InSeptember of 1914, the 25-year-old Ludwig Wittgenstein entered a bookshop in Turnov during his active duty in WWI and found only one book there. The book was Tolstoy’s Gospels in Brief. He bought it, read it, and re-read it during the war and the dreadful period of his imprisonment in Italy. He noted in his war journal: “I always carry [it] around with me like a talisman.”
This talisman, according to Wittgenstein, had kept him alive during the war. But more than merely keeping him alive, The Gospels directly influenced the philosopher’s masterpiece: Tractatus-Logico Philosophicus. What we now owe to Wittgenstein’s philosophy, we also owe to a dog-eared and beaten down copy of one of Tolstoy’s lesser-known works, found in a dusty bookshop in Turnov.
In my essay: A Piece of Advice I Despised, I wrote about my experience of discovering Wittgenstein’s work in a similar way. I wandered around the campus bookshop and accidentally found a copy of his Philosophical Investigations and bought it. Though I didn’t understand much of it at the age of 17, it always brought about a kind of comfort whenever I returned to it.
Four years later, I found myself wandering through a bookshop a few streets down from campus. I was stressed out about a French in-class dissertation, so I took a break and browsed around the philosophy section. Once again, I found myself drawn to Wittgenstein, and this time I found a collection that combined his major works. I bought it and caressed the cover.
To say that I found it comforting is an understatement. The book reminded me of why I got into philosophy in the first place, and I was glad to start re-reading an author I had once obsessed over. After years of learning, and now coming up to the tail end of my bachelor’s degree, I always found myself returning to just a few books by a few authors. They felt like anchors against an overwhelming sea of choice, and I owe so much to only a handful of writers and my dog-eared copies of their works.. . . . . .
I looked back at the shelves of the bookstore and realized that I no longer have to worry about reading all of them. Just before I was about to head out, the sight of a boy halted my steps. He was gripping onto a copy of Jules Verne’s Around The World In 80 Days, and his mother was at the register with her wallet in her hand. I looked at the boy and thought: please let the book stay with him. In ten years, I wish to see him accidentally pull the same book out from the bottom of a dusty shelf, and bask in the pleasant surprise of re-visiting a familiar voice. I looked down and opened up the book I bought to the first page, and I was right back to where I started:
“The world is everything that is the case.
The world is the totality of facts, not of things.
The world is determined by the facts, and… being …
For the totality…”