Ernst Jünger Essay - Critical Essays

Jünger, Ernst


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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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."

Principal Works

Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis (history) 1922
In Stahlgewittern: Aus dem Tagebuch eines Strosstruppfuehrers [Storm of Steel: From the Diary of a German Storm-Troop Officer on the Western Front] (journal) 1922
Das Waeldchen 125: Ein Chronik aus den Grabenkaempfen 1918 [Copse One Hundred Twenty-Five: A Chronicle from the Trench Warfare of 1918] (journal) 1925
Feuer und Blut: Ein kleiner Ausschnitt aus einer grossen Schlacht (history) 1925
Das abenteuerliche Herz: Aufzeichnungen bei Tag und Nacht (short stories) 1929; published as Das abenteuerliche Herz: Figuren und Capriccios, 1938
Die totale Mobilmachung (essay) 1931
Der Arbeiter: Herrschaft und Gestalt (essay) 1932
Blaetter und Steine (essay) 1934
Afrikanische Spiele [African Diversions] (journal) 1936
Auf den Marmorklippen [On the Marble Cliffs] (novel) 1939
Gaerten und Strassen: Aus den Tagebuechern von 1939 und 1940 (journal) 1942
Der Friede: Ein Wort an die Jugend Europas, ein Wort an Die Jugend der Welt [The Peace] (essay) 1945
Sprache und Koerperbau (essay) 1947
Ein Inselfruehling: Ein Tagebuch aus Rhodes (travel journal) 1948
Heliopolis: Rueckblick auf eine Stadt (novel) 1949
Strahlungen (journal) 1949
Ueber die Linie (essay) 1950
Der Waldgang (essay) 1951
Der gordische Knoten (essay) 1953
Am Sarazenenturm (travel journal) 1955
Glaeserne Bienen [The Glass Bees] (novel) 1957
Subtile Jagden (memoirs) 1967
Annaeherungen: Drogen und Rausch (nonfiction) 1970
Die Zwille (novel) 1973
Eumeswil (novel) 1977
Siebzig verweht (journal) 1980–81
Aladin's Problem [Aladdin's Problem] (novel) 1983
Eine Gefuehrliche Begegnung [A Dangerous Encounter] (novel) 1985


Louis Clair (review date 27 March 1948)

SOURCE: A review of On the Marble Cliffs, in The Nation, Vol. 166, No. 13, March 27, 1948, pp. 357-58.

[In the following review, Clair asserts that Jünger's On the Marble Cliffs "is an anti-Nazi document, but it is also one of the most beautiful novels of imagination of modern Germany, an allegory in the grand symbolist manner of the death of a civilization."]

Somewhere in a mythical landscape, high above the marble cliffs, on the edge of a fertile valley, two brothers—retired army officers—have settled after a lost war. Below in the peaceful countryside an industrious and quiet people tills its fields; farther on lives a rude yet hospitable tribe of...

(The entire section is 949 words.)

H. F. Peters (essay date Spring 1958)

SOURCE: "Ernst Jünger's Concern with E. A. Poe," in Comparative Literature, Vol. X, No. 2, Spring, 1958, pp. 144-49.

[In the following essay, Peters discusses the theme of terror in the works of Jünger and Edgar Allen Poe.]

Frequent references to E. A. Poe in the works of Ernst Jünger, particularly in those written during and after World War II, raise two questions: First, what is it that attracts Jünger and Poe? And second, has Jünger's interest in Poe influenced his own writings? This paper addresses itself to the first question. Concerning the second, let me simply say that I do not think it is possible to trace any direct influences of Poe on Jünger....

(The entire section is 2385 words.)

John K. Cooley (essay date Autumn 1958)

SOURCE: "The Adventures of Ernst Jünger," in Books Abroad, Vol. 32, No. 4, Autumn, 1958, pp. 365-68.

[In the following essay, Cooley traces the place of adventure in Jünger's life and work.]

