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|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. 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 publication of the allegory 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)
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." 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". From 1919 to 1923 he served as an Officer in the army of the Weimar Republic. After studying biology in Leipzig and Naples, 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. André Gide said that The Storm of Steel is "the finest book on war that I know: utterly honest, truthful, in good faith." 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." Jünger found war exciting, he felt he was part of "ancient history". In his other books 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. Jünger was convinced that humanism has lost its cohesive force and the ultimate struggle for power was imminent. A new type of man will emerge who is destined to reorganize the world. In soldier and his counterpart, the poet, Jünger recognized the virtues of discipline, sensitiviness, and intelligence. During this time he wrote two of his best works, Das abenteuerliche Herz (1929), a collection of essays, and Der Arbeiter (1932), about the social and emotional stucture of the contemporary worker. However, Jünger opposed anti-Semitism. Its violence touched also his friends. 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." 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.
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 1943 he had noted in his diary: "When all buildings shall be destroyed, language will none the less persist. It will be a magic castle with towers and battlements, with primeval vaults and passageways which none will ever search out. There, in deep galleries, oubliettes and mine-shafts it will be possible to find habitation and be lost to the world. Today that thought consoles me." 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 works 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. 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 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.
For further reading: 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)