Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Presentation—trans. Richard E. Aquila in collaboration with David Carus (New York: Longman, 2008).
Schopenhauer’s saying that “a man can do as he will, but not will as he will” has been an inspiration to me since my youth up, and a continual consolation and unfailing well-spring of patience in the face of the hardships of life, my own and others.
—Albert Einstein, The World as I See It (1940)
Having immersed myself in Wagner studies for a decade, I found it imperative to have some depth of acquaintance with Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophy. This man’s writings were the focus of Wagner’s readings from 1854 until his death in 1883. The case can easily be made that the late operas (the latter half of the Ring, Meistersinger, Tristan, and Parsifal) deliberately reflect Schopenhauerian ideas. His philosophy was central, as well, to two of my literary passions: Thomas Hardy and Leo Tolstoy. So, my having to confront Schopenhauer’s massive central work, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, seemed inevitable. Coming to terms with the very title of this work compelled me to seek a new English-language source. “The World as Will and Idea” was the title English readers first saw in 1886. “The World as Will and Representation” became the next incarnation in 1958. Richard Equila, in his new translation for Longman Press (with collaboration by David Carus), believes that we will not understand Schopenhauer properly unless we at the very least recognize the work by a new title: “The World as Will and Presentation.” “Idea,” “Representation,” and “Presentation” are all acceptable renderings of “Vorstellung.” However, it’s the notion of a performance or a theatrical presentation that is key here. The world that we perceive is a “presentation” of objects in the theatre of our own mind; we, the “subject,” craft the show with our own stage managers, stagehands, sets, lighting, code of dress, pay scale, etc. The other part of the world, the Will, or “thing in itself,” not perceivable as a presentation, exists outside time, space, and causality. Aquila tries to make these distinctions as linguistically precise as possible; he also attempts to replicate Schopenhauer’s compelling prose style by diverging from the literalness of other translations—a rather risky and brave move. But, Aquila hopes, that by making this tome as lively as possible, and by dazzling us with his “presentation,” Schopenhauer might get to be as good a read as he was from 1860 to 1950.
Ordering this book from my local bookseller, a wonderful French lady, proved to be an unexpectedly humorous exercise in linguistic ambiguity. Having made sure my order was for World as Will and Presentation, she ordered, mistakenly, the classic Dover World as Will and Representation of 1958. “But Monique,” I said, “these are different translations easily discerned by the different titles.” Her French-accented response was, “But they have the same title really—what’s the difference?” I explained that “Representation” was not “Presentation,” and that the former book was a much earlier translation than the latter, the one that I wanted. “That’s strange,” she said with complete seriousness, “why should the earlier book use ‘Re-presentation’ and the latter be ‘Presentation’— that’s backwards!”
Why would anyone today seek inspiration from, let alone read, that curmudgeonly prophet of pessimism, Arthur Schopenhauer? I would suggest a look at this new translation for a surprise.