Thursday, January 20, 2011

Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love

Last summer, a little book called Freedom was published. I read it and also got quite a bit of enjoyment by following the book's author, Emperor Franzen, on Twitter. Of course, it was not the actual author Jonathan Franzen writing the imperious tweets. It was, in fact, another author, Andrew Shaffer, who also writes under yet another twitter persona, Evil Wylie. He also hosts the website Evil Reads and prints a line of atheist Christmas cards.

Oh, yes, and he also wrote a book.

It's called Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love and it's short, informative, and (at times) funny. And it makes me glad that I did not major in philosophy.

The book presents snapshot portraits of a host of philosophers and, yes, their utter failure to maintain successful love lives. Some of the philosophers were full of themselves, some were full of non-traditional ideas, and most were miserable. That's what thinking will do for you.

But one portrait I found heartbreaking. Nicolas Chamfort (someone I'd never heard of before) told his principal that he could never be a priest. "I'm too fond of sleep, philosophy, women, honor and real fame." And for a while, he had all that. He became a playwright and spent a lot of time "rumpling the bedsheets" of beautiful actresses. But then, at 25, he contracted an unknown disease that left him scarred and disfigured from head to--well, let's just say he rumpled a lot less sheets. It took some 15 years before he found happiness with a woman, and then she promptly died. He ultimately attempted suicide, which left him even more disfigured and in more pain, before finally dying, alone. After a short time of living an ideal life, he was struck down and became bitter and pessimistic. His whole outlook on life reversed. And I guess I can try to take the usual lessons from all this - that you should enjoy what you have while you have it, that a single incident can change the path of your life, etc. - but mostly I just feel bad for him. Stupid empathy.

Anyway, I quite enjoyed this book. It would make an excellent gift for the budding philosopher in your life or for the bitter old philosopher in your life. And it'll provide you with some great material for your next snooty cocktail party. "Sure, Ayn Rand's philosophy is embraced by some of Wall Street's major players, but she was a shrieking control freak in the bedroom..."

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