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IlanaSimons
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Week 89: If You Don't Marry, You Might Get Famous

[ Edited ]

Many famous writers fought hard for their solitude and never married.  In fact, one research study shows that the males who are mentioned most frequently in our history books married at a rate of about 20 percent below their societal norms.  They preferred work over the social ties that might slow them down. 

 

But there’s a chance that the Lone Genius was bigger in history than today. 

 

I’m thinking of history’s big examples.  Immanuel Kant, the great philosopher, never married.  He actually endured what’s famously called his “silent decade.”  At age 46—after publishing a considerable amount of philosophy and becoming moderately famous—he realized he had not gone deep enough.  For the next eleven years, he chose a life of intense study without much social contact.  When a former student and friend asked him to come out and enjoy life a bit, Kant wrote him a letter: “Any change makes me apprehensive….  I am persuaded by this natural instinct of mine that I must [remain alone].  My great thanks, to my well-wishers and friends, who think so kindly of me as to undertake my welfare, but at the same time a most humble request to protect me in my current condition from any disturbance.”  And after twelve years of work in his closed-off room, Kant did famously reemerge to publish his masterpiece, Critique of Pure Reason.  He largely credited isolation for his breakthrough. 

 

There was also Descartes.  He, like Kant, Kafka, Hobbes, Pascal, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz, Voltaire, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Santayana, and Wittgenstein, refused to marry because he wanted his time for himself.  At age 43, he retreated to a dark, rented room in Leiden, in the Netherlands, to write his masterpiece, Meditations on First Philosophy.  “Now…since I have opportunely freed my mind from all cares…and since I am in the secure possession of leisure…I will at length apply myself earnestly…to the general overthrow of all my former opinions,” he wrote in his first mediation of that book. 

  

During the quiet years in which he wrote the book, Descartes survived the deaths of his daughter (born out of wedlock), his father, and his sister.  Those deaths probably contributed to the poignant sense of isolation during the writing.  He famously did not break from his editing time to attend his father’s funeral. 

 

The great nihilist theologian Kierkegaard also thought marriage would drain his independence and creativity: “Marriage brings one into fatal connection with custom and tradition, and [those social commitments],” he wrote, “are like the wind and weather, altogether incalculable.”   

 

But I wonder if this idealism about isolation is a bit dated.  After all, we’ve gone a long way to collapse the gap between Art and Beauty (with their capital A and B) and more practical ideas or commodities.  That is: If we used to think that High Art or Big Ideas were nurtured through a separation from society, today they look more like a partner to society.  Think of the recent art show by Takashi Murakami at the Brooklyn Museum, in which he showed the bags he’d designed for Louis Vuitton as part of the show.  There was a true marriage of high art or idea and commercial culture.  Indeed, today’s most innovative creation happens in commerce rather than outside of it: in the movies, in computer technology, in google’s effort to digitalize every book in history.           

 

Perhaps, the globalization of culture has made us cynical about what sort of magic you can cook up in solitude, outside of the business or everyday culture.  Our geniuses today seem to work in teams, and their ideas combine art and function: Think of Steve Jobs, who built Apple computer; or modern music, which is often a sampling of other songs; or our central mode of entertainment--movies--which are grand group productions.  Even popular fiction tends to be fostered in group settings like the Iowa Writers Workshop or Yaddo.  I know I’m collapsing art and innovative ideas in this paragraph, but I was looking at philosophers above.  I think that today's philosophy—the artistic invention of ideas—is a more public process than it used to be.

 

Today, our truly isolated minds have a tinge of the Unibomber to them.

 

What do you think? 

 

and a little p.s.: I now also blog at Psychology Today, here.

That said, don't leave us at B&N.  I'm stayin here too.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 03-09-2009 09:11 PM



Ilana
Check out my book, here and visit my website, here.


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TiggerBear
Posts: 9,489
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Re: Week 89: If You Don't Marry, You Might Get Famous


IlanaSimons wrote:

Many famous writers fought hard for their solitude and never married.  In fact, one research study shows that the males who are mentioned most frequently in our history books married at a rate of about 20 percent below their societal norms.  They preferred work over the social ties that might slow them down. 

 

But there’s a chance that the Lone Genius was bigger in history than today. 

 

I’m thinking of history’s big examples.  Immanuel Kant, the great philosopher, never married.  He actually endured what’s famously called his “silent decade.”  At age 46—after publishing a considerable amount of philosophy and becoming moderately famous—he realized he had not gone deep enough.  For the next eleven years, he chose a life of intense study without much social contact.  When a former student and friend asked him to come out and enjoy life a bit, Kant wrote him a letter: “Any change makes me apprehensive….  I am persuaded by this natural instinct of mine that I must [remain alone].  My great thanks, to my well-wishers and friends, who think so kindly of me as to undertake my welfare, but at the same time a most humble request to protect me in my current condition from any disturbance.”  And after twelve years of work in his closed-off room, Kant did famously reemerge to publish his masterpiece, Critique of Pure Reason.  He largely credited isolation for his breakthrough. 

