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 shepherds, closely following traditional ways of life. Still farther away, in the thicknesses of the dark and impenetrable forest, the Chief Ranger, a demoniac figure, rules over the marshes with the aid of his cruel, inhuman underlings and plans to conquer the peaceful world of the peasants and shepherds outside his dark domain.
This is the setting. Juenger describes the methods, of cunning maneuver combined with brute force, which the Chief Ranger uses to achieve his goal.
On the Marble Cliffs is a roman à clef, an attack on Nazism only thinly veiled by the extraneous allusions, the strange locale, and the romantic style; but it is also a work of art in its own right. Juenger is a masterly stylist, who likes to experiment with the rhythmic possibilities in sentence structure and takes a sensuous pleasure in the quality of words and the shades of meaning. (The translation, if somewhat stiff, has succeeded in conveying much if not all of the dense brilliancy of Juenger's style.) Literary German suffered considerably from the barbarian language of command that the Nazis introduced in all media of communication, but Juenger is one of the few whose style not only kept its earlier purity but also gained in power and richness.
The book appeared in German shortly after the outbreak of the war and immediately achieved a considerable success, though the Völkische Beobachter and other Nazi papers attacked it violently and succeeded for a time in having it withdrawn from circulation. The ostensibly unpolitical story, set in a region outside time and space, in which demons consort with human beings, and primitive and highly civilized peoples live side by side, where the real and the unreal are constantly mixed and ironically inverted, was an unmistakable attack upon the regime. No German could miss the allusions to the terrorists who "wore the mask of order," to the man "who hated the plow, the corn, the vine, and the animals tamed by man, whose heart was only stirred when moss and ivy grew green on the ruins of the towns," and of whom the narrator could say, "Fear enveloped him, and I am convinced that therein far more than his own person lay his power. Only when things had begun to totter from their inherent weakness could he exercise his might." Though Juenger used that "slave language" which has been employed many times to cloak a political message against a hated tyranny, his meaning could hardly have escaped the censor. The reasons for the opposition of the Nazis are obvious; it is much less clear how the book could appear at all.
In fact, no author but Juenger would have dared to publish it: it would have been difficult to suppress the work of a man who had been one of the intellectual fathers of Nazism. To be sure, Juenger himself had never belonged to the Nazi Party,...
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but among the young intellectuals who later became devoted Nazis he played a much more important role than the fussy prophets of blood and soil. Juenger had achieved fame as the author of books which hailed the "cosmic experience of war," as the prophet of the "total mobilization," that is, the total annihilation of the personality in the meshes of the all-embracing, all-pervasive state. Juenger had hailed the emergence of a new depersonalized type, the "worker type," destined to replace the bourgeois individual and to express the complete functionalism of the war society; he had written that morality now had become an unnecessary luxury and that the "worker" type must develop a sort of "color blindness toward values." Juenger was looked upon as a deviant yet basically dependable ideologist of the regime, though he had kept aloof from things political since 1933. Overt action could not be taken against the work of such a man, especially since he was backed by some influential army circles.
Moreover, On the Marble Cliffs is by no means a call to action. The brothers chronicle the gradual success of the forces of evil but abstain from any attempt to halt its progress. When they finally flee to the country that has been their enemy in the last war, they listen to a song from the shore: "Since no man then can give us aid, We turn to God in our great need." However, if Juenger chronicles the progress of evil, he refuses to participate in it. The narrator says: "I took an oath that I would rather fall in loneliness with the free men than go in triumph among the slaves."
Juenger showed great courage in publishing the book at the time he did, for it is a balance sheet of the depravity, the nihilism, and the destruction of all moral values that were the Hitler regime; it marked, moreover, the author's complete break with his past. It 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.
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. Undoubtedly Jünger sees in Poe more than the expert craftsman of grotesque tales and romantic fantasies, although the role of the romantic element in Jünger's work should not be underestimated. The relationship of the two authors is one of affinity rather than dependency, an affinity rooted in their common concern with one major literary theme—the theme of terror.
Terror, as a literary theme, is as old as literature itself. The Greeks considered it an essential element of tragedy. In German literature the romantic poets, notably E. T. A. Hoffmann, were past masters at it—so much so that, when the theme began to appear in Poe's writings, he was accused of plagiarizing the Germans. He defended himself against this charge by protesting that, "if in many of my productions terror has been the thesis, I maintain that terror is not of Germany but of the soul."
It is surely no accident that Poe's terrors of the soul find an echo among contemporary writers. The ever-increasing complexities of our technological civilization, the threat of total destruction which hangs over us in the shape of mushroom clouds, give rise to deep-seated fears. We may dismiss such fears and refuse to talk about them; they are present nevertheless. For, as Jünger says:
… was uns im Innersten beschäftigt, entzicht sich der Mitteilung, ja fast der eigenen Wahrnehmung. Da gibt es Themen, die sich geheimnisvoll durch die Jahre hindurch fortspinnen, wie etwa das der Auswegslosigkeit, die unsere Zeit erfüllt. Sie erinnert an das großartige Bild der Lebenswoge der asiatischen Malerei, auch an den Malstrom von E. A. Poe.
This entry in Jünger's war diary, Strahlungen, is dated Paris, November 18, 1941. The reference to Poe's "A Descent into the Maelström" is instructive. To understand its significance the reader must recall the events of the war winter of 1941. These were the months when Hitler's armies suffered their first serious reverses in Russia. Under the impact of an unusually severe winter, they reeled back before Moscow. To Jünger, the author of the subtly anti-Nazi novel, Auf den Marmorklippen, it meant that the end was in sight, the revolution of nihilism drawing to a close. "Wir haben in diesen Wochen den Nullpunkt passiert," he noted in his diary. "Dennoch ist es merkmürdig, daß mich im tiefsten Grunde Zuversicht belebt."
The narrator in Poe's story also passes through the "zero point" and is saved. Salvation from the jaws of death is one aspect of the terror theme. Jünger's image of the wave of life which carries man beyond destruction is exemplified by the manner in which Poe's hero is carried through the maelström and cast back into life. His brother is drowned because he lacks faith in the uplifting power of the waves. Paralyzed by terror, he clings to the ring bolt and is sucked down into the abyss.
The moral of Poe's story is that it is fatal to panic in the face of death. Terror is a test of character. If you succumb to it you are lost. It is a lesson that Jünger learned in two world wars. He feels it has a special meaning in our age. Are we not all standing at the brink of a maelström that may destroy us if we lose heart? That is why he says in a letter to me, dated January 9, 1957: "Der Malstrom erschien und erscheint mir noch als eine besonders gelungene Diagnose und Prognose unserer Zeit. Ihre Tendenz ist auf die knappste Formel gebracht."
An entry in an earlier diary, Gärten und Straßen, August 19, 1939, gives a clue to the nature of Poe's diagnosis as Jünger interprets it: "Die beste Schilderung des voll automatisierten Zustandes enthält die Erzählung 'Hinab in den Maelstrom' von E. A. Poe." Man's fate in a world of vast and terrifying mechanical forces that seem to be beyond human control is one of Jünger's major concerns. He thinks that Poe anticipated such a state and therefore deserves the epithet, "der erste Autor des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts," which the Goncourts bestowed upon him. Poe's image of the maelström is to Jünger a symbol of our age.
He gives a similar symbolic interpretation of Poe's story, "The Pit and the Pendulum."
Die Wassergrube gibt uns das Bild des Kessels, der immer dichteren Umkreisung, der Raum wird enger und drängt auf die Ratten zu. Das Pendel ist das Sinnbild der toten, meßbaren Zeit. Es ist die scharfe Sichel des Chronos, die an ihm schwingt und den Gefesselten bedroht, doch ihn zugleich befreit, wenn er sich ihrer zu bedienen weiß.
"Kessel" refers here to the great battles of encirclement, the Kessel-schlachten of the war in Russia, the classic example of which is Stalingrad. Jünger, the author of In Stahlgewittern, continues to think in military images. But there is this difference—while Jünger in his earlier books glorified war, his concern in his later books is with the isolated individual threatened with destruction by impersonal technical forces.
Die immer künstlicheren Städte, die automatischen Bezüge, die Kriege und Bürgerkriege, die Maschinenhöllen, die grauen Despotien, Gefängnisse und raffinierten Nachstellungen—das alles sind Dinge, die Namen bekommen haben und die den Menschen Tag und Nacht beschäftigen.
These themes also occupied Poe. He anticipated many of the mechanical horrors that have become reality in our time. But the real significance of Poe's nightmarish visions is that he analyzed them and uncovered the strange ambivalence of the soul, which can be fascinated by what terrifies it. In "The Imp of the Perverse" he lays bare that streak in man which makes him seek out the very dangers that threaten to destroy him. "There is no passion so demonically impatient, as that of him, who shuddering upon the edge of a precipice, thus meditates a plunge." Modern psychologists call this fascination with terror the death wish of the soul. It is a theme that often occurs in Jünger. "Der Schwindel vor dem kosmischen Abgrund ist ein nihilistischer Aspekt," he writes with reference to Poe's essay "Eureka," and asks: "soll man, und sei es auch nur geistig, die äußersten Gewässer aufsuchen, die Katarakte, den Malstromwirbel, die großen Abgründe?" He answers yes. "In unserer Lage sind wir verpflichtet, mit der Katastrophe zu rechnen und mit ihr schlafen zu gehen, damit sie uns nicht zur Nacht überrascht." Like Hölderlin ("wo aber die Gefahr ist, wächst das Rettende auch") Jünger believes that the greater the dangers the better the chances of salvation. "Bei großen Gefahren wird das Rettende tiefer gesucht werden, and zwar bei den Müttern, und in dieser Berührung wird Urkraft befreit. Ihr können die reinen Zeitmächte nicht standhalten."
The difference between Jünger and Poe lies in their attitude towards "das Rettende," which may perhaps be interpreted as Providence. In Poe's stories salvation is usually the result of a rational act on the part of the threatened. Lashing himself to the water cask was such a rational act which saved the narrator of "A Descent into the Maelström." Jünger too believes in the saving power of courageous action, but courage alone is not enough. Something else is necessary, the support of a transcendental force, a wholly irrational power of salvation. While Poe is fundamentally a rationalist who knows the irrational yearnings of the soul, Jünger has been tending more and more towards mysticism. Rationalism, he thinks, leads to mechanism and mechanism to torture.
Zahllose leben heute, welche die Zentren des nihilistischen Vorganges, die Tiefpunkte des Malstromes passiert haben. Sie wissen, daß dort die Mechanik sich immer drohender enthüllt; der Mensch befindet sich im Inneren einer großen Maschine, die zu seiner Vernichtung ersonnen ist. Sie mußten auch erfahren, daß jeder Rationalismus zum Mechanismus, und jeder Mechanismus zur Folter führt, als seiner logischen Konsequenz. Das hat man im 19. Jahrhundert noch nicht gesehen.
Nor, we might add, did Jünger see it in his earlier writings. This difference in attitude towards salvation in Poe and Jünger accounts for the different emphasis in their treatment of terror. For Poe it is the fascination with terror that leads him back to the same theme time and again. Jünger's emphasis is on salvation from terror. While in Poe's stories unrelieved terror often prevails, producing a melodramatic effect, Jünger imparts to his readers a sense of man's ultimate conquest of the powers of darkness. In a rather mystifying entry in Strahlungen, dated Paris, January 15, 1942, Jünger draws this distinction between himself and Poe. He quotes a letter he received from a friend concerning his "schwarze Fürstin": "Ich meine, daß Ihre Fürstin etwas vom 'Untergang des Hauses Usher' beeinflußt ist. Doch wird hier der Weg zur Heilung gezeigt. Das ist gut. Poe zeigte nur den Untergang."
In a letter to me, January 9, 1957, Jünger explains that this entry refers to his story "Der Hippopotamus," published in Das abenteuerliche Herz. The heroine of his capriccio, as he calls it, is that unhappy Brunswick princess who was queen of England at the time of Napoleon. She was a victim of severe mental depressions, and the story deals with a method of treatment. As in Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher," the narrator in Jünger's story faces a strange and threatening situation. He finds himself in the presence and at the mercy of a person who is obviously going mad. But, while in Poe's story madness finally overwhelms everything, with the narrator fleeing aghast from a scene of horror he has been unable to alleviate, Jünger presents a cure. It combines scientific and magical elements. Scientific are the prescriptions of sleeping drugs, magical the incantations the princess is to use when she feels the approach of her illness. This combination of scientific and magical elements is a distinguishing feature of Jünger's prose. It has given rise to the expression "magischer Realismus."
Scientific and magical elements also intermingle in Poe's work. But Poe saw in magic mainly a destructive force, a dark demonic power that both terrifies and fascinates the soul. To Jünger the magical forces in life are those that uplift man, carrying him beyond destruction. The mediaeval distinction between black and white magic might perhaps be applied to Poe and Jünger. The latter's concern is with man's ascent from the dark realm of demons. To his wife, who was living amidst the terrors of aerial bombardment, he wrote in June 1943: "Was Dich betrifft, so fühle ich mit Gewißheit, daß Du unbeschadet dem großen Malstrom entrinnen wirst; verliere das Vertrauen zu Deiner eigentlichen Bestimmung nicht." Poe did not have such faith to counterbalance the terrors of his soul.
Jünger is interested in Poe's world because it gives him insights into the "dark mathematics" of fate.
Im Malstrom Edgar Allan Poes besitzen wir eine der großen Visionen, die unsere Katastrophe vorausschauten, und von allen die bildhafteste. Wir sind nun in jenen Teil des Wirbels abgesunken, in dem dic Verhältnisse in ihrer dunklen Mathematik, zugleich cinfacher und faszinierender, sichtbar werden.
Both Poe and Jünger know that there are powerful and irrational forces that urge man to seek his own destruction. This knowledge terrified Poe and he communicates to his reader a sense of doom: "And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor / Shall be lifted—nevermore!" Jünger sees a challenge to rise above it, not merely through resolute action but through faith in God's saving grace. At the end of Auf den Marmorklippen, when after a night of terror the powers of darkness seem firmly established, the sound of an organ is heard and the words:
Weil denn kein Mensch uns helfen kann Rufen wir Gott um Hilfe an.
It should be noted in conclusion that Jünger's religious position, as reflected by writings cited in this paper, has puzzled many readers of his earlier works. They are not convinced that the former champion of "total mobilization," the herald of the front soldier, the author of Der Arbeiter, has undergone a genuine conversion. They feel that his metaphysical speculations are forced and his dreams, visions, and belief in magic are at best a substitute for religion. Jünger himself has noted that an age of terror inevitably gives rise to "Ersatzreligionen von unabsehbarer Zahl."
I would suggest that these critics ponder the significance of the maelström image which occupies such an important place in Jünger's later books. In its dual aspect of death and rebirth it symbolizes the human condition as all the great teachers of religion have taught us to see it. Like many writers of his generation in Germany and elsewhere—T. S. Eliot is a case in point—Jünger descended into the maelström, embraced nihilism or, as he put it, was for a time a fellow traveler of the "Mauretanians." But he did not stay there.
Tatsächlich war, als ich diese Fabel ["Der Hippopotamus"] vor einem Besuch bie Kubin konzipierte, die Sehnsucht nach dem Aufstieg aus den dunklen Dämonenreichen des Malstroms in mir besonders stark. Man muß derartiges auch als Prognostikon betrachten, denn die erfundenen Figuren eröffnen den Schicksalsreigen, sie tanzen ihm bald lächelnd, bald schauerlich voran, und Dichtung ist unsichtbare, noch ungelebte Historie.
Amidst the terrors of a world in chaos Jünger found "Das Rettende." That, it seems to me, is the heart of the matter.
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.
Jünger may fairly be viewed as a more purely German writer of prose, just as Stefan George was a purely German poet, whereas Hesse and Rilke would be artists with a more European outlook who simply happened to be born to the German language. Jünger's career before 1945, at least, was in fact bound up inextricably with Germany's fate. In this year appeared his own formal break with the past, the pamphlet Der Friede. Whether his own rejection of nihilism and violence, and his recent quests for new experience in travel and metaphysics are part of a German trend is still uncertain.
Jünger's early life stands under the sign of Mars. Born in Heidelberg in 1885, he went almost directly from school to the battlefields of World War One. Wounded fourteen times, he received the Pour le Mérite. His book In Stahlgewittern celebrates the military virtues with unabashed fervor. In the same warlike vein were Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis, Das Wäldchen 125, Feuer und Blut, and the first version of Das abenteuerliche Herz.
If war was Jünger's first formative experience, natural science was his next. In far-flung studies and travels he discovered the worlds of zoology, botany, mineralogy. They reappear vividly in such descriptions as those of the Naples aquarium in Das abenteuerliche Herz, or the herbarium in Auf den Marmorklippen. His scientific training helped to model his prose into its hard, polished forms; precise, yet rich in suggestion and meaning, with a powerful inner rhythm which reached its heights in Auf den Marmorklippen.
Politics was Jünger's third and certainly his most perilous adventure. In the years after 1918 he flirted seriously with the Right wing, ultranationalistic groups that badgered the Weimar Republic. For a time he even edited a magazine for the Stahlhelm, the militant veterans' group of the Twenties. He militated in the ranks of the new Reichswehr, the semisecret Führerheer, or "army of leaders," that subverted the military clauses of the Versailles Treaty, thus playing into the hands of the Nazis, the "street rabble" which their snobbish aristocrats professed to despise.
Jünger's later regrets about this period are revealed in his work. Here the nationalist groupings are usually identified as the mythical order of Mauretania, upon which Max Bense commented at length in his absorbing study Ptolemäer und Mauretanier. "Instead of remaining at my studies," Jünger confesses in a revealing passage of Das abenteuerliche Herz, "I enlisted in the ranks of the Mauretanians, those subaltern polytechnicians of power."
Power and technics in their widest implications became Jünger's next preoccupations. In an imaginative, yet sociologically profound study entitled Der Arbeiter, he dissected the emotional structure of the modern worker and compared it with that of the soldier. In this light he examined the terrible dilemmas which total mobilization and total automation present for the human race.
When did Jünger, now grown taciturn in public life, decisively turn away from his earlier gods of power? It is hard to say exactly, but it is interesting that his next book, appearing less than two years after Hitler seized power, was Blätter und Steine, a delightful collection of rather whimsical essays. His fanciful Afrikanische Spiele were based on a brief experience with the French Foreign Legion before World War One and continued the "escapist" line in many respects. So did the second, self-censored version of Das abenteuerliche Herz, a remarkable short volume of scientific or pseudo-scientific sketches, allegorical fantasies, dream sequences, and poetical renditions of existential philosophy, from which much of the blood and gore of the earlier edition was missing.
Jünger promptly answered the call to the colors again in 1939 and served on both Eastern and Western fronts. All the available evidence suggests that this time his enthusiasm was greatly diminished. With some astonishment, Germany witnessed the somewhat tardy withdrawal from circulation, apparently on Gestapo orders, of the allegorical novel which may prove to be the finest of his career, Auf den Marmorklippen. It is this book which many of Jünger's present admirers contend places him among the ranks of the "inner emigration," the writers who stayed inside the Nazi pseudo-society but uttered veiled protests against it.
The plot, if it could be called one, is wholly removed from any single real setting; it is zeitentrückt, "removed from time," as the Germans like to say. The "Chief Forester," a villainous, backward ruler with an insatiable lust for power and destruction, preys, from the depths of his dark forest, upon the serene, time-ripened community which stands on the Marble Cliffs, overlooking the sea. In the idyllic civilization of the Marble Cliffs, the conservative European values are symbolized in the gardens and herbarium of the narrator, who finally flees the encroaching hordes of the barbarian enemy with the oath that "for all the future it was better lonesomely to fall with the free, than to go forward in triumph with the serfs."
Though the orthodox interpretation of this book outside Germany has been that it was anti-Nazi allegory. Jünger himself has appeared to deny this in his next book. This was Strahlungen, a collection of wartime diaries which, due mainly to French curiosity about Jünger's period of service with the occupation in Paris, was first published under French license in the French occupation zone of Germany (despite the fact that Jünger himself had not yet been pronounced "de-Nazified"). Commenting on an article about Auf den Marmorklippen by the Swiss critic Naef. Jünger writes. "If an intelligent critic like him, who can have no doubts about the real situation in Germany, relates the contents of this book to our political circumstances, then carelessness, if not malice, must have played a role."
Yet the book is certainly allegory on the total plight of Western civilization in this century, even if not specifically meant to deal with the German situation. And in the same book, Strahlungen, does not Jünger contemptuously refer to Hitler as "Knièbolo," a mad tyrant, and does he not tell with obvious approval what he knew of the unsuccessful officers' conspiracy to kill him during the summer of 1944?
Ernst Jünger, as he all but admits, was probably in considerable danger himself. His protector, General von Stülpnagel, the German commander in Paris whom Jünger calls "one of the last knights," killed himself to avoid the "lemurs," as Jünger calls them, of the Gestapo. Bitter, too, are his thoughts on the useless death of his son, Ernst, in some of the late fighting on the Italian front. And by the time he came to describe, at the book's end, the entry of American tanks into Kirchhorst in April, 1945, he had realized that, "From such a defeat, one does not recover as once after Jena or Sedan. This means a turning point in the life of the nations, and not only innumerable men, but also much that lies in our innermost, must die during such a transition." With many of his country men come to this realization very late indeed, Jünger gazes into the ashes, hopefully looking for the Phoenix of a new Germany.
Heliopolis continues this search and projects further some of the prophetic themes suggested in Auf den Marmorklippen. It is roughly comparable to some of our better science fiction. Somewhere in a southern civilization of the future stands Heliopolis, the seat of two hostile rulers. One is the aristocratic "Proconsul," in whose cause Lucius, Jünger's hero, serves. The other is the "Landvogt," who commands the power of the masses and the street. Caught between the two and reminiscent of the Jews in Nazi Germany, are the "Parsees," a persecuted race. Space ships, televisors, power rays are matter-of-fact accessories.
In the end, Lucius, recognizing the hopelessly Utopian nature of the Proconsul's desire to preserve the old culture through enlightened despotism, leaves his service to answer a mysterious summons from the "Regent." The latter is a third, remote and apparently all-powerful ruler who may be God, or the ideal state, or both. In any case, though Lucius hopes to return as a harbinger of the Regent's universal peace, the author recognizes the futility of this hope for the present: "But these days are far removed from us."
This futility is, doubtless, for Jünger as for so many of his European contemporaries, one reason for his postwar preoccupation with metaphysics, and especially the philosophy of existence. It could hardly have been coincidence that his book Der Waldgang appeared in the same year and under the same publisher's imprint as Martin Heidegger's Holzwege, or that other philosophical essay of Jünger's, Über die Linie, a postscript to Nietzsche which professed to see a way out of nihilism at last.
It is probable that Jünger had long been familiar with Heidegger's "Being and Time," and the philosopher's influence on him seems to have grown through the years. A figure appearing repeatedly in his books, imparting to him dreamlike admonitions and communications, is the "teacher" Nigromontanus, or Schwarzwäldler in German. This "Black Forester" is none other than Heidegger himself, who comes from the Black Forest. In Das abenteuerliche Herz and other books he warns his disciple to look behind the veils which cover the "authenticity of things" and discover his true nature, as well as that of death. He presents the existentialist dogma of first acknowledging the inevitable fact of one's own eventual death and then beginning one's life anew.
Jünger sees three main roads to "authentic existence": dream (Traum); intoxication (Rausch); fortune (Glück). At the end, however, actually lies death, the supreme contact with Being and Reality. On the "lonesome march" to this final encounter, says Jünger in Das abenteuerliche Herz, "one is like a soldier who will regain his rank" after he has halted before the gates of death "as before a lonely customs house in the highest mountains, where the coin of memory is exchanged for gold" and where the dying man perceives that no one is at his heels, not even the Devil, but that "on the contrary, he exchanges fear against security."
Jünger differs from Heidegger in that to him animals and plants are examples of real "beings" in the "authentic" state, whereas for Heidegger they are merely vorhanden, "present in the world," unable to participate in "authentic" existence, which is reserved to the human individual alone. Jünger, however, sees this reality in all living creatures: in a woodpecker by the Bodensee, in a black codfish twitching its life away in a Norwegian fish market, in a rare scarab he turns up under a rock near Casablanca. This insistence that a human being, in order to be whole and healthy, must develop an awe and respect for other creatures, reappears in all his recent travel books, which, like Ein Inselfrühling and Am Sarazenenturm are mainly records of his very German fascination with the Mediterranean.
