Prose & Poetry - Ernest Junger

Ernst Junger in Foreign Legion uniform Prolific German novelist and essayist, whose militarism and anti-Semitism in the 1920s and 1930s was changed in his allegory On the Marble Cliffs (1939) into a criticism of the German National Socialism.

Junger served as an officer of the German Army in both world wars - during World War II he was an officer in the Wermacht and part of the forces occupying Paris.

His career as a writer spanned over 80 years and his decisions on the crucial moments of his life showed exceptional independence.

Junger's brother was the poet and essayist Friedrich Georg Junger.

"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 Junger was born in Heidelberg as the son of a pharmacist.  He grew up in Hanover where he attended school between the years 1901 and 1913.  Junger then ran away from home to join the French Foreign Legion.  He survived the harsh discipline and served in North Africa.  In World War I he distinguished himself at the Western Front.  Junger was wounded several times and received the highest badge of honour.  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 Junger contributed to several right-wing journals, including Standarte, Arminus, Widerstandz, Die Commenden, and Der Wormarch.  His first book, In Stahlgewittern, appeared in 1920.  It argued that Germany's suffering in WWI was as a prelude to a greater victory and rebirth for the nation.  While not glorifying the soldierly bravery, Junger believed that the war was the first encounter in a forthcoming global conflict.  His other books mocked the democracy of the Weimar Republic, although on the other hand he rejected Adolf Hitler's offers of friendship in the 1920s.  He also turned down the offer to head the Nazi Writer's Union in 1933.

In 1927 Junger moved to Berlin, becoming a nationalist publicist and writer, who welcomed the seizure of power by the Nazis.  Junger 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, Junger recognized the virtues of discipline, sensitiveness, 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 structure of the contemporary worker.  However, Junger opposed anti-Semitism and his former lover Else Lasker-Schüler was abused by the right-wing press when she won a literary award in 1932.  She was beaten unconscious by Nazi thugs.  Junger left Berlin in 1933 just as his ideological opponents were forced to flee, and later, from 1938, he was forbidden to write.

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 ruined in an apocalyptic battle, reminding the fate of Germany.  The brothers escape to the mountain fastness of Alta Plana.

During the WW II Junger served in the army as a Captain.  In his diary, Garten Und Strassen (1942), he wrote about his months in 1940 in France.  Junger lived mostly in Paris associating among others with such artists as Pablo Picasso.  He knew about the conspiracy against Hitler in 1944, but did not actively participate into it.  However, Junger was dishonourably discharged for anti-Nazi activities.  Junger'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."

After the war Junger's works were banned for a few years.  He refused to to appear before a German 'de-Nazification' tribunal.  His diaries from 1939 to 1948 were published in one volume under the title Strahlungen (1948).  Junger's pamphlet Der Friede, written in 1943 and published in 1947, marked the end of his involvement in politics.  He became a strong supporter of European unity and promoter of individual rights.  In the 1950s and 1960s Junger travelled extensively.  His first wife Gretha von Jeinsein died in 1960 and Junger married Liselotte Lohrewr in 1962.  From 1959 to 1971 he was the co-editor the journal Antaios.

Junger's later works include Siebzig Verweht (1980-81), Aladins Problem (1983) and Eine Gefahrliche Begegnung (1985).  Junger 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 Junger is considered among the forerunners of Magic Realism.  Junger painted visions of the future, where an over mechanised world threatens individualism as in The Glass Bees (1957).  In his essays Junger observed dispassionately the historical and social development - in this he was accused of inhuman indifference, or after World War II, elitism.  Junger wanted to preserve his autonomy of thoughts and his independence, and also made himself the object of observations, among others during his experiments with drugs.  In the early 1920s he had used ether, cocaine, and hashish; thirty years later he turned to mescaline, ololuqui, and LSD.  His experiments were recorded comprehensively in Annaherungen (1970).  Junger was a close friend of Martin Heidegger, but their dialogue has been described by Pierre Bourdieu as political-metaphysical junk.

Article contributed by Petri Liukkonen, website Author's Calendar.

An "incendiary shell" is an artillery shell packed with highly flammable material, such as magnesium and phosphorous, intended to start and spread fire when detonated.

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Prose & Poetry