The visionaries – 04/22/2023 – Hélio Schwartsman

Wolfram Eilenberger found a successful formula for writing about philosophy for the general public. He makes a “blend” of philosophers who lived at the same time and dealt with contiguous problems to a certain extent, chooses a remarkable decade for all of them and, from then on, parades their biographies with a very competent and didactic exposition of their ideas.

Eilenberger tested this recipe in “Tempo de Mágicos”, which I’ve already mentioned here, and now repeats it, in a female version, in “As Visionárias”. In the first book, the chosen thinkers were Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, Ernst Cassirer and Ludwig Wittgenstein. In the second, they are Simone de Beauvoir, Simone Weil, Ayn Rand and Hannah Arendt.

My biggest criticism of the book is the inclusion of Ayn Rand, author of “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged”. I even understand that she also reflected on freedom and oppression. I still recognize traits that make her biographically valuable: she fled the USSR and made forays into Hollywood and Broadway. The problem is that, both literary and philosophical, it doesn’t measure up to the other three. She seems to me too Manichaean to be among the great female philosophers of the 20th century.

Rand’s presence, of course, does not spoil the work, which, I insist, achieves an almost magical balance between reflection and action. While discussing the specifics of Beauvoir’s existentialism, he describes her many sexual adventures, with men and women; while analyzing Weil’s subtle ideas about automation, it narrates the philosopher’s participation in the Spanish Civil War, her plans to parachute into occupied France and her conversion to a mystical version of Catholicism.

In times when watchwords threaten to take the place of reflections, it’s nice to see writers popularizing philosophers’ ideas. It’s also cool to show that women have a prominent place on this stage.

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