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by Bamber Gascoigne

Ernst Jünger (1895-1998)


Prolific German novelist and essayist, whose The Storm of Steel (1920) is one of the most memorable books in the literature of the First World War. Ernst Jünger served in the German Army in both world wars – during World War II he was an officer in Wermacht and part of the forces occupying Paris. By the appearence of On the Marble Cliffs (1939), Jünger's militarism and anti-Semitism had changed into a criticism of the German National Socialism. Jünger's career as a writer spanned over 80 years. His brother was the poet and essayist Friedrich Georg Jünger.

"There are periods of decline when the pattern fades to which our inmost life must conform. When we enter upon them we sway and lose our balance. From hollow joy we sink to leaden sorrow, and past and future acquire a new charm from our sense of loss. So we wander aimlessly in the irretrievable past or in distant Utopias; but the fleeting moment we cannot grasp." (from On the Marble Cliffs), translated from the German by Stuart Hood, New Directions, 1947, p. 25)

Ernst Jünger was born in Heidelberg, the son of Ernst Georg Jünger, a pharmacist, and Karoline Lampl Jünger. "He was typical of the nineteeeth century in that he appreciated great personalities," wrote Jünger of his father, "beginning with Achilles, then Alexander the Great, and going up to the conquistadores and Napoleon. . . . He never had breakfast or dinner wihout speaking in detail on these subjcts." (The Bullet's Song: Romantic Violence and Utopia by William Pfaff, 2004, p. 99)

Jünger grew up in Hannover, where he attended school between the years 1901 and 1913. At sixteen, he ran away from home to join the French Foreign Legion; he survived the harsh discipline and served in North Africa, but eventually his father brought him back to Germany. Later Jünger described this period in Afrikanische Spiele (1936). In World War I he distinguished himself at the western front. Jünger was wounded several times and received the highest badge of honour, "Pour le Mérite". He visited the battlefields of Verdun with Helmut Kohl and François Mitterand in 1984.

From 1919 to 1923 he served as an Officer in the army of the Weimar Republic. After studying natural sciences in Leipzig and and working at Anton Dohrn's Stazione Zoologica di  Napoli, he eventually became a well-known entomologist and a number of insect species bear his name. In 1925 he married Gretha von Jeinsen; they had two children.

In the 1920 Jünger contributed to several right-wing journals, including Standarte, Arminus, Widerstandz, Die Commenden, and Der Wormarch. His first work, In Stahlgewittern (The Storm of Steel), was a memoir of the four years he spent on the Western Front. Like Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), it is narrated in a cool style, in contrast to patriotic rhetoric: "The notion that a soldier becomes hardier and bolder as war proceeds is mistaken. What he gains in the science and art of attacking his enemy he loses in strength of nerve. The only dam against this loss is a sense of honour so resolute that few attain to it. For this reason I consider that troops composed of boys of twenty, under experienced leadership, are the most formidable." (Ibid., fifth printing, 1996, p. 4)

Jünger found war exciting, he felt he was part of "ancient history". Frustrated with the post-war social, political and economic problems, Jünger mocked the democracy of the Weimar Republic, also the main target of the Nazis. On the other hand, he rejected Adolf Hitler's offers of friendship in the 1920s.

In 1927 Jünger moved to Berlin, becoming a nationalist publicist and writer, who welcomed the seizure of power by the Nazis. Accompanied by his brother Friedrich, the playwright Arnolt Bronnen, Olga Schkarina-Prowe-Förster, and thirty stormtroopers, Jünger interrupted in October 1930 a speech by Thomas Mann, in which he warned about the rise of National Socialism. (Love in a Time of Hate: Art and Passion in the Shadow of War, 1929-39 by Florian Illies, Penguin, 2023, p. 108) He was convinced that humanism has lost its force and a new type of man, destined to reorganize the world, would emerge. In soldier and his counterpart, the poet, Jünger recognized the virtues of discipline, sensitiviness, and intelligence.

During this period he wrote two of his best works, Das abenteuerliche Herz (1929), a collection of essays, and Der Arbeiter: Herrschaft und Gestalt (1932), about the social and emotional stucture of the contemporary worker.

