Where some children's authors choose to artfully pack in extra material that can be fully appreciated only by an adult reader, Roald Dahl instead choo...moreWhere some children's authors choose to artfully pack in extra material that can be fully appreciated only by an adult reader, Roald Dahl instead chooses to write clearly and deliberately for a single audience - the child. This is something to be celebrated, as it demonstrates Dahl's keen understanding of the Child's mind and his willingness to serve it.
Dahl does not patronise his audience. He provides them with the gristle, the tragedy, the darkness and the terrible happenings from which most other author's will 'protect' them. The characters that he writes are caricature, for sure, and Dahl acknowledges this - but only whilst also acknowledging that caricatures are always rooted in truth. For the child, I'm sure, this forbidden knowledge is a large part of the attraction towards Dahl's work: He provides them with a glimpse into the abyss and they are thrilled by the vertigo.
Intellectually, as well, Roald Dahl does not at all patronise his audience; difficult words like 'insuperable' and 'indelible' are used freely and when the comic violence of his world clashes with the adult reality of Miss Honey's life, Dahl does nothing to cushion the blow or to hide the implications and, indeed, draws attention to them through the enquiries of the protagonist.
A curious mix of British English and Americanisms (pants for trousers, fanny for bottom) is employed and some considerable contortions are taken in order to set the scene without using the term 'Primary School'. This is quite interesting, as it points towards the notion that Dahl intended the book for immediate internationalisation. Quite interesting indeed. The edition that I have points out at the back that the US publishing of Dahl's earliest works preceded their publishing in the UK. This is something that I had not formerly realised, and it makes a great deal of sense.(less)
Schopenhauer here discusses how happiness is not a state in its own right but rather a state made manifest by the absence of a different state: the st...moreSchopenhauer here discusses how happiness is not a state in its own right but rather a state made manifest by the absence of a different state: the state of suffering; in his terms, happiness or goodness has a 'negative' nature and suffering or evil has a 'positive' one. This is better understood in the sense that a shadow is not a thing in itself but rather a thing that is brought into being by the absence or impediment of a source of light. A shadow has a 'negative' nature; it exists only as a negation of something 'positive'. A light has a 'positive' nature; it truly exists.
There are echoes here again, as in other collections of Schopenhauer's essays, of his inability to self-validate his views and of the despair that it evidently causes him:
"[There is] a source of pleasure, and consequently of suffering, available to [Humans] alone and one which preoccupies him beyond all measure, indeed more than all the rest put together: ambition, and the sense of honour and shame - in plain words, what he thinks others think of him."
As with 'On the Horrors and Absurdities of Religion', the better part of this volume is the first half. Schopenhauer's most lucid writing is in the eponymous essay, which is the first in this volume and throughout the first half of the book he even has some rather good moments of wit; criticising Leibniz ('...the best of all possible worlds.') thusly:
"The creator created not only the world, he also created the possibility itself: Therefore he should have created the possibility of a world better than this one."
The real gem of this volume, after the eponymous essay, is 'On Women' which is valuable in the same way as is a blood diamond or a labour camp. In this essay he shares with us such snippets of his enlightened thought process as 'One needs only to see the way that she [women] is built to realise that she is not intended for great physical or great mental labour,' and, 'What there ought to be are housewives and girls who hope to become housewives.'. The most shocking thing of all that I have to tell is that these snippets are by no means even close to the worst that Schopenhauer has to say about women; he writes on the matter with a measure of bile that really seems hard to believe. In its outrageousness, it makes for very compelling reading.
He often resorts to tricks of rhetoric in order to win the reader to his point of view, rather than arguing his views persuasively and having them stand on their own account. Ultimately, and long before I reached the back cover, I found myself having grown weary of his presence (which felt somehow exuded from the pages). Schopenhauer is a tiresome man and, as he would probably say - 'Any thinking reader must agree with me on this point.'(less)
This volume opens with 'On Religion: A Dialogue' which discusses, alternately, the utility of religion and how it endangers rational thought. Although...moreThis volume opens with 'On Religion: A Dialogue' which discusses, alternately, the utility of religion and how it endangers rational thought. Although the points made on either side will be largely familiar to most readers, this constitutes the best portion of the book and is still an entertaining read that occasionally gives pause for thought with relevance to the modern world :-
"Even if a real true philosophy had taken the place of religion, nine-tenths of mankind at the very least would receive it on authority, so that it too would be a matter of belief."
The latter essays 'On Ethics', 'On Psychology', 'On Religion' and 'On Various Subjects' are each split into ordinally sub-headed chunks. The main insight that can be drawn from reading these is, unfortunately, not a philosophical one but only that Schopenhauer was wildly misanthropic and illiberal, and that he held himself in far greater esteem than he did the hoi-polloi.
There are many attempts made to coin aphorisms throughout, so much so that I began to suspect that Schopenhauer's aims lay more in crafting them and having them be quoted than it did in properly and clearly communicating his ideas. It is unfortunate that though several of these would-be aphorisms hit the mark (and the best of them has already been quoted in a review by Jason Mills), the majority lack that necessary ring of truth.
I think that Schoenhauer's distaste for the masses and his desire for validation from his peers (the two principles pervading this volume) is well borne-out by what he states in 'On Various Subjects' 5B:
"The great misfortune for intellectual merit is that it has to wait until the good is praised by those who produce only the bad; indeed, the misfortune already lies in the general fact that it has to receive its crown from the hands of human judgement, a quality of which most people possess about as much as a castrate possesses of the power to beget children."