and Being Bald 

Monsieur Montaigne,

Lately, I have been reading the work of a philosopher named Arthur Schopenhauer. He was German and wrote mostly at the beginning of the 19th century. Just as Emerson labeled you a skeptic, many scholars throughout the years have labeled him a pessimist – which, as you might guess, seems unfortunate to me. But, I won’t go into that again.

In a work entitled Counsels and Maxims, he dedicated a chapter to The Ages of Life. And among other things, he wrote,

A great writer gives his best work to the world when he is about fifty years of age.

And,

The first forty years of life furnish the text, while the remaining thirty supply the commentary.

Because I am now 35 years old, I find all of this really quite interesting. Perhaps I should not bother writing this series of letters to you after all. Perhaps I should continue reading and aging for a few more years, and then, on my 40th birthday, I should start again. Didn’t you begin your essays when you were 38?

I particularly like Schopenhauer’s writing style, by the way. It’s more personal, open, and honest than most philosophical writing. For the most part, he doesn’t really try to remain objective and impartial, or if he does try, he doesn’t do a very good job.

Embracing one’s subjectivity is a rare and wonderful thing in the world of philosophy. I think that you would enjoy many of Schopenhauer’s later writings. Perhaps, even, the three of us are alike in a few ways:

1. We are each interested in the practical, useful, or well-grounded areas of philosophy.

2. We each have somewhat sensitive constitutions and are easily affected by our environments.

3. We each have wandering minds and personal writing styles.

4. We were each born under the sign of Pisces.

5. We were, or are, each bald.

I wonder when you started losing your hair? I started losing mine when I was about 20 years old, and when I was about 25, I started trimming my hair very short. I’m not familiar with the French or German attitudes about hair loss, but where I am from, men tend to worry a great deal about losing their hair. For some reason, baldness seems to be associated with weakness. In my culture, there are an abundance of advertisements for curing baldness.

“Are you suffering from hair loss?” they ask.

Well… I would say no. I am not suffering from hair loss. Instead, I am celebrating my forehead gain. While other men with full heads of hair are bothered by all kinds of hassles and hair care expenses, I am not. Furthermore, I never have to worry about looking unkempt in the morning, and in more than 10 years, I have not experienced a single bad hair day.

Although I was initially very self-conscious about losing my hair, I have since grown to embrace my older and simpler appearance. And while I am certainly not flashing or debonair, for some strange reason, it seems that a few women continue to be attracted to me. Perhaps this is because I am comfortable with my appearance despite my lack of hair. Although I am not yet 40, maybe I have the mind and head of a 40- year-old. Or maybe I have what some people call an old soul.

From the little I have read of astrology, persons born under the sign of Pisces are said to have old souls. They are also supposed to bloom later in life. Because Pisces natives are considered to be sensitive dreamers, they often develop unrealistic expectations of the world while they are young, which means that they then experience a great many disappointments.

I think this is interesting given that Schopenhauer once wrote,

In the bright dawn of our youthful days, the poetry of life spreads out a gorgeous vision before us, and we torture ourselves by longing to see it realized. We might as well wish to grasp the rainbow! The youth expects his career to be like an interesting romance; and there lies the germ of disappointment.

He also wrote,

The chief result gained by experience of life is clearness of view. This is what distinguishes the man of mature age, and makes the world wear such a different aspect from that which it presented in his youth or boyhood. It is only then that he sees things quite plain, and takes them for that which they really are: while in earlier years he saw a phantom-world, put together out of the whims and crotchets of his own mind, inherited prejudice and strange delusion: the real world was hidden from him, or the vision of it distorted.

I wonder if some people call Schopenhauer’s writing pessimistic because he needs to remind himself not to get carried away by any dreamy or unrealistic expectations of how he wishes the world to be. If I may say so, Monsieur, your writing seems to emphasize a practical or grounded approach to living as well. Would it be presumptuous of me to guess that your essays help you to stay clearly rooted in the world?

I suspect that, like you, the older and wiser Schopenhauer would make a very pleasant dinner guest. On the other hand, perhaps I shouldn’t think about such things. After all, since I am only a 35-year-old Pisces, I don’t want to set myself up for an unwise and youthful disappointment. But, I still think that it would be nice to shake Mr. Schopenhauer’s hand and look directly into his eyes. Perhaps I am just curious to compare his physical presence to my own. It would also be nice to have a living philosophical comrade with whom to talk. I think that I tend to bore some of my friends when I talk about my reading and writing. OK, that’s enough for today.

Take care,
Brian

Ps. Pisces are also supposed to like the arts, water, and snacking. Popcorn is my favorite snack.