 

There was also Descartes.  He, like Kant, Kafka, Hobbes, Pascal, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz, Voltaire, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Santayana, and Wittgenstein, refused to marry because he wanted his time for himself.  At age 43, he retreated to a dark, rented room in Leiden, in the Netherlands, to write his masterpiece, Meditations on First Philosophy.  “Now…since I have opportunely freed my mind from all cares…and since I am in the secure possession of leisure…I will at length apply myself earnestly…to the general overthrow of all my former opinions,” he wrote in his first mediation of that book. 

  

During the quiet years in which he wrote the book, Descartes survived the deaths of his daughter (born out of wedlock), his father, and his sister.  Those deaths probably contributed to the poignant sense of isolation during the writing.  He famously did not break from his editing time to attend his father’s funeral. 

 

The great nihilist theologian Kierkegaard also thought marriage would drain his independence and creativity: “Marriage brings one into fatal connection with custom and tradition, and [those social commitments],” he wrote, “are like the wind and weather, altogether incalculable.”   

 

But I wonder if this idealism about isolation is a bit dated.  After all, we’ve gone a long way to collapse the gap between Art and Beauty (with their capital A and B) and more practical ideas or commodities.  That is: If we used to think that High Art or Big Ideas were nurtured through a separation from society, today they look more like a partner to society.  Think of the recent art show by Takashi Murakami at the Brooklyn Museum, in which he showed the bags he’d designed for Louis Vuitton as part of the show.  There was a true marriage of high art or idea and commercial culture.  Indeed, today’s most innovative creation happens in commerce rather than outside of it: in the movies, in computer technology, in google’s effort to digitalize every book in history.           

 

Perhaps, the globalization of culture has made us cynical about what sort of magic you can cook up in solitude, outside of the business or everyday culture.  Our geniuses today seem to work in teams, and their ideas combine art and function: Think of Steve Jobs, who built Apple computer; or modern music, which is often a sampling of other songs; or our central mode of entertainments, movies, which are grand group productions.  Even popular fiction tends to be fostered in group settings like the Iowa Writers Workshop or Yaddo.  I know I’m collapsing art and innovative ideas in this paragraph, but I was looking at philosophers above.  I think that todays’ philosophy—the artistic invention of ideas—is a more public process than it used to be.

 

Today, our truly isolated minds have a tinge of the Unibomber to them.

 

What do you think? 

and a little p.s.: I now also blog at Psychology Today, here.

That said, don't leave us at B&N.  I'm stayin here too.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 03-09-2009 09:04 AM

Plato wasn't alone, nor Socrates. The great master painters were surround by students. The great scientists made few discoveries in isolation. I'd bet even a few of those loners had people cooking their food and looking after them. Yes some great works were developed in isolation, but look deeper most of those were done in prison. No one is an island, just not everyone gets credit for being in the background.

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IlanaSimons
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Re: Week 89: If You Don't Marry, You Might Get Famous

Nice point.  We so often overlook all the mothers and manuscript copiers and cooks and maids etc. who allowed the "Grand Genius" to work "Independently."

 


TiggerBear wrote:

 

...I'd bet even a few of those loners had people cooking their food and looking after them. Yes some great works were developed in isolation, but look deeper.... No one is an island, just not everyone gets credit for being in the background.


 




Ilana
Check out my book, here and visit my website, here.


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Everyman
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Re: Week 89: If You Don't Marry, You Might Get Famous

I wonder to what extent these minds (mostly male) didn't marry because they didn't need wives to share in their economic life or provide services for them.  I'm betting that most or all of the names you named had servants who would make sure their meals were cooked, dishes washed,clothes cleaned, and the like so that indeed they could spend their time in contemplation and writing.  Thyey didn't need wives to perform any of those basic life services which provided them freedom to be thinkers.  

 

Not, I hasten to say, I very much hasten to say, that the only role of a wife is to provide those services. Not at all.   I am a perfect example of this; I do my share of household chores.  But for single men who can't afford servants (and who can?) in today's world, and I speak from experience having lived a bachelor life until 35, these chores do take a considerable amount of time and energy.   The bachelor who has servants at his beck and call to make sure that all the chores of life are  taken care of has much more freedom to think than the man who has to go out and work and then come home, cook, shop, clean, and on and on, doing it all himself.

 

I suppose this sounds very chauvenistic, which is isn't intended to. I just think that sometimes we underestimate the effect of servants in the past to provide more of a life of leisure for those who could afford them. 

 

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TiggerBear
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Re: Week 89: If You Don't Marry, You Might Get Famous


Everyman wrote:

I wonder to what extent these minds (mostly male) didn't marry because they didn't need wives to share in their economic life or provide services for them.  I'm betting that most or all of the names you named had servants who would make sure their meals were cooked, dishes washed,clothes cleaned, and the like so that indeed they could spend their time in contemplation and writing.  Thyey didn't need wives to perform any of those basic life services which provided them freedom to be thinkers.  