Ernst Jünger's career as an author has been built around the search for adventure. With Germany, he found what he sought in war, and was finally appalled by the consequences. With her, too, he has struggled with the spirit of nihilism, both in the acute political form to which the German people fell prey between 1918 and 1945, and in the private realm of his own life. From his later books it appears that he feels both struggles to have been successful, at least temporarily....

(The entire section is 2256 words.)

Arthur R. Evans, Jr. (essay date 1978)

SOURCE: "Ernst Jünger's Auf den Marmorklippen: a sketch toward an interpretation," in Symbolism and Modern Literature, edited by Marcel Tetel, Duke University Press, 1978, pp. 26-43.

[In the following essay, Evans, Jr. discusses the plot and philosophy behind Jünger's Auf den Marmorklippen, and asserts that Jünger believes "in the power of civilizing energies to overcome evil."]

Ernst Jünger's allegorical novel depicts a model of world harmony, a cosmos destroyed by brutish, anarchical forces. It opens on a nostalgic note, evoking the poignant memories of a way of life founded on fraternity, civil order, the rhythm of nature, and a respect for the...

(The entire section is 6593 words.)

Marcus Bullock (essay date Fall 1986)

SOURCE: "Ernst Jünger: Literature, Warfare and the Intoxication of Philosophy," in Mosaic, Vol. XIX, No. 4, Fall, 1986, pp. 107-19.

[In the following essay, Bullock explores Jünger's ideas about the use of drugs and intoxication in intellectual thought.]

When the editors of Mircea Eliade's Festschrift of 1969 at the University of Chicago Press asked Ernst Jünger to contribute an essay on the use of drugs as an agency in the exploration of human consciousness, their choice reflected the general recognition of a place to which he has long held undisputed claim in Europe. He is without doubt the most solidly established and authoritative literary voice on that...

(The entire section is 6711 words.)

Russell A. Berman (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: "Written Right Across Their Faces: Ernst Jünger's Fascist Modernism," in Modernity and the Text: Revisions of German Modernism, edited by Andreas Huyssen and David Bathrick, Columbia University Press, 1989, pp. 60-80.

[In the following essay, Berman discusses the fascist representation of Leni Riefenstahl's film Triumph of the Will and the fascist modernism of Jünger's The Worker.]

If the will triumphs, who loses? Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl's cinematic account of the 1934 Nazi Party convention at Nuremberg, is one of the few aesthetic monuments of German fascism that have attracted serious critical scrutiny. In scene after scene one...

(The entire section is 7633 words.)

David Ohana (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: "Nietzsche and Ernst Jünger: From Nihilism to Totalitarianism," in History of European Ideas, Vol. 11, 1989, pp. 751-58.

[In the following essay, Ohana analyzes how "the modern Jüngerian vision of technology led towards a new political form of totalitarian nihilism."]

The aesthetic-nihilistic revolution in western culture initiated by Nietzsche in the nineteenth century was transformed by Ernst Jünger into a modern vision of technology and a new political pattern of totalitarian nihilism. Over and above 'nihilism' and 'totalitarianism' as such, there is an additional dialectical phenomenon, namely a synthesis of both concepts: the nihilist mentality, whether...

(The entire section is 3156 words.)

E. Keller (essay date May 1992)

SOURCE: "A German-French Encounter: Ernst Jünger and Rimbaud," in AUMLA, No. 77, May, 1992, pp. 56-63.

[In the following essay, Keller traces the influence of Rimbaud's "Le Bateau ivre" on Jünger's work.]

Looking back to the First World War, Jünger documents his enthusiasm for Rimbaud's 'Le Bateau ivre' in recalling a visit of two fellow officers, to whom he read Rimbaud's poem, which, as he notes, occupied him greatly at that time. One of these officers was Werner von Fritsch who, twenty years later, rose to celebrity in the so-called Fritsch-Krise, as one of the first prominent opponents of Hitler's aggressive policies and one of the politician's first victims...

(The entire section is 2039 words.)