Opposing anti-Semites, Jünger compared them to a "certain sort of bacteria hunter who when they figure they've exterminated a certain spore perceive a thousand new ones." (Ernst Jünger and Germany: Into the Abyss, 1914-1945 by Thomas Nevin, 1996, p. 109) As a result he was tarred as a friend of Jews. Nazi thugs beat unconscious his former lover Else Lasker-Schüler. She had been abused by the right-wing press when she won a literary award in 1932. Jünger turned down the offer to head the Nazi Writer's Union. He left Berlin in 1933 just as his ideological opponents were forced to flee, and later, from 1938, he was forbanned to write. With his wife and sons he moved to Kirschhorst near Hannover.

On the Marble Cliffs has been considered the most prophetic book written about Germany during Hitler's reign. By the spring of 1940, some thirty-five thousand copies were in circulation, but after that the authorities stopped further printings. In the story the narrator and his brother Otto return home from a long war and settle in a hermitage carved into a spur of the marble cliffs. Below is the cultured land of Marina, with its vineyards, libraries, watch towers dating from Roman times, and Merovingian castles. The brothers devote themselves to botany and contemplation. But the idyllic life is threatened by Mauretania, ruled by Head Ranger and his thugs and killers, who think: "It is better to fall with him than live with those who grovel in the dust from fear." (Ibid., p. 27) The land of Marina is ruined in an apocalyptic battle, reminding the fate of Germany. The brothers escape to the mountain fastness of Alta Plana.

"In Charleville, I was a witness ar a military tribunal. I used the opportunity to buy books, like novels by Gide and various works by Rimbaud, who was born here and—as I was told by the bookseller—where a small circle of poets preserve his memory." (Saint-Michel, 27 March, 1941, in A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals, 1941-1945 by Ernst Jünger, foreword by Elliot Y. Neaman; translated by Thomas S. Hansen and Abby J Hansen, 2018, p. 5) 

During the WW II Jünger served as a captain on the Western front. In his diary, Gärten und Straßen (1942), he wrote about his months in 1940 in France. Jünger lived mostly in Paris associating among others with such artists as Picasso, Braque and Cocteau. He knew about the conspiracy against Hitler in 1944, but did not actively participate into it. However, Jünger was dishonorably discharged for anti-Nazi activities. Jünger's son had died fighting in Italy and he did not doubt about the outcome of the war which he regarded as a blind, brutal force and recorded his thoughts in his diary. Already in March 1943 he had noted in his diary: "If all buildings were to be destroyed, language would remain intact as an enchanted castle with towers and turrets and ancient vaults and passageways that nobody will ever completely explore. There in the shafts, oubliettes, and caverns we will be able to tarry and abandon ourselves to this world." (A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals, 1941-1945, foreword by Elliot Neaman, 2018,, p. 175) Later Jünger's war journals provided material for Edgardo Cozarinsky's documentary film La Guerre d'un seul homme (1982).

After the war Jünger's books were banned for a few years. Again showing exceptional independence, he refused to appear before a German de-Nazification tribunal. His diaries from 1939 to 1948 were published in one volume under the title Strahlungen (1948). The pamphlet Der Friede, written in 1943 and published in 1947, marked the end of Jünger's involvement in politics. He became a strong supporter of European unity and promoter of individual rights. Unlike Curzio Malaparte, who had been a member of the Fascist Party, Jünger did not feel being rejected by the Left Bank intellectuals, when he visisted France. He was not regarded as a Nazi ideologist, but an important German writer. Jünger's works were quoted by the French New Right. (see Ernst Jünger: Between the Gods and the Titans by Alain de Benoist, 2022) 

At the beginning of a heated discussion of Jünger's philosophy and politics, the exiled Jewish-German journalist Peter de Mendelssohn published Der Geist in der Despotie (1953), in which he argued that Jünger did not really confront the responsibility of his past, but hid himself behind a metaphysical  smoke screen. In the 1950s and 1960s Jünger travelled extensively. His first wife Gretha von Jeinsein died in 1960. Two years later Jünger married Liselotte Lohrewr. From 1959 to 1971 he was the coeditor the journal Antaios.