 

Not, I hasten to say, I very much hasten to say, that the only role of a wife is to provide those services. Not at all.   I am a perfect example of this; I do my share of household chores.  But for single men who can't afford servants (and who can?) in today's world, and I speak from experience having lived a bachelor life until 35, these chores do take a considerable amount of time and energy.   The bachelor who has servants at his beck and call to make sure that all the chores of life are  taken care of has much more freedom to think than the man who has to go out and work and then come home, cook, shop, clean, and on and on, doing it all himself.

 

I suppose this sounds very chauvenistic, which is isn't intended to. I just think that sometimes we underestimate the effect of servants in the past to provide more of a life of leisure for those who could afford them. 

 


Not at all.

 

Just brought to the forethought the factor that many may have paid for more than household cores as well. 

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Peppermill
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Re: Week 89: If You Don't Marry, You Might Get Famous


Everyman wrote:

I wonder to what extent these minds (mostly male) didn't marry because they didn't need wives to share in their economic life or provide services for them.  I'm betting that most or all of the names you named had servants who would make sure their meals were cooked, dishes washed,clothes cleaned, and the like so that indeed they could spend their time in contemplation and writing.  Thyey didn't need wives to perform any of those basic life services which provided them freedom to be thinkers.  

 

Not, I hasten to say, I very much hasten to say, that the only role of a wife is to provide those services. Not at all.   I am a perfect example of this; I do my share of household chores.  But for single men who can't afford servants (and who can?) in today's world, and I speak from experience having lived a bachelor life until 35, these chores do take a considerable amount of time and energy.   The bachelor who has servants at his beck and call to make sure that all the chores of life are  taken care of has much more freedom to think than the man who has to go out and work and then come home, cook, shop, clean, and on and on, doing it all himself.

 

I suppose this sounds very chauvenistic, which is isn't intended to. I just think that sometimes we underestimate the effect of servants in the past to provide more of a life of leisure for those who could afford them. 

 


 

These are among the ideas Virginia Woolf also explores from the female perspective in  A Room of One's Own.

"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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karinlib
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Re: Week 89: If You Don't Marry, You Might Get Famous

I love reading who the author dedicates a book to.  You will find that today's authors often thank their families for not having a spouse or parent during the time of research and writing.  One that I distinctly remember from a woman author:  "It's amazing what a woman can do when she has good men behind her."
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IlanaSimons
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Re: Week 89: If You Don't Marry, You Might Get Famous

I love that--yeah.

Reading dedications lets me indulge my voyeurism.  I also love to know which relationships my favorite authors want to show off.

 


karinlib wrote:
I love reading who the author dedicates a book to.  You will find that today's authors often thank their families for not having a spouse or parent during the time of research and writing.  One that I distinctly remember from a woman author:  "It's amazing what a woman can do when she has good men behind her."


 




Ilana
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TiggerBear
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Re: Week 89: If You Don't Marry, You Might Get Famous


IlanaSimons wrote:

I love that--yeah.

Reading dedications lets me indulge my voyeurism.  I also love to know which relationships my favorite authors want to show off.

 


karinlib wrote:
I love reading who the author dedicates a book to.  You will find that today's authors often thank their families for not having a spouse or parent during the time of research and writing.  One that I distinctly remember from a woman author:  "It's amazing what a woman can do when she has good men behind her."


 


Definately voyeristic of me too. Especially when you notice an author changes the name of the spouce they thank, neglects to thank a spouce after thanking them the last 4, and such.

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la_rose
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Re: Week 89: If You Don't Marry, You Might Get Famous

I find this subject fascinating, particularly the parallels drawn towards the end of the differences between artistic creation today versus in the days of Descartes.  I believe our society today has far too many distractions so as people do not (have time to) focus on what they truly value.  Descartes knew so intrinsicly that he valued the work of literature he was about to create, that he did not even take time to grieve for his father.  Today, we cannot even focus on driving without a cell phone, GPS system, or a stereo.  We value things, not thoughts.  Perhaps some people today view marriage that way too. 

 

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IlanaSimons
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Re: Week 89: If You Don't Marry, You Might Get Famous

Hi la_rose.

Welcome to the community, and thanks for the thoughts.

You make a nice point: We're distracted today, and the things that distract us are objects or commodities, rather than ideas.

 

I think you're saying that we're a society addicted to pre-made goods, and less inventive or independent with our own brains.

I'd love to hear more.

Welcome!

Ilana

 


la_rose wrote:

I find this subject fascinating, particularly the parallels drawn towards the end of the differences between artistic creation today versus in the days of Descartes.  I believe our society today has far too many distractions so as people do not (have time to) focus on what they truly value.  Descartes knew so intrinsicly that he valued the work of literature he was about to create, that he did not even take time to grieve for his father.  Today, we cannot even focus on driving without a cell phone, GPS system, or a stereo.  We value things, not thoughts.  Perhaps some people today view marriage that way too. 

 


 




Ilana
Check out my book, here and visit my website, here.