The appearance of a new English translation of Ernst Cassirer’s The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms marks the culmination of an unlikely intellectual revival. Cassirer’s three-volume magnum opus, first published in Germany between 1923 and 1929, was translated into English by Ralph Manheim in the 1950s, when its author’s reputation was in decline. For a long time thereafter, it didn’t seem the book would ever need retranslating. Interwar German thought exercised an enormous influence in the late-twentieth-century US, from Martin Heidegger’s existentialism to the critical theory of the Frankfurt School to the Marxist mysticism of Walter Benjamin. But the apocalyptic radicalism that made these thinkers so fascinating—the product of a period that felt like, and in a sense really was, the end of the world—is absent in Cassirer.
Please read the article further at The New York Review.
Photo: of Ernst Cassirer at home in New Haven by Eric Schaar (1944; source).