In his latest book, Gläserne Bienen, Jünger returns to his earlier preoccupations with the power of technology and the technology of power. The hero, Rittmeister Richard, a former cavalry officer stemming from the ordered society before World War One, is faced with the choice of starving or seeking employment with Zapparoni, an industrial magnate who produces all types of mechanical toys and robots which can readily be adapted as weapons. Again, the themes of Germany's defeat and possible redemption are suggested. Jünger sees some kind of modus vivendi, perhaps an armed truce, between the individual and the dehumanized world of technology as the only program for survival. In this book, he is on warmer, easier terms with the human personality than he has been before.
It is a fair conclusion, I think, from the body of his work thus far, that Jünger, after having grown thoroughly familiar, during all his adventures, with the worst and most demonic sides of man's nature, now entertains hopes for the triumph of his better side. In the final episode of Das abenteuerliche Herz, the narrator walks the streets of Ponta Delgada, in the remote Azores, where "the eye beholds the flowers of a new world." Suddenly he spots a fish dealer who, in crying out his wares to windows closed tightly against the noonday sun, seems to add something in a mumble, softly to himself:
And so we walked through the hot alleys to offer fish which no one wanted at noon. And long I listened to his two voices, the loudly echoing, exuberantly soliciting cry, and the soft, despairing monologue. I followed him with an eavesdropping lust, for I marked well that here it was no longer a question of fish, but that on this lost island I was hearing the poem of man—at once his loud bragging and his soft, imploring song.
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 traditional pieties. The mood is autumnal and, appropriately, reference is made to the festivals celebrated once upon a time in conjunction with the yearly harvests. The new wine is tasted, nuts are eaten, there is time for bird shooting, and crowds congregate along the shores of the Grand Marina to carouse and joust with one another in displays of wit. At early morning the sun rises over Alta Plana, situated to the south, beyond the waters of the Marina, just as the sun will set, at the end of the novel—to rise again, we know—upon the prosperous homestead of Ansgar up on the mountains of Alta Plana. On a bright day the eye can see all the way to the borders of New Burgundy where the high-born family of Sunmyra, representative of the declining aristocracy, lives and farms its estates. On their way home at dawn from the fall feastings, the two brothers now and then catch a glimpse of some startling scene or image having the power to call up, but only for a moment, the archaic, preternatural spirit of the land, fecund yet terrible in its promise of unnamed menace.
There were celebrations, too, which usher in the spring equinox. Here the brothers and townspeople of the Marina, dressed up as clowns decked out in bird feathers, join in the merriment by attaching themselves to the guild of the woodpeckers. Meanwhile, the crowd sets up in the old marketplace the traditional tree of fools. In mocking, discordant accompaniment to the general festivity are the shrill call and answer of the authentic birds of the area. Their ominous cry is to the rites of spring what the chilling images of nature's secrets are to the winemaking holidays: a sign of foreboding amidst the general air of abundance and well-being.
The narrator and Bruder Otho live in the Rue Cloister (Rautenklause). To get to their home from the Marina one passes through the Cock Gate, from which on the left loom up the Marble Cliffs, the cloister itself being situated on the edge of the cliff in close proximity to long stretches of grapeland. During the spring the hyacinth blooms and in fall the wild cherry, but all year long the silver-green rue bushes give off their pungent odor. Ruta, herb of grace in the lore of flowers, possesses powers against evil spells: formerly, a branch of rue was used to sprinkle holy water in churches, and the ancients, according to Pliny, believed that the plant not only improved the physical strength of the eye but bestowed, as well, an inner vision, a second sight. The Rue Cloister consists of a library, which opens onto the garden where the golden lily is in flower, and, on the second floor, an herbarium. Here the brothers are engaged, with the aid of Linnaeus' Systema Naturale, upon a lifetime's labor of collecting and classifying the flora of the region. Living with the two of them is Lampusa, who acts as a housekeeper and tends the kitchen placed in the lower recesses of the Marble Cliffs, and Erio, the illegitimate child of the narrator, whose mother is Silvia, daughter of Lampusa. The boy and his grandmother have been brought to the Cloister by Bruder Otho who has the knack of winning people's confidence, a gift for bringing out the best in them. Lampusa is the Terrible Mother, a telluric force, one who knows the dark, generative—and destructive—secrets of nature. She entertains Belovar, the just herdsman, in her cliff cellar but at the same time is on good terms with the Oberförster's ruthless huntsmen. Lampusa communicates with the lancehead vipers who dwell in the crevices of the Marble Cliffs and, at sunset, descend to the court of the cloister to drink the milk which she sets out for them. Distinguished from the rest by her brass-burnished scales and jewel-like green head is the leader of the viper train, Griffin, who becomes the special pet of Erio, the divine child or puer senex, a model of strength and purity whose presence invigorates the brothers while at their work. Whenever these serpents join company with Erio, they gather about him in the form of a sun disk.
Hard by the Rue Cloister, on the southern, Marina side of the Marble Cliffs, stands the monastery of the Falcifera, dedicated to Maria Lunaris. She, in the words of Bruder Otho, combines on a higher plane the virtues of Fortuna and Vesta and must be seen as a beneficent counterforce to the baleful charms of Lampusa. The monastery houses the eminent botanist Father Lampros, who, as a specialist on the symmetry of fruits, can help the brothers currently at work on a study of how plants, in their growth, form a circle around an axis. Obedient to nature's ways, as is indicated by his other name Phyllobius, he who lives with leaves, and by the motto engraved on his cornelian ring, "meyn geduld hat ursach" (patience is my strength; i.e., I bide my time), Lampros has been initiated into the nutritional, curative, and integrating properties of plant life. First met by the brothers with a gladiola in hand (Siegwurzrispe) and light streaming from the transept window on his white mantle, this priest is the great force for good, for the sustaining recreative virtues of spirituality in the face of the destructive powers unleashed by the Oberförster. Lampros and Maria are, respectively, the solar and lunar principles at work, a hieros gamos or union of the blazing sun of science and the twilight of imagination and mystery. Both the Rue Cloister and the monastery, then, are fully achieved centers of being, for at the brother's house it is they who represent the conscious, rational mind, whereas Lampusa incarnates infrarational, chthonic drives. The force joining and transcending the two realms, and the link between cloister and monastery—in his messages to the brothers, Lampros will entrust their dispatch only to him—is Erio, the mystic, heroic child. And the configuration of the sun disk formed by the serpents under Erio's spell—"coiled into a circle, [the serpent] symbolizes the self-sufficiency and oneness which are associated with God's preservative power"—finds its parallel in that mysterium revealed in the monastery garden by Lampros to the two brothers, the green circlet of leaves and the vibrant, radiant center of the otherwise quite inconspicuous plantain, Plantago major. Coiled snake and plantain, like Bruder Otho's golden lily and the gladiola of Lampros, are thus mandalas, Indian circular images signifying, in modern psychoanalytic terms, that wholeness which the human personality strives to attain. The contemplative stillness of the monastery enclosure, the bright blue sky and strong sunlight which are the atmospheric setting for the disclosure of the hidden, restorative virtualities of the plantain flower, form a pastoral landscape, a locus amoenus, lying at the extreme opposite to the horrible forest clearing of Köppelsbleek with its instruments of torture and perversion, lost in mist, and haunted by the mocking cry of the cuckoo bird and the whispering of bats.
This place of infamy, the source from which terror will spread out over the land—"die üble Küche, aus der die Nebel über die Marina zogen"—lies to the north of the Marble Cliffs, on the far side of the Campagna, just beyond the marshlands where the domain of the Oberförster begins. On days when the brothers are pleased with the progress of their research, they will climb to the summit of the Cliffs and enjoy the sublimity of its panoramic view. At other times, tired and depressed, the two will set out on botanical excursions in search of a new specimen. One such field trip, undertaken to find a variety of Linnaeus' rubra—the woodland orchid (Rote Waldvögelein)—brings them deep within the Campagna, past the three poplars and the obscene image of the Red Steer, to the sickle-shaped Flayers' Copse (the depraved antitype of Mary's cloister, the Falcifera, "sickle-bearing," "sickle-shaped"). To their delight they discover the flower—but at the same time, too, the ghastly spectacle of Köppelsbleek with its stakes and hooks, rattling skulls, and singing dwarf hard at work. Terrified, the impulse is to flee the place, but catching hold of themselves, they are reminded of their obligation as scientists to enter a description of the woodland plant and its natural setting in their journal. Here again the flower functions as a mandala, an image of the potentialities of the self. In the juxtaposition of orchid and skull, beauty in its vital growth and radiance resists the destructive power of evil.
Linked with the mandala as a conserving, integrative force are the lamp and mirror of Nigromontanus (necromancer), used at the discretion of Bruder Otho, the pure blue flame of which acts as a caustic burning objects down to their very essence. In the "time of troubles" which has overcome the land of the Marble Cliffs, the brothers must be ready at any moment to set fire, as eventually they will, to herbarium and library. Nigromontanus' mirror with its device, "Und sollte die Erde wie ein Geschoss zerspringen / Ist unsere Wandlung Feuer und weisse Glut" (And were the earth to explode like a shot / In our transformation we have become fire and a white glow), is assurance that their painfully acquired spiritual acquisitions will not fall prey to base powers, but instead be preserved in a higher order. If the mandala is an expression of the organic, curative virtues of nature, then the mirror translates the transforming power of art in its victory over the forces of destruction. These agents of conservation gather to themselves a whole series of such efficacious symbols. At moments of fatigue and discouragement, the narrator and Bruder Otho close the doors of the cloister, drink wine, breathe the fragrance of stored-up leaves and flower petals, light the pure-grained candles of the Provençal knight Deodat, which call to mind the sunset hour in Rhodes; they will page through the books of trusted authors and browse among old letters from cherished friends. These varied, intimate sensations and nostalgic musings nourish an idealizing memory which shores up the fragments of the past and protects them against the erosion of time. The brothers are fond, too, of composing gnomic couplets or doggerel lines which sum up, in their pithiness, nature's laws. Scribbled down on slips of paper, they serve in the evening as points of departure for serious conversation, after which they are discarded. These sibylline jottings join mandala and mirror and the various stimulants to memory as steps in a contemplative ritual dedicated to moral order, heightened awareness, and the effort to discern a pattern in the manifoldness of nature.
The present course of events occurs some seven years after the war against Alta Plana to which the brothers ascribe the ills that have ever since slowly infected the land. During the war they were enrolled in the Purple Riders, an elite squadron of the order of the Mauretanians, and it was here that they knew and frequented the company of the Oberförster, who was for a time commander of all Mauretania. Prior to their enlistment, the brothers were living at loose ends; distracted and jaded by a way of life which had no meaning for them, they joined this far-flung order dedicated to the pursuit of power for its own sake. The Mauretanians are cool, disabused realists, the managerial strategists of Jünger's Der Arbeiter. Disciplined, endowed with keen practical intelligence, these men are committed to a ruthlessly detached view of political power. The philosophy of action which they espouse is a peculiarly abstract, efficient one intent only upon the manipulation of tangible forces: a priori values and inherited loyalties count for nothing in its calculations. These ascetics of the will, with their single-minded vision, exercise a strong attraction on the brothers wandering about feckless and apathetic.
Thus the Mauretanian order and the regiment of the Rue Cloister lie at opposite poles from each other, yet their extremes meet. The Rue Cloister:
Vielleicht war es die starke Luft der Rautenklause, die unserem Denken eine neue Richtung gab, gleich wie im reinem Sauerstoff die Flamme steiler und heller brennt (The new direction which our thought took was no doubt owing to the bracing air of the Rue Cloister, just as in pure oxygen the flame burns higher and brighter).
And the Mauretanians:
Bei den Mauretanieren … herrschte unberührte Stille wie im Zentrum des Zyklons. Wenn man in den Abgrund stürzt, soll man die Dinge in dem letzten Grad der Klarheit wie durch überschärfte Gläser sehen. Diesen Blick, doch ohne Furcht, gewann man in der Luft der Mauretania, die von Grund auf böse war (An undisturbed stillness as in the center of a cyclone prevailed among the Mauretanians. When we plunge into the abyss, we see things in their highest degree of clarity, just like looking through a sharply focused lens. This is the kind of vision, but without fear, that one attained to in the air of Mauretania which [nevertheless] was evil from the ground up).
The discipline of each of these separate ways of life, active and contemplative, calls for lucidity of outlook and the strict dedication to an ideal. The common denominator is an ethic which will both concentrate and liberate vital energies. Something of the element of play in its detachment and gratuitousness, its release of powers within very fixed limitations, enters into both spheres. Each of these styles is radically set apart from the normal, commonplace routines of life and demands from its initiates the virtues which we normally associate with solitude: a freedom from distraction, perseverance, and a steady reliance upon one's own moral resources. Given, then, the factors common to these two pursuits, the conquest of power, on the one hand, and the search for truth, on the other, both by nature radically alien to a bourgeois existence, though directed to entirely opposite ends, it is not surprising that they should appeal to the two brothers at different periods in their life, just as, indeed, they have to Ernst Jünger himself, warrior and contemplative, the author and actor of In Stahlgewittern and Subtile Jagden. On the level of biography, of la vie romancée, an essential though not, of course, the most important vantage point from which to read our novel, the campaign in Alta Plana with its sorry aftermath is a near-literal translation of Ernst and Friedrich Georg Jünger's engagement in the First World War and their subsequent conviction, never in doubt, that Germany's series of humiliating setbacks in the twenties must be seen as a result of the fatherland's disastrous defeat and the succeeding injustices of the Versailles Treaty. The boredom with life as it is felt by narrator and Bruder Otho transcribes fictionally the Jünger brothers' disdain for the Weimar Republic's experiment in parliamentary democracy, with its assumed concessions to mass opinion, as well as their fear of the growing rationalization and vulgarization of all areas of life in contemporary Germany. Even such a detail in the story as the magnanimity shown by the brothers towards Ansgar, the enemy soldier, finds its real-life counterpart in Jünger's gallant attitude and gestures towards his English enemies on the western front during the Great War and in his desperate efforts generally to imagine some kind of chivalry in even the bloodiest moments of trench fighting.
Yet for all the points of similarity between the way of the Cloister and that of Mauretania, it is the differences which are crucial and must be stressed. The latter has as its purpose self-aggrandizement achieved through means which depend upon aggression, domination, and exploitation; the other, to which the brothers have become converted, calls for a renunciation of self, an openness to natural laws and processes which transcend the individual person and serve to integrate him in an indivisible order, at once physical and spiritual. The grandmaster of the Mauretanians is the Chief Ranger—the Oberförster. His extraordinary presence, alluded to in the very first pages of the novel, shadows the entire narration without his ever once making an actual appearance. We hear his trumpeting laughter at the moment when he unleashes Chiffon Rouge and the bloodhound pack, and can envision the ilex-leaf pattern of his coat as he rides with arrogant assurance through his domains. He is the prince of darkness, "der Geist, der stets verneint." From his various strongholds deep within the forest interior, he sends forth his "glowworms," huntsmen, and mercenaries to spread suspicion, pick quarrels, aggravate troubled situations, abet corruption, and perpetrate acts of terrorism. Since the days of Charlemagne the Marina has often been invaded and occupied by foreign troops; but manners, customs, and even the physical setting of the area have changed very little. It is only now with the end of hostilities against Alta Plana that a perceptible deterioration has come about in the quality of life and the general look of things. The time-honored ways of the vintner, poet, and philosopher are despised in favor of the raw, boisterous behavior of the Campagna herdsmen. Once the privilege of heros, the sacred funeral rites of elegeion and eburnum, severely set forth and devoutly attended to, have become profaned, being now nothing better than raucous wakes to which any common bootlicker is entitled. One-time citizens of the Marina, who as refugees from justice have fled to the bogs and meadows of the Campagna, keep up connections with the homeland, thus making possible a continuous intrusion of alien, questionable practices. Progressively, the constabulary of the local police chief, Biedenhorn, himself open to corruption, has been infiltrated by bullies and criminal types dispatched from the "back of the beyond." For life in the Campagna, too, has degenerated. Because of the sinister influence of the Oberförster, the native, barbaric elements have become unruly, prone to yield to the darker, vicious sides of their nature. The kind of rude but fundamentally decent code of social behavior as represented by Belovar and his son Sombor, who stand for the older, authentic morality of the Campagna, is fast disappearing. A debilitating fever, a general failure of nerve paralyze the whole area, from the confines of the Campagna down beyond the Marina's shore to the holiday islands of the Hesperides where in happier times people used to row over, during the autumn, to enjoy the festivities of St. Peter's Fish and to delight in the sight and fragrance of the roses which bloom all year. Only the Rue Cloister and the Convent of Maria Lunaris, both close by the Marble Cliffs and oases of the spiritual life, remain immune against this corrupting malaise. Yet even here the menace is very real: Lampusa's ambiguous presence inhabits the lower depths of the white peaks.
During their tour of duty with the Mauretanians, the narrator and Bruder Otho would, on occasion, drink and ride with the Oberförster. His grand manner and the charismatic authority which he wielded fascinated them. His person, if somewhat ridiculous, possessed a genuine compelling force, all the more dominating for standing out in such contrast to the inertia of the times. Here was a creature possessed by some daemonic power, capable, one feared, of appalling acts; yet demanding from us, however grudgingly and qualified, our admiration. As the brothers remark upon listening to the ruthless exploits of the Capitano, who was later to introduce them to the Oberförster and to Mauretania: "Lieber noch mit diesem stürzen, als mit jenen leben, die die Furcht im Staub zu kriechen zwingt" (Better to fall with this fellow than to live with those whom fear brings to their knees in the dust). Nor do the brothers question the rightness of the war they engage in against the Alta Plana. For them it is a matter, in the last resort, of doing their duty—and duty is itself a source of order, of inner strength. Nevertheless, they sympathize with these people who were defending their freedom against foreign oppression. It is perhaps the encounter with Ansgar and the mercy they show him that first prompt a decisive change of heart. From their present point of view, absorbed in the life of the Rue Cloister, they see that the two of them could have risen high in the ranks of Mauretania were it not for their sense of outrage at its repressive measures against the suffering and the weak. The fundamental inhumanity of the order was intolerable to them and they had to leave. That change of heart brought on by the meeting with Ansgar in the treacherous mountain passes of the Bergland is steadily reinforced and brought to a firm resolution in the close association with Pater Lampros. They have renounced the use of force and put off forever the way of the Mauretanians. This is apparent in the brothers' refusal, after momentarily weighing their decision, to join Belovar in ridding the area through violent means of the Oberförster's terrorist gangs. Aided by Lampros' example, they are determined to resist the present tyranny by remaining unswervingly devoted to a life of study and contemplation.
The choice they have made is summed up in the meeting with Braquemart (short, broad-bladed sword) and Sunmyra (he who does not speak). Each of the two is only half a person: the first, the epitome of the Mauretanian outlook, is a technician of power but with no feeling for the affective, infrarational bases of our existence; the other a sensitive, noble spirit but without the force to act upon his fine impulses. The two, nihilist and aristocrat, have come together to challenge in his very seat of authority the despotic rule of the Oberförster. Their well-intentioned, futile, and ultimately tragic union points to the deep, seemingly irreconcilable divisions in contemporary Western culture between a conservative humanism which has lost confidence in itself and is powerless to shape the dynamic forces released by contemporary civilization, and an arrogant, runaway technocracy, heedless of spiritual values and revealing itself in certain of its grander conceptions to be grimly antihuman. "Tout ce que nous savons, tout ce que nous pouvons," Valéry writes, "a fini par s'opposer à tout ce que nous sommes." As the two men walk up the Marble Cliffs, the Prince of Sunmyra scarcely pays attention to the magical lance-head vipers, while Braquemart contemptuously steps aside from their path. Head and heart have been severed from each other, and the "two cultures" go blindly each its own way. The pathetic, frustrated efforts of Sunmyra anticipate with astonishing foresight the deliberations and abortive attempts of the German aristocracy, such men as Claus von Stauffenberg, Count Helmuth James von Moltke, Peter Yorck von Wartenburg, and Adam von Trott zu Solz, to resist and overcome Hitler. It had been Jünger's forlorn hope, often commented upon in his journals of the World War II years, that the aristocracy, the Prussian landed gentry, would provide the moral leadership for a "conservative revolution" against the modern ideologies of capitalism and communism, thus preventing the rise to power and consolidation of National Socialism. Lampros' intercession on Sunmyra's behalf and the preservation of the latter's head in the petal-strewn amphora represent Jünger's sympathies with the traditional values of the German nobility, the bearers of that "Third Force," so called from the vantage point of the political right. Hearing on May 1, 1945, of Hitler's death, Jünger remarked—referring to Stauffenberg's abortive attempt at assassination the year previously—upon his own early awareness that any serious try on Hitler's life would have had to be made by one born of the old aristocracy and that, paradoxically, the dramatic and spiritual effect of such an act would lie only in its failure. "I pointed this out in detail with the figure of Sunmyra in 1939."
Sunmyra is scarcely twenty years old, yet already stooped in body and world-weary in mind. He shows interesting resemblances to and differences from the thaumaturgic child Erio, wise far beyond his years and a never-failing source of joy. When the narrator sets out on his perilous search for the young prince, he takes with him the reassuring smile of Erio. It is the brother's hope, disappointed by events, that Sunmyra can come under the care of Father Lampros, for they are confident that this counselor of souls can restore to the tired scion of an old Burgundy family the faith, purpose, and resolve to check the disorders raging all about and to build anew. They do join each other in spirit, priest and dreamer, in the spectacular scene of apotheosis capping the catastrophic events which overtake the Grand Marina. While the Cloister of Maria Lunaris goes up in flames, the brothers hold aloft to Lampros amidst the wreckage the embalmed head of Sunmyra; the hierophant, as a sign of consecration, returns this invocatory gesture by raising his hand with the cornelian ring (bearing the motto, "I bide my time"). The nobleman's sacrifice has been made wholly acceptable, a pleasing gift. The large rose window in the transept, where the brothers first met the priest, falls in upon Lampros, its green tracery reproducing in outline the wondrous plantain flower of the monastery garden. The prince's head, purplish in cast from its preservative of wine and roses, and the glowing stained-glass window complete the series of mandalas and thus set a seal upon the exchange of sacred gestures. In the general holocaust which sweeps the country, the young Sunmyra's death is an offering in prayer for a new beginning.
Braquemart is Jünger's embodiment of a specifically modern form of evil, rootless, without allegiance, scientifically trained but one-dimensional; contemptuous of sentiment, resentful by instinct, he is bent upon destruction—even if it means, as by the logic of his character it must, self-destruction. He belongs, like Koestler's Gleitkin, to the race of the Neo-Neanderthals. In the play of forces, ideological and psychological, Braquemart sides with the Oberförster, though there are important differences between them. As the principle of evil, the Chief Ranger belongs, mythologically, to an ancient heritage which includes the various personifications of Satan as well as the archvillains of the Gothic novel and the Romantic imagination. A creature of the twilight, he has a wisdom of the ways of beast, wind, and rain. He is the dark, gnostic power of all the many versions of a Manichaean view of life (cf. his countertype, Lampros, the Greek word for "brilliant," "effulgent"). However real his menacing presence, there is, as a creation of myth, something fanciful and literary about him. Though both men are possessed by a frenzy to destroy, Braquemart is a different matter. He is a peculiarly modern phenomenon, conceived and analyzed imaginatively in Dostoevski's novels, heralded in Nietzsche, and realized in the revolutions and wars of our century. His nihilism is the product of a dehumanized rationalism which thrives in our modern age of capitalist enterprise, vast urbanized conglomerates, relentless technocratic advances, bureaucratization, and sophisticated advertising. The complexity and nervous rhythms of today exasperate his sensibilities and turn him inward, creating a mood of sullenness and self-hate. Hence Braquemart's urge to make tabula rasa of everything: his natural climate is the desert, just as the forest is the habitat of the Oberförster. Jünger insists upon the fact that der Alte of the forest is a man of action, whereas Braquemart is a theorist. In any confrontation the modern city-bred nihilist is no match for the anarchist from the deep, primeval interior; the former, as the inheritor of all the dark secrets of the selva oscura, is simply too old in experience to be outdone by such a latecomer. And so, quite predictably, the latter's joint expedition with Sunmyra ends in disaster. Upon the arrival of the pair in the evening at the Rue Cloister, the Japanese lilies have opened up, displaying in their flawless beauty six slender stamens set in a circle about the pistil; when they take leave of the brothers at dawn, the lily's purity has been flawed: night moths have done it violence, and as the narrator makes this discovery, he detects in the distance the cuckoo bird's call, its mocking sound not having been heard since that horrendous afternoon at Köppelsbleek.