Eils Lotozo (review date 22 November 1992)

SOURCE: "A Booming Necropolis," in New York Times Book Review, Vol. 97, November 22, 1992. p. 24.

[In the following review, Lotozo praises Jünger's Aladdin's Problem.]

He has been recognized as one of the great figures of 20th-century German letters, yet after more than 70 years and 50 books the work of Ernst Jünger—who is still writing at the age of 97—remains largely untranslated into English. A political philosopher who is difficult to categorize, Mr. Jünger is best known for his futuristic novels, including The Glass Bees, Eumeswil, Heliopolis and On the Marble Cliffs, which was published in 1942, while its author was serving as a captain in...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Thomas McGonigle (review date 7 February 1993)

SOURCE: "Witness to the Century," in Washington Post Book World, February 7, 1993, p. 11.

[In the following review, McGonigle discusses Jünger's Aladdin's Problem and asserts that "through the power of fiction and the authority of a long life's experience, Jünger makes us take with appropriate seriousness his observations about the modern world."]

At 97, Ernst Jünger is both Germany's and Europe's oldest and most distinguished writer. Unfortunately he is little-known in the United States. But in a long and adventurous life Jünger has been able to fulfill two-thirds of the famous prescription of Baudelaire: "There are but three beings worthy of respect: the...

(The entire section is 805 words.)

Ian Buruma (review date 24 June 1993)

SOURCE: "The Anarch at Twilight," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. 40, June 24, 1993, pp. 27-30.

[In the following review, Buruma traces Jünger's political and intellectual thought throughout his career and in his novels Aladdin's Problem and A Dangerous Encounter.]

Ernst Jünger will be ninety-eight this year. He was smaller than I imagined. But he looks fit and still remarkably handsome. His head is crowned with thick, white hair, brushed forward, giving his rather hawkish face the sculpted air of a marble Roman senator. Jünger begins each day by jotting down his dreams. Then he takes a cold bath. He recently had a dream about Hitler.


(The entire section is 5675 words.)

E. Keller (essay date May 1994)

SOURCE: "Wrestling with an Old Trauma: Ernst Jünger's Changing Perception of Destructiveness," in AUMLA, No. 81, May, 1994, pp. 21-31.

[In the following essay, Keller discusses the place of destructiveness and compassion in Jünger's work.]

Destructiveness is one theme which is ever present in the work of Ernst Jünger from In Stahlgewittern to Eine gefährliche Begegnung. It dominates the first of these texts and is critically assessed in the latter, indicating that division in Jünger's work at which he had hinted in his diary entry of 16 September 1942. There he had made the less than modest remark that he considered his books on the First World War,...

(The entire section is 2123 words.)

Thomas McGonigle (review date 1 May 1994)

SOURCE: "Deadly Details and Rules for Living," in Chicago Tribune, May 1, 1994, p. 6.

[In the following excerpt, McGonigle asserts that in Eumeswil "Jünger is concerned solely with attempting to answer the question: How is one to live?"]

… Ernst Jünger's Eumeswil is the distillation of its author's search for a basis upon which to build a life of integrity so as to survive the ever-present totalitarian temptations.

Still little known in America, Jünger, who will be 100 years old next year, may be Europe's most important living writer. Bringing the authority of his career and life to everything he writes, he has been able to fulfill...

(The entire section is 822 words.)

Further Reading


Barnouw, Dagmar. "Opening and Closing the Past in Postwar German Literature: Time, Guilt, Memory, and the Critics." In Legacies and Ambiguities: Postwar Fiction and Culture in West Germany and Japan, edited by Ernestine Schlant and J. Thomas Rimer, pp. 227-48. Washington, D.C.: The Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1991.

Discusses Jünger's Utopian novels and how they were received by critics.

Biro, Matthew. "The New Man as Cyborg: Figures of Technology in Weimar Visual Culture." New German Critique, No. 62 (Spring/Summer 1994): 71-110.

Analyzes how technology...

(The entire section is 210 words.)