Popova on Schopenhauer

The great Maria Popova takes a look at our favorite dismal crank Schopenhauer.  (If you haven’t read Schopenhauer, start reading! Unless you’re one of those people who view cloudy days as a personal offense against your nature.)

Popova’s article looks at Schopenhauer through a particular lens, asking whether he “presaged” today’s Internet writing on headline-and-slideshow sites like Buzzfeed. That’s her particular angle, but there’s more to it than that. Schopenhauer’s views on art and literature are just as relevant to the economics of self-publishing as they are to the economics of blogging and websites.

Popova focuses on this:

The subjects may be of such a nature as to be accessible and well known to everybody; but the form in which they are expounded, what has been thought about them, gives the book its value, and this depends upon the author. Therefore if a book, from this point of view, is excellent and without a rival, so also is its author. From this it follows that the merit of a writer worth reading is all the greater the less he is dependent on matter — and the better known and worn out this matter, the greater will be his merit. The three great Grecian tragedians, for instance, all worked at the same subject.


It is on form that we are dependent, where the matter is accessible to every one or very well known; and it is what has been thought about the matter that will give any value to the achievement; it will only be an eminent man who will be able to write anything that is worth reading. For the others will only think what is possible for every other man to think. They give the impress of their own mind; but every one already possesses the original of this impression.

That’s an interesting look at a site like Buzzfeed. But what does this mean for the self-publishing author, who tirelessly puts out content, crafting one’s own covers, using today’s publishing models to put out a particular vision? Any hope that the public will find it? That it will catch on, even in spite of not having marketing experts or a professional gloss? Well, maybe…

However, the public is very much more interested in matter than in form, and it is for this very reason that it is behindhand in any high degree of culture.

Or maybe the point is not to play a short game:

The deplorable condition of the literature of to-day … is due to the fact that books are written for the sake of earning money. Every one who is in want of money sits down and writes a book, and the public is stupid enough to buy it.

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