Paul Boshears for Schirmacher's Schopenhauer Seminars.
What seems to mark the 21st century is the unmitigated catastrophe of the Enlightnement and it is in living with this failure to come to Reason that Schopenhauer's message is heard with such urgency. As Wolfgang Schirmacher so succinctly put it, “There is no rational way to find out how reality is without our thinking coming into play,” and so we must ask what is the distinction Schopenhauer makes between cogitating and Nietzsche's reasoning of the body. While the rationalist drives of the two centuries prior to Schopenhauer's life celebrated a life of the mind, Schopenhauer unequivocally found that life is not worth living if by living we mean the domination of all other living beings at the hands of an unfeeling, too-mentalizing, inert mass of rationalists. Rather than subjugating the world to the hubristic reduction-abstraction of anthropocentric concerns, Schopenhauer insistently pointed out this abstracting-action as window dressing against the obvious pain of living only to die. Schopenhauer's thinking, while received as only pessimistic by many, is a constant call for us to focus on what is immediately familiar: we will die, our loved ones will die, our plans will lead to oblivion even if they are realized after our death it will only be met by the future death of those dull sods that must also die. So how do we live in light of this? This is Schopenhauer's message.
Rather than seek succor in visions of the suffering of others for all Eternity so that we might be given the promise of an unceasing living in supplication to some narcissistic metaphysical being, Schopenhauer advocated the life of the ascetic whose practice included aesthetic contemplation. This mode of living, mystical but not as opposed to the Reason of the Enlightenment, develops an ethos of authority that is not derived a priori from categorical normative thinking – this is a question of credibility. He saw the tendency for people to formulate ethical action as already a failure: the conditions have deteriorated such that a metaphysics (separate from this-world) most be called upon to ensure social living. And Schopenhauer did not blink in the face of this truth. The madmen run the asylum, exactly those from whom we would learn the most from living with – the sick, the otherly-abled bodies, those that cannot communicate readily with us – these are the first people to be bludgeoned in the name of the unversality of community. Living in these conditions, as a “pendulum between suffering and boredom,” requires first an intimate knowledge of where this suffering occurs. This is the secret of tat tvam asi, thou art that, and it is the key phrase to understanding Schopenhauer's thinking.
The 21st century inherits the Modern fever dream of exploded narrative, of fractured and thrumming living; a universe composed simultaneously of the particular and the universal. And this century inherits an ocean of compassionate thinking, in no small part due to Schopenhauer's unceasing call to focus on the familiar affairs of our living: the body as that which connects us to all Life, the mind as predicated upon a body that feels and yearns. Thou art that. The materiality of existence is not a standing reserve from which to draw, it is the processional conditions that not only make suffering possible but also the activating source material informing how we will find an ethics. The central question we receive from Schopenhauer is determining how to cultivate and to act in compassion. Compassion is not a question of how to best suffer along with others, to “suffer the poor fools” those boors that ignore our strongly-felt self-importance. Compassion is creating a life that is capable of maximizing the potential for thou art that to be perceived and enacted upon by others.
It would appear that this is what Schirmacher intimates with his concept of the homo generator: that stage of humanity achieved when there is a return to the creative nature of being human. This is an aesthetic and embodied mode of life that recognizes that human life is mediated, by language, through acting. The task of homo generator, if we hear Schopenhauer correctly is to live such that we may continue to create. Schopenhauer's pedagogy is a radical one that inherently suggests the need to teach creation in the face of destruction.