“Men of learning are those who have read the contents of books. Thinkers, geniuses, and those who have enlightened the world and furthered the race of men, are those who have made direct use of the book of the world.”
— Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860)
I made it through Susan Sontag’s recently released notebooks: As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980. “As Consciousness” is the second of three projected volumes. The first, “Reborn,” began in 1947 when she was 14 and ends in 1963.
In an essay in the 1960s, Sontag asked “Why do we read a writer’s journal? Because it illuminates his books? Often it does not.”
The real interest lies in encountering “the writer in the first person . . . the ego behind the masks of ego in an author’s works.” Sontag’s notebooks offer us a rare opportunity to explore the inner thoughts, “the ego behind the mask”, of someone many consider to be a genius. If you can muddle your way through some of her fragmented thoughts, you will find some real gems of wisdom.
I underlined this bit on common sense from 1976. Sontag writes:
Common sense (le bon sens) is always wrong. It is the demagoguery of the bourgeois ideal. The function of common sense is to simplify, to reassure, to hide unpleasant truths and mysteries. I don’t just mean that this is what common sense does, or ends up doing; I mean this is what it is designed to do. Of course, in order to be effective common sense must contain some part of the truth. But its main content is negative. To say (implicitly) that, this being so, that is not so.
Similarly, all polls of opinion must be superficial. They reveal the top of what people think organized into common sense. What people really think is always partly hidden.
Only way to get at it is through a study of their language—a study in depth: its metaphors, structures, tone. And of their gestures, way of moving in space.
Still curious? Order a copy of her notebooks: Reborn and As Consciousness. Also see: 3 Steps to refuting any argument and Aphorisms and the Commodification of Wisdom.
I always find it interesting and revealing when different people offer the same advice. Especially when those pople are not connected and come from different fundamental disciplines.
Charlie Munger, Carol Dweck, and Susan Cain all offer the same advice: Become a Learning Machine.
Charlie Munger says:
I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up and boy does that help, particularly when you have a long run ahead of you.
Carol Dweck says:
You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.
And this tidbit from Susan Cain, also fits:
…identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly.
“Investing is not a game where the guy with the 160 IQ beats the guy with the 130 IQ. Once you have ordinary intelligence, what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble in investing.”