Ernst Jünger 1895–1998
(Also transliterated as Ernst Juenger) German novelist and essayist.
The following entry presents an overview of Jünger's career through 1994.
Jünger began his career as a soldier and philosopher, but he was also an accomplished natural scientist, a novelist, and an essayist. Although Jünger was never a formal member of the Nazi Party, many Party members considered him one of the intellectual fathers of Nazism. His relationship with the Party was complicated due to his close alliance with many Nazi officials, but he is one of a few writers who criticized Nazi leadership, denied membership in the party, and survived.
Jünger was born in Heidelberg, Germany, in March 29, 1895. At 16 he fled his home and joined the French Foreign Legion. His father and the local authorities tracked Jünger down and sent him home. In 1914 he enlisted in the German Army. He was wounded seven times during World War I and received the Pour le Mérite, Germany's highest military honor. After the war, Jünger's father encouraged him to publish a book based on the journal he kept during the war. The result was In Stahlgewittern (Storm of Steel; 1922) which recounts his war experiences. Jünger developed an interest in natural science and attended the University of Leipzig to study philosophy and zoology. He studied biology at the University of Naples in the 1920s and became an expert in the field of entomology. Jünger's early writing was political in nature, and from 1918 to 1933 he dabbled in the political arena. His activities included editing a magazine for the Stahlhelm, a militant veterans' group in the 1920s. Jünger dropped out of practical politics when Hitler rose to power because he disagreed with what he considered the Nazi Party's subversion of true totalitarianism. Even though he kept himself away from practical politics since 1933, he did have influential friends. These friends enabled him to get away with more than most writers under the Nazi regime, including publishing his Auf den Marmorklippen (On the Marble Cliffs; 1939), which is critical of the Nazi Party. In 1939 Jünger resumed his military career, serving on both the Eastern and Western fronts during World War II. Jünger served in Paris for part of the war, acting as a liaison between Nazi Party officials and French intellectuals. He was discharged in 1944 for being unfit to serve, but the real reason was due to his suspected involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler. His son died in the final days of fighting on the Italian front, and this left Jünger bitter and disillusioned with war. After World War II Jünger published an essay he wrote in 1942, Der Friede (The Peace; 1945), which called for world peace and was dedicated to his son. After the fall of the Third Reich, Jünger refused to undergo an Allied denazification procedure, asserting that he was never a Nazi.
Jünger's earlier work is in journal form and includes nostalgic reminiscences of his time as a soldier. Storm of Steel, in addition to other early journals, celebrates war. His article, Die totale Mobilmachung (1931) glorified a society permanently mobilized for total war. Jünger's next essay, Der Arbeiter (1932), outlined Jünger's idea of the new modern society. Jünger called for a depersonalized type, militant and radical, to replace the bourgeois individual and to usher in the new order. Jünger's controversial On the Marble Cliffs focuses on two brothers who settle in a fertile valley after a lost war. The area is filled with hard-working peasants and shepherds, and the forest is ruled by the Chief Ranger who uses his inhuman followers in attempts to conquer the peasants. There are several small factions who oppose the Chief Ranger, but they do not have the strength or unity to defeat him. The conclusion forecasts a triumph by the Chief Ranger, but there is allusion to hopes that out of the ashes new life will arise. After World War II, Jünger again turned to journal form in his Strahlungen (1949) to relate his experiences during the war. At this point in his career, Jünger's work becomes more mystical and explores the isolated individual threatened with destruction by impersonal technical forces. Heliopolis (1949) tells the story of two hostile rulers and the people who are the victims of their struggle for power. Another futuristic novel, Eumeswil (1977) is composed of the anecdotes and thoughts of a young night steward in the household of The Condor, the ruler of the fictional Eumeswil. The government of Eumeswil is dictatorial, and the book explores personal identity in the face of conformity. Common to Jünger's novels is his combination of the scientific and the magical, and his dystopian rather than utopian vision of the future. In Aladin's Problem (Aladdin's Problem; 1983), Friedrich Baroh is a member of an aristocratic German family who defects to the West. He takes a position in his uncle's funeral parlor and conceives of an idea to build a mausoleum which will guarantee eternal rest. The business is an international success, but there are questions of Baroh's ultimate happiness as he ruminates on philosophical questions. Jünger has also written several travel essays about his extensive journeys around the world. Some of Jünger's work, including Annaeherungen (1970), explores the roles of intoxication and drug use in enhancing human thought.
Much of the critical commentary on Jünger's work has surrounded his political beliefs and his relationship to Nazism, rather than his merits as a writer. His earlier conservative politics would appear to put him in sync with the Nazi Party, which caused several reviewers to dismiss his work and his books to be banned in Allied occupied Germany. Most critics, however, assert that On the Marble Cliffs is a thinly veiled attack on Nazism and Hitler's rise to power. Although Jünger himself has denied this supposition, it is generally accepted. Many reviewers are impressed with Jünger's intellectual capabilities, but some reviewers complain that his philosophical and intellectual pursuits effect the nature of his fiction. They claim that his overriding philosophical intentions lower his novels' quality of storytelling. Marcus Bullock says, "His narratives do not invite one to identify with the action or the figures who carry it. His novels do not hold up a mirror to the familiar domain of human life, but clearly and deliberately go exploring beyond it." Many reviewers point out the phases of Jünger's career, asserting that Jünger abandoned his glorification of war for more humanistic pursuits. Despite the changes in his work, Ian Baruma asserts that "it was the irrational that attracted Jünger all his life: the intoxication of drugs, of revolution, of war."