The violinist played the last note with a solemn sway of the bow and then bowed to the audience with a proud panache. His heart longed for an applause. Then came one clap from somewhere. Two. A few more. And it spread across the auditorium. The ego of the violinist was pleased.
It’s only much later he learnt that most people in the auditorium were deaf.
Still later he learnt that the two or three people who initiated the applause were bribed to do so.
Apparently the above is a moral science story meant to teach humility. The sheer truth is that the writer of the story was flexing his ego by writing it. I have adapted the story from Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), great philosopher. He told the story with the intention of accusing his audience (readers) of metaphorical deafness. He wanted to prove that his readers lacked the brains to understand him.
Schopenhauer had published his masterpiece, The World as Will and Idea. In his letter to the publisher the philosopher had claimed that his work was “clearly intelligible, vigorous, and not without beauty.” He was confident that the book “would hereafter be the source and occasion of a hundred other books.” The book did not sell. Sixteen years after its publication Schopenhauer was informed that most copies of his masterpiece were sold as waste paper. It is then that the philosopher told us the above moral story in his essay on Fame.
In the essay he argued that the more genius a person is, the less is he understood by his contemporaries. His book was like a mirror, he claimed. “If an ass looks in you cannot expect an angel to look out,” he wrote.
Schopenhauer was indeed a genius and time proved it. Every genius has a fair (often unfair) share of egotism. In people like Schopenhauer the egotism was a compensation for the absence of fame. It’s only toward his old age that Schopenhauer began to draw the attention of the public. He lapped up the popularity when it did come. He read with visible greed all the articles that were written about him. He asked his friends to send him every comment that was published about him and offered to pay the postage. Before he died he had achieved the fame that he so much longed for.
Had fame come earlier, would his philosophy have been different? Would he have concealed his contempt for the ordinary human desires and also restrained his adoration of the intellect?
I don’t know. But I have seen fame eating up the intellect of many successful (read popular) writers. Popularity and genius seldom go together, however.
PS. I make absolutely no claim to genius though I may have revealed some egotism here. :)