The German author Ernst Jünger (born 1895) was one of the most original and influential German writers and intellectuals of the 20th century.
Ernst Jünger was born on March 29, 1895, in Heidelberg, the son of a druggist. At the age of 16 he ran away from school and enlisted in the Foreign Legion. Extricated by his family, he volunteered for war service in 1914; wounded 14 times, he was decorated in 1918. Subsequently Jünger studied botany and zoology at Leipzig and Naples. His war experience and his scientific experience are the two poles of his life, his subject matter, and his vocabulary and imagery.
Jünger first wrote a series of essentially autobiographical war diaries, In Stahlgewittern (1920; In Storms of Steel), Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis (1922; Battle as Inner Experience), Das Wäldchen 125 (1925; Wood 125), and Feuer und Blut (1926; Fire and Blood). He blends stark realism— indeed brutality—of detail with a language that is often intoxicated, highly stylized, or apodictic; he glorifies the primacy of instinctual life and imputes to Western democracy "the metaphysics of the restaurant-car."
Involved in politics in the late 1920s, in 1931 Jünger published Die totale Mobilmachung (Total Mobilization) and in 1932 Der Arbeiter (The Worker). His concept of the total mobilization of society and his view of the worker as a mere integer in a technological world have an antihumanistic and indeed totalitarian cast. Analogies with fascistic doctrines may be easily discerned in these works that define freedom as total identification with the mass will. But Jünger was not a member of the Nazi party; a group with which he had connections, the National Bolsheviks, was broken up by the Gestapo in 1937. He himself, however, was protected by his high military friends.
Jünger's novel Auf den Marmorklippen (1939; On the Marble Cliffs), his best-known work, shows an evolution of attitude and is generally regarded as an allegorical critique of Hitlerism and of the totalitarian state. The book appeared in December 1939 and was suddenly banned in the spring of 1940. Auf den Marmorklippen portrays the violence with which a peaceful culture, reflected in the secluded lives of two practicing botanists, is overrun and destroyed by the hordes of a tyrant known as the Head Forester. The language is highly colored, recondite, strange, and brutal. The apostrophe of "Spirit," of science and humanism, which seems to be the message of the book, is perhaps somewhat belied by the exultancy with which the violence is described.
Jünger served in the German army once more, from 1939 to 1944. His subsequent novels, Heliopolis (1949) and Gläserne Bienen (1957; Glass Bees), restate the central issue of the conflict between reason and instinct, contemplation and action. He also published several volumes of essays and diaries.
Further Reading on Ernst Jünger
Joseph Peter Stern, Ernst Jünger (1953), is an excellent, penetrating analysis of Jünger's strengths and weaknesses. Good short discussions may also be found in Jethro Bithell, Modern German Literature (1939; 3d ed. 1959), and in H. M. Waidson, The Modern German Novel (1959).