|Cover of Karl Marx|
And I have learned much from the biographical morsels on “Daily Routines,” a blog about “How writers, artists, and other interesting people organize their days” (the blog has also now yielded a book).
While there is much fascinating variety to be found among these descriptions of the quotidian habits of celebrity humanists, one quote found on the site from V.S. Pritchett stands out: “Sooner or later, the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.”
But I urge you, be not depressed. In these précis of the mundane lives of philosophers and artists, we find no small amount of meditative leisure occupying every day. Read these tiny biographies and be edified.
The contemplative life requires discipline and hard work, for sure. But it also seems to require some time indulging carnal pleasures and much more time lost in thought.
Let’s take Friedrich Nietzsche. While most of us couldn’t possibly reach the great heights of iconoclastic solitude he scaled - and I’m not sure that we would want to - we might find his daily balance of the kinetic, aesthetic, gustatory, and contemplative worth aiming at.
Though not featured on Daily Routines, an excerpt from Curtis Cate’s eponymous Nietzsche biography shows us the curious habits of this most curious man:
This comes to us via A Piece of Monologue, who also provide some photographs of Nietzsche’s favorite Swiss vistas and his austere accommodations.
No doubt this life, however lonely, led to the production of some of the most world-shaking philosophical texts ever produced, perhaps rivaled in the nineteenth century only by the work of the prodigious Karl Marx.
So how did Marx’s daily life compare to the morose and monkish Nietzsche? According to Isaiah Berlin, Marx also had his daily habits, though not quite so well-balanced.
Marx’s money worries contributed to his physical complaints, surely, as much as Nietzsche’s social anxiety did to his. Not all philosophers have had such dramatic emotional lives, however.
Smoking plays a significant role as a daily aid, for good or ill, in the daily lives of many philosophers, such as that of giant of 18th century thought, Immanuel Kant.
But Kant suffered from neither penury nor some severe case of unrequited love. He seems, indeed, to have been a rather dull person, at least in the biographical sketch below by Manfred Kuehn.
For all of their various complaints and ailments, throughout their most productive years these highly productive writers embraced Gustave Flaubert’s maxim, “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
I have always believed that these are words to live and work by, with the addition of a little vice or two to spice things up.
Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness