Time of the Magicians ~ by Wolfram Eilenberger

So I finished those two books about the Romantics of Jena, but between them I’d started Time of the Magicians by Wolfram Eilenberger which I purchased on sale a few months ago. After I finished Jena, 1800 I started the Eilenberger book from where I left off, but I was going to get very confused so I started over. And then I got involved at almost half way through. Those who read this blog will know it’s not unusual for me to start over with a book I’m enjoying but feel a bit lost in.  Yes – I did it again.  (It might be my age – I didn’t do this 10 years ago.) 

Time of the Magicians 
by Wolfram, Eilenberger
Translated by Shaun Whiteside
2020 / 431 pages  
Read by Rhett Samuel Price; 13h 
Rating – 9.5
(Both read and listened) 

Time of the Magicians is about the early 20th century philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin Heidegger, Ernst Cassirer and Walter Benjamin. Wittgenstein was originally from Vienna, Austria, but the others were distinctly German. I was familiar with Wittgenstein and Heidegger but not the other two. All four have a reputation for being difficult to read and understand. (My compre-hension went in and out, maybe equally.) 

The book is essentially a limited group biography of the above-named philosophers focusing on the years between 1919 and 1929. Wittgenstein and Heidegger were 30 years old in 1919, Benjamin was 29, and Cassirer, at 48, was the eldest. Wittgetstein and Cassirer were born into wealthy or well-to-do Jewish families and Benjamin was also from prosperous Jewish parents.  Heidegger, on the other hand, was born into a working class Catholic family and later joined the Nazi Party. He also became the lover of Hannah Arendt who was Jewish and is now renowned in her own right.  

 Although he was born Jewish and never actually converted, he said he accepted Christianity when he fought during WWI and he had a Catholic funeral. As a relatively young man he gave his entire estate to hie siblings when he wanted to be free of it.  Heidegger served as a meteorologist in WWI,  He Benjamin was found unfit for service due to illness and then feigned illness to stay out of the service. Cassirer worked as a civil servant in Berlin during WWI. 

The book starts out in 1919, WWI had just barely ended and what was philosophy to make of that? It seemed like the old systems really didn’t work in this shattered world. What was one to make of a war which should never have happened and when it did was to take about 6 weeks? What can we know, anyway? How should we live? What is philosophy? And it seemed like language was tangling it all up – , too. The four philosophers each had their own ideas but getting them down on paper proved to be quite a challenge.

Wittgenstein and Benjamin seem to have had mental difficulties along the way – Benjamin’s more severe than Wittgenstein’s.  Heidegger and  had other problems and Cassirer seemed pretty level- headed.  

The book is very well organized and nicely written. I really thoroughly enjoyed the first 3/4. But then things got complicated and the ideas sometimes escaped me – maybe I got tired.  Eillenberger is a good writer though – he’s clear and sticks to the point using a lot of material from the works of his subjects.  He uses short chapters which are spread out across 8 parts plus a Prologue and an Epilogue.  There is also the Notes section – mostly source notes as well as a Selected Bibliography and a section of black and white photos. 

My first evening with the book I really didn’t want to go to bed but … it’s not a quickie read.

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2 Responses to Time of the Magicians ~ by Wolfram Eilenberger

  1. siebbeles says:

    Hello Becky, Love what you’re doing. I’d like to incorporate something similar, but as a sideline to me main thing which is Mark’s Good News – a course of lesson units to encourage people to read and analyze Mark’s Gospel from scratch. All the best. Keep on reading!


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