On June 18, 1940, Mr. Churchill ended his speech to the Commons with the words “This was their finest hour!” and, that evening, a very different character, in the gray officer’s uniform of the Wehrmacht, sat in the Duchesse de la Rochefoucauld’s study at the Château de Montmirail. Her uninvited guest was a short, athletic man of forty-five, with a mouth set in an expression of self-esteem and eyes a particularly arctic shade of blue. He leafed through her books with the assured touch of the bibliomane and noted that many bore the dedications of famous writers. A letter slipped from one and fell to the floor—a delightful letter written by a boy called François who wanted to be a pilot. He wondered if the boy was now a pilot. Finally, after dark, he settled down to write his diary. It was a long entry—almost two thousand words—for his day, too, had been eventful.
In the morning, he had discussed the risks of getting burned alive with a tank driver in oil-soaked denims: “I had the impression that Vulcan and his ‘ethic of work’ was incarnate in such martial figures.” After luncheon, he had stood in the school playground and watched a column of ten thousand French and Belgian prisoners file past: “…an image of the dark wave of Destiny herself…, an interesting and instructive spectacle” in which one sensed the “mechanical, irresistible allure peculiar to catastrophes.” He had chucked them cans of beef and biscuits and watched their struggles from behind an iron grille: the sight of their hands was especially disturbing.
Next, he had spotted a group of officers with decorations from the Great War, and invited them to dine. They were on the verge of collapse, but a good dinner seemed like a reversal of their fortunes. Could he explain, they asked, the reasons for their defeat? “I said I considered it the Triumph of the Worker, but I do not think they understood the sense of my reply. What could they know of the years we have passed through since 1918? Of the lessons we have learned as if in a blast furnace?”
The absent duchess had reason to thank the man who nosed in her private affairs. Captain Ernst Jünger was, at that moment, the most celebrated German writer in uniform. No catastrophe could surprise him since for twenty years his work had harped on the philosophical need to accept death and total warfare as the everyday experience of the twentieth century. Yet he tempered his assent to destruction with an anti-quarian’s reverence for bricks and mortar, and had saved the château.
Indeed, he had saved a lot of things in the blitzkrieg. A week earlier, he had saved the Cathedral of Laon from looters. He had saved the city’s library with its manuscripts of the Carolingian kings. And he had employed an out-of-work wine waiter to inspect some private cellars and save some good bottles for himself. Bombs, it was true, had fallen in the La Rochefoucaulds’ park. A pavillion had burned out, leaving in one window a fragment of glass that “reproduced exactly the head of Queen Victoria.” Otherwise, after a bit of tidying up, the place was just as its owners had left it. Moreover, Captain Jünger had other reasons for feeling pleased with himself.
“The Maxims [of La Rochefoucauld] have long been my favorite bedside reading. It was an act of spiritual gratitude to save what could be saved. For properties of such value, the essential is to protect them during the critical days.”
Easier said than done! “The route of the invasion is strewn with bottles, champagne, claret, burgundy. I counted at least one for every step, to say nothing of the camps where one could say it had rained bottles. Such orgies are in the true tradition of our campaigns in France. Every invasion by a German army is accompanied by drinking bouts like those of the gods in the Edda.”
A junior officer remarked how strange it was that the looting soldiers destroyed musical instruments first: “It showed me in a symbolic fashion how Mars is contrary to the Muses…and then I recalled the large painting by Rubens illustrating the same theme….” How strange, too, that they left the mirrors intact! The officer thought this was because the men wanted to shave—but Jünger thought there might be other reasons.
These diaries—three volumes of them—have recently reappeared in France, where the translation of Jünger’s work is a minor literary industry. To English-speaking readers, however, he is known by two books—Storm of Steel (1920), a relentless glorification of modern warfare, and On the Marble Cliffs, his allegorical, anti-Nazi capriccio of 1939 that describes an assassination attempt on a tyrant and appears, in retrospect, to be a prophecy of the von Stauffenberg bomb plot of 1944.
