Monday, June 20, 2005

The Political Is Personal (With Apologies to Second Wave Feminism)

When does the personal articulate with the public? How does the personal articulate with the rigorous, erudite, lucid front stage persona? When does the "public persona" become an alibi for the cruelty, prejudice, hatred that we indulge in private?

But, also, dear reader, when does your fascination with the personal sprout into a figleaf, a cover for your laziness and unwillingness to engage seriously with that person or movement you have been conditioned to dismiss? An alibi for your graduate seminar posturing? Discuss....

"Rousseau, who apotheosized primal virtue, abandoned all five children that he had with Therese, his illiterate servant-wife. The self-styled expert on child-rearing gave them to orphanages, where "most of them soon died."

Schopenhauer celebrated art's beauty and joy, but displayed a willful ugliness toward everyone in his life. He won particular notoriety for throwing a noisy seamstress / neighbor down the stairs, hurting her so badly it ended her sewing career.

Bertrand "Dirty Bertie" Russell, who declared one of his three great passions to be "unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind," contributed his share: The unstoppable rake's madcap womanizing over more than six decades (he lived till 97) caused havoc among his endless lovers and damaged children....

The masochistic and ungrateful Rousseau, who once announced himself "a disciple of Jesus Christ, not of priests," stole, lied and sponged off others almost as much as he wrote.

Russell seduced his daughter-in-law when already an octogenarian. Schopenhauer, a moneyed sort most of his life, insisted "that a bank clerk should bring the interest on his [large] wealth to his lodgings every week to be counted." He also, during the brief liberal 1848 revolution in Frankfurt, "welcomed government troops into his apartment so that they could shoot down on demonstrators."

Schopenhauer ... castigated Hegel ("That clumsy and nauseating charlatan") for shaping his philosophy to accord with the growth of state power. (Schopenhauer's resentment extended so far that he scheduled his own Berlin lectures at the same time as Hegel's, a move that simply earned him more empty seats.) Yet he also appears to have adopted some positions out of prudence or convenience.

"I have always thought and still think myself the best of men," Rousseau once asserted."

(From Carlin Romano, "The-not-so-great-acts-of-the-great-philosophers," Inquirer, on Nigel Rodgers and Mel Thompson's Philosophers Behaving Badly).


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