HPNL Browsings: “In the Presence of Schopenhauer”

I thought this book would be a double poison pill, spiced with anise, like all that unwanted Good & Plenty one used to get on Halloween. Good & Plenty it is not; more like Short & Lovely (haha), a pleasing meditation on how to pursue a good life.

In the Presence of Schopenhauer
In the Presence of Schopenhauer by Michel Houellebecq,translated by Andrew Brown

Anyone hoping the book will elucidate Houellebecq’s novels (an expectation fully encouraged by Agathe Novak-Lechevalier’s adoring introduction: she represents Houellebecq’s encounter with Schopenhauer as a defining moment in the novelist’s development) should prepare for disappointment. I’m unqualified to assess how well it represents Schopenhauer’s philosophy, but the book’s reviewers seem to agree that Houellebecq misses his mark.

I did, however, enjoy this short volume. Still, one is bound to admit it would probably never have been published had it not been written by the French controversialist, whose name is virtually a guarantee of sales and buzz.

The bulk of the book comprises long, translated extracts from the works of Schopenhauer (principally Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellun). This particular edition offers one interesting bonus: whereas the original edition featured Houellebecq’s translations of Schopenhauer, from German into French, this one has the interesting distinction of translating Schopenhauer first into French, and then into English, with different translators working at each stage of translation. What infelicities and howlers this rather pointless exercise might have introduced into Schopenhauer’s texts I cannot say, but experts could have some fun searching them out, and decide whether double-translation is more like a Britta water filter, or a fun-house distortion mirror.

In the Presence of Schopenhauer (Medford, Mass. : Polity, 2020) is currently available in the History, Philosophy, and Newspaper Library.

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