Yet Jünger’s partisans—more French perhaps than German—claim for him the status of “great writer,” a thinker of Goethean wisdom, whose political leanings toward the extreme right have robbed him of the recognition he deserves. Certainly, the scale of his erudition is titanic: his singularity of purpose is unswerving, and even at eighty-five he continues to elaborate on the themes that have held his attention for over sixty years: He is—or has been—soldier, aesthete, novelist, essayist, the ideologue of an authoritarian political party, and a trained taxonomic botanist. His lifelong hobby has been the study of entomology: indeed, what the butterfly was to Nabokov, the beetle is to Jünger—especially the armor-plated beetle. He is also the connoisseur of hallucinogens who took a number of “trips” with his friend Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of lysergic acid.1
He writes a hard, lucid prose. Much of it leaves the reader with an impression of the author’s imperturbable self-regard, of dandyism, of cold-bloodedness, and, finally, of banality. Yet the least promising passages will suddenly light up with flashes of aphoristic brilliance, and the most harrowing descriptions are alleviated by a yearning for human values in a dehumanized world. The diary is the perfect form for a man who combines such acute powers of observation with an anaesthetized sensibility.
He was born in 1895, the son of a pharmacist from Hanover. By 1911, bored by the conventional world of his parents, he joined the Wandervogel Movement and so became acquainted with the values of Open Air, Nature, Blood, Soil, and Fatherland: already he was the expert beetle-hunter who spent many happy hours with his killing bottle. Two years later, he ran away to the Sahara and joined the Foreign Legion, only to be brought back by his father. In 1914, on the first day of war, he enlisted in the 73rd Hanoverian Fusiliers and emerged in 1918 “punctured in twenty places,” with the highest military decoration, the Croix pour le Mérite, an enlarged sense of personal grandeur, and in possession of a meticulous diary that recorded the horrific beauty of trench warfare and the reckless gaiety of men under fire. The Fall of Germany was thus the making of Jünger.
Storm of Steel made him the hero of a generation of young officers who had given all and ended up, if lucky, with the Iron Cross. Gide praised it as the finest piece of writing to come out of the war. Certainly, it is quite unlike anything of its time—none of the pastoral musings of Siegfried Sassoon or Edmund Blunden, no whiffs of cowardice as in Hemingway, none of the masochism of T.E. Lawrence, or the compassion of Remarque. Instead, Jünger parades his belief in Man’s “elementary” instinct to kill other men—a game which, if played correctly, must conform to a chivalric set of rules. (In a later essay, “Battle as Inner Experience,” he sets forth his views on the innate gratifications of hand-to-hand fighting.) Finally, you end up with a picture of the war as a grim, but gentlemanly, shooting party. “What a bag!” he exclaims when they capture 150 prisoners. Or: “Caught between two fires, the English tried to escape across the open and were gunned down like game at a battue.” And how strange it was to gaze into the eyes of the young Englishman you’d shot down five minutes before!
Even in his early twenties, Jünger presents himself as an aesthete at the center of a tornado, quoting Stendhal that the art of civilization consists in “combining the most delicate pleasures…with the frequent presence of danger.” At Combles, for example, he finds an untenanted house “where a lover of beautiful things must have lived”; and though half the house gets blown to bits, he goes on reading in an armchair until interrupted by a violent blow on his calf: “There was a ragged hole in my puttees from which blood streamed to the floor. On the other side was the circular swelling of a piece of shrapnel under the skin.” No one but a man of Jünger’s composure could describe the appearance of a bullet hole through his chest as if he were describing his nipple.
After the war, he took up botany, entomology, and marine biology, first at Leipzig, then in Naples. Like so many others of his generation, he was saturated by the garbled form of Darwinism as doctored for nationalist purposes. Yet he was too intelligent to fall for the cruder versions of the theory that led members of the German scientific establishment to condone the slaughter of Gypsies and Jews—recognizing, as he did, that any theory is also the autobiography of the theorist and can but reflect an “infinitesimal part of the whole.” His pleasures in biology tended toward the Linnaean classification of species—aesthetic pleasures that offered him a glimpse of the Primordial Paradise as yet untainted by Man. Moreover, the insect world, where instincts govern behavior as a key fits a lock, had an irresistible attraction to a man of his utopian vision.