Jünger's later works include Eumeswil (1977), a dystopian fantasy, Aladins Problem (1983), narrate by a funeral assistant observing the law that moves the universe, and Eine gefährliche Begegnung (1985), a mystery novel set in the decadent corcles of late 19th-century Paris. Jünger published also aphorisms and edited several books. His awards include the Immermann Prize (1964), Humboldt Society Gold Medal (1981), and Goethe Prize (1982). He had a honorary degree from the University of Bilbao and in 1959 he received Great Order of Merit from Federal Republic of Germany.

As a novelist Jünger is considered among the forerunners of Magic Realism. Jünger painted visions of the future, where overmechanized world threatens individualism as in The Glass Bees (1957). In his essays Jünger observed dispassoinately the historical and social development – in this he was accused of inhuman indifference, or after World War II, elitism. ('Jünger, Ernst' by Virgil Nemoianu, in Encyclopedia of the Essay, edited by Tracy Chevalier, 1997, pp. 441-442) Jünger wanted to preserve his autonomy of thoughts and his independence. During his experiments with drugs, Jünger made himself the object of cool observations. In the early 1920s he had used ether, cocaine, and hashish; thirty years later he turned to mescaline, ololuqui, and LSD.  Annäherungen (1970) recorded these experiments comprehensively.

Jünger was a close friend of Martin Heidegger, who never denounced his Nazi sympathies. Their dialogue has been described by Pierre Bourdieu as political-metaphysical junk. It has been argued that Jünger's work was more important to Heidegger than it it generally known, but Jünger's Der Arbeiter: Herrschaft und Gestalt led Heidegger to misunderstand the real nature National Socialism. (A Dubious Past: Ernst Jünger and the Politics of Literature after Nazism by Elliot Y. Neaman, 1999, p. 247)

Jünger's estate in Wilflingen contained a collection of approximately 40 000 insect specimens. In Subtile Jagden (1967) he told about his relationship with the orderly and wellstructured world of insects. Occasionally in his diary (Strahlungen) Jünger mentions his Siamese cat, Prinzessin Li-Ping. He noted that "they are move devoted to people than the house they live in. In this, they combine the attributes of cats and dogs." (A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals, 1941-1945, foreword by Elliot Neaman, 2018, pp. 214-215) Jünger was very fond of felines but like insects, he observed them objectively and mostly dispassionately. 

For further reading: Ernst Jünger: Between the Gods and the Titans by Alain de Benoist (2022); The Moment of Rupture: Historical Consciousness in Interwar German Thought by Humberto Beck (2019); Ernst Jünger und das Judentum, herausgegeben von Thomas Bantle, Alexander Pschera und Detlev Schöttker (2017); Ernst Jünger und die bildende Kunst by Norbert Dietka (2017); The Devil's Captain: Ernst Jünger in Nazi Paris, 1941-1944 by Allan Mitchell (2011); A Dubious Past: Ernst Jünger and the Politics of Literature after Nazism by Elliot Yale Neaman (1999); Ernst Jünger and Germany: Into the Abyss, 1914-1945 by Thomas R. Nevin (1996); The Details of Time by J. Hervier (1991); The Violent Eye by Marcus Paul Bullock (1991); Der Mythos der Moderne by Peter Koslowski (1991); Ernst Jünger by Martin Meyer (1990); Ernst Jünger by Gerhard Loose (1974); Der konservative Anarchist by H.P. Schwarz (1962); Ernst Jünger: Gestalt und Werk by G. Loose (1957); Die Schleife by A. Mohler (1955); Ernst Jünger by J.P. Stern (1953); Der heroische Nihilismus und seine Überwindung by A. von Martin (1948); Das Weltbild Ernst Jüngers by E. Brock (1945); War and the German Mind by W.K. Pfeiler (1941) - Jünger Museum: Wilflingen, Schwaben (the author's home for 50 years)

Selected works:

