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25 of 37 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Look what they've done to my brains, ma..., 10 Sept. 2007
This review is from: The Schopenhauer Cure (Paperback)
If you happen to be of the opinion that:
a) Life is a pretty unpleasant experience, full of silly cravings, boredom and suffering;
b) This world really does not offer much comfort, rather resembling, as Hamlet would say, "a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours" (and this was before humans were surrounded by factories and roads!);
c) Most (if not all) human beings you meet are not only incredibly dull but full of unrealistic opinions and expectations...

Well then, look no further, Yalom has got just the cure for you! (Not that you had thought you were ill, of course, but believe us, you are!) In his wonderfully enlightening novel you can learn all about your true ailment. However sane (and soothing) your ideas may appear to yourself, if they aren't upbeat and optimistic and full of hope, then oh dear, you are an antisocial character in urgent need of help!
Yalom offers a very easy solution for your anomaly: group therapy. All you have to do is expose yourself to hour-long superficial chattering sessions with a bunch of strangers about their private little expectations and frustrations (as if one didn't get enough of that day in and day out). This, the experienced psychiatrist turned novelist explains, will help you understand just how WRONG you are. Forget about centuries of wisdom - from Buddha through Aristotle to the infamous Schopenhauer - that might in any way support your endeavour to distance yourself from the banalities and pains of everyday life. After all, as Yalom will gladly prove to you, those great sages lived in the awful past, when there was poverty and hunger and toil and wars and violence and hatred and ignorance - things we have long overcome, as you have surely noticed (if not, you're obviously reading/watching questionable things). What you need is to appreciate the elevating powers of human contact: such as evenings spent with your pals in a crowded bar, drinking beers and discussing the Giants (metaphysical issues are so passé!); or ever exciting emotional involvements with people who just crave to give you some love (never mind what that's supposed to be).

The highly therapeutic way in which Yalom chooses to prove just how lonely one may end up being if one indulges in the slightest negative thoughts regarding the company of other bipeds is quite astonishing and does deserve some careful reading: by creating a highly antisocial, arrogant and detached character supposedly resembling a modern-day Schopenhauer, the author shows us step by step the uselessness of following that great philosopher's wise advice in order to make life (slightly) more bearable. Confronting this (quite superficial) Schopenhauer-like character with a wonderfully caring psychotherapist plus his entourage of regularly confused but life-loving patients, Yalom's novel actually provides a very good example of the power of group-enforced conformity. Indeed, in the hands of this helpful bunch of astonishingly appealing one-dimensional characters, our protagonist undergoes a great transformation, gradually distancing himself from the most down-to-earth, but alas unappetizing, teachings of his supposed master, Schopenhauer.
You see, that German philosopher really was a cranky chap. Reading Yalom's novel will in fact provide you with countless quotations from his works, as well as a pretty good overview of his life. Sure, he was a genius and influenced many other brains (such as Nietzsche, Cekhov, Freud, Thomas Mann). But Yalom concludes also that Schopenhauer was an unhappy human (as compared to the rest of us, apparently) who could have well used a heavy dose of therapy to cure him from his dreadful pessimism and socio-phobia! Unfortunately for him (but very fortunately for his readers/followers), the wonderful business of psychotherapy had still not been invented back then. So our friend the philosopher was doomed to content himself with thinking and writing.
We are only so lucky nowadays that we can resort to doctors as soon as the slightest feeling of spiritual discomfort sets in. And there's even rumour of an anti-pessimism pill being manufactured as we speak... Schopenhauer no more!

But just in case you are mad enough to actually want to hold on to your negative views (at your own risk!), I would strongly advise you to skip this book and go to the sources instead: Schopenhauer's "Counsels and Maxims" is not only a great introduction to his wise words, but just about indispensable for anyone interested in understanding the roots of our sufferings (and how to deal with them). And Rudiger Safranski's "Schopenhauer and the Wild Years of Philosophy" will provide you with a much more accurate (and less judgemental) portrait of this amazingly realistic philosopher's life and influences.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 26 Oct 2009 17:40:13 GMT
I think you are being too hard on Yalom. I suspect his publisher demanded a 'feel-good' novel with a prozac-like anti-depressent ending, but the mere fact that he wrote a novel around Schopenhauer is a wonderful and valuable thing. And, after all, every second chapter is dedicated to AS. Yalom's Schopenhauerian clone is a great character and I do agree that it was a shame that we had to have a Walt Disney, happy-ever-after, ending and that the Pyschotherapist was an annoying touchy feely twerp but overall I really enjoyed it until the last few chapters - 'enough wallowing in the muck!' I loved that line! JP :)

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Oct 2009 20:48:06 GMT
Clary Antome says:
I would certainly not doubt that pressure by the publisher may have contributed to the barrage of clichés in Yalom's novel. And you're right to stress the amount of space actually dedicated to Schopenhauer. BUT: eventually all the insights of that great thinker are buried under a pile of banalities that run totally counter to his teachings! Which is quite ironic, when you think of it. So maybe Yalom just has one hell of a sense of humour.
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