By 1927, he was back in Berlin where his friends were a mixed bag that included Kubin, Dr. Goebbels, Bertolt Brecht, and Ernst Toller. He became a founding member of the National Bolshevist Caucus—a zealous, extremist political party that flourished for a while in late Weimar, negligible in its effect on history, though not without interesting theoretical implications. These so-called “Prussian Communists” hated capitalism, hated the bourgeois West, and hoped to graft the methods of Bolshevism onto the chivalric ideals of the Junkers. Their leader, Ernst Niekisch, visualized an alliance of workers and soldier-aristocrats who would abolish the middle classes. Jünger himself was the ideologue of the movement and, in 1932, published a book that was to have been its manifesto.
The Worker (Der Arbeiter) is a vaguely formulated machine-age utopia whose citizens are required to commit themselves to a “total mobilization” (the origin of the term is Jünger’s) in the undefined interests of the State. The Worker, as Jünger understands him, is a technocrat. His business, ultimately, is war. His freedom—or rather, his sense of inner freedom—is supposed to correspond to the scale of his productivity. The aim is world government—by force.
Nor surprisingly, the movement petered out. Niekisch was later arrested by the Gestapo and was murdered, in 1945, in jail. As for Jünger, his war record gave him a certain immunity from the Nazis and he retreated into a private, almost eremitic, life of scientific contemplation and belles lettres. Though he deplored Hitler as a vulgar technician who had misunderstood the metaphysics of power, he did nothing to try to stop him, believing anyway that democracy was dead and the destiny of machineage man was essentially tragic: “The history of civilization is the gradual replacement of men by things.” Yet, again and again, he insists that the wars of the twentieth century are popular wars—wars, that is, of the People, of the canaille, and not of the professional soldier. From his viewpoint, albeit an oblique one, National Socialism was a phenomenon of the left.
Throughout the middle Thirties, Jünger wrote essays, traveled to the tropics, and kept a cold eye on the Fatherland. By 1938, at the time of the Generals’ Plot, he seems to have flirted with resistance to Hitler, and one night at his house at Ueberlingen, near Lake Constance, he met a young, patriotic aristocrat, Heinrich von Trott zu Solz (whose elder brother, Adam, was the ex-Rhodes scholar and friend of England who would be hanged for his part in the von Stauffenberg plot of July 1944). What passed between them, Jünger does not relate. What is certain is that the visit gave him the idea for a story.2
On the Marble Cliffs is an allegorical tale, written in a frozen, humorless, yet brilliantly colored style that owes something to the nineteenth-century Decadents and something to the Scandinavian sagas. The result is a prose equivalent of an Art Nouveau object in glass, and the plot is much less silly than it sounds in précis:
Two men—the narrator and Brother Otho (not to be distinguished from Jünger himself and his own brother, the poet Friedrich Georg) are aesthetes, scientists, and soldiers who have retired from war to a remote cliffside hermitage, where they work on a Linnaean classification of the region’s flora, and harbor a lot of pet snakes. Far below lies the Grand Marina, a limpid lake surrounded by the farms, the vineyards, and cities of a venerable civilization. To the north there stretches an expanse of steppe-land where pastoral nomads drive their herds. Beyond that are the black forests of Mauretania, the sinister realm of the Chief Ranger (Oberförster) with his pack of bloodhounds and gang of disciplined freebooters in whose ranks the brothers once served.
The Oberförster is planning to destroy the Grand Marina:
He was one of those figures whom the Mauretanians respect as great lords and yet find somewhat ridiculous—rather as an old colonel is received in the regiment on occasional visits from his estates. He left an imprint on one’s mind if only because his green coat with its gold-embroidered ilexes drew all eyes to him…. (His own eyes), like those of hardened drinkers, were touched with a red flame, but expressed both cunning and unshakeable power—yes, at times, even majesty. Then we took pleasure in his company and lived in arrogance at the table of the great….
As evil spreads over the land “like mushroom-spawn over rotten wood,” the two brothers plunge deeper and deeper into the mystery of flowers. But on a botanical expedition to the Mauretanian forest in search of a rare red orchid, they stumble on the Oberförster’s charnel house, Köppels-Bleek, where a dwarf sings gaily as he scrapes at a flaying bench:
Over the dark door on the gable end a skull was nailed fast, showing its teeth and seeming to invite entry with its grin. Like a jewel in its chain, it was the central link of a narrow gable frieze which appeared to be formed of brown spiders. Suddenly we guessed that it was fashioned of human hands….