This ghoulish site serves at the end of the novel as the meeting ground for the deadly struggle between Belovar and the Oberförster, the autochthonous forces of the Campagna pitted against the barbarous anarchy of the forest. Here, in the natural scheme of things, the contest is more evenly matched, and it is only because of greatly superior numbers that the Chief Ranger is finally able to rout his opposition. Their savage encounter engages the two dog packs, the Molosson mastiffs of Belovar led by Leontodon and the Oberförster's red-and-black Cuban bloodhounds with the dreaded Chiffon Rouge at their head. The dog of story and legend, Anubis, Cerberus, Xolotl, has been traditionally associated with death and the underworld, and these dogs of the Marmorklippen are hellhounds. Their tearing at each other, in this Night of the Long Knives, is the final, convulsive release of all the pent-up fury and agitation, intrigue and suspicion which have been plaguing the country. The discharge of brutish force, of hot blood, must be seen as setting off the general destruction by fire which sweeps the entire area. The war between the Campagna and Forest, in which the narrator takes part almost in spite of himself—dedicated as he has been to the pursuits of peace—is a psychomachy, a death struggle between the powers of good and evil which explodes into holocaust. From the top of the Marble Cliffs where the narrator had been given in privileged moments of the past a vision of world harmony, he sees, laid out in front of him as far as the eye can reach, a view of total conflagration. The old order of things has gone up in smoke, and together with it the Rue Cloister, consumed by the flame of Nigromontanus' lamp, and the Convent of Maria Lunaris.
In Chiffon Rouge's deadly pursuit of the narrator, it is Erio who comes to the latter's aid. Lampusa, in league with the Oberförster, scorns to give help to the oppressed, while Bruder Otho, preoccupied with mirror and lamp, is lost in thought and not to be distracted by any concern for his brother's physical safety: these are witch and scientist transfixed by their own obsessive concerns and closed to any call from outside. The narrator leaps over the garden wall, falling in the lily bed, whereupon at a signal from Erio the lance-head vipers, Griffin in the lead, descend the steps of the Marble Cliffs. The bejeweled serpent strikes at Chiffon Rouge, who drops dead among the lilies, while the remaining vipers, in describing a golden circle about the feeding bowl, move out in stately, martial rhythm and strangle in a flash both bloodhound and men. The boy leaves then, smiling at the narrator, and we never hear from him again. Erio, like Lampros, has acted as a psychopomp for the brothers, initiating them into the mysteries. Griffin (Greifin), the name of the magnificent queen of the vipers, is an allusion to the mythical beast of antique and medieval lore (m. Greif) whose twin nature, lion(ess) and eagle, binds together in a single whole earthly and celestial energies. The rich, complex symbolism adhering to this serpent makes her a figure of harmony, and thus a salvific force. With the extermination of the hellhound Chiffon Rouge, the sinister powers released by the Oberförster have been brought under control, and life can now begin anew on the Grand Marina. As an emphatic sign of resurrection. Bruder Otho restores to its former dignity the sacred ritual of the eburnum while participating in funeral services for Sunmyra at the old family chapel. Yet if there are hesitant steps toward a return to normality and hope, the dangers to existence persist: Biedenhorn, the sycophantic police captain, always alert to which way the wind is blowing, has run up over the town fortress the flag of the red boar's head, an emblem, like night moth, dog, and cuckoo bird, of the Oberförster's menacing presence.
Our parable's schematic alignment of good and evil forces finds its metaphoric counterpart in the studied use of narrative moments rendered antithetically in light and dark: the smile of Erio and Lampusa's surly glance; the gold lily and the shimmering bodies of the lance-head vipers as contrasted with the blood-stained, weathered imagery and dark fauna of Köppelsbleek; the periods of joy in scientific study accompanied by excursions to the summit of the cliffs, followed by intervals of depression and the outings into the grey Campagna marshlands. Appalled by the sight of the decapitated Sunmyra, the narrator falls into a trance, a traumatic seizure in which his right arm is paralyzed; it is in such a state that he participates in the great regenerative destruction by burning and sees the gardens of the Rue Cloister, while being chased by Chiffon Rouge, as in a magical, metallic light. It is only when the serpents have assumed the mandala shape just prior to their attack that the narrator is roused from his dream and his arm quickened to life. Indeed the two principal centers of action, symbolic poles in this fable, are conceived in terms of chiaroscuro: the gleaming Marble Cliffs and that heart of darkness, the forest lair of the Chief Ranger. The motif of light as a symbol of harmony is complemented by a strong if discreet colorist sense which presents in rich array efficacious objects and phenómena. Their virtuality for good is mirrored forth in vivid, pleasing color. Consider only the dramatic moment of the ruin by fire of Rue Cloister and Maria Lunaris late in the novel; chromatic values and hues are set off against each other with rich yet restrained effect: lilies and roses, the white of Deodat's candles and the wine-purple trophy of Sunmyra's head, Lampros' vestments and cornelian ring placed in the green setting of the cloister window, and the pure, steady, resonant blue of Nigromontanus' lamp. These colors burst forth, then, and are burned out in the awesome incandescence of the final, apocalyptic fires which sweep the country.
The purging holocaust brings with it the hope of a new life. The Alta Plana for which the brothers set sail succeeds, as a spiritual landmark, to the Marble Cliffs of the Grand Marina, just as Ansgar père et fils, who welcome them to their farmstead, now replace Belovar and his son Sombor. The barns, stalls, and family dwelling are all, within the shadow of the live oak, set together in one complex—the image of a unitary, organic scheme of life, and similar in this singular grouping to the brothers' family house in the north where the sword of chivalry lies. As in a spiraling climb, like that about the margin of the White Cliffs, we have come back to a point from where we started but on a higher level of ascent. In moments of deep contentment, narrator and brother are in the habit of climbing the marble peaks to watch the sun play upon sea and countryside.
Wenn wir vom hohen Sitze auf die Stätten schauten, wie sie der Mensch zum Schutz, zur Lust, zur Nahrung und Verehrung sich errichtet, dann schomolzen die Zeiten vor unserm Auge innig ineinander ein. Und wie aus offenen Schreinen traten die Toten unsichtbar hervor. Sie sind uns immer nah, wo unser Blick voll Liebe auf altbebautem Lande ruht, und wie in Stein und Aekerfurchen ihr Erbe lebt, so waltet ihr treuer Ahnengeist in Feld und Flur (When we look out from high places upon the abodes of man, and consider how they have been erected in his honor and for his enjoyment, protection, and sustenance, then before our view all time fuses into a single moment. And the dead step forward, invisible, as though from open shrines. They are always close to us wherever our eye rests, full of affection, upon the land cultivated from old, and just as their inheritance lives in stone and furrow, so the true ancestral spirit presides in field and meadow).
From this privileged prospect, the different periods of the past merge into a single span, and time is seen under the sign of infinity, sub specie aeternitatis. "I live in the leaf" (which buds and withers), says Lampros for whom all scientific theories have their validity because each one, in turn, brings its contribution to the great mystery of genesis. Disintegration and reintegration, the recurring cycle of cosmos and chaos, catastrophe and rebirth, in individual lives as well as among nations and civilizations, define the underlying pattern of historical enactment which Ernst Jünger studies from the top of the Marble Cliffs. Individual fate functions as type and symbol, while the single occurrence in time is charged with depth and gravity, being conceived as the manifestation of a supratemporal order of recurrence. In this allegorical meditation on world harmony, the vision of which is gnostic, mythic, and archetypal, Jünger belongs squarely to the tradition of German romanticism: his Naturphilosophie, with its organicism, Platonic resonances, and delight in symbol and faraway incident, makes him a frère spirituel of Goethe and Novalis.
"Dreieinig sind das Wort, die Freiheit und der Geist" (The Word, Freedom, and Spirit are triune). This solemn, trinitarian affirmation occurring in the very middle of our narration gives witness to Jünger's credo in the power of civilizing energies to overcome evil—an act of faith nourished by a perennial philosophy which equates order with logos. Hence the studied, disciplined care with which the novel is composed, Jünger assuming, in the manner of his master, Nietzsche, a prophetic, monumental, apodictic tone. Archaisms and exotic touches reinforce the timelessness of this fable in which automobiles make their way through feudal settings. Sentences are deliberately weighed against each other to assure a full, steady, cadenced effect, while a telling image or an aphorism of gnomic import rounds off the individual paragraphs unanimated by any conversation and, in their unremitting gravity of mood, giving the semblance of marble stelae. Ritual, choice artefacts, beautiful natural forms, contemplative leisure, and scientific research—in a word, all of the ingredients and values of a classic, high culture—are celebrated in a book completed on the eve of Hitler's invasion of Poland and just a few weeks before Jünger himself, resignedly, will report for military service as a captain in the Wehrmacht. His aestheticism and detachment, which have been strongly criticized and do at times lapse into a cold preciosity, are intended to serve as charms which ward off malign forces threatening to overwhelm philosophic composure and the rule of reason.
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 continent to continue the tradition of Baudelaire, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Poe and Coleridge by making the experience of drugs and intoxication central to the world he investigates. The association between Jünger and Eliade had, of course, been active for many years before then. In 1959 they founded the journal Antaios together, brought out in Stuttgart by Jünger's publisher Klett-Cotta. The precise nature of this association, illustrated by the focus of interest to which their journal is dedicated, reveals a great deal about the particular way Jünger carries on that tradition. It also indicates some very important differences between Jünger's approach to this issue and that which has become established in the English-speaking world. Through these differences, one can not only account for the striking lack of familiarity with his name and work among British and American audiences—in dramatic contrast to his success and influence in France—but also show something very specific about the German tradition which he represents.
The record of interests and accomplishments by the two editors of Antaios gives a clear sense of how it cuts across the customary dividing line between disciplines of objective knowledge and the realm of literature. Eliade, the Rumanian cultural anthropologist, achieved international renown as a scholar and researcher into the esoteric religious traditions and occultic folklore of both East and West. He is also the author of several works of fiction. Ernst Jünger is known primarily as a novelist and as the writer of some of the most remarkable accounts of experience in the trenches of World War I, but his copious output extends far beyond literary fiction and reminiscence. Not only is his range of interests astonishingly broad, but he has also been quite influential in the most diverse areas. In 1932, for example, he published Der Arbeiter, a hotly debated analysis of the political consequences of twentieth-century technology and mechanized warfare, for which he represents a radical right-wing perspective on the contemporary situation and prospects for the future. In 1950 he contributed a philosophical essay, "Über die Linie" ("Across the Line") to a collection in celebration of Martin Heidegger's sixtieth birthday. Heidegger responded with a discussion of that work he entitled "Über 'die Linie'" ("On 'the Line'") in a collection to celebrate Jünger's sixtieth birthday. That essay was later reprinted, with minor additions, as Zur Seinsfrage.
While philosophy and political speculation both lie within the domain of the pen as close neighbors of literary fiction, there are yet further extensions of Jünger's concerns that, even to a superficial glance, suggest an unusual combination of interests and talents. As a young man after the war, he studied biology, including a period in the twenties at the University of Naples. This itself was the expression of a passionate curiosity from his earliest years about the phenomena of nature, and it developed later into a real expertise in entomology. Jünger's scientific work on insects, specializing in beetles, earned him a measure of international standing seldom accorded an amateur in our age. His discoveries are reflected in the fact that three species bear his name.
The tradition in which he carries on this research, which he refers to as "the subtle hunt," is not that of conventional natural science, but is rooted in the same kind of metaphysical speculation that underlay Goethe's scientific work. Goethe's attempt to overturn the Newtonian theory of color with his own ideas in the treatise Die Farbenlehre, or his efforts to argue the existence of a primal plant form, die Urpflanze, are not generally taken very seriously by English commentators. Literary critics have tended to take their cue on these matters from the established scientific world, where, of course, those hypotheses have been completely rejected. Even the genuine and scientifically recognized discovery of the intermaxillary bone in the human skull credited to Goethe, and therefore the speculative method which led him to it, is often dismissed as a fluke. The methodological debate at that time concerning restrictions in the definition or conception of objective knowledge is continued today in a figure like Jünger, and in the project carried on by the contributors of Antaios. Through his work, one can identify a great deal of that which is represented very strongly, though by no means exclusively, in the German tradition, and stands distinct from epistemological criteria predominant for generations in the Anglo-Saxon and French rationalist view of knowledge. The contrasting approach one finds in Jünger's thinking is therefore very useful in opening up an understanding of the different ways in which the divisions of knowledge are brought about, as well as the different ways in which the content of normal and altered modes of experience is interpreted.
What we think of as the practice of rational scientific investigation is based on the idea of bringing as much of the world as possible into the singular plane of critical observation and causal explanation. Historically this springs from the Enlightenment, and this in turn is usually associated with the socio-historical development of bourgeois power and influence through the rationalized relations of the market economy. Without wishing to probe these propositions too carefully, one can still say with confidence that Germany did not pass through any such historical process as unambiguously as did Britain and France or, via the export of their institutions, North America. Germany, politically fragmented into a patchwork of, in many cases, quasi-feudal states until these were progressively absorbed by Bismarck's Prussia in the nineteenth century, was not a conducive background for a philosophical vision of transparent, rational unity on a single, naturally articulated plane. This simple and positive picture does not seem to reflect the truth of a German's rather more complex, frustrating and contradictory experience in the world. German thinkers, accordingly, show a tendency again and again to have to resort to a further dimension. They look for another level of being from which a speculative or metaphysical unity may be derived.
For Goethe, this was a hierarchical order of nature. For Hegel, the Weltgeist. By the later part of the nineteenth century, the subsequent versions of such entities were becoming increasingly identified with that which was peculiar to German history and, more specifically, foreign to the conditions in its more "advanced" rivals. By the same token, emphasis on such elements as the foundation of Germany's identity meant suspicion and dislike of those alien characteristics which Germany was inevitably coming to adopt more and more as it progressed in its efforts to compete with foreign rivals. Thus, these philosophical outlooks came to be set in radical opposition to the evolving social realities accompanying increased urbanization, industrialization and liberalization. Friedrich Nietzsche's will to power was one of these. Another, less well-known to the outside, but probably more subtly influential within Germany, was Wilhelm Dilthey's "philosophy of life." In his essay "On some Motifs in Baudelaire," Walter Benjamin remarks:
Since the end of the last century, philosophy has made a series of attempts to lay hold of the 'true' experience as opposed to the kind that manifests itself in the standardized, denatured life of the civilized masses. It is customary to classify these efforts under the heading of a philosophy of life. Their point of departure, understandably enough, was not man's life in society. What they invoked was poetry ['Dichtung'], preferably nature, and, finally and most emphatically, the age of myths. Dilthey's book Das Erlebnis und die Dichtung represents one of the earliest of these efforts….
The concern of these nineteenth-century German thinkers is to shift the criterion of truth and significance away from that which is central to rationalist and pragmatic ways of thinking, to shift the center of "reality" to a new locus in a "depth" separate from the surfaces of material or social human phenomena. Jünger most certainly stands in that same tradition. His writing, from his earliest work portraying the battles and slaughter of the war, has striven to identify and reveal an inner dimension of experience in violence and conflict which runs diametrically counter to any rational revulsion toward and rejection of those aspects of human existence. His studies in entomology consider the insect world as a kind of hieroglyph by which nature reveals its fundamental patterns, which likewise prove to flow through an equality of creation and destruction quite indifferent to rational desires for a productive stability in the world. The mythic stratum of life which enters and transforms the ordinary domain of existence, therefore, is opposed to the pragmatic considerations of advantage and security. It breaks into that domain disruptively and rapturously. In contrast to the pedestrian values of the "civilized masses," it is an ecstasy and an intoxication.
The fundamental idea behind the interpretation of enraptured, ecstatic and intoxicated states, in a tradition which turns toward a hidden mythic or elemental level for its truth, is that this alteration of consciousness is a break with the singular level of a unified world. It is not a more fluid, swifter, less inhibited movement through the articulations of one continuous reality, like a renewed melody in a single key, but the sound of new notes from a quite different key, one with a deeper and more universal tone. In "Drugs and Ecstasy" Jünger expresses this as the difference separating mythic and historical time:
If we compare the triumphs of Alexander and Dionysos, we touch upon the difference between historical and elemental power. Success in history, as the conquest of Babylon, for example, shows, is fleeting and tied to names. The moment does not return in the same form; it becomes a link in the chain of historical time. But if we consider changes in the elemental world, neither names nor dates are important and yet changes take place time and again, not only below historical time, but also within it. They burst forth like magma from its crust.
But let us stay with wine. Alexander was forced to retreat from India, while Dionysos even today reigns as a nameless host. Wine has changed Europe more forcefully than has the sword: even today it is considered to be a medium of cultic transformation. The exchange of new poisons and ecstasies, and also of new vices, fevers and diseases, lacks the kind of definite dating by which coronations or decisive battles are remembered. Such exchanges remain in the dark, in the entanglement of the roots. We can surmise the events, but we can neither know their extent nor penetrate their depth.
Considered from this aspect, the boundaries between different disciplines which make up the various territories of the "horizontal" plane of objective or historical knowledge are transcended by their relation to the depth of the elemental and the mythic representations by which we attempt to grasp it. All branches of learning in this light begin to resemble the compositions of poetry. They are metaphors or translations of something both separate from them, yet perhaps alive in the spirit which animates them. This is clearly visible in the contributions which make up the journal Antaios. Here, the results of research by archaeologists, psychologists and linguists appear alongside essays by philosophers and literary scholars, by art historians and ethnologists. What characterizes almost all of them, and indeed makes the journal absorbing reading, is that each is willing to surrender the autonomy of his or her own field—from which only a limited surmise of deeper understanding is possible—and struggle toward an exchange of knowledge which cannot appear to a singular and complete view. The horizontal distribution in a mosaic of knowledge is made relative to a more obscure vertical dimension toward which all pitch their labors.
Jünger's own essays illustrate that same approach to a wide range of his own interests, from speculations on the nature of language in "Sprache und Körperbau" in 1947, or on the nature of Orient and Occident in "Der Gordische Knoten" in 1953. What is no less important, though much more commonly misinterpreted, is the effect this approach has on his literary fiction. It turns his focus away from the portrayal of individuals pursuing the motives which are evident in the ordinary experience of daily life. It turns him away from what one expects to find as "character development." 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.
For this reason many critics have castigated him for his "coldness." George Steiner, for example, in an article on Jünger's novel Auf den Marmorklippen writes that "Reading [Jünger's] work, one experiences what Emily Dickinson termed 'a zero at the bone.'" That which for Jünger himself is a deliberately chosen path, a fundamental shift in the place where the star is sought by which the voyage to truth should navigate, appears to Steiner simply a failure. He accuses Jünger of writing as he does out of incapacity to hold on to the familiar dimension of experience: "Jünger makes a virtue of what is, essentially, a grave defect of consciousness, an atrophy at the vital center."
J. P. Stern, in what is still the best book on Jünger in English, attacks him for what he calls the "abstraction" of his language. He sees this, moreover, as a quite general feature of German writing in our time: "In this sense, then, twentieth century German is invaded by abstraction, for it responds to the events in the world not directly, in the language of common discourse, but imperfectly, in semi-philosophical, semi-sociological, 'learned' and set terms, which are committed neither to the events nor to fundamental doctrine."
It is clear from these two sources that the problem lies in the inability of one tradition to find correct terms and criteria to account for the concerns in another. Each of these critics sees only the negative movement, the deviation from that standard mode of consciousness whose "vital center" Steíner cannot find represented in Jünger's writing. If Jünger has chosen an alternate center about which true experience is to orbit, one which does not lie within what Stern recognizes as the reality of "events" or a tenable and plausible "fundamental doctrine," then this would have to produce a division between two mutually incomprehensible domains. And if the language which represents Jünger's "truth" seems to the alternate view "abstract" or without life from one sìde, this begins, as Benjamin pointed out in relation to that enterprise he dates from Dilthey, with exactly the same response from the other.
Similarly, the living experience pursued in each of these two directions, and the validity of their esthetic achievements, will appear hollow and bogus to the other. But this is inevitable with any situation where there are two mutually exclusive ways of making meaning out of the world and the human condition in it. As Benjamin observes in his essay on Surrealism: "The dialectics of intoxication are indeed curious. Is not perhaps all ecstasy in one world humiliating sobriety in that complementary to it?"
Opinions on Jünger's work generally, on the quality of his writing, and especially on the "ecstatic" or "intoxicated" elements of the experience he portrays, vary according to the way the commentator identifies his own position relative to the tradition represented there, and the validity of a "mythic" stratum of being. Helmut Kaiser, for example, in his book Mythos, Rausch und Reaktion, which is written from the East German ideological perspective, refuses to acknowledge any genuine esthetic achievement in such work. Commenting on what is intended to be a moment of epiphany in the contemplation of a particular plant described in Auf den Marmorklippen, he observes: "One has to take his word for it that he was, as he himself says, pierced 'by lightning' at the sight of the plantain; he does not show it in the text."
Like Stern, he objects to the deliberate, and, for him, false efforts to create symbols which are as dead in conception as the world they are meant to signify is abstract and void of reality: "What the reader finds in his symbols are robots, perhaps spiritual symbols, but these are always defunct, paper fruits which were dead before they were born. Thus Jünger lacks precisely that on which art depends: a portrayal of the human sphere." This, Kaiser argues, reflects Jünger's retreat into the sterile isolation of private fantasy. He cannot accept it as a separate order of experience, for with these images "this meeting takes place in great solitude, mostly in dreams or in intoxications produced by particular alkaloids."
Such criticism of Jünger is clearly tied very closely to the perception that he stands in a line of development which includes Fascism. Benjamin actually concludes his comment on Dilthey by tracing that line through Klages to Jung who, he says, "made common cause with Fascism." Although Jünger in fact distanced himself from the Nazi party before it was established in power, and his political sympathies did not ally him with any very specific entity or policy among the actual choices, there is no doubt that in his theoretical positions he can be located very close to a fascistic or fascistic ideology. Indeed, in 1930, Benjamin wrote an article entitled "Theorien des deutschen Faschismus" on a volume Jünger edited, and in which he included the radically imperialist and militarist essay, "Die totale Mobilmachung."
Jünger's supporters, like Eliade, have often been simply indifferent to the question of ideology. In other cases—like the comments of the novelist Alfred Andersch, who was distinctly left-wing politically, and had a scrupulously anti-Fascist record—the connection between any occasional ideological lapses and the esthetic quality of his literary work is denied in plain terms. More recently, the very thorough, detailed and scholarly book on Jünger's work by Karl Heinz Bohrer, Die Ästhetik des Schreckens, has attempted to connect this particular approach to writing with that of a non-German, and politically more defensible tradition: French Surrealism.
The essential idea of this is not new. Many critics have referred to similarities between the two perspectives: their emphasis on the imagination, enraptured states of mind, the use of intoxicants to transform the shape of experience and the fascination with highly charged, shocking or even violent imagery. One will find that connection made repeatedly in Gerhard Loose's commentaries, to name just one. The special contribution of Bohrer's long and ambitious study is that it does not rest with enumeration of surface parallels, but endeavors to show that there is a deeper necessity running through the developing histories of each manifestation.
This argument takes the form, in part, of tracing their origins back to an anti-Enlightenment ancestry in figures of the late eighteenth century, including the Marquis de Sade on the French side, and J. G. Hamann in Germany. Commenting on remarks in the first (1929) version of Jünger's book Das abenteurliche Herz which mock the pallid lifelessness of the Enlightenment, Bohrer notes: "He probably took his philosophical support for this from Hamann, whose statement that 'thought' is the 'garment of the soul' he recalls. Hamann had put forward the priority of sensual cognition over philosophy in such a manner in 'Aesthetica in Nuce' that Aragon, had he known this text, would have felt an absolute identity with it." Bohrer's enterprise is taken severely to task by subsequent commentaries like Wolfgang Kaempfer's 1981 book on Ernst Jünger for having blurred a number of essential concepts and distinctions in order to establish his position.
