Schopenhauer Cure

Schopenhauer Cure

4.0 13
by Irvin Yalom
     
 

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Suddenly confronted with his own mortality after a routine checkup, eminent psychotherapist Julius Hertzfeld is forced to reexamine his life and work -- and seeks out Philip Slate, a sex addict whom he failed to help some twenty years earlier. Yet Philip claims to be cured -- miraculously transformed by the pessimistic teachings of German philosopher Arthur

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Overview

Suddenly confronted with his own mortality after a routine checkup, eminent psychotherapist Julius Hertzfeld is forced to reexamine his life and work -- and seeks out Philip Slate, a sex addict whom he failed to help some twenty years earlier. Yet Philip claims to be cured -- miraculously transformed by the pessimistic teachings of German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer -- and is, himself, a philosophical counselor in training. Philips dour, misanthropic stance compels Julius to invite Philip to join his intensive therapy group in exchange for tutoring on Schopenhauer. But with mere months left, life may be far too short to help Philip or to compete with him for the hearts and minds of the group members. And then again, it might be just long enough.

Editorial Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle
“Yalom’s melding of philosophy, pedantry, psychiatry and literature result in a surprisingly engaging novel of ideas.”
Washington Post
“Considers the value and limits of therapy and those points at which philosophy and psychology converge.”
Los Angeles Times
“Yalom’s enthusiasm is contagious. And he certainly knows how to tell a page-turning story.”
Greensboro News & Record
“The world’s first accurate group-therapy novel, a mezmerizing story of two men’s search for meaning.”
Publishers Weekly
Having taken on the origins of psychotherapy in the popular When Nietzsche Wept, psychiatrist-novelist Yalom now turns to group therapy and the thinker sometimes known as the "philosopher of pessimism," in this meticulous, occasionally slow-moving book. Julius Hertzfeld, a successful therapist in San Francisco, is shocked by the news that he suffers from terminal cancer. Moved to reassess his life's work, he contacts Philip Slate, whose three years of therapy for sexual addiction Julius describes as an "old-time major-league failure." Philip is now training to be a therapist himself, guided by the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, and he offers to teach Julius about Schopenhauer as a way of helping him deal with his looming death. Julius and Philip strike a deal: Julius will serve as Philip's clinical supervisor, but only if Philip joins the ongoing therapy group Julius leads. To complicate matters further, Pam, a group member, is one of the hundreds of women Philip seduced and then rejected. Yalom often refers to his books as "teaching novels," and his re-creation of a working therapy group is utterly convincing. At the same time, his approach can be overly documentary, as the inner workings of therapy, often repetitious and self-referential, absorb much of the novel's momentum. A parallel account of Schopenhauer's life sheds light on the philosopher's intellectual triumphs and emotional difficulties. Agent, Sandra Dijkstra. (Jan. 6) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
When group therapist Julius Hertzfeld is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he embarks on a search for meaning in his life. He starts by seeking out former patients in order to gauge whether his therapy has succeeded. He first makes contact with Philip, an arrogant and misanthropic former sex addict who admits that Julius's therapy failed and that he cured himself by reading philosophy, mainly Schopenhauer. Now a philosophical counselor in need of supervision for certification, Philip agrees to participate in Julius's group therapy while teaching Julius the values of Schopenhauer's philosophy for leading a meaningful existence. A series of electrifying events-including the return to Julius's group of a member who was one of Philip's victims-turns both men's lives upside down. Much as he did with Nietzsche's philosophy in When Nietzsche Wept, Yalom here weaves Schopenhauer's life and work into the narrative. Regrettably, one-dimensional characters that simply spout certain philosophical positions and a contrived and unconvincing ending make for tedious reading. However, as a novel of ideas, this book effectively explores loss, sexual desire, and the search for meaning. Recommended for midsize and larger collections and where Yalom's other novels have been popular.-Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Lancaster, PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Yalom continues his fictional traversal of philosophy and psychotherapy (Momma and the Meaning of Life, 1999, etc.) with this beautifully wrought tale of a therapy group's final year. Dr. Julius Hertzfeld is only 65, but a cancerous lesion on his back indicates the galloping approach of death. In his despair, Julius seeks out Philip Slate, a sex addict he treated years ago with a complete lack of success. Philip was too remote, too devoid of empathy, for therapy to work, and when Julius calls him to find out how he's been coping since they parted, he's astonished that Philip has become a therapist himself. Eschewing the obligatory protocols of concern for Julius's illness, Philip instead advises him to read famously gloomy German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer-and floors Julius by asking him to become Philip's training clinician. The two strike an unusual bargain: Julius will study Schopenhauer under Philip's tutelage if Philip will attend weekly meetings of Julius's therapy group for six months. At first holding himself at arm's length from the group, answering direct questions from the other five patients and offering informative glosses on everything but himself, Philip abruptly assumes a new role when Pam Swanvil, a sixth patient returning from an ashram in India, recognizes Philip as the teaching assistant who took advantage of her and her best friend when they were students at Columbia. The narrative intertwines the ensuing group sessions-rich in accusation, analysis, and conflict, not all of it productive-with a touching account of Schopenhauer's life (1788-1860) in order to contrast the unflinching imperative Philip inherits from the solitary philosopher (shun relationships thatcan produce only unhappiness) with the dying Julius's urging that he open himself to others. Yalom risks occasional prosiness and inflation to present a moving debate about the end of life-a debate doubly rooted in fictional experience and philosophical wisdom. Agent: Ursula Bender/Agence Hoffman, on behalf of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060938109
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
01/03/2006
Series:
P.S. Series
Edition description:
P.S. Insights, Interviews & More
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
250,285
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.86(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Schopenhauer Cure


By Yalom, Irvin D.