The brothers’ discovery of the orchid gives them a “strange feeling of invulnerability” and the strength to continue their studies. But one day, just before the Oberförster launches his attack on the Marina, they are visited by one of his henchmen, Bracquemart, and the young Prince of Sunmyra.
Braquemart is a “small, dark, haggard fellow, whom we found somewhat coarse-grained but, like all Mauretanians, not without wit.” The Prince, on the other hand, is “remote and absentminded” with an “air of deep suffering” and the “stamp of decadence.” This pair, of course, is planning a coup d’état, which fails when the Oberförster unleashes his bloodhounds. The leader of the pack is called Chiffon Rouge, i.e., Red Flag, and, in a scene of appalling ferocity, everyone gets mangled and killed except for the two brothers, who are saved by the miraculous intervention of their own pet lance-head vipers. Later, at Köppels-Bleek, they find the heads of the two conspirators on poles, Bracquemart having killed himself first “with the capsule of poison that all Mauretanians carry.” But on the “pale mask of the Prince from which the scalped flesh hung in ribbons…there played the shadow of a smile intensely sweet and joyful, and I knew then that the weaknesses had fallen from this noble man with each step of his martyrdom….”—which description can be compared to the photo of Adam von Trott, as he heard the death sentence, in the People’s Court, five years after Jünger wrote his book.3
On the Marble Cliffs sold 35,000 copies before it was suppressed early in 1940. How it slipped through the censor machine of Dr. Goebbels is less of a mystery when one realizes that Braquemart was modeled on Dr. Goebbels himself, who was flattered and amused by it, and later alarmed by its popularity among the officer caste. Jünger himself claimed then—as now—that the fable is not specifically anti-Nazi, but “above all that.” And I don’t doubt that he conceived it as a contemptuous, sweeping, Spenglerian statement on the destruction of the old Mediterranean-based civilization of Europe: the Oberförster could, at a pinch, stand for Stalin as well as Hitler.
At a meeting of the Nazi Party, Reichsleiter Boulher is supposed to have said: “Mein Führer, this time Jünger has gone too far!” but Hitler calmed him down and said: “Let Jünger be!” All the same, the writer’s friends advised him to get into uniform; and so by the fall of 1939 he found himself with the rank of Captain, posted to the Siegfried Line, convinced, by now, that the private journal was the only practical medium for literary expression in a totalitarian state.
In his introduction to his diaries, Jünger invokes the story of seven sailors who agreed to study astronomy on the Arctic island of St. Maurice during the winter of 1633, and whose journal was found beside their bodies when the whaling ships returned the following summer. The fate of Jünger’s journal is to be that of Poe’s “Ms. Found in a Bottle”—a record thrown into an uncertain future by a man who may die tomorrow, yet who cherishes his writing as a man “cherishes those of his children who have no chance of surviving.”
Their German title, Strahlungen, means “Reflections”—in the sense that the writer collects particles of light and reflects them onto the reader. In this case the light is lurid—yet once read, these books are never forgotten. They are surely the strangest literary production to come out of the Second World War, stranger by far than anything by Céline or Malaparte. Jünger reduces his war to a sequence of hallucinatory prose poems in which things appear to breathe and people perform like automata or, at best, like insects. So when he focuses on occupied Paris the result is like a diorama in the Entomological Department of a natural history museum.
The opening pages find Jünger in April 1939 at a new house in Kirchhorst near Hanover, putting the final touches to On the Marble Cliffs and having bad dreams about Hitler, whom he calls by the pseudonym of Kniébolo. By winter time, he is exchanging desultory fire with the French batteries across the Rhine. He saves the life of a gunner, and gets another Iron Cross. Among his reading: the Bible, Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, and Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy. He sleeps in a reed hut, in a sleeping bag lined with rose-colored silk, and on his forty-fifth birthday a young officer brings him a bottle of wine with a bunch of violets tied round the neck.
After the invasion of France, there is a gap until April 1941 when he surfaces in Paris as “Officer with Special Mission attached to the Military Command”—his job: to censor mail and sound out the intellectual and social life of the city. And he remains in Paris, with interruptions, until the Americans are at the gates.
