For what it’s worth, Nietzsche liked him. Not everyone does. But John Updike was a fan, so was James, and so am I. Lately I find myself echoing The Sage’s self-exhortation (“up again, old heart!”) a lot. I can’t imagine how a father rouses himself after the loss of a child, and I can’t believe Emerson when he says his son’s death “does not touch me.” That has to be a rhetorical stage of grieving (stuck somewhere between denial and anger, short of full acceptance) and a way of raging impotently against what must feel like an irredeemable cosmic injustice– not to mention a soul-crushing slug to the gut.
I hope he didn’t just see it as a salutary expression of his vaunted “self-reliance.” In any case, he knew it was “a luxury to draw the breath of life” (Div.School Address]– a bitter luxury perhaps, in the shadow of heart-wrenching loss.
He was our first “secular humanist,” though it might be more accurate to call him “spiritual, not religious” (though not exactly in the AA sense). He was also a skeptic and a stoic, much impressed by the interior and “trying” style of Montaigne. [E’s Intro to M’s Essays]
Pneumonia, with which I’ve gone a couple of rounds myself, got Emerson. Thankfully there are drugs for that now.
Thoreau, dead American #2 (at just 44!): asked if he had made his peace with God, he replied, “I did not know we had ever quarreled.” His God, with whom he communed daily on his saunters in and around Concord, MA, appears to have had much in common with Spinoza’s and Einstein’s. He is an inspiration, to me and my kids and to lovers of bears everywhere.
James. Freud said “I have always wished that I might be as fearless as he was in the face of approaching death.” But there’s lots of life left in Richardson’s bio, so let’s move on. As we read in Passion for Wisdom on Monday, his overriding interest was always in the problems of everyday living.
Dewey. He was still doing important work into his nineties. No one has had more insight into the importance for democracy of education, or the influence on philosophy of Darwin. He had no use for a mere “spectator’s” perspective… Education is experience, participatory and engaged.(PW)
Freud. His wish seems to have been fulfilled. All those cigars took a bite out of him but he showed no sign of complaint or irritability with his painful condition, he accepted it and was resigned to his fate. Much closer to Epicurus or Montaigne than Schopenhauer.
Nietzsche. Was his seeming megalomania(or madness) really a joke, as Critchley speculates? It might be nice to think so, if not wholly persuasive. “The most serious Christians have always been well-disposed towards me.” That definitely sounds like a joke.
Mill. A 15-mile walk atage 67 did him in. There are worse exit scenarios, and worse motivational statements than “Work while it is called Today; for the Night cometh, wherein no man can work.”
Kierkegaard. Despite his tireless tirades against the degraded Christianity of the Danish pastors, Kierkegaard was buried with a full religious service. Was that gracious, mocking, or just… absurd?
Marx. Critchley is so good at bringing obscure but telling detail to the fore– like poor Marx’s carbuncles. The material conditions of existence are no abstraction when they consume one’s “whole cadaver.”
Bergson. It’s so tempting to make light of the passing of the philosopher who championed the elan vital or life force, I’m surprised Critchley doesn’t. But he deserves a respectful remembrance, as one who stood in solidarity with his people when he might have walked away. He may have been James’s favorite philosopher.