Severe rigidity and anti-Modernism are characteristics often attributed to Ernst Jünger’s writing (by friends and foes alike, indeed sometimes by the author himself).
However, the opposite is true: few writers of our century have shown an equal passion for understanding modernity and exploring its inner workings. At the same time, Jünger’s writing is permeated by the spirit of the essay, with its continuous revisions and open options. Little of his enormous body of work (written over no less than 80 years) can escape the label of essay, even though much of it appeared under the form of the novel, short story, or diary.
Throughout his career Jünger’s favorite vehicle has remained the collection of fragments in which short narrative episodes, aphorisms (or longer reflexions), reproductions of dreams, philosophical comments, presentations of readings, natural descriptions, and other forms elbow one another and constitute a kind of subtle counterpoint. Jünger’s preferred position has most often been that of the cool and dispassionate outsider, always capable of describing objectively things small and large, as well as placing the ideal values of the spirit above the incidents of sociohistorical process.
To maintain this stance Jünger resorted to two main strategies. The first was to place in his hierarchy of values attention, precision, and the relentless gaze above other values such as compassion or outrage. The second was to give preferential treatment to the symptom as a central part of existence; several times in his works Jünger argues that it is only through a thorough and accurate grasp of the surface that we can reach the core of any phenomenon. He also sometimes describes this attention to surface and symptoms as the “stereoscopic gaze.” To some extent this brings Jünger close to his contemporaries Theodor W.Adorno, and particularly Walter Benjamin, despite vast ideological differences.
Jünger liked to make himself the object of observation. He did so in war diaries when he tried to gain self-detachment and note human reactions under circumstances of extreme violence and danger, as well as during his extensive experiments with a variety of hallucinogenic drugs, chemical as well as natural. Even more frequent was his habit of jotting down and describing in great detail his oneiric experiences. In this sense Jünger’s passion for entomological (and sometimes botanical) pursuits is easy to understand. The orderly and wellstructured world of insects and other small beings can be grasped in both its individuality and its wholeness, and treated with benevolent neutrality.
Jünger ran into intense hostility when he tried to apply the same kind of noncommittal attention to the historical and social world: he was accused of coldness and inhuman indifference, if not of encouraging violence and suffering. This is vastly exaggerated. It is more apposite to say that Jünger was trying to place human history inside the framework of natural and cosmic history—a tradition that goes back to the 17th and 18th centuries.
He described himself not as an anarchist, but as an “anarch,” one who strives to preserve by all means his autonomy of thought and his independence in the face of historical trends and the consensus of majorities.
Jünger’s essay style was schooled on Lichtenberg, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche, but even more on the tradition of the French 17th- and 18th-century “moralistes.” He prefers cutting, oracular statements, surprising metaphorical associations, and indulging in breviloquence: his essays seem to progress by successively stepping from stone to stone in a stream, avoiding explanation and continuity. Readers are expected to ponder and unravel the meanings and connotations of an enigmatic or metaphorical laconic statement, encouraged by Jünger’s limpid and exact use of language, glittering in carefully devised multiple facets.
Jünger uses the essay in a highly personal way. For him it is the best vehicle for making judgments on the ways of the world, as well as a means of preserving the dignity of personal human independence in the face of sweeping and all-encompassing statistical tides. The essay is seen as a way of circling around a timeless pattern of reality, and is thus also a channel of communication with transcendence. In an environment that appears post-religious or uncertain about the divine, the essay can play with the mythical at the interface of immanence and transcendence without committing itself to any specific religious structure. Similarly, the orders of tradition and the centrifugal impulses of the individual seem to find a chance for cohabitation primarily in the essay. It is owing to these thoughtful propositions, rather than by any ideological inclination, that Jünger came to appeal to his diverse readership.