He presents himself as the zealous Francophile who believes that France and Germany have everything to offer each other. Indeed, everything does point to collaboration. Pétain’s armistice is still popular; anti-Semitism flourishing; and Anglophobia given an enormous boost by the sinking of the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir. There is even talk of avenging Waterloo and, when Stalin enters the war, “Les Anglo-Saxons travaillent pour Oncle Jo.” Besides, Jünger’s French friends are determined the war shall cramp their style as little as possible. And how well-mannered the newcomers are! What a relief after all those years of Americans in Paris!
In the first weeks, Captain Jünger is a tourist in the city of every German soldier’s dream. He lives at the Hotel Raphäel, and goes on long walks alone. He inspects the gargoyles of Nôtre-Dame, the “Hellenistic” architecture of La Madeleine (“A church if you please!”), and notes that the obelisk in the Place de la Concorde is the color of a champagne sorbet. With his friend General Speidel, he goes to the Marché au Puces; idles the hours away in antiquarian bookshops, and, sometimes, goes to watch a revue of naked girls: many are the daughters of White Russian émigrés, and with one small, melancholic girl he discusses Pushkin and Aksakov’s Memoirs of Childhood.
Paris is full of strange encounters. On Bastille Day, a street player sets aside his violin to shake his hand. He rounds up drunken soldiers from a hôtel de passe and talks to a gay, eighteen-year-old whore. On May 1 he offers lilies-of-the-valley to a young vendeuse: “Paris offers all manner of such meetings. You hardly have to look for them. No wonder: for she is built on an Altar of Venus.” He takes another girl to a milliner’s, buys her a green-feathered hat “the size of a hummingbird’s nest,” and watches her “expand and glow like a soldier who has just been decorated.” Meanwhile, his wife reports from Kirchhorst the contents of her very intellectual dreams.
Then the restaurants. He gets taken to Maxim’s but takes himself to Prunier—“the little dining room on the first floor, fresh and smart, the color of pale aquamarine.” “We lived off lobster and oysters in those days,” he told me—though by 1942 the average Parisian was next to starving. One night he dines at the Tour d’Argent: “One had the impression that the people sitting up there on high, consuming their soles and the famous duck, were looking with diabolical satisfaction, like gargoyles, over the sea of gray roofs which sheltered the hungry. In such times, to eat, and to eat well, gives one a sensation of power.” Another evening, when the Allies bomb the Renault factory, killing five hundred workers, “the event, viewed from our quartier, had rather the appearance of the play of light in a shadow theatre.”
His entry into the higher circles of collaboration begins with a lunch on the Avenue Foch, given for Speidel by Ferdinand de Brinon, Vichy’s unofficial ambassador to the Occupant. There is a vase of startling white orchids “enameled, no doubt, in the virgin forest to attract the eyes of insects.” There is Madame de Brinon, Jewish herself but sneering at the youpins (Jews). There is Arletty, whose latest film is showing in the cinemas. (After the Liberation, accused of a German lover, she will turn those eyes on the judge and murmur “Que je suis une femme…” and get off.) But the star of the party is the playwright Sacha Guitry, who entertains them with anecdotes: of Octave Mirbeau, dying in his arms and saying: “Ne collaborez, jamais!“—meaning: “Never write a play with someone else!”
At a lunch in Guitry’s apartment, Jünger admires the original manuscript of L’Education sentimentale and Sarah Bernhardt’s golden salad bowl. Later, he meets Cocteau and Jean Marais, “a plebeian Antinous,” and Cocteau tells how Proust would receive visitors in bed, wearing yellow kid gloves to stop him from biting his nails, and how the dust lay, “like chinchillas,” on the commodes. He meets Paul Morand, whose book on London describes the city as a colossal house: “If the English were to build the Pyramid, they should put this book in the chamber with the mummy.” Madame Morand is a Rumanian aristocrat and keeps a gray stone Aztec goddess in her drawing room: they wonder how many victims have fallen at its feet. When Jünger sends her a copy of The Worker, she sends a note to his hotel: “For me the art of living is the art of making other people work and keeping pleasure for myself.”
