Academic journal article New Formations

Socialism from the Right? Aesthetics, Politics and the Counter-Revolution in Weimar Germany

Academic journal article New Formations

Socialism from the Right? Aesthetics, Politics and the Counter-Revolution in Weimar Germany

Article excerpt

   Thus the enemy is not content with torturing and killing workers.    He not only wants to smash the red front but also strips the    jewellery off the supposed corpse. The deceiver and murderer cannot    show his face other than with would-be revolutionary speeches and    forms of combat. (1) 

Ernst Junger's novels on the First World War take the form, at least in part, of diaries. Ostensibly culled from his writings during the war, Junger's retention of the diary form expressed a commitment to a documentary aesthetic evident in his famous Storm of Steel, with its original and unwieldy subtitle from the Diary of a Shock Troop Commander, Ernst Junger, War Volunteer, and subsequently Lieutenant in the Rifle Regiment of Prince Albrecht of Prussia (73rd Hanoverian Regiment), and even more so in his novel Copse 125. Junger's documentary realism was of a particular kind, however, combining the immediacy of the diary form with an obsessive rewriting that saw the appearance of multiple versions of his novels. Ideologically, though, his work depended upon a documentary immediacy emerging out of the experience of the front. As he describes it early in Copse 125, his writing there emerged 'illegible, like the wavelines of a seismograph [wie die Wellenlinie eines Nadelstiftes] recording an earthquake, with the ends of the words whipped out into long strokes by the rapidity of the writing--these must have been flung on paper after the attack, in shell-holes or fragments of trench swept by machine-gun bullets like a swarm of deadly hornets'. (2)

An interesting and telling contradiction emerges here. The diary, ostensibly a most personal and interior form of writing, becomes instead an entirely depersonalised and external text. Junger the writer disappears, reconstituted as a recording device, a seismograph whose output precisely mirrors the experience of the front. The writing itself (the strokes of the pen, the words) is identified directly with the front and the machine-gun bullets sweeping over the landscape. Both the writer and the text disappear into the cauldron of what the Germans called the Materialschlacht, the industrialised mass warfare and technologically mediated violence epitomised by the First World War. Junger's own rewriting of his texts of course belies this claim of an unmediated relationship between experience and writing, but the erasure of his own writing, I will argue, is at the heart of the metaphor of the seismograph. Junger's aesthetic strategies, his writing practices, were bound up with his politics; his self-constitution as a militarised writing-machine involved a purging of individuality and interiority that was placed in the service of a radical right counter-revolutionary practice. Klaus Theweleit, whose Male Fantasies remains the richest critical resource on the writing of the Weimar radical right, argues that this characterised their work more generally: 'their mode of writing is no different from their mode of action. The way in which reality is appropriated is the same on either level'. (3)

As Theweleit argues, radical right writing involved the violent inscription of an embodied masculinity experienced as pure will, a radical purging of what was conceived of as a feminised interiority. At the level of action, this took the form of a radicalism that, as the passage from Ernst Bloch cited above suggests, sought to combat the left through an appropriation of their language and cultural practice. Indeed, for Bloch and a few other Marxist critics writing during the Weimar years in Germany (1918-33), the suppression of revolutionary mobilisation through its appropriation marked the political core of the radical right movement of which Junger was a part. Bloch read this appropriation as a symptom of the fractured nature of historical development. History, he argued, 'is a polyrhythmic and multi-spatial entity, with enough unmastered and as yet by no means revealed and resolved corners'. …

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