“Although the laboriously attained clearness of the explanation and distinctness of the expression never leaves the immediate sense of what is said doubtful, it cannot at the same time express its relations to all that remains to be said. Further, the earnest endeavour to be more completely and even more easily comprehended in the case of a difficult subject, must justify occasional repetition. Indeed the structure of the whole makes it necessary sometimes to touch on the same point twice.”
That’s Arthur Schopenhauer, pessimist extraordinaire, on the Preface to the first volume of “The World as Will and Idea,” which I’m about to start reading, perhaps inspired by all the pessimism in J. K. Huysmans’ “Against Nature.”
If you’re wondering what he just said, it was this:
“I want to be clear in this book, so I might repeat my points.”
But he DIDN’T say that, because he’s lying. He DOESN’T want to be clear. CLARITY would not be good for business.
I have to slow my reading speed for the fella’s sentences. Is it because what he’s saying is blowing my synapses? Nope. It’s because, like many a philosopher, he’s not a terribly good writer, and I’m sure translations does him no justice. He fights the urge for communication with the considerable might of his intellect. What Schopenhauer is very good at is obfuscation.
Here’s another passage right from the Preface.
“A system of thought must always have an architectonic connection or coherence, that is, a connection in which one part always supports the other, though the latter does not support the former, in which ultimately the foundation supports all the rest without being supported by it, and the apex is supported without supporting.”
Huh? Real clear. Let’s parse that out.
All he said is that a system of thought is like a building where everything connects and builds toward an idea. Basically, a pyramid. Foundation at the bottom, apex at the top.
It’s a simple concept any child can understand, but the philosopher is not interested in having children understand him, hence a ridiculously constructed sentence like the one above that HAPPENS TO BE INCORRECT. By obfuscating, Schopenhauer made himself erroneous. (If any one part ALWAYS supports the other, then the latter will ALWAYS support the former and the former will ALWAYS support the latter, which sounds like a paradox but would make lots of sense if the system of thought were circular, and not pyramidal like the one Schopenhauer just described!)
It’s no coincidence that the world “laborious” gets repeated use in the Preface.
There are three main reasons why people obfuscate.
1- To confuse and avoid an issue. This is what kids, politicians and philanderers all default into when asked, respectively: “Who took the cookie from the cookie jar?” “Who took the money from the cookie jar?” “Who poked the cookie in the neighbor’s cookie jar?” This isn’t Schopenhauer’s case. He is genuinely trying to EXPLAIN an issue (how to approach life in this world) even if his own words defeat him at every turn.
2- Out of insanity. The obfuscator might be mentally ill and their confusing comments are the true reflection of a malfunctioning brain. I’m not a hundred percent sure this doesn’t apply to Schopenhauer, but let’s suppose it’s 3:
3- To sound fucking smart. The thing about philosophical obfuscations (as opposed to the usage of idiotic jargon) is that it DOES demonstrate intelligence. It takes big brains gooey with grey matter to complicate things like Schopenhauer does. But why is it that philosophical writers often coat their most brilliant thoughts with the murkiest of sentences? Because if you’re a great thinker and your thoughts are understandable, no one will find you guilty of philosophy. At best, you’ll have a folksy sort of wisdom, or lead a cult. Also, no one will excuse your questionable grooming habits, and no one will give you tenure. Tenure was in Schopenhauer’s mind early in his 40s, when he tried to make it in the competitive world of German academia- only to find that the couple of students who showed up to his classes had no clue what he was going on about. Schopenhauer dropped out of the system unhappily.
He had been too incomprehensible for his own good. The fools!
There IS a pleasure in the untangling of obfuscation that is probably best recognized by the gamer who has just solved a tough puzzle, or by that nearly-extinct sailor who still delights in the expertise of knotting and unknotting. So, onto the first volume of “The World as Will and Idea”! (Or “Representation,” Or “Presentation,” depending who you ask.)