Friday, November 5, 2010

Ernst Jünger

Ernst Jünger (March 29, 1895 – February 17, 1998) was a German writer. In addition to his novels and diaries, he is well known for Storm of Steel, an account of his experience during World War I.

Jünger was born in Heidelberg to a middle class family, and grew up in Hannover as the son of a chemical engineer become pharmacist. He went to school between the years of 1901 and 1913 and was member of the Wandervogel movement. In 1913, he ran away from home to join the French Foreign Legion where he served very briefly in North Africa. During World War I he served with distinction in the Imperial German Army on the Western Front. In the first week of January 1917 he was awarded the Iron Cross First Class and in September 1918 was awarded the German Empire's highest military decoration of that time, the Pour le Mérite (informally known as the "Blue Max"). Received as a Lieutenant at the age of 23, he was the youngest soldier ever to be given this award.

His war experiences are first described in Storm of Steel (German title: In Stahlgewittern) which was published in 1920 (self-published). This book by which Jünger became suddenly famous has been seen as glorifying war. Jünger served as a lieutenant in the army of the Weimar Republic until his demobilisation in 1923. He studied marine biology, zoology, botany, and philosophy, and became a well-known entomologist. He married Gretha von Jeinsen (1906–1960) in 1925; they had two children, Ernst (1926–1944) and Alexander (1934–1993).

In the 1920s Jünger published articles in several right-wing nationalist journals, and further novels. As in Storm of Steel, in the book Feuer und Blut (1925, "Fire and Blood"), Jünger glorified war as an internal event. According to Jünger, war elevates the soldier's life, isolated from normal humanity, into a mystical experience. The extremities of modern military techniques tested the capacity of the human senses. Even though he never endorsed the Nazi Party, and indeed kept them at a careful distance, Jünger's Storm of Steel sold well into the six-figure range by the end of the 1930s.

He served in World War II as an army captain. Assigned to an administrative position in Paris, he socialized with prominent artists of the day such as Picasso and Jean Cocteau. His early time in France is described in his diary Gärten und Straßen (1942, Gardens and Streets).

Jünger was also peripherally involved in the Stauffenberg bomb plot. He was clearly an inspiration to anti-Nazi conservatives in the German Army, and while in Paris he was close to the old, mostly Prussian officers who carried out the assassination attempt against Hitler. In the aftermath, Jünger suffered only dismissal from the army, rather than execution.

Jünger was among the forerunners of magical realism. His vision in The Glass Bees (1957, German title: Gläserne Bienen), of a future in which an overmechanized world threatens individualism, could be seen as science fiction. A sensitive poet with training in botany and zoology, as well as a soldier, his works in general are infused with tremendous details of the natural world. His critics claim there is an excess of emotional control and precision in his writing. In 1981 he was awarded the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca.

Throughout his whole life he had experimented with drugs such as ether, cocaine, and hashish; and later in life he used mescaline and LSD. These experiments were recorded comprehensively in Annäherungen (1970, Approaches). The novel Besuch auf Godenholm (1952, Visit to Godenholm) is clearly influenced by his early experiments with mescaline and LSD. He met several times with LSD inventor Albert Hofmann and they took LSD together. Hofmann's memoir LSD, My Problem Child describes some of these meetings.

Jünger's 100th birthday on March 29, 1995, was met with praise from many quarters, including the French president François Mitterrand.

He died on February 17, 1998 in Riedlingen, Upper Swabia, the last living bearer of the military version of the order of the Pour le Mérite.

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