Thursday is the salon of Marie-Louise Bousquet, the Paris correspondent of Harper’s Bazaar, who introduces her German guest to his French “collaborationist” colleagues—Montherlant, Jouhandeau, Léautaud, and Drieu la Rochelle, the editor of the Nouvelle Revue Française, whose own war book, La Comédie de Charleroi, is a tamer counterpart to Storm of Steel—Drieu who will kill himself after several attempts, in 1945, leaving a note for his maid: “Celeste, let me sleep this time.” On one of these Thursdays, Jünger brings an officer friend and his hostess says: “With a regiment of young men like that, the Germans could have walked over France without firing a shot.”
Then there is Abel Bonnard, a travel writer and Vichy Minister of Education, who loved German soldiers and of whom Pétain said: “It’s scandalous to entrust the young to that tapette.” They talk of sea voyages and paintings of shipwrecks—and Jünger, who sees in the shipwreck an image of the end of the world in miniature, is delighted when Bonnard tells of a marine artist called Gudin, who would smash ship models in his studio to get the right effect.
He visits Picasso in his studio in the rue des Grands Augustins. The master shows a series of asymmetrical heads which Jünger finds rather monstrous. He tries to lure him into a general discussion of aesthetics but Picasso refuses to be drawn: “There are chemists who spend their whole lives trying to find out what’s in a lump of sugar. I want to know one thing. What is color?”
But Paris is not all holiday. Shortly after his arrival, Captain Jünger is ordered to the Bois de Bologne to supervise the execution of a German deserter, who has been sheltered by a French-woman for nine months. He has trafficked on the black market. He has made his mistress jealous, even beaten her, and she has reported him to the police. At first, Jünger thinks he will feign illness, but then thinks better of it: “I have to confess it was the spirit of higher curiosity that induced me to accept.” He has seen many people die, but never one who knew it in advance. How does it affect one?
There follows one of the nastiest passages in the literature of war—a firing squad painted in the manner of early Monet: the clearing in the wood, the spring foliage glistening after rain, the trunk of the ash tree riddled with the bullet holes of earlier executions. There are two groups of holes, one for the head and one for the heart, and inside the holes a few black meat flies are sleeping. Then the arrival—two military vehicles, the victim, guards, grave diggers, medical officer and pastor, also a cheap white wood coffin. The face is agreeable, attractive to women; the eyes wide, fixed, avid “as if his whole body were suspended from them”; and in his expression something flourishing and childlike. He wears expensive gray trousers and a gray silk shirt. A fly crawls over his left cheek, then sits on his ear. Does he want an eye band? Yes. A crucifix? Yes. The medical officer pins a red card over his heart, the size of a playing card. The soldiers stand in line; the salvo; five small black holes appear on the card like drops of rain; the twitching; the pallor; the guard who wipes the handcuffs with a chiffon handkerchief. And what about the fly that danced in a shaft of sunlight?
The effectiveness of Jünger’s technique intensifies as the war proceeds. The atmosphere in which he clothes the Military Command reminds one of a Racine tragedy, in which the central characters are either threatened or doomed, and all numbed into elegant paralysis by the howling tyrant offstage. Yet, though the clock ticks on toward catastrophe, they are still allowed to hope for the reprieve of a negotiated peace with the Allies.
Earlier in 1942, German officers can still raise a toast: “Us—after the Deluge!” By the end of the year, it is apparent that the Deluge is also for them. After lunching with Paul Morand at Maxim’s, Jünger sees three Jewish girls arm in arm on the rue Royale with yellow stars pinned to their dresses, and, in a wave of revulsion, feels ashamed to be seen in public. Later, on a mission to the Caucasus in December, he hears a General Müller spell out the details of the gas ovens. All the old codes of honor and decency have broken down, leaving only the foul techniques of German militarism. All the things he has loved—the weapons, the decorations, the uniforms—now, suddenly, fill him with disgust. He feels remorse but not much pity, and dreads the nemesis to come. By the time he gets back to Paris, the Final Solution is in full swing, the trains are running to Auschwitz, and a Commander Ravenstein says: “One day my daughter will pay for all this in a brothel for niggers.”
