Warning: This is a self-indulgent aside.

Last night I watched some of the first part of "Sartre By Himself." Sartre was my first philosophical love and it was an intense affair. Until last night, I have seen only photographs of him. I had never seen him gesture or heard his voice. I did not so much watch the film as look through him as he spoke and into my own philosophical past. Wittgenstein said that he wanted his philosophy to do something. But Sartre and Wittgenstein's embodiment of the philosophical style of life shows how strange and demanding it really is. The structure of Sartre's autobiography, The Words, says it all: It is divided between reading and writing. Wittgenstein certainly read, but the main activity animating his philosophical existence was writing. Sartre's life was remarkable for its productivity in both realms. He read and wrote voluminously. I have labored to emulate Sartre in this regard, but I have read far more than I have written (and this is a matter of shame for me).

Seeing Sartre "live" evoked both nostalgia and inspiration. Imagine how different our view of Wittgenstein would be if we had something of him on video. I think I would know his voice and I imagine how he used his body when he taught. If these traits I attribute to Wittgenstein proved inaccurate, would my reading of his work change as a result? I came across a photograph of George Orwell several years ago that had a profound effect on my reading of his work. The shot was a straight forward portrait. Orwell's face was as familiar as ever, but he was wearing an ostentatiously large ring. It seemed so out of place, so out of character, that it forced me to re-think my version of who Orwell was. Imagine Wittgenstein wearing a Mr. T-like rope of gold chains around his neck.

Although I was caught up in the "Death of the Author" orientation to reading while in graduate school, I never really wanted to live it. The truth of the matter was that I liked authors, especially philosophers, too much.


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