#Reviewing Time of the Magicians

Even so, literal war features significantly in Eilenberger’s narrative, and each individual has experienced the war in very unique ways. Wittgenstein was deeply affected by World War I, through his own experiences in the trenches and as a prisoner of war, as well as losing people close to him.[8] Heidegger and Cassirer served in the conflict, but in clerical or support roles behind front-line service, observing its devastation from relatively safe distances.[9] Benjamin, on the other hand, escaped personal service during the war, but suffered no significant personal losses as a result.[10] In the aftermath of the desolation of war, Eilenberger traces the magic of relationships between people in shaping their philosophical insight. Relationships with lovers also feature prominently in Eilenberger’s account. The ideas and thoughts of Hannah Arendt and Asja Lacis push the philosophical reflections of Heidegger and Benjamin, respectively, in new directions.[11,12] Here, Eilenberger emphasizes the magic of relationship that intertwines, underpins, and transforms philosophical insight.

Although the Great War set the stage for the battle of ideas that took shape in its aftermath, each philosopher in Eilenberger’s account sought to come to terms with human experience in their own way. Eilenberger’s account details each man’s personal struggle to engage and accept the modern age. In this sense, Eilenberg’s narrative uniquely captures magicians in their craft – transforming the mundane relationships of this modern world into relationships of existential insight. The magic is how the relationship changes the subject, precisely because the revelation is found through the relationship.[13] Relationship to the Other and relationship to ideas intertwine, revealing and creating both deeper connections and interrelationships. Philosophers seek to untangle these networks of knowledge and meaning if they even deem this task possible. The concrete purpose of this disentangling, for many of the philosophers traced by Eilenberger, is therapeutic rather than purely theoretical; that is, their philosophical work sought to meet the practical needs felt as a result of their own war trauma and that of others.[14]

Philosophical insight emerges as the product of diverse and complex forces, but above all forces that are distinctly human. Relationships, cultural conditions, and individual human experiences become magical in their ability to precipitate understanding of human meaning. But this magick is also all too common in human experience. Like the magician who shows a trick of cards too many times and reveals his secret, Eilenberger’s intertwining of the accounts of these philosophers highlights the mundane, yet ultimately significant, realities that spawned a transformational vision. Love triangles, financial difficulties and family problems are the usual stuff of human experience, but Eilenberger points to them as the genesis of philosophical insight. It is perhaps a particular shared force between these narratives – war – that has uniquely spawned a philosophical revolution in this decade.

Reframe the “Magic”

Yes The Age of Magicians is about something, it’s about the magic of relationships – relationships between people, their experiences and thoughts that attempt to reconcile the two. Little conscious reflection exists in the book on the experience of war itself, but its influence is felt throughout. These deep themes of the meaning of human existence, particularly in the aftermath of war trauma, should pique the interest of modern warriors, but I can’t help but wonder what a more deliberate inclusion of this topic might have added to the already insightful project. undertaken by Eilenberger.

The magic of relationship The Age of Magicians sparkles even more against the dark background of war. The significance of otherwise mundane relationship issues is amplified following a war that severed meaningful ties and reorganized social relations. These realities lurked in the unconscious of people in 1920s Europe, even as the specter of war that would dash hope for the future is still felt, if not always recognized in The Age of Magicians. This is not a complete critique of the text. Absence says as much about us as readers and as human beings as it does about the text itself. Often we don’t like to talk about war and prefer to relegate its destructive power to the periphery of our thoughts and analyses. Why involve him if it is not necessary?

But we must assess the human experience in the light of war; this frontier experience clarifies central questions for understanding authentic existence, Heidegger’s thought Dasein.[15] There is no escaping the effects of war. Eilenberger’s account begins in the aftermath of World War I and culminates in a historic debate between Heidegger and Cassirer in 1929 in Davos, Switzerland. Even here, the end of the book rings with echoes of World War II – Heidegger’s association with Hitler’s Nazi Party, Cassirer fleeing Nazi Germany, Wittgenstein teaching in wartime Cambridge, and Benjamin committing suicide in fleeing Nazi deportation.[16]

Eilenberger’s account is necessary reading, for its creativity, its depth of philosophical understanding, and its exploration of the “decade that reinvented philosophy”, whose ideas have important resonances and caveats for our time.

War figures significantly, for the subjects of Eilenberger’s narrative, as well as for readers living in the midst of the decades-long War on Terror. Could a fuller account of the events revolving around the central reality of the Great War, events that precipitated the reinvention of philosophy, shed light on our own times? The importance of philosophical meaning-making stemming from war trauma may resonate with a generation emerging from America’s longest war. The continental desolation of the First World War left its impact on the philosophical landscape of Europe. We cannot yet know what effects the global war on terror will have on the philosophy of the future. The philosophical problems and solutions will certainly be different, but the reality of war experiences, while varied, will undoubtedly precipitate new attempts to unravel the mysteries of lived human experience. We need to pay attention to this influence and the various ways in which it can manifest itself in the lives of those directly and indirectly affected by war. It starts with realizing and acknowledging the influence of war, in our time and in other times. Awareness finds further fulfillment in grappling with the deeper issues of human existence that war disrupts in our experiences – giving voice to these painful and uncomfortable realities before a new war forces them upon us. Eilenberger’s account is necessary reading, for its creativity, its depth of philosophical understanding, and its exploration of the “decade that reinvented philosophy”, whose ideas have important resonances and caveats for our time.

Brian L. Hartfield