Oh boy, if it’s one thing I hate, it’s being beholden to someone else’s bad taste, even if only for the space of the week it takes to set aside, in this instance, literature that feeds your soul and is unarguably superior in all ways to whatever you’ve been forcibly recommended, in order to get through said recommended text. In this moment, I’m talking about Irvin D. Yalom’s The Schopenhauer Cure.(1) Now, I remember liking his When Nietzsche Wept, but don’t recall much else other than that. But this thing, this latest foray into philosopher-based imaginings? Let the laments begin. Technically, the book is a work of fiction at its most simplified level, meaning made-up people engaging in made-up thoughts and actions. But all of its stilted dialogue and too-easy processes and resolutions read more like a so-called thought experiment provided by a therapist to a class full of would-be counselors on what it might be like to lead a particularly receptive group. Oh yeah, and all of that interspersed with an account of Arthur Schopenhauer’s life and thought. Admittedly, none of these things are to be entered into, or dealt with, lightly. But that’s exactly how it felt Yalom was proceeding.
The best parts of the book were the little windows into Schopenhauer’s biography, and the most useful, or relatable, at least, things that I took away from these 300-or-so pages were quotes inserted here and there from the poor pessimist philosopher. In terms of being of one mind with the brilliant codger, well, I’m not. But he knew how to turn a phrase, and every now and then, he and I can bridge the gap of time and mentality that lies between us and agree on something– as seen most notably here in the assertion, “Without books I would long ago have been in despair.”* Right on, Arthur. But, without much else to pull me into Yalom’s project, I’ll leave it at that, and return this volume to the library, thankful that I didn’t shell out even a few pennies for this one.
(1) In Irvin D. Yalom, The Schopenhauer Cure (New York: Harper Perennial), 2006.
(2) ibid., 261.