It is true that Surrealism represents one instance of a repeating pattern in French culture of phases where a strong attraction for mythic, metaphysical or esoteric modalities recurs. Frequently this manifests itself in some enthusiasm for German culture, such as Baudelaire's response to Wagner, and indeed one might see the same thing at work in the current enthusiasm in France for Jünger's work. Nevertheless, there remain real distinctions here which it is quite wrong to overlook. Certainly nothing of this apparent parallel history mapped out by Bohrer through late Romantic pessimism and nineteenth-century estheticism accounts for the strong commitment to social revolution and political justice which André Breton and Louis Aragon espoused after the Moroccan War of 1925.
This difference can also be drawn into line with the distinction between the conception of intoxication to which they held, and that of the tradition represented by Jünger. What they hoped to release by the use of drugs may indeed have been a kind of antipodes to the experience of regular life in the bourgeois sphere, but it was by no means so distant an opposite as the elemental realm to which Jünger refers. On the contrary, the Surrealist understanding of the subconscious clearly posits it as still only an extension of the human sphere, not an alternative to it. Jünger's violent and harshly demanding mythic domain is one where the person not only transcends the narrow and bogus values of bourgeois individuality but also frees himself from all the desires of security, comfort, pleasure and happiness which animate the familiar experience of everyday life.
For the Surrealists, the subconscious was merely the home of a more vivid, vibrant and unfettered version of those desires. Thus although there is a real difference between the desire uncovered by revelation of subconscious contents of the mind and personality and that of the bourgeois domain, that difference does not involve breaking out into a realm which disrupts the integrity of the desiring subject. Surrealism simply subverts the false limits constructed about the enfeebled and conventionalized image of the bourgeois individual as defined by the relations and demands of a competitive economy and administrative structure.
Benjamin, in his essay on the Surrealists, notes how their emphasis on ecstatic experience as an opposition to that domain of purposes does indeed dissolve away the idea of the self determined by it: "In the world's structure dream loosens individuality like a bad tooth." Yet he sees an important dialectical element in their procedure here: "This loosening of the self by intoxication is, at the same time, precisely the fruitful, living experience that allowed these people to step outside the domain of intoxication." This is all-important to Benjamin, for, writing in 1929, the aspect of their work and their movement which strikes him as embodying its principal value is its place in the political awareness and struggle of socialist resistance to the rising threat of Fascism. The dialectical step beyond intoxication which is reached by entering into it is the beginning of a new realm of purposes, now directed toward the revolutionary transformation of social reality. This means that the intoxicated rapture of poetry must be carried over beyond the limited space of a momentary ecstasy, and sustain a renewed sense of the rights and potentials to be redeemed in all levels of actual human life.
Benjamin has hopes for their project to "win the energies of intoxication for the revolution," but he has doubts too. He wonders whether they are "successful in welding this experience of freedom to the other revolutionary experience that we have to acknowledge because it has been ours, the constructive, dictatorial side of revolution? In short, have they bound revolt to revolution?"
Their task is to step beyond the imaginative rejection of things as these make themselves known under the conditions of bourgeois knowledge, a rejection pursued into the alternative domains of art, literature, the occult and drug-induced raptures, and bring this exterior perspective to bear on the irrational self-contradictions of an ideology which insists on calling itself rationalism. The danger to which the are subject and which threatens their ability to complete this task lies in the "pernicious romantic prejudices" which lead to fascination with those alternatives as objects of desire and pursuit for their own sake. They are emphasized instead of the renewed possibilities of consciousness in political reality. They are a place of flight and complacent illusion. Understanding this is the key to all Benjamin has to say about the dialectic of intoxication:
Any serious exploration of occult, surrealistic, phantasmagoric gifts and phenomena presupposes a dialectical intertwinement to which a romantic turn of mind is impervious. For histrionic or fanatical stress on the mysterious side of the mysterious takes us no further; we penetrate the mystery only to the degree that we recognize it in the everyday world, by virtue of a dialectical optic that perceives the everyday as impenetrable, the impenetrable as everyday. The most passionate investigation of telepathic phenomena, for example, will not teach us half as much about reading (which is an eminently telepathic process), as the profane illumination of reading about telepathic phenomena. And the most passionate investigation of the hashish trance will not teach us half as much about thinking (which is eminently narcotic), as the profane illumination of thinking about the hashish trance.
The validity of exploration of such altered states of consciousness depends on the capacity to overcome that romantic attribution of separate reality which enthralls the mind and "takes us no further." That in turn depends on the understanding that the subject experiencing an altered state of consciousness remains in principle the same; the consciousness is essentially that of the same person, and the content of consciousness, the ideas and dreams, are those of the same person also, albeit revealed at a heightened level of intensity by the removal of inhibiting agencies and habits of mind. Although the Surrealists distanced themselves from Baudelaire's posture of religious and moral condemnation of drugs, their sense of how opium or hashish affected the economy of the mind was similar to his as expressed in Les Paradis artificiels, just as he followed De Quincey on the psychology of intoxication.
Baudelaire affirms, as does his English forerunner, the closeness of the intoxicated state to the norm which reigns in the drug-taker's life: "Dans ses Confessions, De Quincey affirme avec raison que l'opium … n'excite [l'homme] … que dans sa voie naturelle, et qu'ainsi, pour juger les merveilles de l'opium, il serait absurde d'en référer â un marchand de boeufs; car celui-ci ne rêvera que boeufs et pâturages." It is on this basis that Benjamin can demand that the revelations of ecstatic visions be made subject to the same criteria of knowledge as those of a sober state, just as the conventions of conformist ideology must be treated to the same skepticism as one applies to raptures and dreams.
Once again, he is highly suspicious of the excesses of Surrealism in its disregard for the seriousness of an objective knowledge. He cites a declaration by Appolinaire and Breton that "The conquests of science rest far more on a surrealistic than on a logical thinking" and rejects it because "such integration is too impetuous." The estheticism of this position has its equivalent in the pose of moral Antinomianism to which they likewise yielded too readily: "The seduction was too great to regard the Satanism of a Rimbaud and a Lautréamont as a pendant to art for art's sake in an inventory of snobbery." Nevertheless, there is a dialectical aspect in that apparent romantic fecklessness: "If … one resolves to open up this romantic dummy, one finds something usable inside." And that bears out the positive position adopted regarding the political currents of the time, for "One finds the cult of evil as a political device, however romantic, to disinfect and isolate against all moralizing dilettantism."
The estheticism, the antirational epistemology, and the cultivation of intoxications are all, therefore, directed away from the thinking which reigns in the established ideological domain, and yet remain close enough to the sphere of concrete life, the material issues of politics, that they may be drawn on in their behalf in a positive sense. Benjamin's response in Theories of German Fascism, on the other hand, finds absolutely no such positive aspect in Jünger's estheticism, which he regards solely as a rejection of human life and an abandonment in favor of mythic phantasm of the tasks imposed by the realities of concrete existence: "The most rabidly decadent origins of this new theory of war are emblazoned on their foreheads: it is nothing other than an uninhibited translation of the principles of l'art pour l'art to war itself." And he quotes his friend Florens Christian Rang on the confused otherworldliness behind Jünger's glorification of purposeless destruction, and the flight from reality into bogus ideal realms in this:
[The] horrible world-view of world-death instead of world-life … is made lighter in the philosophy of German Idealism by the notion that behind the clouds there is after all a starry sky. This fundamental German spiritual tendency in its depth lacks will, does not mean what it says, is a crawling, cowardly know-nothingness, a desire not to live, but also a desire not to die either…. For this is the German half-attitude towards life—to be able to throw it away when it doesn't cost anything, in the moment of intoxication, with those left behind cared for, and with this short-lived sacrifice surrounded by, an eternal halo.
This "starry sky" in its crisp clarity which justifies the blurry and abysmal vision of real life is given incomparably greater command over all things to deny and contradict them than the "Surreal" is given over the things of the "real." It does not just loosen individuality "like a rotten tooth," it completely dissolves away the particularity of the subject and his claims to a real place in the world.
The separateness of this ideal or "true" domain from the sphere of ordinary human interests and human life can be detected in that aspect of the psychology of intoxication where it would seem Jünger comes closest to agreeing with Baudelaire and De Quincey. In Annäherungen, the book of reminiscences and speculations about drugs which he put together in 1970 as a direct result of the train of thought begun by "Drugs and Ecstasy" and taking that essay as its first chapter, he refers directly to the observation in Les Paradis artificiels on cattle merchants and intoxicants. The idea that drugs do not add anything, but only potentiate the ordinary circulation of thoughts and impressions also occurs elsewhere—for example in comments written in 1940 in response to a book on E. T. A. Hoffmann. The difference from either Baudelaire, or De Quincey, or the Surrealists is that he is concerned neither with new ways of living in the same world, nor new knowledge about it.
He compares Baudelaire's position here with a poem on a similar theme by Goethe, "Die Schatzgräber." He rejects Goethe's admonition against vain efforts to dig for treasure one would not know how to possess. The objective is not to gain something new brought into one's possession from another dimension, but rather to transform one's existence by engaging in life focused on another center altogether. He writes: "Digging is never in vain, if it goes deep enough. Every point is equidistant from the center, wherever we put our spade to the earth. Every step leads nearer to the goal; that is also true for steps backward."
His agreeing with Baudelaire on the point that no new insight or knowledge is gained in intoxicated states does not imply that Jünger also concurs with Baudelaire's insistence that states of consciousness altered by drugs fail to break the singular dimension of common reality. The reason for this is that Jünger does not consider the issue here to turn on questions of knowledge. The order of transformation he envisages is not restricted to the elemental entering the mind in the form of anything so objective as a specific insight. Acquiring such insights in the modality of knowledge would mean that the knowing subject remained in essence unchanged. As a mere object, the elemental dimension would then be no more than an extended content in a vessel which might accept and hold it, but without undergoing transmutation of its own substance—an abstract enlightenment as opposed to vital participation. The alternative world of experience Jünger depicts is the transmutation of life itself as an expression of the elemental domain.
This may be seen most distinctly in the way he regards the experiences he went through as a front-line soldier in the First World War, especially as these are portrayed in his 1922 book Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis. Here he is concerned with unveiling the esoteric forces which manifest themselves in warfare, entirely unconnected with the apparent political and economic purposes the means of war are intended to attain. War is therefore a world unto itself, in the creation of which it is the other aspects of life that are secondary, and only means. The vision and experience of war are an intoxicating fever pitch of life. Only that which matches the overwhelming fury in the flood of impressions it sets loose is worthy of desire and worthy of being considered real.
In the chapter entitled Eros, he starts with an explanation of the double meaning of the soldier's hard and brutal pursuit of sex. It is both "the urge of life to express itself at the height of intensity once more, and flight into the thicket of intoxications so as to become oblivious in lust to the dangers that threaten." Sexuality figures at this stage as a much more intriguing counterpart to concrete reality than the simpler stimulation and oblivion produced by that other agency used to shift the accent of consciousness at the front, alcohol. It involves a more elaborate set of circumstances and a different kind of human context removed from the trenches, but the role it plays is not that of the tender restoration of personal existence in a relationship of love. The sexual encounter becomes a rare and separate point of vantage at which one kind of elemental experience sweeps through another. Love is transformed into an impersonal force, one that is more powerful than death, and therefore capable of obliterating the soldier's personal fear of death: "When his breath died away in the whirlwind of love he was so freed from the self, so entwined in the whirl of life, so infused in the eternity of all things, that for this moment Death appeared to him in its true aspect: small and contemptible. It was left behind, far below, when the curve of feeling shot steeply up beyond thinking."
It is significant that this is the point at which death is said to appear in its true guise, rather than the temporary disguise in which ecstatic erotic pleasure might be thought to veil it. The full implications are still not always articulated at this stage, for the idea still seems half lost in the rhetorical flourish of a mind fascinated by its own triumph over fear. He writes, in this vein: "Then, though only as a gift granted to those with the best blood, there came the intoxication at the spectacle of one's own daring." It is still an ecstasy, a fiery moment in which the heat of feeling lifts a spirit beyond the light of thinking. He ranks it together with other conventional figures of this experience: "And one last thing: ecstasy. This state of the saint, the great poet and the great love is also granted to great courage."
Such an experience does, however, have two phases. First it is a liberation, a breaking free of an ordinary place cramped among the oppressive desiderata of individual existence: "That is an intoxication beyond all intoxications, an unleashing that bursts every bond." But it is also an experience which brings the soldier into another sphere, uniting him with a larger reality: "Then he is melted together with the universe … it is as though the wave had glided back into the ocean's surge."
The abandon of wild ecstatic courage is a self-abandonment. It breaks away from the despised brief life of an individual and the enclosed, fragile existence he knows, to hatch out for flight through an experience beyond bounds. The things of the narrow world therefore undergo a reduction in significance. Their meaning in themselves is also abandoned; they must become indifferent as ends. Nothing may be desired for its part in the texture of ordinary human life. This ecstasy of self-forgetting weakens the links of consciousness to a domain of rational purposes and breaks loose from an identity anchored there. Consequently strength accumulates in the reality and attraction of what lies beyond, even though it may strike the person looking on from outside as strangely abstract and nebulous.
Yet for the soldiers this may grow beyond mere glimpses of a realm manifesting itself through those elements which fret and strain the tissue of the regular order of things. The war may supplant that order. A new and dangerous mythic reality takes form in its place. Out of the tormented fragments of such an existence, a fearful ideology takes shape. Those elements begin to take on a single meaning—as doorways to pass through into this fire: "All being blazed for them from one source, whether that was in a full glass, the raging eyes of the enemy or in the yielding smile of a girl."
This intoxication is the construction of a unified world where there is no unity in the reigning order of things. That is also why, beyond the particular experience of warfare, it becomes possible to subsume all the different fields of knowledge represented in Jünger's wide-ranging interests and writings under his singular view of the ideal or mythic stratum of being. In the same way, all the different areas of special knowledge represented in the contributions to the journal Antaios can be brought together as indications of a deeper, hidden knowledge to which they are all relative. In politics, that might appear to give the right to one tyrannical power to subjugate the varieties of human existence before a single expression of the mythic entity. Such was the ideological basis on which the Fascist movements were able to draw adherents from the ranks of "romantically" enthralled intellectuals nostalgic for life imbued with elemental meaning. In Jünger's case, however, any political engagement along these lines was always restricted to theoretical positions. Though he was intrigued by all violent and absolutist expressions of power, including those of Bolshevism as well as the Right, they also disgusted him in their actual reality.
No particular manifestation of political order could ever be an adequate or true representation of the Idea he traced into the darkness at the root of all things. But at the same time, the attitude of l'art pour l'art applied to the normal disciplines of understanding asserts an indifferentism between discourses. It produces an equality between fiction. Dichtung, and all attempts to claim truth in the rational pursuit of knowledge. Therefore, in the spirit of Dilthey and the Lebensphilosophie, it raises up the practice of poetry, as it does the idea of "Nature" and the "Age of Myth," to a degree of significance which completely distorts the role and function of fictional representation in language, and this, in turn, is a damaging affliction of the different fields of rational knowledge. It is not a dialectical development of consciousness through them, but rather leaves them lame, just as Jünger describes himself in his Paris journals as lamed by the image of Hitler, and, as he makes clear in those journals during the last year of the Second World War, incapable of taking any part in the resistance to him.
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 finds evidence of the ideological self-understanding of National Socialism: Hitler's descent from the clouds, the cathartic applause welcoming the charismatic leader, the visions of the medieval city, the presence of the unified folk including contingents of peasants in their traditional costumes, the rough-and-tumble life in the encampment, the mass chorus of the Work Front, the demonstration of the Hitler Youth, the celebratory display of banners, torchlight processions, and a soundtrack that mixes Wagnerian strains with patriotic songs and martial anthems. The list could be extended, and each item could be decoded and explained within the constellation of the rightwing populism, the völkisch ideology, on which German fascism thrived. That sort of investigation can have a compelling explanatory value in regard to the political content of the film. However, I should like to eschew the ideological-critical stance and investigate the rhetorical grounding of Riefenstahl's énonciation, an investigation that can shed light on a politics prior to ideological contents, that is, the politics of fascist representation. It is this rhetorical politics that will concern me later when I turn to Ernst Jünger's construction of a fascist modernism, and it is the examination of rhetoric that may allow me to answer the question posed initially: if the will triumphs, who loses?
Triumph of the Will begins, like most films, with script, with words on the screen, but this opening gesture takes on particular importance within fascist rhetoric. Elsewhere titles name the individual work, give credit to individual artists, and, perhaps, locate the precise historical setting. Here, by way of contrast, the writing on the silver wall invokes the history that has passed—history, or historiography, the writing of history, as past—in order to introduce the agent of its supersession: in the cloudy heavens emerges an airplane, the paradigmatic modernist vehicle, bearing the body of the divine leader, the guarantor of national resurrection, whose arrival on earth signifies the miraculous incarnation of the will triumphant. Henceforth history is overcome, and the jubilant folk rejoices in a redeemed present provided by the presence in flesh and blood of the visible savior. The point is not that Hitler lands in Nuremberg; the point is that Hitler lands in Nuremberg and is seen. "Wir wollen unsren Führer sehen" (We want to see our leader), cries the crowd, and the film, Triumph of the Will, defines itself as the proper medium of a fascist privileging of sight and visual representation. The will triumphs when it becomes visually evident, and it triumphs over the alternative representational option, cited at the commencement of the film, writing and an associated culture of verbal literacy. When the will triumphs as image, it is script that is defeated: the verbal titles of the cinematic preface, henceforth displaced by Riefenstahl's shots; the written signatures of the "November traitors"; the Versailles Treaty, denigrated as just so much paper; and the volumes that disappeared in the conflagrations of May 1933.
Triumph of the Will defines a fascist rhetoric as the displacement of verbal by visual representation: the power of the image renders scripture obsolete. This contention may be tentatively, although not conclusively, confirmed by two pieces of evidence. I draw the first from the folklore of fascism, the infinitely repeated vernacular attribution of Hitler's success to the unique power of his eyes that allegedly fastened his interlocutors and fascinated the captivated masses, as if the force of fascist rhetoric depended less on words than on the energy of vision (cf. the parallel claim that no one ever "read" Mein Kampf). I return to the film for the second piece of evidence, the self-effacing signature of the director. After Hitler's triumphal arrival and the evening demonstration outside his window, the cinematic narrative proceeds to the next morning, crack of dawn in Nuremberg—sleeping streets, the city walls, the ancient bridges—and for a brief moment one catches a glimpse of the shadow cast by the photographic apparatus. Note: not a glimpse of the apparatus itself (technology is excluded) but its shadow projected onto the wall as a metaphor of the cinematic screen. The signature announces the age of the film and the priority of visual representation as the rhetorical practice of fascism. Hitler turns out to be precisely the enigma described by the subtitle of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's cinematic investigation of National Socialism: "a film from Germany."
Much more could be said about the specifically rhetorical problems posed by Triumph of the Will, especially with regard to the status of speech in the film: the political speeches at the convention. Hitler's several addresses, and the text of the mass chorus. Briefly, I would argue that its verbal character is always secondary to the visual spectacle and the image of the present speaker, and that it therefore differs fundamentally from the initial script, the writing whose author is necessarily absent. A considerably more difficult problem involves the role of radio and loudspeakers in National Socialist Germany, an obvious case of disembodied speech, on which the power of the regime indisputably depended. Rather than pursue these matters, however, I will conclude these introductory observations, having used Riefenstahl's film in order to isolate a crucial conflict between visual and verbal representation, in particular the insistence on the priority of image over writing as a stratagem of fascist power. I call this a crucial conflict because it turns out to be the central rhetorical principle in Ernst Jünger's formulation of fascist modernism as described in his 1932 volume The Worker, bearing the telling subtitle Herrschaft und Gestalt, which I render inadequately as Domination and Form. For it is visual form that will, in Jünger's modernist account, displace an obsolete culture of bourgeois writing and guarantee the authority of fascist domination.
Jünger's proximity to the problematic isolated in Riefenstahl's film is evident in the first paragraph of the 1932 preface. I will cite it now and later comment on its rhetorical self-positioning, its claims regarding competing modes of representation, rather than on its ideological contents, that is, the significance of his terminology, such as "worker."
It is the plan of this book to make the Gestalt of the worker visible, beyond all theories, all parties, and all prejudices—to make it visible as an effective mass, which has already intervened in history and imperiously determines the forms of a transformed world. Because this is less a matter of new thoughts or a new system than of a new reality, everything depends on the sharpness of the description, which demands eyes capable of a complete and unclouded vision.
It is nearly unnecessary to underscore Jünger's insistence on the urgency of visual representation. The project of his book amounts to a making visible (sichtbar zu machen) of a form (Gestalt); this in turn leads to a presentation that demands eyes (die Augen voraussetzt) with an unclouded vision (denen die volle und unbefangene Sehkraft gegeben ist). The desideratum of sight and form, the image of images, pervades the text, which consequently defines its rhetorical mode as descriptio—to be understood less in terms of the etymology pointing toward writing (be-schreiben) than as a project of visualization to be carried out by writing. Imagistic vision is then set in contrast to an alternative constellation of theories, parties, and prejudices, a domain of ideas, defined as mere ideas, that is, separate from reality. The descriptive representation of Gestalt has powerful practical consequences (die bereits mächtig in die Geschichte eingegriffen), as opposed to the ultimately powerless ephemera of "new thoughts or a new system," "System"—a standard Nazi pejorative for the Weimar Republic; Jünger is suggesting in 1932 that a new order of power, structure, and form will replace an anachronistic amalgam of empty theories, political parties, and effete idealism. This paraphrase points out the underlying diachronic presumption, the transition from a bourgeois age of subjective interiority, the site of literary culture, to a postindividualism of visible power. This transition is central to Jünger's political ideology, his hostility to democracy, and his totalitarian preferences. It is, moreover, central to his aesthetics; the disparagement of a powerless culture of idealism and the advocacy of artistic formations (Gestaltung) with life-practical ramifications are homologous to the terms of the modernist attack on the bourgeois institution of autonomous art such as Peter Bürger has presented in his Theory of the Avant-Garde.
In The Worker, Jünger undertakes myriad permutations of these themes, but the overriding concern remains the Gestalt, the visual form or structure: "The Gestalt contains the whole, which encompasses more than the sum of its parts and which an anatomical age could never achieve." Here Jünger borrows from a reactionary strain in German romanticism running through Wagner and Langbehn that denounced the analytical intellect and the individuation of bourgeois society; in the Gestalt, Jünger discovers synthetic power. "It is the sign of an imminent epoch that one will again see, feel, and act in the thrall of Gestalten." Again Jünger declares an epochal transformation and emphasizes the practical ramifications (handeln) of the Gestalt. "In politics too everything depends on bringing into battle Gestalten and not concepts, ideas, or mere illusions." The force of the Gestalt is set in contrast to the forms of subjective consciousness, denounced for their irrelevance. Thus the Gestalt is capable of totalization, it is practical, and it is therefore superior to the verbiage and concepts of autonomous culture. The visual Gestalt displaces the terms of writing. The fascist Gestalt displaces the bourgeois who was never a Gestalt but only an individual, a mere part, in an "anatomical," which is to say, analytic or atomistic age. It is finally the heroic Gestalt, the will incarnate, plain for all who have eyes to see, whom Riefenstahl brings to Nuremberg, to wipe away the writing and everything that writing represents.
Before proceeding with my discussion of The Worker and the particular character of the descriptive rhetoric of fascist representation, I want to explore some aesthetic and aesthetic-historical aspects of the problem of fascism and modernism. Fascism and modernism—that is a touchy combination. Postwar criticism, at least in the West, was eager to exclude from serious discussion literature complicitous in fascism. A conservative humanism attempted to escape the political turbulence of the twentieth century by turning its gaze toward the values of an unimpeachable occidental tradition with which one could hope to overcome the political catastrophes of the present. The same exclusionary move could of course be repeated on the left, for example, Sartre's reading Céline out of the French literary tradition. A further case that makes the issue clear; the efforts by the defenders of Ezra Pound to separate his poetic from his political imagination in order to canonize the former while relegating the latter to the domain of insanity, as if modernist innovation were necessarily separate from or even opposed to fascist totalitarianism. Meanwhile, during the first postwar decade in Eastern Europe, when the Lukácsian paradigm held sway (before the Hungarian Revolution of 1956), an association of modernism and decadence tended to lead to a collapsing of modernism and fascism tout court. That may overstate the case and do the critic Lukács some injustice, but it certainly corresponds to widespread political judgments associated with the aesthetics of socialist realism in that period. Classical critical theory, anxious to develop a general account of fascism, did little better in formulating a specific account of fascist aesthetics, although it provides a wealth of insights and comes close to an answer in the exchange on surrealism.
