ERNST JÜNGER: A MIRACLE AT 100 YEARS
By B. John Zavrel
Ernst Jünger was one of the great personalities of the 20th century immortalized in bronze by the sculptor Arno Breker.
A memorable day around the world is approaching: March 29, 1995. On this day, the German writer Ernst Jünger turns 100 years of age. He lives in the small village of Wilflingen in the Swabian Highlands, and still works every day.
His motto is "Hope brings us farther ahead than worry." Jünger has already received congratulations from around the world. To his admirers and readers belong people of all generations, counting in their numbers the French President Francois Mitterrand and the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Who is Ernst Jünger? He 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 adventureous 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."
Ernst Jünger was born on March 29, 1895. The young boy liked to move around: he changed schools a number of times, and at the age of 17 joined the Foreign Legion. Fortunately, this adventure ended a month later with the intervention of his father, who, with diplomatic help, managed to bring the underage boy back home. The boy completed his studies the following year, and joined the army as a volunteer on the first day of World War I. After completion of officer training he received the rank of a lieutenant. A courageous soldier, he was wounded eight times and was awarded the Pour le Merite medal, the highest German decoration for courage. The end of the war found Jünger in a field hospital. A few years later he left the army to study zoology and philosophy in Leipzig and Naples.
Since 1925 he has been active as a writer, and in the early years he wrote for various conservative and patriotic magazines. In his first, self-published book Storms of Steel the young author tried to describe his traumatic experiences of World War I. This was followed by further war diaries Fire and Blood and Copse 125. The next book, An Adventurous Heart contained a collection of his thoughts, contemplations, and philosophical reflections.
In 1939 Jünger was recalled to the army as a captain, and from 1941 was stationed in France. He became acquainted with Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Arno Breker and Ferdinand Celine, and viewed the French resistance movement with sympathy. He daringly opposed the Nazi regime in his allegorical novel On the Marble Cliffs, which managed to get past the censors and became an international best-seller.
After the war, Jünger retired to the Swabian Highlands and devoted himself to entomology, botany, and writing. He attained international prestige as a beetle-expert: his collection now contains over 40,000 specimens. In the beginning of 1949 he sold his house in order to finance the publication of his newer writings. In early 1949 his World War II diaries were published, followed by the utopian novel Heliopolis.
In 1970 he created a sensation with his book Approaches To Drugs and Intoxication, in which he also reported on his own experiments, and takes us on an expedition through the world of intoxicants and drugs.
The body of Jünger's work contains more than fifty volumes. His novels, stories, journals, and collections of aphorisms have won countless literary honors and prizes. From being the only living recipient of the Pour le Merite medal to the recent appointment as Honorary Knight of the Alexander Order, Ernst Jünger enjoys unequaled prestige on the international cultural and literary scene.
The Glass Bees, published in 1957, has become a classic work of modern utopian literature. It is a story of a former cavalry officer in desperate need of employment. He applies for a job at the Zapparoni Works, where ingeniously lifelike robots are manufactured, yet he gets soon unnerved by these efforts to improve upon Nature. He struggles to maintain his moral balance as the ground shifts beneath his feet. This moving novel is an incisive look at the ethical ramifications of technological progress. Jünger's language shimmers with icily brilliant cynicism.
It is fortunate for the American reader that several of Jünger's books have been recently published in the United States, masterfully translated by Joachim Neugroschel, who was born in Vienna of Jewish ancestry and educated in New York City. These translations include: A Dangerous Encounter, Aladdin's Problem, and Eumeswil. A Dangerous Encounter is a story set in the world of decadent pleasures of Paris in the nineteenth century, which develops into a crackling detective novel.
Aladdin's Problem is a richly poetic, half-mythical, half-political tale, which becomes an allegory of the conditions of modern life. Its hero, an anarch, aspiring entrepreneur and soldier in the East German army eventually defects to the West and achieves material success. But it cannot dispel the hero's basic problem, a metaphysical one: that each man is alone. Eventually, with the help of enigmatic Phares, the hero begins to understand the depth of the problem he has set for himself.
Eumeswil is the great novel of Jünger's creative maturity, a masterpiece of the German literature. Eumeswil is a utopian state ruled by the Condor, a general who has installed himself as a dictator and who dominates the capital from a guarded citadel. A refined manipulator of power, the Condor despises the democrats who conspire against him. Venator, the narrator of the novel, is a historian whose discreet and efficient service as the Condor's night steward earn him full access to the forbidden zone, at the very heart of power. Every evening, while attending to the Condor and his guests at the night bar, Venator keeps a secret journal in which he records the conversations he overhears. Venator's free days are spent building a hidden refuge in the mountains, where he hopes one day to realize his dreams of utter self-sufficiency. In the meantime, however, he continues to pursue his career as a historian, using the magnificent tool that has been placed at his disposal - the "luminar", a holographic instrument that can summon up any figure or event in human history. Venator, in a word, embodies Jünger's ideal of the "anarch" - a heroic figure whose radical skepticism and individualism are not to be confused with mere anarchism. Around the opposite figures of the dictator and the anarch, Jünger philosophizes on the nature of history and on the mainsprings of political power. At once a tale, essay and philosophical poem, Eumeswil offers a masterful portrayal of totalitarianism by an author who witnessed its horrors firsthand.
In December 1994, Jünger donated his library and archive, valued at over 2 million dollars, to the German Literary Archives in Marbach. It was described as a "giant-archive" and its uniqueness lies in its scope, its organic growth, and its order. Surely, his second wife Liselotte, an archivist, has contributed much of her time and effort into the establishment and upkeep of the famous author's archives. They live in a forest-warden's house in the small village of Wilflingen in the Swabian Highlands.
© PROMETHEUS 121/2007
PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin - News, Politics, Art and Science. Nr. 121, July 2007