Ernst Junger

Ernst Junger

Ernst Junger

Ernst Junger

Excerpt

The central themes of the writer Ernst Jünger are death, total war, and the depersonalisation of modern man. By virtue of the magnitude of these themes he is the most important author writing in Germany today, and the most important of those who continued writing in Germany after 1933.

This importance a reader of Ringer's work is likely at first to confuse with greatness; and this is what all his German critics have done. In six full-scale monographs,1 several dissertations and numerous articles Jünger has been extolled (and has, perhaps for that reason, come to regard himself) as a great writer. And, indeed, the magnitude of his themes and assertions and the sheer purposefulness of his writings made me hesitate for a long time to reject this claim. In the end, however, the standards of literary criticism proved neither inadequate nor irrelevant to Jünger's work; and an examination of his 'language' was found to do no injustice to his 'ideas', for (to the reader at any rate) the one is identical with the other. Yet the evidence of the written word leaves no doubt that his entire work springs from a defective response of his sensibility to the issues he has chosen to express, and bears throughout the taint of that radical defect. While urging the importance of these issues, I shall try to show that his response to them relegates him to the rank of the secondrate, even though in his particular themes he has, as a matter of historical fact, no master.

Ernst Jünger's whole work, from his war-journal The Storm of Steel2 ( 1920) to his utopia Heliopolis ( 1949) is a highly intellectual project to work out a new style of assent to death and to total warfare. But since (as I hope to show) the creation of a new style cannot, in literature as we know it, be the object of explicit endeavour; since, secondly, our experience of death cannot, as long as we live, be anything but vicarious (and its expression indirect); and since, finally, the situation of modern war is to literature as we know it the least negotiable of all situations, Jünger's project appears from the outset precarious. Nevertheless, on this project of a new style is founded Jünger's claim -- explicit in many passages, implied throughout -- to be the representative voice of a generation to whom a world informed by humanist values has ceased to be real, to whom, more particularly, the themes and forms of literature appear exhausted. His importance lies not in the truth or comprehensiveness of his generalizations; nor in the abundance or precision of his imagination; and certainly not in the liveliness and warmth of his sympathies; but in the resolution and consistency with which he . . .

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