Recent critical work has begun to move beyond both the absolute separation of fascism and modernism and the thorough identification of fascism and modernism. Several preliminary points can be made. First, against efforts to prohibit a thematization of fascism within literary criticism, one notes that a considerable number of authors, whose works are irrefutably embedded in modernism, were drawn to various models of fascism: Marinetti, Céline, Maurras, Pound, Lewis, Hamsun, Benn, and Jünger, Second, against (socialist realist) efforts to collapse fascism and modernism, one notes the plethora of clearly modernist authors to whom it is patently absurd to ascribe an association with fascism: Brecht, Kafka, Mann, Döblin, Proust, Sartre, Joyce, and Woolf. Therefore if one were to endeavor to set the poetics of the modernist authors attracted to fascism in some resonance with their political proclivities, then the resulting model (or models) would not be adequate as accounts of modernism in general. A fascist modernism would have to be distinguished from competing versions that, as also modernist, are likely to display certain affinities or homologies, but that will be clearly distinct variations of the modernist problematic. Finally, the aesthetic profile of models of a fascist and a leftist and a liberal modernism ought to highlight aesthetic features and not concentrate on the political deeds of the historical individuals. Writers near political movements may always tend to be eccentric figures, outside of the inner circle of institutionalized political power. The proper question for literary critical inquiry has to do with the extent to which the political imagination of the author or the text (which may be extraordinarily eccentric when measured against the standard of the established political power) contributes to the construction of an aesthetic project and, in particular, one that can be labeled characteristically modernist.
In order to describe three competing models of modernist aesthetics—all of which are initiated by political motivations—I begin by limiting the term to its normal usage, parallel to the connotation of the term "modern art," that is, the radical aesthetic innovation that commences around 1900. Whether the proper dating begins somewhat earlier (with Heine and Baudelaire) or later (the generation of 1914) is less important than distinguishing this sense of the "modern" from the larger usage of a postmedieval modernity suggested by the German term Neuzeit. In his Theory of Communicative Action, Habermas works with this second, epochal model and, drawing on Weber and one strand in Adorno's thought, describes the differentiation of a particular aesthetic value-sphere undergoing a linear progress of autonomization. More sensitive to the vagaries of aesthetic representation in the twentieth century, Bürger insists on a rupture in the trajectory of autonomization produced by the historical avant-garde movements. In this context, I cannot even attempt a critique of Bürger's analysis of that rupture and I cite him only in regard to his insistence on the distinction between, on the one hand, an aesthetic culture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and, on the other hand, one of the avant-garde and modernism (I will also bracket a discussion of the exaggerated distinctions between modernism and the avant-garde).
These reflections on the theoretical construction of a category of modernism indicate the need for a nonmodernist foil, a countermodel of bourgeois culture against which one indeed finds all the aesthetic innovators of the early twentieth century railing: the art of the Victorian or the Wilhelmine establishments is regarded as just so much philistinism, historicism, sentimentalism, ornamentalism, and so forth. The key features of that countermodel include: (1) a developmental teleology, especially in the linear narratives of the Bildungsroman as well as in the bourgeois drama; (2) a thematics of identity-construction for the bourgeois subject undergoing the development; (3) an aesthetics of fictionality guaranteeing an autonomy, that is, a separation of the work of art from immediate life-practical concerns. It is this third point that Bürger underscores, singling it out as the object of attack by the historical avant-garde movements in order to sublate art and life-practice. That attack also leads, I contend, to a revision of the other aspects of the model—teleology and subjectivity—and all three aspects are lodged in an ostentatious antibourgeois gesturing that often induced an explicit politicization, particularly in the context of World War I and its aftermath. The moment of modernism was marked by the belief in the confluence of aesthetic and political change. The optimistic and perhaps self-serving assumption of modernist writers was the claim that literary innovation stood in some easy correspondence with political innovation. Hence the political motivation behind the competing modernist models.
Modernism was constituted by what it perceived to be the bourgeois aesthetics of autonomy, that is, teleology, identity, and fictionality. I identify three ideal types of German modernist aesthetics—fascist modernism, epic leftism, and liberal modernism—each of which proposes homologous alternatives to the terms of autonomy aesthetics. In place of bourgeois teleology, fascist modernism operates with iteration, a perpetual repetition of the same, suggesting the eternal return of a cyclical history. In place of identity-construction, it offers the spectacle, unnuanced and unquestioned, the authoritative presence of Jünger's aestheticized battlefields; in place of fictionality, it denounces escapism and claims for its texts a curious pseudodocumentary status. Hence Dinter footnotes his völkisch novels with alleged proofs, and Jünger prefers the memoir; he does not turn to the novel form until the mid-1930s, when, as in the case of Benn and Heidegger, a disappointment with the reality of the fascist revolution began to induce minor revisions of the positions held earlier.
Epic leftism replaces development with static examples of false consciousness (Döblin's Biberkopf), identity with dialectical constellations (Brecht), and fictionality with an operative aesthetics of documentary literature (Ottwalt). For liberal modernism, the corresponding features are seriality (Mann's Doctor Faustus), ambivalence (Broch's Bergroman), and the objectivity afforded by essayism (Musil). This map is of course only a map and would need extensive elaboration. I mention it in order to locate a fascist aesthetics within the modernist field next to alternative versions of German modernism. This is a necessary task, since Jünger himself underscores only the diachronic component, fascist aesthetics as a critique of an obsolete autonomy aesthetics, and does not recognize simultaneous but alternative critiques of the same autonomy aesthetics. Nevertheless this map has in fact only placed modernism as a catalogue of aesthetic categories. It has not yet led us much closer to the answer to the question that I began to examine before regarding the rhetoric of fascism: is there a specifically fascist politics of representation? Now I add an additional question: how does fascism subvert its own claim? Do immanent contradictions erode the flaunted stability of fascism? To find the answers, it is necessary to return to The Worker and to investigate a rhetorical micropractice in Jünger's text.
In the second part of The Worker, sections 58-67 bear the title "Art as the Formation (Gestaltung) of the World of Work." Since the whole book is devoted to the project of producing form as visually evident, the question of representation is not at all restricted to these passages. Everywhere the grand theme is the imposition of contours and the description of surface structures. There is no longer any inside and outside; there is no longer any above and below but only a ubiquitous constellation of power as form. Therefore the whole book enters a plea for the projection of the categories of art onto everyday life, an "aestheticization of politics," to use Benjamin's designation of fascism. In sections 58-67, Jünger consequently does not articulate a separate aesthetics, describing instead the separation of a sequestered aesthetic realm as itself anachronistic. Autonomous art is an expression of the obsolete bourgeois world view, that is, in place of an explicit aesthetic theory, Jünger provides a fascist version of the end-of-art theorem.
For Jünger, bourgeois conceptions of aesthetic autonomy are corollaries to the modern, that is, postmedieval (neuzeitliche), constructions of individuality. Despite the fragmentation of the universalist claims of the Catholic Church and a sweeping process of secularization, bourgeois individuality remains grounded in the tradition of the Christian soul. The constitutive categories of the autonomous personality recur in the autonomous work of art as the discourse of the individual genius: "The history of art appears here above all as the history of the personality, and the work itself as an autobiographical document." As the bourgeois individual loses legitimacy—Jünger counterposes him to the soldier in his war memoirs of the twenties and to the worker in 1932—so does the bourgeois understanding of art. In the era of total mobilization, autonomy in no field can be tolerated. To the extent that bourgeois culture still plays a role, it merely provides an escapist refuge for a privileged few, while impeding the urgently necessary decisions in the ongoing state of emergency. Jünger has nothing but contempt for the manner in which the Weimar state draped itself with signs of culture, the portraits of writers and artists on stamps and currency, as compensation for its inability to master the political crisis. "It is a kind of opium that masks the danger and produces a deceptive sense of order. This is an intolerable luxury now when we should not be talking about traditions but creating them." Bourgeois autonomy has run its course and can no longer claim the allegiance of the generation of the trenches: "Our fathers perhaps still had the time to concern themselves with the ideals of an objective science or an art that exists for itself. We however find ourselves clearly in a situation in which not this or that but the totality of our life is in question"—thus the fascist version of the modernist hostility to the culture of the philistine nineteenth century. In place of philistinism and autonomy aesthetics, Jünger advocates a postautonomous, postmodern culture that structures life-experience within an overriding Gestalt of authority. He identifies public practices likely to organize the masses and abolish private identity: film, architecture, urban planning, Landschaftsgestaltung—practices that are inimical to the victims of fascist modernism: subjectivity, privacy, and writing.
I turn now to a passage that I consider particularly important, not only because it again repeats the critique of autonomy aesthetics—such repetition corresponds to the iterative aspect of fascist modernism—but because it does so with a phrase that will allow me to unravel the textual web and explore the politics of fascist representation. Jünger first identifies a parasitic artistry (schmarotzendes Artistentum) that, like standard bourgeois art, sets itself apart from life-practice but that, in addition has lost the genuine values of earlier generations. Clearly the object of attack is contemporary innovative art, which, for Jünger, is not only bourgeois (which would be bad enough) but epigonic as well.
Jünger then proceeds to associate these degenerate artists with the advocates of an aesthetics of autonomy. Recall that, for Jünger, the insistence on the autonomous status of art represents an impediment to resolving the political emergency. He therefore accuses the proponents of autonomy of treason in a remarkable turn of phrase: "Therefore in Germany one meets this artistry with dead certainty (tödlicher Sicherheit) in close connection with all those forces on whom a hidden or overt treasonous character is written right across their faces (denen ein verhüllter oder unverhüllter verräterischer Charakter ins Gesicht geschrieben ist)."
Why does the accomplished stylist Jünger choose this phrasing? Whose faces does he envision and what is written across them? And what does this figure of speech tell us about the status of writing in fascist rhetoric?
Let me first complete the recapitulation of the passage in order to indicate the importance of the matter for the history of fascism and the status of literature within it. Jünger goes on to predict or, better, to look forward to the wrathful retribution these treasonous aesthetes will soon meet:
Fortunately one finds in our youth a growing attention for these sorts of connections; and one begins to understand that in this domain even just the use of abstract thought is tantamount to a treasonous activity. A new sort of Dominican zeal has the nerve to regret the end of the persecution of heretics—but have patience, such persecutions are in preparation already, and nothing will hold them back, as soon as one has recognized that for us a factual finding of heresy is called for on the grounds of the belief in the dualism of the world and its systems.
Clearly Jünger is not, as he has recently claimed in retrospect, merely describing an objective historical process but rather applauding the impending initiation of a new inquisition in order to purge Germany of the heresy of dualism, that is, the claim that autonomous dimensions of human activity might operate outside the structure of power. The general heresy exists in several versions; he speaks of materialist and spiritualist positions that appear to be mutually exclusive. He must be referring to Marxist materialism and conservative idealism, the twin opponents of fascism that the Nazis would name with the crude alliteration of "Rotfront and Reaktion." Despite their apparent antagonisms, Jünger insists that both have a fundamental hostility to the survival of the German Reich: November treason in art. Both are implicated in an ultimately bourgeois discourse of an emancipatory narrative; both propagate the enervating nihilism of dialectical thought, shattering the totality into an endless series of antinomies; and both are blind to the Gestalt of Herrschaft.
The passage, especially the description of opponents with treason written right across their faces, immediately suggests several points. Recall that their crime involves the advocacy of autonomy, that is, the separation of art and, more broadly, all representational practices of culture from life-practice. Jünger's image denounces that belief by reducing the distance between writing and the body to nil. The body of the text is transformed into the body as the text, as if Jünger were already preparing to tattoo the victims of the emerging Dominican zeal. Jünger metes out a punishment fit to the crime: the proponents of bourgeois idealism learn about the materiality of language, aṡ script branded in their flesh, across their faces.
In addition to this corporealization of writing, homologous to the appearance of Gestalt and the incarnation of the will in the body of the leader, the passage betrays a simultaneous hostility to particular identity. The victims are guilty not simply of treason but of having treason written across their faces, thus rendering them identifiable. Because they emerge as particular, they are fair game for particular persecution. Jünger does not like their faces because he does not like faces, that is, the representation of an individual personality, at all, especially those that are constituted by writing. The vision of persecution to which he looks forward anticipates the book-burnings of 1933, which can be considered not only as political demonstrations but as literary acts, the fascist realization of the generally modernist posture of iconoclasm toward a literary culture deemed traditional.
Beyond these explicit ramifications of Jünger's figure of the inscribed physiognomy, the passage is implicated in fundamental aspects of fascist representation. I want to isolate three points and comment on each of them: (1) the moment of recognition and the priority of vision (sight and the faces); (2) the perception of particular identity through a characteristic marking (writing as scar); and (3) the antipathy toward a symbolic order and the imaginary desire to escape writing.
1) Throughout Jünger's oeuvre, a series of descriptions defines the dimension of sight and its counterpart, physiognomy, in both negative and positive versions. The sentimental bourgeois, with sight clouded by emotion, is out of place in the age of total warfare, for "it is not the time to read your 'Werther' with tearful eyes." Eyes trapped in the darkness of bourgeois interiority cannot provide the clarity of vision demanded at the outset of The Worker. Moreover it is writing, a founding text of German bourgeois culture, Werther, that leaves its traces on the cheeks, traces that mark the individual as such, while they simultaneously distort his vision.
The positive Doppelgänger of the lachrymose bourgeois stares out from under the Stahlhelm, a physiognomy devoid of literacy or emotions but toughened by modern warfare into a calloused clarity:
[The face] has become more metallic, its surface is galvanized, the bone structure is evident, and the traits are clear and tense. The gaze is steady and fixed, trained on objects moving at high velocities. It is the face of a race that has begun to develop in the peculiar demands of a new landscape, where one is represented neither as a person nor an individual but as a type.
The right-wing critique of bourgeois individuality could not be more explicit; it announces the end of interiority and the emancipation of vision. The new man has unimpaired sight, just as the contours of his face take on the sharp and clear lines of Gestalt. Yet no lines of age deface the complexion of the eternal youth invoked by fascism. Ambiguity disappears. The face of the hawk-eyed soldier is the diametrical opposite of the image of a spectacled intellectual, a rigid mask without nuance.
Jünger's moment of recognition privileges the clear image of the soldier and then doubles the point by attributing to it a clarity of vision. Conversely, the bourgeois, who cannot see through his tears, is embedded in a literary culture of writing. Hence the treason of those whose faces are marked by writing: they disrupt the presence of the image with the mendacity of words. Jünger's fascist modernism promises to liberate the imaginary from the Jacobin tyranny of the symbolic order. It draws on a long-standing reactionary tradition, a Wagnerian formulation of which can help us identify Jünger's traitors. Polemicizing against the actor Josef Kainz, Wagner writes: "One's impression is as though the Saviour had been cut out of a painting of the Crucifixion, and replaced by a Jewish demagogue." It is not Christ but Christ's image that concerns Wagner, but the point is moot since Christ as the visible incarnation is image and is threatened by the Jew as language and the people of the Book. Based on the Old Testament prohibition of graven images, the aporetic construction of Wagnerian anti-Semitism contrasts the visible Gestalt with an alternative defined as verbal and hence inimical to visual appearance. Wagner's logic is perversely consistent when he continues: "A race whose general appearance we cannot consider suitable for aesthetic purposes is by the same token in capable of any artistic presentation of its nature." Because their God is invisible, Wagner denounces the visible appearance of Jews and considers them a threat to any representative images. The legacy of Wagner's anti-Semitism recurs in Jünger as the contrasting physiognomies and the agonistic confrontation of Gestalt and writing. Figures with writing in their faces are Jews: "And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes" (Deuteronomy 6:8). The phylacteries, the sign of treason, have become the mark of Cain by which the fascist modernist recognizes the enemy. The French racial anthropologist and fascist collaborator Georges Montandon entitles a pamphlet Comment reconnaître le Juif? Jünger's answer must be: by signs of writing.
2) Signs of writing in the face mar the image and make it particular. The scar produces identity, be it the wound received by Rotpeter in Kafka's "Report to an Academy" or the vernacular understanding of the significance of the tattoo, as expressed in an advertisement: "Who you are / What you stand for / On your skin / If you like—forever." Scarring the face in the ritual dual, the Bestimmungsmensur, a key element in German student culture, survived despite an imperial prohibition of genuine duels in 1883, various papal encyclicals, and the agitation of the Deutsche Antiduell-Liga, founded in 1902; if the social function of the Schmiss had to do with the production of the signs of an elite, its expressed purpose involved the preservation of individual honor and the strengthening of the participant's personality. Jünger could recognize treason "written right across their faces" because that writing, the scar, produced individual identity, which was anathema, as we have seen, for fascist modernism.
This connection is confirmed by the discussion of the scar of Odysseus in the first chapter (written in 1942) of Erich Auerbach's Mimesis. When Odysseus returns to Ithaca, the servant Eurykleia, who had nursed him as a child, recognizes him by a scar on his thigh, as if the marking on the body were the locus of the personal identity that Jünger detests. Auerbach describes how Homer interrupts the narrative at the moment of recognition in order to recount how young Odysseus, visiting his grandfather Autolykos, received the scar. The wound marks the body and marks the rite of passage from a preliterate infancy to a symbolic maturity associated with writing and language. This suggestion goes beyond Auerbach but is compatible with his argument that the interpolated incident does not heighten suspense; instead it testifies to the mimetic impulse in the Homeric text to encompass the world with language and to omit nothing from the verse. The scar on the body that grants Odysseus identity and personal language also generates the expansive agility of poetic language.
Auerbach juxtaposes the story of Odysseus' return with the sacrifice of Isaac in order to contrast Homeric and biblical narration. Critics have however pointed out the fundamental similarity, the thematic concern with the production of male identity in barely hidden practices of ritual scarring. When Jünger denounces the marked bodies of his opponents, he participates in a sublimated anti-Semitism by articulating a displaced critique of circumcision. His critique of identity is a fascist critique of male identity. Patriarchal culture depends on the symbolic order of law and language; fascist anti-patriarchy, which is always implicitly an attack on the patriarch as Jew, is an attack on the practices of writing in order to resurrect the imaginary as Gestalt, the visible body without stigmata, descending from the clouds over Nuremberg.
3) "Written right across their faces"—the scar in the face is a long-standing topos of the writer. It is because of a scar of irresolution that Montaigne, in his essay "Of Presumption," chooses a private life of writing and abjures the courtly public where kings are represented in portraits. The writer Jünger abhors that bourgeois privacy and casts constant aspersion on "the desks of Europe" where the culture of literacy takes place. The fascist modernist denounces identities constituted by language, while expressing a desire for the image freed from verbal mediation. Of course both this denunciation and this desire are themselves lodged in language. Jünger's prose searches for the Gestalt, which is outside of language, by means of language. Its descriptive parole is committed to the abolition of langue. Similarly Jünger hopes to be able to recognize the new post-bourgeois type who, by definition, can have no identifying features. This slippery rhetorical situation can be analyzed through the parameters of the trope of ekphrasis.
Ekphrasis was the primary technical option in the speech of praise (epideixis or panegyric) that, during the Roman Empire, overshadowed the other two objects of classical rhetoric, judicial and deliberative speech. It profoundly influenced the poetry of late antiquity and the Middle Ages. For Ernst Robert Curtius, ekphrasis is above all laudatory description, accounts of beautiful persons and landscapes, leading to the topos of the locus amoenus, in the tradition of which the sensuous spectacles of Jünger's battlefields have to be placed. However, as a description of beautiful objects, ekphrasis has a somewhat more precise usage, which Leo Spitzer articulates with reference to the definition of the trope provided by Théophile Gautier, "'une transposition d'art,' the reproduction through the medium of words of sensuously perceptible objects d'art (ut pictura poesis)." Classical examples include the descriptions of the ornamental shields of Achilles and Aeneas and of various cups, garments, and sculptures. The term is occasionally extended to include descriptions of poetic renderings, e.g., the interpolated narrations included in the Metamorphoses, although this usage certainly goes beyond the limits suggested by Spitzer. In either the limited or this extended sense, ekphrasis has to do with the verbal representation of aesthetic representation. It functions either to interrupt the course of the narrative (like the account of Odysseus' scar which is ekphrastic only if one accepts my suggestion that the scar is an instance of writing or aesthetic marking) or as an allegorical interlude: Achilles' shield reproduces the cosmos and Aeneas' shield predicts the future. "Its images of Roman history chart the course of destiny in which the hero must play his inevitable role and illumine the similarity between his own deeds of violence and those of his descendants." The proximity to Jünger's military fatalism is evident.
However, the connection between this aspect of classical rhetoric and fascist modernism is not merely thematic, Jünger's descriptivism and his fascination with the visible Gestalt are ekphrastic in a new and revealing manner. The authors of antiquity devote special attention at particular moments to works of art, as if art were already a relatively autonomous sphere, separate (no matter how integrated) from the rest of the narrative, to which the author would return at the conclusion of the aesthetic description. For Homer the whole world and all its details can of course be mastered by poetic representation, and Auerbach could therefore contrast the Homeric text with the sparse abstraction of the biblical epic. This does not mean that the Homeric cosmos is always aestheticized in advance or that the work of art is indistinguishable from all other dimensions of human activity. Yet this is precisely the case for fascist modernism where the aporia of bourgeois autonomy is sublated through a universal aestheticization. The writer approaches a cosmos that is only art, and he can only recount its aestheticized Gestalt. Ekphrasis becomes the sole option of a literature that takes the classical admonition to an extreme: ut pictura poesis.
I have tried to demonstrate the ekphrastic character of Jünger's rhetorical stance not only to identify the continuity of certain topoi—from the shield to the Stahlhelm, from locus amoenus to Langemarck—but to investigate the politics of representation in fascist modernism. Ekphrasis necessarily implies a double dialectic: it invokes as present a missing object, and it appropriates speech to produce a visual image. Each of these points is worthy of consideration with reference to Jünger's writing.
Ekphrasis conveys the desire for an absent object, which Jünger attempts to redeem as Gestalt, just as the Gestalt of Hitler arrives in Riefenstahl's Nuremberg as the vehicle of national resurrection. A regenerative aesthetics pervades much of European fascist ideology; the object that is missing has to be retrieved from death, Jünger's writing constitutes an extended project to overcome the mass death of World War I. In The Worker he asks: "What kinds of minds are these that do not know that no mind can be deeper or wiser than that of any of the soldiers who fell on the Some or in Flanders?" Jünger, the intellectual, is prepared to sacrifice intellectual identity in order to revivify the anonymous cadavers of the war. Ekphrastic writing becomes an exchange, a sacrifice of atonement as payment for the absent bodies. Because bullets have robbed them of their subjectivity, Jünger makes a career of denying his own and repressing his pain. This self-denial and repression account for the banality of his contributions to the controversy around his receipt of the Goethe Award: a fundamental inability to give serious consideration to the consequences of his fascist advocacy. Reminiscent of Hannah Arendt's Eichmann, Jünger's mental blockage is due to the trauma of the trenches. He is marked by the guilt of the survivor who cannot account for his having escaped death. When asked by an interviewer if he was sad to have survived 1914, he only objects to the coarse phrasing and adds that he "agrees with the ancient Greeks: those who fall in war are honored by men and gods. That would have been a good ending." He refers to his refusal to flee into a bomb shelter during a British air raid on Paris in 1944 (the incident is described in Strahlungen) as a "toast with death" (ein Bruderschaftstrinken mit dem Tode). Similarly when critics complain that he did not resist the Nazis adamantly enough after 1933, this testy response that opposition would have led to execution in a camp has all the earmarks of a classical psychoanalytic denial: as if he knew he should have acted differently and had met his death long ago.
His ekphrastic rhetoric is therefore both a desire for the absent object and a desire for the absence of the author. Jünger simultaneously undertakes resurrection and enacts his own death. In this gruesome exchange, the idealized physiognomy of the new man is the facies hippocratica: for Benjamin a critical tool to pursue the mortification of the artwork with an eye to redemption, for Jünger a prescription for the aestheticization of life as death mask without transcendence.