HarperCollins Publishers

ISBN: 0066214416

Every breath we draw wards off
the death that constantly impinges on
us ... Ultimately death must triumph,
for by birth it has already
become our lot and it plays with its
prey only for a short while before
swallowing it up. However, we continue
our life with great interest and
much solicitude as long as possible,
just as we blow out a soap-bubble as
long and as large as possible, although
with the perfect certainty that it will
burst.

Chapter One

Julius knew the life-and-death homilies as well as anyone. He agreed with the Stoics, who said, "As soon as we are born we begin to die," and with Epicurus, who reasoned, "Where I am, death is not and where death is, I am not. Hence why fear death?" As a physician and a psychiatrist, he had murmured these very consolations into the ears of the dying.

Though he believed these somber reflections to be useful to his patients, he never considered that they might have anything to do with him. That is, until a terrible moment four weeks earlier which forever changed his life.

The moment occurred during his annual routine physical examination. His internist, Herb Katz -- an old friend and medical school classmate -- had just completed his examination and, as always, told Julius to dress and come to his office for a debriefing.

Herb sat at his desk, rifling through Julius'schart. "On the whole, you look pretty good for an ugly sixty-five-year-old man. Prostate is getting a little swollen, but so is mine. Blood chemistries, cholesterol, and lipid levels are well-behaved -- the meds and your diet are doing their job. Here's the prescription for your Lipitor, which, along with your jogging, has lowered your cholesterol enough. So you can give yourself a break: eat an egg once in a while. I eat two for breakfast every Sunday. And here's the prescription for your synthyroid. I'm raising the dose a bit. Your thyroid gland is slowly closing down -- the good thyroid cells are dying and being replaced by fibrotic material. Perfectly benign condition, as you know. Happens to us all; I'm on thyroid meds myself.

"Yes, Julius, no part of us escapes the destiny of aging. Along with your thyroid, your knee cartilage is wearing out, your hair follicles are dying, and your upper lumbar disks are not what they used to be. What's more, your skin integrity is obviously deteriorating: your epithelial cells are just plain wearing out -- look at all those senile keratoses on your cheeks, those brown flat lesions." He held up a small mirror for Julius to inspect himself. "Must be a dozen more on you since I last saw you. How much time you spending in the sun? Are you wearing a broad-brimmed hat like I suggested? I want you to see a dermatologist about them. Bob King's good. He's just in the next building. Here's his number. Know him?"

Julius nodded.

"He can burn off the unseemly ones with a drop of liquid nitrogen. I had him remove several of mine last month. No big deal -- takes five, ten, minutes. A lot of internists are doing it themselves now. Also there's one I want him to look at on your back: you can't see it; it's just under the lateral part of your right scapula. It looks different from the others -- pigmented unevenly and the borders aren't sharp. Probably nothing, but let's have him check it. Okay, buddy?"

"Probably nothing, but let's have him check it." Julius heard the strain and forced casualness in Herb's voice. But, let there be no mistake, the phrase "pigmented differently and borders aren't sharp," spoken by one doc to another, was a cause for alarm. It was code for potential melanoma, and now, in retrospect, Julius identified that phrase, that singular moment, as the point when carefree life ended and death, his heretofore invisible enemy, materialized in all its awful reality. Death had come to stay, it never again left his side, and all the horrors that followed were predictable postscripts.

Bob King had been a patient of Julius's years ago, as had a significant number of San Francisco physicians. Julius had reigned over the psychiatric community for thirty years. In his position as professor of psychiatry at the University of California he had trained scores of students and, five years before, had been president of the American Psychiatric Association.

His reputation? The no-bullshit doctor's doctor. A therapist of last resort, a canny wizard willing to do anything he had to do to help his patient. And that was the reason why, ten years earlier, Bob King had consulted Julius for treatment of his long-standing addiction to Vicodan (the physician-addict's drug of choice because it is so easily accessible). At that time King was in serious trouble. His Vicodan needs had dramatically increased: his marriage was in jeopardy, his practice was suffering, and he had to drug himself to sleep every night.

Bob tried to enter therapy, but all doors were closed for him. Every therapist he consulted insisted that he enter an impaired physician recovery program, a plan which Bob resisted because he was loath to compromise his privacy by attending therapy groups with other physician-addicts. The therapists wouldn't budge. If they treated a practicing addicted physician without using the official recovery program, they would place themselves at risk of punitive action by the medical board or of personal litigation (if, for example, the patient made an error of judgment in clinical work).

As a last resort before quitting his practice and taking a leave of absence to be treated anonymously in another city, he appealed to Julius, who accepted the risk and trusted Bob King to withdraw on his own from Vicodan. And, though therapy was difficult, as it always is with addicts, Julius treated Bob for the next three years without the help of a recovery program ... Continues...


Excerpted from The Schopenhauer Cure by Yalom, Irvin D. Excerpted by permission.
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