Happy birthday, Gabriel Blackwell! Celebrate by reading these two Blackwell essays we published March 7, 2019!
After a friend’s suicide, Tōson Shimazaki quit his job—teaching—in order to move to the country in order to live more simply in order to have more time to focus on writing his first novel, The Broken Commandment. Between giving up his teaching position and the publication of The Broken Commandment, ten years passed. During those ten years, all three of Shimazaki’s children starved to death. Surely, without an income, Shimazaki and his wife suffered miseries and deprivations, too, even before those painful deaths. Still, after The Broken Commandment was published, Shimazaki wrote four more novels, and it is that fact, the fact that he voluntarily underwent the process four more times (five, if one counts the novel he left unfinished when he passed away from a stroke), that, to me, reveals something about the nature of writers, or else something about the nature of teaching.
Responding to a request from a publisher to allow the publisher to have the manuscript of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophus read by a professor at Innsbruck University, Wittgenstein apparently replied that showing a work of philosophy to a professor of philosophy was a rather stupid idea, though he did, in the end, grant permission: “At any rate,” Wittgenstein wrote, “he won’t understand any of it.” This was what he’d written to Russell about Frege’s response to the book: “He doesn’t understand a single word of it.” To Frege, though, Wittgenstein was somewhat more polite, writing, “This book will perhaps only be understood by those who have themselves already thought the thoughts which are expressed in it.” (He liked this thought enough to then include it in the book’s preface.) Earlier, he’d written that, though the book was “literary,” still, “there is no babbling in it.” The publisher in question, frustrated either by Wittgenstein himself or by the book’s apparent commercial prospects, sent it instead to Rilke. There is no record of what Rilke did with it.