  • In Stahlgewittern: Tagebuch eines Stoßtruppführers 1920
    - The Storm of Steel: From the Diary of a German Stormtroop Officer on the Western Front (translated by Basil Creighton, 1929); Storm of Steel (translated by Michael Hofmann, 2004)
    - Teräsmyrskyssä (suom. Markus Lång, 2008)
  • Sturm, 1923
    - Sturm (translated by Alexis P. Walker; edited and with an introduction by David Pan, 2015)
  • Das Wäldchen 125, eine Chronik aus den Grabenkämpfen 1918, 1924 (4. Aufl., 1929)
    - Corpse 125: A Chronicle from the Trench Warfare of 1918 (translated B. Creighton, 1930)
  • Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis, 1922
  • Feuer und Blut: ein kleiner Ausschnitt aus einer grossen Schlacht, 1925
  • Das abenteuerliche Herz, 1929 (rev. ed. 1936)
    - The Adventurous Heart: Figures and Capriccios (translated by Thomas Friese; edited by Russell A. Berman; with an introduction by Eliah Bures and Elliot Neaman, 2012)
  • Der Kampf um das Reich, 1929
  • Luftfahrt ist not!, 1930
  • Die totale Mobilmachung, 1930
    - Saksa nousuun (suom. Tere Vadén & Antti Salminen, Niin & näin, nro 73, kesä, 2/2012)
  • Der Arbeiter: Herrschaft und Gestalt, 1932
    - The Worker: Dominion and Form (edited by Laurence Paul Hemming; translated from the German by Bogdan Costea and Laurence Paul Hemming, 2017) 
  • Geheimnisse der Sprache: zwei Essays, 1934
  • Über den Schmerz, 1934
    - On Pain (translated and introduced by David C. Durst, 2008)
  • Blätter und Steine, 1934
  • Afrikanische Spiele, 1936
    - African Diversions (translated by S. Hood, 1954)
  • Auf den Marmorklippen, 1939
    - On the Marble Cliffs (translated by Stuart Hood, 1947; Tess Lewis, 2023)
    - Marmorijyrkänteillä (suom. Saul Boman, 2006)
  • Gärten und Straßen: aus den Tagebüchern von 1939 und 1940, 1942
  • Myrdun. Briefe aus Norwegen, 1943
  • Der Friede: ein Wort an die Jugend Europas, 1943
    - The Peace (translated by Stuart O. Hood, 1948)
  • Atlantische Fahrt, 1947
  • Sprache und Körperbau, 1947
  • Ein Inselfrühling: ein Tagebuch aus Rhodos, 1948
  • Heliopolis: Rückblick auf eine Stadt, 1949
  • Strahlungen, 1949
  • Über die Linie, 1950
  • Am Kieselstrand, 1951
  • Der Waldgang, 1951
    - The Forest Passage (translated by Thomas Friese; edited and with an introduction by Russell A. Berman, 2013) 
  • Die Eberjagd, 1952
  • Besuch auf Godenholm, 1952
  • Der gordische Knoten, 1953
  • Das Sanduhrbuch, 1954
  • Am Sarazenenturm, 1955
  • Die Schleife; Dokumente zum Weg von Ernst Jünger, 1955 (edited by Armin Mohler)
  • Rivarol, 1956
  • Serpentara, 1957
  • Gläserne Bienen, 1957
    - The Glass Bees (translated by Louise Bogan and Elisabeth Mayer, 1961)
  • San Pietro, 1957
  • Jahre der Okkupation, 1958
  • An der Zeitmauer, 1959
  • Sgraffiti, 1960
  • Der Weltstaat: Organismus und Organisation, 1960
  • Ein Vormittag in Antibes, 1960
  • Das spanische Mondhorn, 1963
  • Typus, Name, Gestalt, 1963
  • Werke, 1961-1965 (10 vols.)
  • Mantrana: ein Spiel, 1965 (with Klaus Ulrich Leistikov)
  • Grenzgänge: Essays, Reden, Träume, 1966
  • Subtile Jagden, 1967
  • Im Granit:  [Reisetagebuch], 1967
  • Zwei Inseln. Formosa/Ceylon, 1968
  • Federbälle: Teil I und Teil II, 1969
  • Annäherungen. Drogen und Rausch, 1970
    - Approaches: Drugs and Altered States (translated by Thomas Friese; edited and with an introduction by Russell A. Berman, 2022) 
  • Ad hoc, 1970
  • Lettern und Ideogramme: [Japanische Impressionen], 1970
  • Träume. Nocturnes, 1970