Jünger's version of the death of the author can be treated as one item in the history of German intellectuals responding to the catastrophes of war and holocaust. It is also implicated in the second dialectic of ekphrasis, the effort to appropriate language in order to surpass it with the production of image. This tension is a constitutive moment of the trope but comes to the fore in the ekphrastic rhetoric of fascist modernism. It corresponds to the displacement of writing by image in Triumph of the Will and to the emphatic prescription of The Worker where "it is no longer a matter of a change of styles [i.e., modes of literary expression] but rather of the becoming visible of another Gestalt (das Sichtbarwerden einer anderen Gestalt)." Fascism as the aestheticization of politics transforms the world into a visual object, the spectacular landscapes of industry and war, and this first renders writing solely descriptive only to proceed to the denigration of writing as not-visual. The author's hatred for identities constituted by the presence of writing in their faces is also a self-hatred of the author as writer. It is a writing trying to escape writing. In fascist modernism, the imaginary rebels against the symbolic order of language where the author, dependent on language, is necessarily at home. It is literature at the moment of the auto-da-fé, always about to go up in flames along with the identity of the writer. If Jünger's military thematics recall Virgil's account of Aeneas' shield, his constitution of a self-subverting writing is closer to the Ovidian version of ekphrasis, the perpetual destruction of the second-order narrators in the Metamorphoses: Jünger's decimation of his own subjectivity repeats the slaying of Marsyas, the death wish of the descriptive poet, fleeing language.
Fleeing language, the fascist rhetorician also flees time. The classical ekphrasis interrupted the linear progress of the surrounding narrative, drawing attention to a particular locus apparently impervious to the vagaries of temporality. In fascist modernism, ekphrastic representation resonates with the antiteleological bias that all versions of modernism share in their rejection of traditional bourgeois culture. I want to conclude with a remark on the organization of time associated with autonomy aesthetics and its critique at the moment of the modern.
Horkheimer and Adorno's account of Odysseus and the Sirens in the first chapter of Dialectic of Enlightenment describes the moment of birth of bourgeois aesthetic culture. It is a process of autonomization, insofar as the local myth, still embedded in primitive religious cult, is subjected to the force of enlightenment secularization and robbed of its apotropaic power: the song of the Sirens becomes the song of art. Henceforth art has no life-practical consequences, although the nonoperative character is experienced in different manners by the opposed classes in heteronomous society. Art is simply denied the slaves whose ears are plugged with wax, while the bourgeois adventurer can partake of aesthetic expression only at the price of binding his hands to the mast. This cultural autonomization is located meanwhile within the context of a victory over space: Odysseus, the first hero in the age of discovery, navigates unknown seas and subdues them, while his body, which is separated from art, also escapes danger. Mastering the globe, he lives to tell the tale, and this is the birth of history, the victory over the lyric entreaties of forgetfulness, which allows the constructions of narratives of teleological practice.
Because historical memory and aesthetic autonomy are consanguineous, the modernist attack on autonomy aesthetics begins to pull apart the intricacies of the Odyssean nexus. The distance between body and text is radically reduced, and experience undergoes a respatialization: Odysseus could traverse every dangerous terrain, while Jünger's hero remains in the field with neither personal past nor individual future. The optimistic temporality of linear progress is frozen, but each version of modernism records the end of history in a different way. Liberal modernism, as a rhetoric of irony, critiques structures of representation and explores the immobility of the present. Epic leftism, with its anticipatory hopes of radical revolution, operates as prolepsis and explodes the continuum of history. The ekphrasis of fascist modernism asserts the immutable presence of Gestalt and exalts the luminous positivity of visible power that will shine for a thousand years, uncorrupted by the infectious nihilism of writing. It glows with the light of the image; "the fully enlightened earth radiates in the sign of disaster triumphant."
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 from inner compulsion or immanent logic, is driven to acceptance of totalitarian behaviour which is characterised by its extreme dynamism. The structure of the essay reflects the emergence and crystallisation of what I call 'nihilistic-totalitarian syndrome' from its philosophical basis to a fully-developed intellectual current in the form of a new and total consciousness expressed in Jünger's early writings.
Nietzsche used history as the starting point of a reorientation of traditional Western philosophy. According to Nietzsche, modern man, in the genealogy of his basic concepts, has discovered that the idols which he shaped with his own hands—God, morality, reason, truth—are a broken reed, a golem which turned on its creator. Nietzsche was the genealogist of Western culture who found that its values were bereft of any significance whatsoever. For him, they were no more than superstructures, narcotic drugs or energy-pills which injected taste and purpose into a world without taste or purpose. Modern man has discovered that his God is an image which man formed with his own hands in self-protection, reason is a delusion and a fraud, morality, all in all, is institutionalised habit, and objective truth is an impossibility. Nietzsche looked at the nihilism of this epoch and diagnosed it in all its nakedness. Modern man was totally naked, a leaf tossed in the wind. Disillusioned with theology and disappointed with progress, he was suddenly aware of the vast abyss which threatened to swallow everything up, nihilism lieth at the door.
Nietzsche's method of exposure was to destroy prevailing illusions, those fictions which, useful for existence, hide the meaninglessness of existence. Nietzsche stripped the masks off, one by one, religion, politics, nationality, ideology. 'Nihilism stands at the door' and Nietzsche explained its appearance by invoking the inner logic of European history until that time: the cultural development of Europe with its Christian morality and rational philosophy. Secularism opened up a chasm: until that time Christian morality had served as a fictive defence against nihilism by endowing man with a definite value in face of the arbitrariness of the forces of creation and destruction. Morality, in short, had given a purpose to life and a significance to man. What, then, was the significance of nihilism as an opposing movement, or, to be more exact, as a movement opposed to itself? The answer is: 'the uppermost values become valueless'. Morality, which served as a degenerate instrument for the continuation of existence and a distorted will-to-power, prevented man from perceiving the depths of nothingness. But, at the same time, morality contained the very truths which worked against itself: morality was revealed as an illusion and turned against itself, the golem turned upon its maker.
Likewise, the belief—in the Christian and the Platonic version alike—that this world is an illusion, and that consequently the next world must be regarded as the real one, was also revealed as fictive. Nietzsche's analysis is the most radical possible: nihilism sprang logically and inexorably from the European-Christian tradition. In other words, Western culture was bound to end up in nihilism.
Nietzsche indicated two forms of nihilism. 'Active' nihilism was the starting point of modernism because it uprooted the old or normative values and institutions by denying objectivity, promoting subjectivity and individualism, and regarding the world as a totality and a work of art. Nietzsche's modernism recognised nihilism as a path to aesthetics: the value of the objective world being nullified, man made his private world into an aestheticism. 'Tired' or 'Passive' nihilism, on the other hand, consisted of 'attempts to escape nihilism without revaluating our values so far'. This was a reaction of fear before the chaos which opened up. What did this mean in practice? The liberation of man from religious beliefs led to an uprooting of man from his world. Man continued to search for something to hold onto outside himself, a supernatural authority.
Modern man looked for a new authority in something else: the rule of reason or the tyranny of history. In a different context, Nietzsche had said: 'extreme positions are not exchanged for moderate positions, but for contrary positions'. The man who lost his higher authorities succumbed to despair, but the supernatural authorities were not the contrary of this self-despair: they were its other face. In either case, man denied his own authority and projected it onto a dominating external entity: the religious tyranny of God, the intellectual tyranny of historicism, political religions, or self annihilation. External tyranny and self-negation are two facets of alienation, or, in other words, man's flight from himself.
The modern concept of alienation appeared only in the post-kantian world. Only when man had created his world according to the patterns of his consciousness did he ask himself why he had become enslaved to the world of his creation. According to Nietzsche's analysis, a nihilistic consciousness is the Archimedean point in the encounter between enslavement and freedom. A nihilistic consciousness is the guarantee of true freedom: modern man's awareness of his internalisation of the values of society leads to the uprooting of all values.
But Nietzsche went beyond the analysis of historical or functional nihilism—that is, beyond comprehending nihilism as a value—to metaphysical nihilism. As Heidegger said: 'Nothing and nihill … are concepts of being and not of value'. Nihilism is part of existence, and must be seen as it is, without searching for a transcendental refuge. Metaphysical nihilism is to be found here and now, and its meaning is not the denial of morality, the denial of the meaning of the universe, or eternal recurrence in the manner of the Stoics or Ecclesiastes. It is a terrified glance at existence as nothingness. In Nietzsche, 'things' do not exist: The 'Rausch' is dominant. The world is 'without form and void', and, if there is no A or B, then there cannot be any relationship between them, and words such as 'value', 'purpose' and 'truth' are meaningless. Seen in this perspective, 'active' nihilism affirms the reality of existence over its irrationality and disharmony.
It is illuminating to compare Nietzsche's grasp of the meaninglessness of existence with that of Albert Camus and Meister Eckhardt. In Camus, it is the absurdity of existence which is dominant, but Camus did not invalidate the material world, only the significance of that world. For Eckhardt, the mystic, this world also had no meaning, but he hoped to be 'swallowed up in God' and to lose his personality in some transcendental entity. Camus could have said: 'My kingdom is this world'. Eckhardt could have said: 'My kingdom is the kingdom of heaven'. Nietzsche agreed with Camus that there is no kingdom of heaven, and with Eckhardt that there is no kingdom of this world. For Nietzsche, there was no 'this world' and no 'next world'. Nihilism was integral to being, and yet, for all that, Nietzsche affirmed existence over meaninglessness.
The will-to-power was not a late manifestation of Nietzsche's philosophy which evolved as a counter-reaction to nihilism. The concept of the will-to-power was integral to Nietzsche's unmethodical method. The nihilistic consciousness and the will-to-power dwell together side by side, and both are the very essence of existence. 'This, my Dionysian world', said Nietzsche, 'of the eternally self-creating the eternally self-destroying.' The Nietzschean therapy of radical diagnosis lay in the existence of the will-to-power as a counterweight to nihilism. After having stripped off the masks of deception, illusion and preconception, Nietzsche concluded that the will-to-power, as the ultimate reality, constituted the fundamental condition of the world. Nietzsche conferred on the cosmos, purposeless and undefined, an immanent explanation in the form of an ontological-monistic factor, the will-to-power, and in this he may be regarded as the last of the pre-Socratics.
Among the other interpretations of the question that have been offered, I suggest that it is worth while to consider the conclusion reached by Nietzsche's positivist philosophy: namely, that beyond nihilism, there is either scepticism which denies everything, or freedom which affirms everything. It is precisely the meaninglessness of the universe which gives rise to the affirmation of destiny. Eternal recurrence is the most extreme form of nihilism. Zarathustra was the personification of the myth of eternal recurrence, and yet he showed the way to the superman. Spinoza's amor dei (love of God) was replaced by Nietzsche's amor fati (love of fate). Nietzschean nihilism adopted an absolute position concerning the rejection of objective values. Nihilism was the rejection of everything which deserved to be rejected, and this rejection paved the way for the affirmation and intensification of the will-to-power. The theory of eternal recurrence stripped all values of their value; the theory of the superman was an affirmation of all beings. The superman is both the person who says yes to the disharmonious universe and affirms fate as it is, and who says no to the value of values and to the very existence of a scale of values. The will-to-power and the nihilistic consciousness are the two faces of the superman.
The Nietzschean superman is a sovereign individual who confirms himself in his destiny. In other words, the superman, in his nihilistic consciousness, is committed to building up his will-to-power. Moreover, the greater his nihilistic consciousness is, the stronger is the basis of his will-to-power. Conversely without a nihilistic consciousness, no will-to-power can exist. A weak man lacking nihilistic consciousness, and with an effete will-to-power, joins his fellows and together with them creates a herd society. The superman fuses the critique of pure nihilism (nihilistic consciousness) with the critique of active nihilism (the destruction of dominant illusions), and this establishes the will-to-power. The superman beholds the naked reality and affirms it just as it is.
In his 'Who is Nietzsche's Zarathustra?' Heidegger analysed what he called Nietzsche's 'metaphysical thinking' and wrote: 'Nietzsche's thought of the eternal recurrence of the same is a fantastic mysticism, it would seem that the present age should teach us to know better: assuming, of course, that thought destined to bring the essence of modern technology to light. What is the essence of the modern dynamo other than one expression of the eternal recurrence of the same?'
In the Feschtschrift for Jünger's sixtieth birthday, Heidegger wrote: 'Your work Der Arbeiter provides a description of European nihilism in the stage which succeeded the First World War. "Die totale Mobilmachung" is derived from your study: Der Arbeiter belongs to the stage of active nihilism'. Heidegger connected Jünger's modern technological vision with Nietzsche's metaphysics. As he said: 'The being in its entirety appears to you within the light and shade of the will-to-power, which Nietzsche interpreted as a doctrine of values'.
Ernst Jünger saw the First World War as the most concrete manifestation of Nietzsche's existential, aesthetic and nihilistic outlook. In his early writings, Jünger depicted the war as an existential moment, a mystical experience, an earthquake which overtakes a man unawares. His In Stahlgewittern (The Storm of Steel), described the war as a beautiful, overwhelming modern experience. He aestheticised the experience of battle: 'I watched the slaughter …'. he said, 'as if I were in the loge of a theatre'. In Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis (Battle as an Inner Experience), the Jüngerian new man was 'the storm pioneer, the elite of central Europe. A wholly new race, intelligent and full of will, that emerges here in battle … Tomorrow he will be the axis around which life will revolve faster and faster'. The Nietzschean superman was distorted by Jünger into nationalist, elitist, powerful figure which found as existential significance in the First World War.
In his article, 'Die totale Mobilmachung' ('Total Mobilisation') which inspired Walter Benjamin's thesis on the aesthetiation of politics, Jünger glorified a society permanently mobilised for a total war. This total mobilisation was pure pleasure, something completely purposeless, a work of art: the battlefield was described as a 'spectacle', a 'volcano', a 'landscape'. Total mobilisation typified the new war and the modern society, whereas partial mobilisation characterised the nineteenth century. The First World War was a watershed point which witnessed a 'growing transformation of life into energy'. Work and war as manifestations of energy for energy's sake were metaphorical actions deriving from the metaphysics of the will-to-power. Man's metaphorical mastery of the universe was made possible by modern technology. Man's mastery of technology had no purpose except mobilisation for its own sake; the result was total mobilisation, in work or war. It represented an active nihilism, or a nihilistic will-to-power.
Technology had now superseded nature, but, in fact, as Jünger said in Der Arbeiter, 'technology and nature are not opposites'. The machine, as an act of will, imposes order on the modern chaos, and in this Jünger's nihilism reaches its climax, because his technology is entirely amoral: it has no rational or functional content. Here we have a revaluation of the idea of the machine and technology: once regarded as a functional matter of technique or utility, it had some to be considered the very essence of modern man. In Feuer und Blut, Jünger invoked Nietzsche to provide a legitimation for his nihilistic technology: 'Yes, the machine is beautiful', he said. 'It must be beautiful for him who loves life in all life's fullness and power. The machine must also be incorporated into what Nietzsche (who, in his renaissance landscape, still had no place for the machine) meant when he attacked Darwinism. Nietzsche insisted that life is not only a merciless struggle for survival but also possesses a will to higher and deeper goals. In the technology of the First World War, Jünger's superman made his appearance as 'homo mechanicus'. The idea, of this 'man of war' was to turn his body into a 'steel object' or a 'social machine': what Klaus Thewelit called 'the conservative utopia of the totally mechanical body'. The man-machine holism was well exemplified in the relationship between the soldier and the technology of war: 'We have to transfer what lies inside us onto the machine'.
The front-line soldier as the new man had two aspects: on the one hand, he typified the chaos of battle (to use J. P. Stern's expression), and on the other hand, 'total mobilisation'. Jünger's 'new men' comprised the Jüngerian order, which also had a dual character, or, in the words of Walter Struve, was characterised by quiet anarchy within a very rigid order'. A characteristic distortion of the Nietzsche ideal of the superman as a creature who creates himself may be found in Jünger's concept of the individual. He saw the '… individual as a means, not an end, as the bearer of power as well as freedom. The individual develops his higher power, develops domination in general where he is in a position of service … The deepest happiness of man lies in the fact that he will be sacrifice …'
In the Der Arbeiter Jünger's 'worker' is neither nationalist nor socialist, neither democratic nor revolutionary, but a technician: a member of the 'hierarchical state', the 'new order' or the 'work-state'. The 'worker' is a standardised creation who wears a uniform and is not a private individual but a type. Jünger used the term 'worker' to designate the type of the new man who supersedes the citizen (Burger) of bourgeois society and the 'class' with its Marxist consciousness. The 'worker' and the 'bourgeois' are not classes but a Gestalt. What is this Gestalt? Jünger wrote: 'Gestalt must be visible beyond the will and beyond history; it must also be visible beyond values. It does not presuppose any quality'. Technology is mobilised through the 'Gestalt of the worker', which Jünger saw as a holistic instrument for creating a new way of relating to the real world. Gestalt was for Jünger what myth represented for Georges Sorel, a passage from the physical to the metaphysical: 'In the Gestalt' he said 'lies the whole, which encompasses more than the sum of its parts.
Jünger's axiom 'from mathematics to metaphysics' found a paramount expression in work. His cosmological vision of work accorded the worker an ontological status, and related to work as energos, in the original sense of the Greek term as a manifestation of the energy in the universe which is found in man. Work effects a synthesis of human actions and natural energy by means of technology. War is no longer an end in itself, but a manifestation of the general phenomenon of work. The worker-soldiers no longer fight spontaneously but are systematically 'called up for work'. In the society mobilised for work and total war there is no longer any distinction between the civilian and the soldier between the front and the rear, between war and peace. In the state of the future war and work become identical concepts.
As Heidegger pointed out in his series of seminars on Jünger which he gave from 1936 to 1940 and from 1940 to 1946, Jünger's 'worker' is to be understood first and foremost as a metaphysical prototype which emerged from the modernism of the beginning of the twentieth century. This prototype was influenced by Nietzsche's Zarathustra, an embodiment of the metaphysics which prepared the way for the new man, in the same way as Rilke's angle, Trakle's stranger, Spengler's barbarian, Sorel's syndicalist, Wyndham Lewis's vorticist, and the Italian and Russian futurist. Jünger wished to depart from traditional European history; unlike Max Weber, he did not regard work as an expression of the Protestant desire for acceptance by God, and, unlike Marx, he did not consider it an expression of freedom or alienation. Jünger's 'worker' created the myth of the modern world. The essence of modernity was for him the total mobilisation of the worker as an existential style, and the metaphysical nihilistic consciousness as a normal condition.
Jünger evoked the memory of the first mechanised war in order to create a technological myth in which technology was no longer a function of man, but, on the contrary, directed, guided and moulded man and his role in the new hierarchical society. What the modern Jüngerian vision of technology has taught us is not how totalitarianism used technology for its own purposes, but how technology influenced the totalitarian and nihilistic conception of man. In other words, the modern Jüngerian vision of technology led towards a new political form of totalitarian nihilism.
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 within the military. According to his surviving, unnamed fellow-visitor, Fritsch summed up his view of Jünger's recitation with the sentence: 'This man would do well to retire', a judgement which Jünger considered both well-intended and entirely apposite.
The time alluded to here was the year 1919, when Jünger was stationed in Hannover in the Mittelstrasse 7a, in quarters traditionally popular with officers in service there. Thus he points out that one of his predecessors in the flat he was occupying then was none other than the old Paul von Hindenburg, the same man who had presented the coveted 'Pour le mérite' to him, with the sobering commentary that the awarding of such a high distinction had rarely been beneficial for a young officer. Jünger's proximity to the past and future leaders of the German army demonstrates how much he himself was part of this establishment at that time. However, in conjunction with Jünger's own comment that the classification 'Reader' in a personal file hardly constituted a recommendation for a successful military career, Fritsch's suggestion clearly indicates Jünger's position as an outsider in this circle.
The encounter with Rimbaud's 'Le Bateau ivre' occurs at an important point in Jünger's life—at a time when he ceases to be a soldier and begins to become a writer. On the advice of his father, he had begun to write the first version of the account of his experiences in the First World War, published at his own expense in 1920 under the title In Stahlgewittern. More than fifty years later Jünger would describe this venture, in striking agreement with the most recent commentaries on this period of this life, as an attempt to come to terms with an 'overpowering, indeed deadly experience', by means of writing—suggesting at the same time that this attempt might not have been entirely successful. In order to complete the transition which according to his own judgement fifty years later, the 'Bateau ivre' had 'almost' brought about in Jünger's life, a new attempt had to be made. This attempt resulted in the publication in 1929 of Das abenteuerliche Herz, which once and for all broke with the description of the wartime experience. Here, the choice between Bellona and Athene, which Jünger mentions later, has finally been decided in favour of the latter. It is worth noting that here too reference is made to Rimbaud's poem.
In his choice of Rimbaud as representative of the longing for a life beyond the confines of middle class existence, Jünger hardly had a claim to originality. Before the First World War Rimbaud had played this role in the works of Trakl and Heym, and after it, in those of Brecht and Klaus Mann. It is the attraction to this particular poem of this poet, and to the motif of shipwreck, which makes the case of Jünger special.
The theme of shipwreck that constitutes the central motif of Rimbaud's poem had been one of the favoured topics of European Romanticism. Its importance in the works of Eichendorff and Brentano has been demonstrated by Bernhard Blume, who shows that in both cases, shipwreck is seen in terms of a failure, whose consequences only could be overcome by divine intervention. However, Jünger never mentions these two writers in his works and diaries. The impact of Rimbaud's 'Le Bateau ivre' on Jünger in the early twenties seems to be based not only on the image of the shipwreck itself, but also on Rimbaud's reinterpretation of it as 'the end of an experience and the beginning of another', as a recent critic of the poem put it. The concept of failure implicit in this symbol is not seen, as Eva Riedel points out, as a termination, but as the precondition for a new existence.
An overview of Jünger's works from In Stahlgewittern to Eine gefährliche Begegnung shows how central for him was this metaphor in which he later saw a key for understanding our time. The survivor of the First World War uses it in various ways to describe the situation in the barrages of the Battle of the Somme, and his diary entries during the Second World War show that this metaphor has lost nothing of its attraction for him. This fascination is expressed in his often lengthy reflections on the collection of works on shipwrecks which he made during those years, as well as in his remarks on E. A. Poe's 'A descent into Maelström', a work in which he sees 'eine besonders gelungene Diagnose und Prognose unserer Zeit'. In his later readings of such events, the emphasis shifts from the problem of sheer survival to the idea of a new beginning, emerging out of adversity. This is evident, for example, in his diary entry of December 29, 1944. The same principle is also applied in a more general context.
In his comments on Isaiah, it is elevated in accordance with his neo-platonic world-view to a cosmic plane, whereby the prophet's apocalyptic vision of destruction and new birth is explained as 'eine Art Dreifelderwirtschaft …: irdischer Aufbau, Brache, geistige Frucht'. The same principle also underlies the biography of Lucius de Geer, the hero of his novel Heliopolis, in which he sums up the experience of his war years. The disaster which strikes de Geer becomes the basis for his elevation to a higher social and spiritual sphere. And it is certainly not fortuitous that the point of change is marked by a close call at sea.
These examples explain to a certain extent Jünger's enthusiasm for 'Le Bateau ivre'. They do not explain why this particular poem was selected by him at this point in his intellectual biography, and only then. Here, a look at the circumstances in which this poem was conceived, as well as those in which it was received, might help. Rimbaud wrote 'Le Bateau ivre', when he was about to break with his way of life in Charlesville, a fact to which considerable significance is attached by most critics commenting on this poem and this period of Rimbaud's life. Jünger encountered Rimbaud at a time when he was in the process of dealing with his First World War experience and was considering a career as a writer. More than fifty years later he describes his situation in those days in the following terms:
Es kommt mir vor, als ob er (namely, Ernst Herhaus, whose diary Der zerbrochene Schlaf Jünger comments upon here, [EK]), sich in ähnlicher Lage wie ich vor fünfzig Jahren befände: ein Übermächtiges, ja tödliches Erleben ist durch Autorschaft zu bewältigen. Gelingt es nicht, so droht Versandung und Wiederholung … So schilderte ich den Ersten Weltkrieg im Erleben von vier Jahren, dann eines Monats, endlich eines Tags.
In either case, this change to a new way of life could not be achieved at once. Rimbaud made several attempts to flee from Charlesville, before he finally joined Verlaine in Paris in September 1871. Following in the footsteps of his father, Jünger at first tried the career of a natural scientist with his studies in Leipzig, abandoning them in favour of the role of political activist and commentator. After the disastrous failure of his 'Schließt Euch zusammen'-appeal in 1926, he finally settled for the existence of a nonpolitical writer with the publication of Das abenteuerliche Herz in 1929. Three recent critics of Jünger's life and work, of such different persuasions as Gerda Liebchen, Hans-Harald Müller and Julien Hervier, agree that this work marks a new stage in Jünger's development as a writer.
