Time of the Magicians: Wittgenstein, Benjamin, Cassirer, Heidegger, and the Decade That Reinvented Philosophy

Time of the Magicians: Wittgenstein, Benjamin, Cassirer, Heidegger, and the Decade That Reinvented Philosophy

by Wolfram Eilenberger


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A grand narrative of the intertwining lives of Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Ernst Cassirer, major philosophers whose ideas shaped the twentieth century

The year is 1919. The horror of the First World War is still fresh for the protagonists of Time of the Magicians, each of whom finds himself at a crucial juncture. Walter Benjamin, having survived the flu during the 1918 pandemic, is trying to flee his overbearing father and floundering in his academic career. Ludwig Wittgenstein, by contrast, has dramatically decided to divest himself of the monumental fortune he stands to inherit as a scion of one of the wealthiest industrial families in Europe, in search of absolute spiritual clarity. Meanwhile, Martin Heidegger, having managed to avoid combat in war by serving instead as a meteorologist, is carefully cultivating his career. Finally, Ernst Cassirer is working furiously in academia, applying himself intensely to his writing and the possibility of a career at Hamburg University. The stage is set for a great intellectual drama, which will unfold across the next decade. The lives and ideas of this extraordinary philosophical quartet will converge as they become world historical figures. But with the Second World War looming on the horizon, their fates will be very different.

Wolfram Eilenberger stylishly traces the paths of these remarkable and turbulent lives, which feature not only philosophy but some of the most important other figures of the century, including John Maynard Keynes, Hannah Arendt, and Bertrand Russell. In doing so, he tells a gripping story about four of history's most ambitious and passionate thinkers, and illuminates with rare clarity and economy their brilliant ideas, which all too often have been regarded as enigmatic or opaque.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525559665
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/18/2020
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 20,934
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Wolfram Eilenberger is an internationally bestselling author and philosopher. He is the founding editor of Philosophie Magazin and hosts the television program Sternstunde Philosophie on the Swiss public broadcasting network SRF. In 2018, he published Time of the Magicians in Germany. The book instantly became a bestseller there, as well as in Italy and Spain, and won the prestigious Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger in France. It has been translated into more than twenty languages. Eilenberger has been a prolific contributor of essays and articles to many publications, among them Die ZeitDer Spiegel, and Cicero, and has taught at the University of Toronto, Indiana University Bloomington, and Berlin University of the Arts.

Table of Contents

I Prologue: The Magicians 1

The Arrival of God

High Fliers

Maintaining One's Composure The Davos Myth

Human Questions

Without Foundation Two Visions

At a Crossroads

Where Is Benjamin? Fail Better

Does My Life Need a Goal?

The One-Man Republic

II Leaps: 1919 29

What to Do?

A Refuge

Critical Days

Romantic Theses New Self-Awareness


The Transformation

Ethical Acts

A Sorrow Beyond Dreams

An Interesting Condition Exposed Flanks

A World Without a View

The Primal Scientist No Alibi

The New Realm

Fidelity to the Event German Virtues



III Languages: 1919-1920 61

Figuratively Speaking

Viennese Bridges

Poetic Precision Against the World

Three Dots in The Hague Pictures of Facts

The Barber

Russell on the Ladder

Why the World Does Not Exist

Under Pressure The Obscured Gaze

Lonely Together

Two Oddballs Worlds Ahead

The Breakthrough of Authenticity Something in Media


The Task Radical Translation

Cult and Sound

Goethe in Hamburg The Fundamental Phenomenon

The Will to Multiplicity Onward

Does the Language Exist?

IV Culture: 1922-1923 115

A Hut of One's Own

Strange Callings

Existential Health Check

Stormy Weather

Wars of Attrition

Bad Neighbors Good Neighbors

Utopia on the Bookshelf

The Outcome of Myth The New Enlightenment

Across the River In the Maelstrom

The Third Man

Goethe in Weimar More Light

Freedom or Fate

Choice or Decision The Divorced Republic

Leap of Salvation Redeeming Transcendence

Ruthlessness Three-Quarters Understood

In Therapy

Top Down

V You: 1923-1925 163

The Idiot

It's Complicated

Hospitality From Hamburg to Bellevue

Snake Experiments Tunnel and Light

Weimar Topples

Mighty Fortresses Being an Event

You, Demon

In the Midst of Being To Think the Hardest Thing

Amor Mundi

Hunger Cures Goodbye Deutschland

Grapes and Almonds

New Beginnings

VI Freedom: 1925-1927 205

Red Stars

Critical Prologues

A Case for Adam Grief Work

Remembered Perception

Tristes Tropiques Critical Album

Palestine or Communism

Neighbors To Work

Exposing the Question The Time of Dasein Philosophizing with a Hammer: The Study of Equipment Sturm und Angst That Certain Something: Running Ahead into Death The Hamburg School

The Hidden Origin Plurality of Outcome

Self-Fashioning Through Openness The Fault in Our Stars

Out of the Mouths of Babes Engineers of Speech

A Little List

The Responsibility Principle A Fainting Fit

VII Arcades: 1926-1928 263

Technical Talent

For Gods Alone A Circle Without a Master

Much to Learn You Still Have Instability

Moscow or Bust

The Hell of Other People A Man Without a Framework

Party for One

High Seas In the Eye of the Storm

An Emergency in Frankfurt Individual and Republic

Building Work

Age of the Demon After Being

Foundation and Abyss Back to the Origin


Dizzy Heights

VIII Time: 1929 317


Among People

On the Eve

Relax! Verbal Storms: The Davos Debate

Licking Wounds Spring Awakenings

The Three-Hundred-Penny Opera The Doors



The Self-Destructive Personality Hot Dogs

The Hiker

A Day Off Internal Difficulties

Back to the Everyday Naples in Cambridge

Useful Reminders The City of Words

Against the Wall

Epilogue 363

Acknowledgments 367

List of Works 369

Notes 373

Selected Bibliography 387

Photograph Credits 397

Index 401

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