Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Article on Ernst Jünger's "A German Officer in Occupied Paris"

Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily for linking to a review of Ernst Jünger's recently translated World War II diary A German Officer in Occupied Paris. The article is titled "A Dandy Goes to War", authored by Michael Lewis. I've been interested in Jünger since reading On the Marble Cliffs, probably the strangest book I've ever read. The more I read about him, the harder it seems to pin down his beliefs during the 1930s and '40s in Germany. Though not outspoken in his support of the Nazi regime, he drew a "cushy" job in Paris during the war, allowing him to "hobnob with famous artists and writers, prowl antiquarian bookstores, and forage for the rare beetles he collected."

Jünger has long been a controversial character. His inter-World War writings have been interpreted as supportive of the need for a strong, Nazi-like party to lead Germany while his own experience showed a marked ambivalence toward the Nazis. As the article points out, "Jünger's belief system was an idiosyncratic mysticism that drew equally from science and religion; by temperament he was essentially a German romantic, for whom intense personal experience led to an understanding of the fundamental unity of nature." Since that doesn't seem to support any historical political party, no wonder it's difficult to pin him down.

Michael Lewis' review notes the lack of editorial notes, its poor translation at times, and the omission of Jünger's preface to his original release of the diaries. Even so, it's an important addition to investigating the events of World War II from a German viewpoint. As Lewis notes at the end of the review:
There is still ample material here to debate the moral choices made—and evaded— by Jünger, and to ponder [Jean] Cocteau's final verdict, who liked Jünger but whose aloofness troubled him: "Some people had dirty hands, some had clean hands, but Jünger had no hands."

Related: My notes on On the Marble Cliffs can be found here.

Update: Please see Simon Friedrich's note in the Comment section. If you you are interested in finding out more about Jünger and his writings, see his blog at ernst-juenger.org. Simon's review of the diary can be found here, which also has links to additional reviews, including one by Michael Dirda.

Note: I find that sometimes the full version of the review comes up while a truncated version loads at other times. If you get the short version leading to a paywall, try again in a little bit.

Additional Note: I apologize for the extended silence. There is a lot going on, most of it good, but I don't want to say much about it at this point. Posts will be scattershot in timing and content for a few more months.


Simon Friedrich said...

I've read these war diaries in Germanm, as well as others - Juenger was a great diarist throughout his life - and find them key to understanding the evolution of the man over his 103 years. Hence this is an important translations to appear.

As you correctly state, EJ is difficult to pin down, and this is part of his great interest - he is not a stereotyped character who fits into this or that school, intellectual trend or political party.

This is true chronologically over the span of his lifetime, for he was not a static character but refined and changed his views over his many years and vast readings and experiences. But, especially in his mature years, he was also difficult to pin down at any particular point. The simple explanation is that like most truly original thinkers, of whom there are very few, his views are highly complex and sometimes apparently contradictory to the external viewer. This reflects both the character of the man and the times.

Nevertheless, EJ was always sincere and when he changed his stance - for example in regared to technology, to nationalism or politics, he fully accepted and could justify his previous positions as part of the necessary process of evolution.

Much more on Juenger on my own blog - www.ernst-juenger.org

Dwight said...

Thanks for the note Simon! I've added a link to your blog in the post for those that want to find out more about this unique author.