It may be mentioned here that reference is made in two ways to Rimbaud in Das abenteuerliche Herz, in both cases, to underpin Jünger's idiosyncratic world view. Thus, he quotes these lines of 'Le Bateau ivre':
'Ich wollte, die Kinder hätten mit mir all die Arten Goldener und singender Fische gesehn'
as testimony for a view of nature opposed to the purely instrumental perspective of science or commerce. Besides Rimbaud, Dürer and Matthias Claudius are also referred to as typifying this view. The second reference to the French writer occurs in the opening paragraph in Das abenteuerliche Herz. This demonstrates the proximity of Jünger's concept of writing to that of Rimbaud, as formulated in his Lettres du voyant. Rimbaud had expressed his view thus: 'Car Je est un autre … Cela m'est évident: j'éclosion de ma pensée: je la regarde, je l'écoute…'. Jünger, justifying his interest in his own personality as a starting point for writing says: 'Einmal besitze ich das bestimmte Gefühl, einem im Grunde fremden und rätselhaften Wesen nachzuspüren'.
But here the similarity ends. Whereas Rimbaud proceeds to describe the transfiguration of the poet into a visionary, Jünger settles for the concept of the writer as a witness, and continues:
'Dann aber weiß ich auch, daß mein Grunderlebnis, das, was eben durch den lebendigen Vorgang sich zum Ausdruck bringt, das für meine Generation typische Erlebnis ist …'
The formal consequence of this decision is the choice of the diary as Jünger's favourite form of literary communication—one to which he adhered to both in his first work. In Stahlgewittern and in Das abenteuerliche Herz, as well as in Strahlungen and Siebzig verweht.
Once this period of transition from the soldier to the writer, from the chronicler of the war experience to the commentator of broader cultural issues, had been completed, Jünger's attitude to Rimbaud took a different turn. Where he still refers to him, it is in the context of cultural history, using Rimbaud's work as a marker for particular literary trends. Reflecting on Rimbaud in this way, he wavers between seeing him as one of the last representatives of nineteenth-century poetry, on the one hand, and, on the other, as one of the first precursors of modernity. This reflects a similar dichotomy in French literary criticism. Regarding Rimbaud's poetry as 'ein letztes Fanal … der kopernikanischen Dichtung', namely of traditional poetry, in Blätter und Steine as well as in Strahlungen he seems to share René Etiemble's opinion of Rimbaud's poetry, namely as inspired by the practices of 'les parnassiens'. In 1970 this view changes and Rimbaud is seen in accordance with the judgment of André Breton and Roland Barthes as one of the 'Kirchenväter der Moderne'. As far as Jünger's own readings at that time were concerned he seemed to prefer Verlaine's poetry to that of Rimbaud, noting that his copy of Verlaine's verses was among his most thumbed books. Verlaine, for whom, not unlike Jünger, writing was a means of stabilizing his existence, seemed at that time closer to him than the poet who fell silent at the beginning of his twenties.
Looking back to Jünger's beginnings, we note, however that together with Huysmans, Rimbaud is one of the French writers with whom he began his life-long dialogue with French literary figures, amongst whom the diarists had a particularly favoured position. It is a dialogue which might well have made its contribution to that 'humanistische Wende' which separates the early works of Jünger from his later ones. The encounter with Rimbaud's 'Le Bateau ivre', a work embodying many of Jünger's preferred motifs, appears in retrospect as that event which marked for him the début of his career as a writer, as well as providing one of those jolts which helped him in the end to abandon 'Bellona' for the sake of 'Athena'.
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 German Army. An allegorical attack on the Nazi Government, On the Marble Cliffs somehow eluded the censors and went on to become an international best seller.
In Aladdin's Problem, a novel that was published in German in 1983, Mr. Jünger sticks to the present and offers more metaphysics than politics. The narrator is Friedrich Baroh, a 37-year-old East German Army deserter who has fled to the West. Employed as a funeral director in a prosperous firm owned by his uncle, Baroh—with the help of his friend Kornfeld—dreams up a bizarre but wildly successful venture: Terrestra, a vast, international, ecumenical necropolis located in Turkey, which offers graves guaranteed for eternity. To his surprise, Baroh discovers that he has aroused a "primal instinct," a desire for some sense of permanence amid the planet's endless upheavals. Very soon, business is booming.
Baroh tells his story in a digressive, allusive, ironic monologue that combines autobiographical details—touching, for example, on his increasingly distant marriage and his aristocratic roots—with musings on such topics as nihilism, the ahistorical modern world, U.F.O.'s, the myth of progress, the absence of angels and the death of the gods, funerary rituals as emblems of culture and the problem of "power with its delights and dangers." (Think of Milan Kundera without the eroticism and you've got an idea of Mr. Jünger's aphoristic style.)
Despite his success as a capitalist, all does not seem to work out for Baroh. In fact, as the novel progresses it appears that he may be going mad. ("Given the sinister way in which our world is changing," he remarks, "almost everybody ought to be familiar with this mood, in which one begins to doubt rationality.") Then again, Baroh might be in the midst of a transforming spiritual experience, heralded by an otherworldly messenger called Phares.
A scholarly afterword by Martin Meyer suggests that Mr. Jünger has been heavily influenced by the philosophy of the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg. But you needn't bone up on Swedenborgian notions of spirit and matter to enjoy the wry humor and tersely poetic language in Joachim Neugroschel's graceful English translation of Aladdin's Problem. Readers will be stirred by its persistent and intriguing questions about the conflicts between nature and technology, the individual and the state, and by its examination of humanity's place in this wasteland of a world that we are rapidly creating.
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 priest, the warrior and the poet. To know, to kill and to create."
Even before the First World War, Jünger had already run away from his conventional middle-class family and served in the French Foreign Legion. During WWI itself he fought, for Germany, an entire four years in the front-line trenches; was seriously wounded seven times and was awarded the German equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Two of his books about his wartime experiences have been translated as The Storm of Steel and Copse 125. The first of these is a celebration of the exhilaration that Jünger experienced during combat while leading a unit of shock troops. "It was," he writes, "a good and strenuous life and the war for all its destructiveness, was an incomparable schooling of the heart."
After the war Jünger studied biology and pursued entomological research, publishing a number of books foretelling the rise of an inhuman technological society and the death of both the individual and of personal heroism.
Recalled to the army at the outbreak of the Second World War, he served notably in Paris where he was a sort of unofficial liaison between the German army and French intellectuals. After the war, the novelist refused to submit to any Allied denazification procedure on the grounds that he had never been a Nazi.
In the years since then Jünger has published a shelf of books: a series of visionary novels, an extensive diary that is a perennial bestseller in France, entomological research papers, volumes of travel writings, and even a book of recounting his experiences under LSD (administered by his friend, the inventor of the drug, Albert Hofmann).
Hitherto Jünger has been best-known in this country for two novels: the anti-Nazi parable On the Marble Cliffs, published originally and astonishingly in Germany in 1938, and the futuristic novel The Glass Bees (translated by poet Louise Bogan). In the newly translated Aladdin's Problem, first published in 1983, Friedrich Baroh, disguised scion of an aristocratic German family, delivers a monologue about the aftermath of the Second World War in Poland: Baroh is drafted into the Polish army, rises quickly and then defects to the West where he goes to university, marries and takes a position in his uncle's funeral parlor. After a visit to the cemetery at Verdun, Baroh conceives the idea of a vast mausoleum, to be built in Turkey, to provide a resting place for all the world's restless dead.
Such a bald description does little justice to the epigrammatic plot of Aladdin's Problem. However, the author himself provides, in the final section, another summary:
So far, my story is a statistical matter, under the subheading: Personal success after difficulties in war and civil war. These ascents occur not only in business, but also in art and science. Like a winning lottery ticket, they presuppose an enormous number of losers. Nor do I consider unusual that stage of nihilism in which I abide as in a waiting-room, half bored, half expecting the warning bell. Individuals become passengers, and it is surprising that the waiter still takes their order? Given the sinister way in which our world is changing, almost everybody ought to be familiar with this mood, in which one begins to doubt rationality. Perhaps the whole thing is a ghostly dream.
By having carefully delineated the rise of his hero, Jünger is able to conflate that story with his own personal history. Moreover, 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: "Culture is based on the treatment of the dead culture vanishes with the decay of graves or rather: this decay announces that the end is nigh."
And finally, Aladdin's problem? Jünger reminds us, "Aladdin's lamp was made of pewter or copper, perhaps merely clay." Through its power "he could put up palaces or wipe out cities overnight … The lamp guaranteed dominion as far as the frontier of the traveled world—from China to Mauritania. Aladdin preferred the life of a minor despot. Our lamp is made of uranium. It establishes the same problem: power streaming toward us titanically."
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.
He told me about it at his house in Wilflingen, a pretty Swabian village built around the Stauffenberg castle, which belongs to relatives of Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, the man who tried to assassinate Hitler. Jünger's study is that of a German aesthete in the 1930s: fine Persian carpets, leather-bound volumes of Byron, Wilde, Poe, Hölderlin, Montherlant, the Russians. Recalling his Hitler dream appeared to give him intense pleasure. His watery eyes twinkled and he finished his story with a barking soldier's laugh: "Hah!"
This was clearly part of Jünger's repertoire for foreign visitors, part of the Ernst Jünger show, for he produced a sheaf of recent newspaper articles about himself in French and Italian, several of which had the Hitler dream in their headlines. He also showed me the latest addition to his diaries, published in a German literary magazine. And sure enough there it was: "A crash landing at night because of a pilot error. Hitler was there too, the first time he appeared in my dreams—nothing special about him…."
"Nothing special …?"
"Nothing special. Hitler, you see, was just a product of his time. Like Napoleon, really, except that he had an even greater potential. He did what we all wanted, and promised so much more: he wiped out the humiliation of Versailles and got rid of unemployment. Then he ruined everything. The problem was his character. A negative character."
And yet Hitler had spared Jünger more than once. When a top Nazi functionary named Bouhler—who made his name promoting involuntary euthanasia—complained to Hitler about him in 1939, Hitler said: "Leave Jünger alone." Bouhler killed himself in 1945, but after the war, Jünger was threatened again, this time by German Communists, and Brecht used Hitler's exact words: "Leave Jünger alone."
A German writer who could annoy Nazis and Communists, yet enjoy the support of Hitler and Brecht, must have had something special going for him. Perhaps Brecht and Hitler realized something that simpler believers did not: that Jünger could be useful as a fellow enemy of bourgeois liberalism. Or maybe they were simply fascinated by Jünger's mystique. If so, they were not the only ones. On Jünger's ninetieth birthday Francois Mitterrand paid a special visit to Wilflingen, together with Helmut Kohl. "Mitterrand was sitting right where you are now," said Jünger, pointing at my chair. "And Filipe Gonzales sat in this chair," said Jünger's wife, who was sitting on my left. She is referred to in Jünger's diaries as "the little bull." I could see why. She looked tougher than he did. I was asked to admire some photographs of Jünger and his various distinguished guests. In one of them, Jorge Luis Borges could be seen, dressed impeccably, leaning on his stick. "A gentleman!" barked Frau Jünger, a Herr.
Part of Jünger's interest is his age. He must be one of the very few people still writing who was already alive during the Dreyfus affair, and fought in both world wars. Such longevity is as fascinating as a brilliant life cut short: Ernst Jünger and Wilfred Owen, the two ends of a romantic scale. Jünger always did cut a romantic figure. I have in front of me a picture taken during the Great War, of Jünger in uniform: dark and slender, one delicate hand wrapped round a pair of leather gloves, the Iron Cross pinned to a finely cut tunic, the greatcoat casually undone: the perfect image of the brooding soldier-poet, master of the exquisite phrase and the unflinching kill. Jünger was a Hemingway with the beauty of Rupert Brooke; or perhaps not Hemingway, for Jünger was the real thing: he was a legionnaire in North Africa, a thrice-wounded commando officer in France, and the youngest lieutenant to receive the Croix Pour le Mérite.
Jünger's love of the military life has prompted speculations about his love life. Both he and his wife were scornful of a German writer who had recently said that Jünger was afraid of women. "He wrote that," snorted the little bull, "because he thinks Ernst Jünger had no experience with women before becoming a soldier. Well, that's not at all my understanding." Jünger gave his wife a roguish look. "Hah!" was all he said.
Jünger has a prose style to match his soldier-poet image. It is highly polished, elegant without being perfumed. Bruce Chatwin described Jünger's most famous book. On the Marble Cliffs, an allegory about a Hitlerian tyrant, published in 1939, as "the prose equivalent of an art nouveau object in glass." One is reminded, occasionally, of Nabokov, without the jokes. Thomas Mann wrote in 1945, after dismissing everything published under Goebbels as "stinking of blood and shame," that Jünger's German was "much too beautiful for Hitler's Germany."
Jünger was, however, not the only literary dandy, or poet-soldier of his time, and if his reputation had rested solely on his rather absurd essays about blood, war, and the new machine age, or on such cut glass curiosities as On the Marble Cliffs, his fascination would have faded, and neither Mitterrand not Kohl would have bothered to congratulate him.
No, there is something else about Jünger which made his mystique more lasting, especially in France, where his star shines more brightly than in Germany. The received opinion on Jünger, at least among his admirers, is that he changed his mind in a dramatic way. From being a glorifier of war and a radical nationalist who saw fit to send Hitler a copy of his essay Fire and Blood, inscribed to "our national leader, Adolf Hitler," Jünger turned into an anti-Nazi dissident. Comments in his diary, kept during his stint in occupied Paris as a Wehrmacht officer, are cited as evidence. And much is also made of a document sent in December 1944 by Roland Freisler, the "hanging judge" of the Volksgericht, to Martin Bormann. In this letter, Freisler informs the Reichsleiter that Hitler wished the plan to prosecute Jünger for high treason to be dropped. Clearly, Bormann and Freisler were keen on snaring Jünger, on the grounds of spreading defeatism (involvement in the assassination attempt on Hitler could not be pinned on him, even though he was on friendly terms with officers in the plot), and just as clearly Jünger's skin had been saved by his Jünger once again.
That Jünger was a fascistic thinker in the 1920s and 1930s is beyond much doubt. Which is not to say he was a Nazi. Like many nationalists and conservatives (Carl Schmitt, Gottfried Benn, Heidegger) he sympathized with the Nazi movement, but (unlike Heidegger) he never joined the party. It is sometimes hard to classify Jünger's ideas as right or left: he was in that sinister region where the two extremes met. His mentor in the 1930s was Ernst Niekisch, leader of the "Prussian Communists," whose ideology, promoted in Jünger's inimitable prose, was a mixture of Bolshevism and aristocratic reveille. Together with the new breed of hard, heroic workers, the noble veterans of Langemarck and Verdun would destroy the flabby bourgeoisie and struggle toward a world state.
The battle of Langemarck, a disastrous enterprise at the beginning of World War I costing 145,000 lives, played a large part in Jünger's political fantasy life, as it did in Hitler's. Both men had fought there. At Langemarck (in Hitler's words) man fought against man and heroes died with the Deutschlandlied ringing in their ears. At Langemarck (in Jünger's words) a cosmic battle took place, in which the "individual, representing all that is weakened and doomed" was crushed by the "steel laws" of the mechanical age. But out of this cosmic baptism by fire "a kind of vanguard would arise, a new backbone of fighting organizations—an elite one could also describe as an order."
Postwar Jüngerians (including Jünger himself) have tended to interpret these phrases as purely descriptive, prescient visions of the world to come. The least one can say is that the spectacle of mass society, rootless, restless, and spiritually adrift, filled him with ambivalence. In his essay "Total Mobilization" ("Die totale Mobilmachung"), written in 1930, Jünger describes the "wonderful and terrifying spectacle" of totalitarian states mobilizing every man, woman, and child from the moment they are born toward total industrial war. Individual freedom ("always a questionable concept anyway") becomes meaningless, elections a sham. Humanistic values dissolve in a mechanized, abstract world, in which entire cities disappear in bombings and peoples are wiped out by poison gas. Descriptive, indeed; prescient, certainly. But then one gets to the final paragraphs of the essay, which take us straight back to Langemarck:
In the depth of its craters, this war had a meaning, which no amount of arithmetic could possibly quantify. One could already hear it in the cheering of the army volunteers, who sounded the voice of the formidable German demon, a voice which combined weariness of old values with longing for a new life. Who could have thought that the sons of a materialist generation could have greeted death so ardently?… Just as the real fulfillment of an honestly lived life is the gain of one's own, deeper character, so the result of this war cannot be anything but the recovery of a deeper Germany….
Deep under the areas where the dialectics of war aims are meaningful, the German met with a superior force: he encountered himself. And so this war was for him above all a way to realize himself. Our rearmament, therefore, in which we have long been engaged, must be a mobilization of the Germans—and nothing else.
This is not the voice of a cool, aristocratic detachment (that would come later). This is the cheering of an enthusiast. Jünger often uses the word Rausch, intoxication, to describe his war experiences. He used the same word in the title of a book about his experiments with drugs: Annäherungen, Drogen und Rausch (Approximations, Drugs and Intoxication). Jünger began taking ether during World War I, then he experimented with opium, cocaine, hashish, LSD, as well as mushrooms of various kinds. He liked LSD, but hashish, he said, made him feel aggressive. It was fascinating and distinctly odd to hear the old soldier describe his trips, while the little bull offered me some more coffee and cake. I asked him whether the intoxication of battle was like being high on drugs. "Yes, yes," he said, "but modern warfare has destroyed all that. A real old cavalry charge, that was something! Hah!"
Even though Jünger is said to have coined the term "total mobilization," he was not a very original thinker. The meaninglessness of post-religious life came from Nietzsche; the celebration of the state from Spengler; and the deep Geist of the Germans from just about everyone right of center. The idea that human events are the result of cosmic forces came from Heidegger, who characterized the Nazi movement as a meeting of technology, destined by the planets, and the new man. The contempt for materialism and liberal democracy was as thick in the air as oxygen at the time, and visions of brave (or wicked) mechanical worlds were shared by many intellectuals, some of whom—H. G. Wells, for example—were more extreme than Jünger. In fact, it is in France that Jünger's spiritual ancestors can be found, perhaps more readily than in Germany. Maurice Barrès, one of the patriarchs of fascism, had already come up with the phrase "machinism" to describe the modern age, before the turn of the century. And his idea that "what gives the individual or a nation its values is that its energies are tensed to a greater or lesser degree" could have been written by Jünger himself. I was interested to note the complete works of Barrès on Jünger's bookshelf.
Fascists, as well as the revolutionary socialists, were obsessed by the twin ideas of mass movement and self-elected elites—fighting vanguards to replace the aristocracy of the ancien régime. Before the Great War, the French syndicalist leader Emile Pouget believed it was the duty of a small elite to lead into action the mass of "human zeros," as he so charmingly put it. Democracy, he said, was not only "vulgar," but it would gum up the revolutionary works. Henri de Man (Paul's uncle) began as a socialist writer and ended as a collaborator of the Nazis. He believed in heroism, sacrifice, collective action, and … "a superior class." He wrote that "no society is possible without an aristocracy." Jünger thought so too. In "Der Waldgang", an essay published in 1951 (!), he observed that democracy inevitably leads to mob rule (Pöbelherrschaft). What was needed was a new nobility (Ritterschaft), to overcome the leveling forces of a new collectivist age. But Jünger set his standards high. In a reversal of (Groucho) Marx's maxim, he once famously said he was so elitist that no elite was good enough for him. His ideal is what he calls the Anarch, the spiritual aristocrat, lifted by his noble spirit far above the mob to a higher sphere of absolute freedom and autonomy.
This is a constant theme in fascistic or anti-liberal thinking: a hatred of bourgeois individualism on the one hand, and a yearning to stand above the masses on the other. In his prewar writings, Jünger flirted with the ideal of a militarized elite, something between the Freikorps and the SS, a vanguard of hard, technical warriors. At the same time, he was a more traditional German intellectual of the type that Thomas Mann portrayed in his Reflections of an Unpolitical Man, the high-minded aesthete, whose purity would be sullied by the merest whiff of practical politics. When Hitler allegedly offered Jünger a seat in the Reichstag in 1927, Jünger is said to have turned it down, with the remark that the composition of one verse was of more value than representing sixty thousand "idiots" in parliament.
So when during the 1930s Jünger finally recoiled in disgust at what Hitlerism had caused, he retreated into two towers of the finest ivory: the disengaged world of letters and the higher echelons of the Wehrmacht. Jünger spoke of a select Ritterschaft within the army, which remained aloof from Hitler's terror. And Gottfried Benn said that joining the German army was tantamount to "inner immigration." A doubtful view, if one thinks what this fine body of men did on the Eastern Front. But it might have been true in Paris, where the poet-soldiers, or at least the more cultivated officers, were sent to flatter the French intelligentsia into submission. Jünger adored Paris, the jewel saved from the wreckage. Indeed, the Paris of Jean Cocteau and General von Stülpnagel was perfect for him. He was far more at home there than in coarse and thuggish Berlin. In Paris he could buy fine antiquarian books, fill his diary with elegant aphorisms, and indulge in little jokes at the Hotel Raphael about those ghastly Nazis.
Quite when he turned against the brown tide, and why, is not easy to pinpoint. Not before 1938, at any rate. Or at least not openly. In an interview with Der Spiegel in 1982 (when he received the Goethe Prize), Jünger said he still absolutely agreed with the annexations of Sudetenland and Austria. On the Marble Cliffs is usually seen as the first public expression of his distaste. It became a best seller, and was much admired by Stephen Spender, among others. Thousands of German soldiers carried it in their knapsacks. Spender visited Jünger in 1946 and had his copy signed. The novel is indeed full of disgust for the violence and destruction unleashed by the Chief Ranger and his barbaric Mauretanians. This Hitler-like tyrant and his brown-shirt-like hordes are out to destroy the fair land in the Grand Marina, descriptions of which are reminiscent of the Blood and Soil (Blubo) literature of the time: "… as if the graves had opened, the dead rose up invisibly. They are always near to us when we look upon a land we love, in which an ancient culture has its roots…."
But more interesting in the light of Jünger's subsequent career is the behavior of the narrator and Brother Otho. The narrator is an entomologist, like Jünger himself. A visit to Jünger's house includes a tour of his impressive collection of rare beetles, all neatly pinned down in wooden drawers. Jünger once said he hated power stations, because they destroyed insect life. Brother Otho, like Jünger's brother, the poet Friedrich Georg, composes phrases in light meter, aiming "to fix a fragment of this world's mosaic like a stone mounted in metal." As these two aesthetes reflect upon the meaning of life, high up on the marble cliffs, the lands down below are threatened by the Mauretanians: "The time was ripe for terror. In this respect man-made order is like the universe—from time to time it must plunge into the flames to be born anew."
It is a fine poetic sentiment to be sure, but there is something repellent about such musings, even as millions are killed. Why on earth must the universe plunge into flames from time to time? And was retreat into higher spheres really the proper response? Was it truly so noble to be above it all? But then there is something Neronian about Jünger. In his Paris diary there is a famous description of Jünger, in May 1944, standing on the roof of the Hotel Raphael, a glass of burgundy afloat with strawberries to hand, watching Paris burning in a bombing raid. The beauty of the spectacle inspires him to compare Paris to "a flower impregnated with deadly pollen." Still, Neronian or not, there could be little doubt about Jünger's disdain for the Nazis. As with many cultivated Germans, this was partly a matter of class, in the British as well as the American sense of the word. The Nazis were so terribly vulgar.
The wonderful diaries of Friedrich Percyval Reck-Malleczewen are a perfect illustration of this attitude (even though "Reck" was by no means as aloof from the world as Jünger). Like Jünger, Reck deplored the collapse of the old order, although, unlike Jünger, he had never applauded the new one. He was no democrat either. And he, too, was a sworn enemy of materialism and a believer in aristocracy, "our little phalanx." But sprinkled among his fits of rage at the terrible deeds of the Nazi thugs are sniffy remarks about Hitler's resemblance to a headwaiter, or Goering's shocking taste, only to be expected in "the son of a Rosenheim waitress," or Goebbels as "the limping haberdashery salesman." Hitler, wrote Reck, rising to his theme, was a "middle class antichrist."
But it would be unfair to Jünger to ignore remarks in his Paris diaries that showed he was more than a snob. He did say, on June 7, 1943, that he felt ashamed to be in uniform, after seeing Jewish girls wearing the yellow star in the Rue Royale. This was after he had enjoyed a stimulating conversation with Paul Morand about American literature over lunch at Maxim's.