  • Sinn und Bedeutung: Ein Figurenspiel, 1971
  • Die Zwille, 1973
  • Zahlen und Götter. Philemon und Baucis, 1974
  • Ausgewählte Erzählungen, 1975
  • Eumeswil, 1977
    - Eumeswil (translated by Joachim Neugroschel, 1993)
  • Sämtliche Werke, 1979 ff (18 vols.)
  • Paul Léautaud in Memoriam, 1980
  • Siebzig verweht, 1980-97 (5 vols.)
  • Flugträume, 1983
  • Aladins Problem, 1983
    - Aladdin's Problem (translated by Joachim Neugroschel, 1992)
  • Autor und Autorschaft, 1984
  • Eine gefährliche Begegnung, 1985
  • Zwei Mal Halley, 1987
  • Strahlungen I: Gärten und Straßen. Das erste Pariser Tagebuch. Kaukasische Aufzeichnungen, 1988
    - A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals, 1941-1945. Including "Notes from the Caucaus" and "Kirchhorst Diaries" (foreword by Elliot Y. Neaman; translated by Thomas S. Hansen and Abby J Hansen, 2018)
  • Die Schere, 1990
  • Prognosen, 1993
  • Strahlungen II: Das zweite Pariser Tagebuch. Kirchhorster Blätter. Die Hütte im Weinberg, 1995
    - A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals, 1941-1945. Including "Notes from the Caucaus" and "Kirchhorst Diaries" (foreword by Elliot Y. Neaman; translated by Thomas S. Hansen and Abby J Hansen, 2018)
  • Weiße Nächte, 1997
  • Ernst Jünger, Rudolf Schlichter: Briefe 1935-1955, 1997 (edited by  Dirk Heisserer)
  • Briefe 1930-1983 / Ernst Jünger, Carl Schmitt, 1999 (edited by Helmuth Kiesel)
  • Politische Publizistik 1919 bis 1933, 2001 (edited by  Sven Olaf Berggötz)
  • Ernst Jünger, Gerhard Nebel: Briefe 1938-1974, 2003 (edited by Ulrich Fröschle and Michael Neumann)
  • Briefe 1927-1985 / Ernst Jünger, Friedrich Hielscher, 2005 (edited by Ina Schmidt and Stefan Breuer)
  • Gottfried Benn, Ernst Jünger: Briefwechsel 1949-1956, 2006 (edited by Holger Hof)
  • Briefe 1937-1970 / Ernst Jünger, Stefan Andres, 2007 (edited by Günther Nicolin)
  • Briefe 1949-1975 / Ernst Jünger, Martin Heidegger, 2008 (edited by Günter Figal)
    - Correspondence, 1949-1975 / Martin Heidegger and Ernst Jünger (translated by Timothy Sean Quinn, 2016)
  • Briefwechsel 1943-1966 und weitere Dokumente, 2010 (edited by Matthias Schöning, et al.)
  • Kriegstagebuch 1914-1918, 2010 (edited by  Helmuth Kiesel)
  • Feldpostbriefe an die Familie 1915-1918, 2014 (edited by Heimo Schwilk)
  • Ernst Jünger, André Müller: Gespräche über Schmerz, Tod und Verzweiflung, 2015 (edited by Christophe Fricker)
  • The Worker: Dominion and Form, 2017 (edited by Laurence Paul Hemming; translated from the German by Bogdan Costea and Laurence Paul Hemming)
  • Auf den Marmor-Klippen: Ernst Jünger am Vorabend des Zweiten Weltkriegs / Hans Dieter Schäfer; mit sechs Briefen von Ernst Jünger an seinen Bruder Friedrich Georg Jünger, 2018
  • A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals, 1941-1945 Including "Notes from the Caucaus" and "Kirchhorst Diaries", 2018 (foreword by Elliot Y. Neaman; translated by Thomas S. Hansen and Abby J Hansen)
  • Ernst Jünger-Joseph Wulf: der Briefwechsel 1962-1974, 2019 (herausgegeben von Anja Keith und Detlev Schöttker)
  • Approaches: Drugs and Altered States, 2022 (translated by Thomas Friese; edited and with an introduction by Russell A. Berman)
  • Strahlungen, 2022 (Historisch-kritische Ausgabe; hrsg. von Joana van de Löcht und Helmuth Kiesel; unter Mitarbeit von Friederike Mayer-Lindenberg)
  • On the Marble Cliffs, 2023 (New York Review Books; translated Tess Lewis)

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