Born 29 March 1895 in Heidelberg. Grew up in Hannover, where he studied at school, 1901–13. Joined the French Foreign Legion briefly, 1913. Volunteer with the German army during World War I, serving on the Western Front, 1914–18: granted the Pour le Mérite order for bravery, September 1918. Officer in the Reichswehr, 1919–23. Studied biology in Leipzig and Naples, 1923–26, and eventually became a well-known entomologist: a number of inspect species bear his name. Married Gretha von Jeinsen, 1925 (died, 1960): two sons (one died). Contributor to radical right-wing journals, including Standarte (Standard), Arminius, Widerstand (Resistance), Die Kommenden (Future generations), and Der Vormarsch (The advance), 1925–31; freelance writer, from 1927. Lived in Berlin, from 1927, Goslar, 1933–36, Überlingen, 1936–39, Kirchhorst, 1939–48, Ravensburg, 1948–50, and Wiflingen, from 1950. Turned down offer to head the Nazi Writers’ Union, 1933. Captain during World War II: dishonorably discharged for participation in anti-Nazi activities, 1944. Banned from publishing his work, 1945– 49. Traveled extensively in the 1950s and 1960s. Coeditor, Antaios journal, 1959–71.
Married Liselotte Lohrer, 1962. Awards: several, including the Immermann Prize, 1964;
Humboldt Society Gold Medal, 1981; Goethe Prize, 1982; honorary degree from the University of Bilbao. Great Order of Merit (Federal Republic of Germany), 1959.
Essays and Related Prose
Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis, 1922; revised edition, 1926
Das abenteuerliche Herz: Aufzeichnungen bei Tag und Nacht, 1929; revised edition, 1938
Der Arbeiter: Herrschaft und Gestalt, 1932
Blätter und Steine, 1934
Geheimnisse der Sprache: Zwei Essays, 1934
Der Friede, 1945; as The Peace, translated by Stuart O.Hood, 1948
Über die Linie, 1950
Der Waldgang, 1951
Der gordische Knoten, 1953
Das Sanduhrbuch, 1954
An der Zeitmauer, 1959
Der Weltstaat: Organismus und Organisation, 1960
Typus; Name; Gestalt, 1963
Subtile Jagden, 1967
Ad Hoc, 1970
Annäherungen: Drogen und Rausch, 1970
Sinn und Bedeutung: Ein Figurenspiel, 1971
Zahlen und Götter; Philemon und Baucis: Zwei Essays, 1974
Flugträume (selections), 1983
Autor und Autorschaft, 1984
Die Schere, 1990
Other writings: several novels and long short stories (including Das Wäldchen 125
[Copse 125], 1925; Afrikanische Spiele, 1936; Auf den Marmorklippen [On the Marble Cliffs], 1939 (published unofficially); Heliopolis, 1949; Gläserne Bienen [The Glass Bees], 1957; Die Zwille, 1973; Eumeswil, 1977; Aladins Problem [Aladdin’s Problem}, 1983; Eine gefährliche Begegnung, 1985), diaries, and works on politics, travel, and scientific inquiries.
Collected works editions: Werke, 10 vols., 1960–65; Sämtliche Werke, 18 vols., 1978– 83.
Coudres, Hans Peter des, and Horst Mühleisen, Bibliographie der Werke Ernst Jüngers, Stuttgart: Klett, 1970; revised edition, 1985
Paetel, Karl O., Ernst Jünger: Eine Bibliographie, Stuttgart: Klett, 1953
Bohrer, Karl-Heinz, Die Ästhetik des Schreckens, Munich and Vienna: Hanser, 1978
Bullock, Marcus Paul, The Violent Eye: Ernst Jünger’s Visions and Revisions on the European Right, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1992
Kaempfer, Wolfgang, Ernst Jünger, Stuttgart: Metzler, 1981
Koslowski, Peter, Der Mythos der Moderne: Die dichterische Philosophie Ernst Jüngers, Munich: Fink, 1991
Loose, Gerhard, Ernst Jünger, New York: Twayne, 1974
Meyer, Martin, Ernst Jünger, Munich: Hanser, 1990
Schwarz, Hans Peter, Der konservative Anarchist: Politik und Zeitkritik Ernst Jüngers, Freiburg: Herder, 1962
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