Jünger tended to shy away from the out-and-out collabos in Paris. According to his diaries, he bumps into Drieu La Rochelle from time to time, but finds him tiresome. Henri de Man puts in an appearance, but Jünger thinks him a corrupted apparatchik. Of Marcel Déat, rabid ideologue of the Action Francaise, he observes that too much striving for power at any price "coarsens the skin." And Robert Brasillach, the Nazified journalist, does not appear in the diaries at all. I asked Jünger about this. "Well," he said, "one didn't read the newspapers, and I disliked the man. Because of his bad table manners, chiefly."
Jünger felt more at home with aesthetes like Montherlant and Cocteau, with whom he could discuss de Quincey's opium dreams. Some of his Parisian friends, such as Jean Paulhan, even had connections in the resistance. But, says Jünger, "One never mentioned that, of course. We only spoke of literary matters." Was this circle his idea of a Ritterschaft? "Indeed it was. A true elite is never active. It exists for cultivated conversations in exclusive drawing rooms."
So, disdain, disgust, and elegant retreat, yes. But did Jünger's political views really change? I think less so than some of his admirers would have us believe. It is a sign of honesty as well as consistency that he included all his prewar writings in postwar anthologies. Well, all but one article, published in 1930, entitled "Nationalism and the Jewish Problem," of which, quite properly, he felt ashamed. All the rest he continued to regard as important. If one compares the postwar novels and essays with the older work, one finds that Jünger's vision of the world remained essentially unchanged. He is still obsessed with the mechanical "titanic" age, which wiped out the old order, with all its values and virtues. A loyal disciple of Nietzsche and Heidegger to the end, he still frets about the nihilism of modern man. And he continues to loathe the leveling vulgarity of liberal democracy. When a plan to name a school in Germany after Heidegger came to nothing, Jünger wrote a letter to congratulate his old master on the absence of his name. "If we lived in 'normal times,'" he wrote, "the school would have borne your name." One shudders to think what normal times would be in a Jüngerian Germany.
There is, however, one difference between Jünger's postwar and prewar writings: what could still inspire occasional bursts of enthusiasm before the war—the new orders of technical samurai, etc.—filled him with despair after the war was over. He has an explanation for this, given in his Spiegel interview. He compared his earlier enthusiasm to being in a football match where you get carried away by the excitement, even if football does not interest you in the least. "The same thing happens," he explained, "when I step into a political system. I have a weakness for systems of order, the Jesuits, for example, or the Prussian army, or the court of Louis XIV." The thing about his prewar writing is, however, that he took a certain aesthetic pleasure in the spectacle of collapsing orders too.
But Jünger has also offered another explanation for his apparent change of attitude. Memories of Langemarck had still offered him visions of old-fashioned heroism. As he put it in his Spiegel interview: "The last real war was the First World War." Then he still believed that man was stronger than matter. But now we know that "the technician has won and the old grades have dissolved." The soldier, in Jünger's view, ceased to be a warrior. Heroism no longer had a place in the "titanic wars" fought by industrial armies of technical workers. "When I'm called a glorifier of war," Jünger said, "I do not disagree. Homer, after all, was a glorifier of war too, as were thousands after him."
War as a destroyer of what Edmund Blunden called "degree" is a fearful thing to any conservative. Blunden wrote an elegiac book about England called Cricket Country in 1944. War, he worried, would damage the "harmony of life." by which he meant the "principle of grades of society…." Jünger was concerned about this too, but the main source of his anguish was the loss of soldierly virtue, of honor. Jünger not only hates nuclear power for its threat to his beloved beetles. He hates it because it has removed the last vestiges of chivalry from war. The atom bomb, he has argued, erroneously alas, made obsolete "real wars," where man fights man, and heroes die with the Deutschlandlied ringing in their cars.
One would expect this nostalgia for manly wars to appeal mostly to conservative romantics—Winston Churchill shared Jünger's regret about the bomb. In fact, however, this side of Jünger also appealed to the Communist playwright and Brecht devotee Heiner Müller. Müller quoted Jünger in his argument that we must "restore meaning" to war. War "is the last refuge of what we call human." The bomb, like capitalism, is a product of rationalism, resulting in nihilism and industrial death. Like Jünger (and Nietzsche, Heidegger, T. S. Eliot, etc.). Müller is haunted by the idea of a spiritual void in modern man. Communism provided an answer. But since the iron curtain disappeared, "man has been delivered defenseless to the machine world."
This theme runs through everything Jünger has ever written, during the Weimar Republic, during the war, and ever since. Müller's (and Brecht's) liking for Jünger is no accident. For Jünger is intellectually, or perhaps one should say spiritually, much closer to the Communists than to the mostly liberal writers of the Federal Republic. Even his utopianism has a familiar Bolshevist ring. In his essay "Peace" ("Der Friede"), written during the war but published after 1945, Jünger constructed a blueprint for the future world state. National democracies, he said, would be "overcome." Technical problems—industry, housing, transport, trade—would be solved by an authoritarian world state. But the state would be inspired by a higher faith, transcending materialist concerns, a faith whose seeds were sown by the sacrifice of soldiers, and whose spiritual reservoir was still to be found in the nobility and Geist of the German people. In this essay, Jünger makes the rather astonishing remark that it took "courage to remain a German" during the war, a great deal more courage, that is, than was shown by the likes of Thomas Mann or Marlene Dietrich, who stood on the other side as German cities were flattened. (That such writers as Alfred Döblin and Lion Feuchtwanger had no choice in this matter, Jünger tactfully leaves unsaid.)
Living in the Federal Republic of Germany for almost fifty years has dulled Jünger's taste for Utopia, and his novels more and more read like elegies. But his line on machinism, titanism, and the spiritual void has never wavered. Aladdin's Problem, published in English for the first time last year by Marsilio Publishers, proves this point. Aladdin's problem is the vacuousness behind the absolute power of modern man. Aladdin is the ultimate Arbeiter, omnipotent and without soul.
The hero of the story is a man rather like the author himself: Friedrich Baroh, a melancholic old soldier of aristocratic pedigree (four ancestors received the Pour le Mérite), disillusioned with the emptiness of modern materialism. He served in the East German army, a grim experience only made tolerable by his friendship with a like-minded young captain, whose build and demeanor were those of a proud horseman who could only regret the day the cavalry dismounted. Their conversations are rather like those Jünger recorded in his Paris diaries, between the author and von Stülpnagel, say, or the causeries of the narrator and Brother Otho in On the Màrble Cliffs: cultivated, detached, above it all. Baroh defects to the West but not because he believes in freedom—"I am no liberal—at least not in the sense that people have to get together and vote on the matter." A man "with a good mind will realize his potential in any regime." A doubtful view, but one that might occur from the perspective of a very high ivory tower. Like all Jünger's heroes, Baroh is an Anarch.
Westward, at any rate, he goes, there to get married and find employment in his uncle's funeral business. The business grows into a huge, international enterprise, a bizarre caricature of modern corporate life. The fact that the nature of the business is death leads to a philosophical paradox which opens the way to much Jüngerian musing. For the business itself is meaningless, even nihilistic, but at the same time, "Culture is based on the treatment of the dead; culture vanishes with the decay of graves…." In a sense, then, Baroh's business—of building a gigantic necropolis in Turkey—is God's business. But we live in an age when
titanic forces in mechanical disguise are supplanting the gods. Wherever Zeus no longer rules, crown, scepter, and borders are becoming senseless; with Ares, the heroes are making their farewells; and with Great Pan, nature is dying.
There is really only so much of this one can take, however polished the prose, for Jünger pushes his line with the drilling insistence of an old club bore. And he has done so in book after book after book. At one point in the story Friedrich Baroh observes that 1888, the Year of the Three Emperors, marked "the onset of the labor pains of Titanism, the a historical era. That year, Nietzsche decided to build his work 'toward the catastrophe.'" It is in precisely that year that the second novel under review, [A Dangerous Encounter], first published in Germany in 1985, is set.
Paris, 1888. The machine age is upon us. The main, aristocratic characters are exhausted, out of harmony with the world, at the end of their tether, born a century too late. Captain Kargané, a naval officer who believed that "something irretrievable had been lost with the sailing ships," is trapped in a loveless marriage with a bored and voluptuous countess, who amuses herself with young actors. The captain seeks solace in the Levant, but there too, "the last hour had unmistakably sounded; the triumphal march of universal platitude could no longer be checked."
Ducasse, the decadent scion of an old family, "would have been more at home in the previous century, as the friend of princes who reveled before the deluge." Now, in the soulless age of steam and light, he is reduced to being a mischievous arbiter of elegance at the doubtful tables of rich strangers. He contrives to arrange a tryst in an exclusive house of pleasure between the bored countess, mentioned above, and Gerhard, a young German dreamer sent to Paris to complete his sentimental education. A horrible murder follows and Inspector Dobrowsky enters the scene, a technical man, an Arbeiter, who "wore suits from the rack, impossible neckties, shirts and collars upon which the lye from laundries had tested its causticity." Dobrowsky "had one of those faces which have become more common since the invention of the railroad: many faces leave their traces in it and become anonymous."
This seemed an odd sentence: many faces leave their traces…. So I checked the German original. What it really says is "many races leave their traces…." Quite a difference. And it only shows, yet again, how at the core of Jünger's melancholy philosophy lies the monumental snobbery—social, intellectual, racial—of the Anarch. Naturally, the mongrel Dubrowsky turns out to be the only winner in the story. It is his age, after all.
But the novel ends with a minor restoration of harmony. A duel is arranged between the captain and the German dreamer. Gerhard's second is a drunken Rittmeister, who, like the others (except the mongrel detective of course), was born a century too late. But the duel restores some of his old pride, the prospect of honorable death revives him: "He had shaved and for the first time in a long good while felt good about himself again." But, alas, the duel is prevented at the last minute by the clever inspector, who arrives with a fire engine with clanging bells. Kargané then saves his honor by shooting himself through the heart.
Culture is based upon the treatment of the dead. It would perhaps have been more Jüngerian to say it is based upon the way we choose to die. Like a true veteran of Langemarck, Jünger always remained faithful to the dead cult of his youth. As one of the official celebrators of that battle said: "Happiness lies only in sacrificial death." It is a ghastly philosophy, which has done untold damage to mankind. Blinded by his Angst of the spiritual void, Jünger, and many people like him, has missed the most important point about machines: it is not machines that threaten life, but the crazy beliefs of the men who operate them. Skepticism is far less corrosive of honor than a surfeit of irrational faith.
Yet it was the irrational that attracted Jünger all his life: the intoxication of drugs, of revolution, of war. This does not mean he was responsible for the rise and Rausch of the Third Reich. But neither can one say, as he continues to do that his prewar works merely reflected the times, like a literary seismograph. For Ernst Jünger was one of the people who helped to shape those intoxicating times. I asked him what had been his proudest achievement. He answered that some people felt satisfied with their work, but that he was not one of them. "All my works are but approximations of the highest, of the sublime. What I mean to say is, my books are approaches to the absolute." Another word for the absolute is death.
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, Die totale Mobilmachung, Der Arbeiter and sections of his essay Über den Schmerz, as his 'Old Testament'. It was that part of his work which was dominated by the theme of aggressiveness and which had made his name notorious. His account of the First World War was such that some critics expressed doubt that what he produced could still be considered literature, while others could see Jünger's rendering of his war experience in psycho-pathological terms only. Unlike Henri Barbusse, for whom the experience of the First World War had been the basis for a passionate plea for pacifism in his novel Le Feu, Jünger saw in it the redemption from the constraints of an over-refined culture. For him war was not so much an aberration of humanity as a revelation of its true face. In this respect he was in agreement with Freud who, during these war years, had enlarged his view of humanity to include a concept of destructiveness which he described in strikingly similar terms to those of Jünger. Yet, whereas Freud registers these developments with concern, Jünger seems to welcome them. When looking at the combatants of the First World War Jünger does not visualize the average conscript, as Barbusse with his 'poilus' had done, but concentrates rather on the 'wenigen Erlesenen', who actually thrived in this situation.
These 'Stahlgestalten' are for him—as the 'Urmenschen' are for Freud—the living proof that the sources of war are to be found 'tief in unserer Brust' and that 'Die Sucht, zu zerstören, ist tief im menschlichen Wesen verwurzelt […]'. Such figures reveal their relationship to their primeval ancestors, particularly in their disregard for the life of their fellow-men, a point on which both Jünger and Freud agreed, and one which Jünger elaborated on by referring to this exalted breed of warriors as 'prächtige Raubtiere'. Jünger sifts through his knowledge of history to locate precedents to an attitude which links the exploits of the battlefield with an excessive life style, regarded by him as characteristic of his princes of the trenches. These he finds in the actions of figures like Tamerlan and the asiatic despots whose morality Jünger describes thus:
Sie handelten, wie es ihrem Wesen entsprach. Töten war ihnen Moral, wie den Christen Nächstenliebe. Sie waren wilde Eroberer […] Man kann Genuß an ihnen empfinden wie an bunten Raubtieren, die mit kühnen Lichtern in den Augen durch tropische Dickungen brechen. Sie waren vollendet in sich.
The mercilessness advocated here would also form the prominent feature of a state run by such princes of the trenches; a state whose blueprint Jünger had presented in Der Arbeiter. Here Jünger had noted that in this state the notion of 'der sehr alten Wissenschaft der Entvölkerungspolitik' would be revived. The attitude of 'désinvolture' so often advocated by Jünger and described in his essay Über den Schmerz as that 'angemessene Kälte […] des Zuschauers, der von den Rängen des Zirkus aus das Blut fremder Fechter verströmen sieht […]' would be the adequate position from which to confront the obduracy of the world that is revealed in these works.
The concepts which dominated the first part of Jünger's career as a writer, and which were often bitterly attacked by critics, continued to play their role in the second, as narratives such as Auf den Marmorklippen, Heliopolis, Die Zwille and Eine gefährliche Begegnung demonstrate. In all of these works the theme of destructiveness is still present, but is counterbalanced by a reflective questioning of its appropriateness and by the introduction of the idea of compassion, an idea completely missing in the works of the earlier period.
Looking at figures such as the Oberförster in the Marmorklippen, the Landvogt in Heliopolis, Teo in Die Zwille and Kargané in Eine gefährliche Begegnung we note that all share some of the qualities of the 'Stahlgestalten' and of the 'Raubtiere' extolled in the earlier work. Like them they are linked with death, destruction and excess. This much is obvious in the case of the Oberförster as the destroyer of the Marina, and the Landvogt as the persecutor of the Parses in Heliopolis, but these elements are also present in figures like Teo or Kargané. Teo, like his forbears in Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis, is introduced to us as a hunter of men, as are the Oberförster and the Landvogt, and like them he is driven 'zu Dingen, die verletzend, gefährlich, tödlich sind'. He shares with the Oberförster and the Landvogt the measured use of terror to achieve his ends. Kargané, the fourth discernible member of this group, fits a similar pattern. Described as 'intelligent, präzis, tapfer, […] gewiß auch brutal', he is presented to us as a 'Freibeuter' and an exemplary representative of that type of man with whose help colonial empires were created in the space of decades.
Aggressiveness and disregard for the suffering of others link these figures with their predecessors of Jünger's 'Old Testament', as do the nature of their excesses, in which they almost slavishingly follow the pattern set by the oriental despots conjured up in Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis. The 'Asiatischen Partien' of the Oberförster bear witness to this as do the 'Orgien' of the Landvogt or the activities Kargané conducts in his Transylvanian castle. It is likewise made clear that the inclinations of the precocious Teo tend in the same direction.
It is one of the features of Jünger's later works that the opponents of these figures of aggressiveness are not entirely set apart from them. It is made plain to us that they have important features in common which they, however, strive to overcome. In the case of the Marmorklippen this is related in the autobiographical account of the two brothers who, among other things, admit that they themselves enjoyed the destructiveness of warfare, appreciated, for a period in their lives, the social contact with the Oberförster, as well as holding membership of the power-seeking order of the Mauretania. Similarly the hero of Heliopolis, de Geer, who associates concentration camps with the domain of the Landvogt, is confronted in the laurel night dream with a scene in such a camp, presented to him with the commentary 'Das bist du!'. For all his innocence Clamor, the hero of Die Zwille, nevertheless shares with his deadly aggressive counterpart Teo a morbid fascination with crime. Gerhard von Busche, more passive bystander than anything else in the crime committed in Gefährliche Begegnung, nevertheless contemplates whether he himself rather than Kargané should not be considered the culprit, and ultimately concludes: 'Im Abgrund waren die Menschen nicht verschieden; sie schmolzen wie Zinnfiguren ineinander ein'. In formulating his view of the situation in this way Busche alludes to an idea which seems to underlie all previous stories and which is made most explicit in Die Zwille. There the idea that even the most innocent share a common tie of human aggressiveness, or as Jünger likes to call this, share our fateful Cainitian heritage, is imparted to us by the reflections of the Superus, who, while the father of Teo, is however in character as in his inclinations very much closer to Clamor. While reflecting upon the differences between his own gentleness and the aggressiveness of his son Teo and the company Teo attracts, he comes up with an insight similar to that of von Busche, when he states:
Dort unten, wo ich allein bin, sind Teo und Clamor mir ähnlich, […] da beginnt es schon zu verschmelzen, doch noch ein Stockwerk tiefer, und sie werden identisch mit mir. Wie soll ich da urteilen?
Brigitte Reitenbach in her study on Die Zwille has demonstrated that the idea formulated here by the Superus is symbolically expressed in the form of that particular type of sling-shot (= Zwille), around which this narrative is constructed. Taking the stem of 'die Zwille' to symbolise a common heritage, the Superus draws an analogy between the two branches which fork from this stem and the two different types of conduct under discussion: one branch representing the aggressiveness of Teo, and the other the gentleness of Clamor.
What differentiates these two lifestyles from one another is the idea of compassion, a concept alien to Jünger's 'Old Testament'. To delineate the scope of this concept it might be useful to recall the definitions of both Theodor W. Adorno, who analysed the concept against the background of the German catastrophe, and Arthur Schopenhauer, a philosopher, whom Jünger knew well. Adorno notes the 'Perhorreszierung des Mitleids' by the 'faschistischen Herren der Welt' and later defines compassion as 'das Gefühl der Solidarität mit den […] quälbaren Körpern'. With this conception of compassion Adorno comes close to the view of Arthur Schopenhauer, who explains it as the
ganz unmittelbare, von allen anderweitigen Rücksichten unabhängige Teilnahme zunächst am Leiden eines andern und dadurch an der Verhinderung oder Aufhebung dieses Leidens
coming in the end to the conclusion that
Dieses Mitleid ganz allein ist die wirkliche Basis aller freien Gerechtigkeit und aller echten Menschenliebe.
The application of these concepts of compassion to the four works under discussion seems to present difficulties for the reader only in the case of the Marmorklippen. It would appear that the admission of the two brothers that they lacked the gift to perceive the sufferings of the weak and nameless 'wie man vom Senatorensitze in die Arena blickt' is an allusion to Jünger's statement in his essay Über den Schmerz, and is one of the first of many similar revocations of his earlier attitude. However does this change of mind also translate into compassion in Marmorklippen? The critics dealing with this question are divided. Gerhard Loose, who believes that compassion is evident in this work, points to the brothers' chivalrous care for women and children, an episode which Marian McQueen disparages as 'a showy, almost gratuitous, act of chivalry' by the two brothers carrying little weight 'given their previous abandonment of the Marina to its own military defense'. To this negative vote in regard to the practice of compassion in Marmorklippen can be added the concerns of Hansjörg Schelle, who points critically to the way the narrator forsakes both his lover and his son. So whereas the Marmorklippen is perceived to represent a break with previously held positions, as is argued for instance by Karl Heinz Bohrer, it also demonstrates the difficulties its author had in successfully integrating this new concept of compassion into his work.
Such difficulties no longer seemed to apply to Heliopolis and the works leading up to this novel. Its hero, Lucius de Geer, notes disapprovingly that 'Tötung des Mitleids in der eigenen Brust' is the prerequisite for acquiring a position of power, 'gewollte Macht' as he puts it. His attitude towards the persecuted and the tortured fulfils Adorno's definition of compassion to the letter. His commitment to compassion, moreover, which he places above military efficiency, becomes in the end the reason for his fall and subsequent reorientation. In Die Zwille Clamor shows compassion for the downtrodden as well as for the animals who become the victims of Teo's destructiveness, and, when expelled from the school, finally becomes an object of compassion himself, when a benevolent teacher is prepared to take charge of him in his father's stead.
Not unlike Lucius de Geer in Heliopolis, Rittmeister von Goldhammer in Eine gefährliche Begegnung disregards all conventions of his social standing and risks ostracism by his colleagues in his determination to prevent the duel between Kargané and von Busche from taking place, because he sees it as a 'Zugriff auf einen, der sich nicht wehren konnte'. Compassion for the defenceless is the driving force behind his action.
Ernst Jünger had travelled a long way from his 'Stahlgestalten' of the twenties to these figures of mercy of the seventies and eighties. To have accomplished this journey was, considering its beginnings, no mean achievement.
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 two-thirds of the famous prescription of Baudelaire: "There are but three beings worthy of respect: the priest, the warrior and the poet. To know, to kill and to create."
During the First World War, Jünger fought in the frontline trenches, was seriously wounded seven times and awarded the Pour le Merite, the German equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Storm of Steel, a memoir based on his wartime experiences, may be the greatest, and the most disturbing, war book ever written—for it is not a complaint against war's futility but rather a celebration of the exhilaration Jünger felt in the heat of combat.
After the war Jünger was involved in irregular conflicts that lasted into the early 1920s. He studied biology and pursued entomological research as well as publishing a number of books that predicted the rise of an inhuman technological society and the death of both the individual and personal heroism. Astonishingly, in 1938 in Germany he published a popular and biting anti-Nazi parable, On the Marble Cliffs.
Recalled to the army at the outbreak of the Second World War, Jünger served in Paris, where he was an unofficial liaison between the German army and world of French intellectuals. He was implicated in the plot against Hitler's life, but a letter has come to light, signed by Hitler himself, forbidding any harassment of Jünger by the Gestapo. After the war Jünger refused to submit to the Allied de-Nazification process on the grounds that he had never been a Nazi. The communist playwright Bertolt Brecht, in a neat act of symmetry, wrote a letter in Jünger's defense.
Since the war Jünger has published a series of visionary novels (three of which have appeared in translation. The Glass Bees, Aladdin's Problem and A Dangerous Encounter), an extensive diary that is a perennial bestseller in France, entomological research papers, volumes of travel writings and a book recounting his experiences under LSD administered by his friend Albert Hofmann, the inventor of the drug.
There are no books in the American literary tradition like Eumeswil, which only by default can be described as a novel. Foregoing plot, Jünger is concerned solely with attempting to answer the question: How is one to live?
Composed, we eventually learn, of the secret writings of a young night steward in the household of The Condor, the ruler of Eumeswil, a decaying authoritarian city-state, the book is a compilation of overheard anecdote, ruminations on the different types of despotism and reflections on a wide range of interests—from the decay of language, to the relations between the sexes and right on to the ideal diet:
I am unconcerned with how people judge me; but how shall I stand the test of my self-criticism? It is hard when a man summons himself to the bar…. It makes no difference to me whether Eumeswil is ruled by tyrants or demagogues. Any man who swears allegiance to a political change is a fool…. The most rudimentary step toward freedom is to free oneself from all that.
Jünger pulls the reader into his book with the disquieting power of anecdotes:
Once in Peru, I participated in a ritual fiesta that involves the sacrifice of a condor. It always takes place in February. These people are truculent; though worshipping the bird as a god, they slowly torture it to death. More than anything else, however, the condor is kept for a bullfight. First, they let it starve for a week; then they tie it, like a rider to the back of the bull, which has been stabbed bloody with lances. The populace is thrown into a paroxysm while the condor with outspread wings rips the mighty animal to pieces.
By entrusting the narrative to a 29-year-old, Jünger avoids any easy dismissal of his work as being the thoughts of a grumpy old man. The impersonation of the earnest informed young voice allows us a sympathetic identification.
Reading Eumeswil one wonders whether Jünger's imagination will give way to some sort of cheap science fiction resolution. But readers of this book will find that it finally brings them face to face with cold objective actuality: The fact that "At bottom, everyone is solitary, poor, and 'only' in the world."