Letters from home tell of nights of phosphorous and cities in flames. Cologne Cathedral is hit by bombs, and a man from Hamburg reports seeing “a woman carrying in each of her arms the corpse of a carbonized infant.” After a terrible raid on Hanover, Jünger asks the art dealer Etienne Bignou to bring up from his safe Douanier Rousseau’s canvas, La Guerre, ou la Chevauchée de la Discorde. “This picture is one of the greatest visions of our times…. [It has] an infantine candour…a kind of purity in its terror that reminds me of Emily Brontë.”
He checks his address book and crosses out the names of the dead and missing. He reads the Book of Job. He visits Braque. He has his copy of Catalogus Coleopterorum rebound, and works on an “Appeal to the Youth of Europe,” to be called The Peace. A hermaphrodite butterfly gives him the idea for a treatise on symmetry and, in one brilliant aside, he writes that the genius of Hitler was to realize that the twentieth century is the century of cults—which was why men of rational intelligence were unable to understand or to stop him.
Meanwhile, with hopes of an Allied invasion, Paris recovers her perennial toughness. The Salon d’Automne of 1943 is particularly brilliant. “Artists,” he observes,” continue to create in catastrophe like ants in a half-destroyed anthill.” Women’s hats have taken on the shape of the Tower of Babel. Frank Jay Gould, an American trapped in France, reads On the Marble Cliffs and says: “This guy goes from dreams to reality.”
Suddenly, in February 1944, Jünger has to dash to Berlin to rescue his son Ernstel who, in a moment of enthusiasm, has blurted out: “The Führer should be shot!” He succeeds in getting Dönitz to reduce the sentence, but from now on he is under suspicion from the Gestapo. Back in Paris, he gets a whiff of the plot to assassinate Hitler and, one evening in May, he dines with Karl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel, the commander-in-chief. The general is tremendously erudite and plunges into a discussion of Byzantine history, of Plato, Plotinus, and the Gnostics. He is “Hitler’s biggest enemy” but he is also tired and tends to repeat himself. “In certain circumstances,” he says, “a superior man must be prepared to renounce life.” They talk into the night. Both men are botanists and they talk of the nightshade family—nicandra, belladonna, datura—the plants of perpetual sleep.
After the Normandy landings, his friend Speidel—the man who will “forget” the order to V-bomb Paris—tells of his visit to Hitler, now sunk in demented vegetarianism, yelling of “new weapons of destruction.” When the July Plot fails, Von Stülpnagel tries to blow his brains out, but blinds himself only, and is strangled in a Berlin prison. Jünger, who had a date to dine with him that evening, comments thus on the futility of the enterprise: “It will change little and settle nothing. I have already alluded to this in describing the Prince of Sunmyra in On the Marble Cliffs.”
Panic at the Hotel Raphäel. The Americans are near, and the salon hostesses gearing for a change. At a last luncheon for her German friends, Florence Jay Gould comes back from the telephone, smiling: “La Bourse reprend.” It’s time for goodbyes. A last Thursday with Marie-Louise Bousquet, who says: “Now the Tea-Time boys are coming.” A last conversation with the Princesse de Sixte-Bourbon. A last bottle of Chambertin 1904 with its Art Nouveau label. And here is his last entry for Paris:
14 August, en route
Sudden departure at dusk. In the afternoon, last farewells. I left the room in order and put a bouquet on the table. I left pourboires. Unfortunately I left in a drawer some irreplaceable letters.
The rest of Captain Jünger’s war is not a happy story. Relieved of his functions, he goes home to Kirchhorst where he sorts out his papers, reads tales of shipwrecks, reads Huysmans’s A Rebours, and waits for the rumble of American tanks. When a telegram comes with news of Ernstel’s death on the Italian front, he loses the will to be clever and reveals the stricken horror of a parent who has lost what he loves the most. A photo of Ernstel hangs next to that of his protector General Speidel in his library.
Jünger refused to appear before a “de-Nazification” tribunal on the grounds that he had never been a Nazi. But the whole course of his career put him outside the pale for the postwar German literary establishment. If his ideal was “the desert” then he was condemned, until recently, to stay in it. Since 1950 he has lived in the beautiful rolling country of Upper Swabia, at Wilflingen, in a house that lies opposite a castle of the Barons von Stauffenberg, where, by coincidence, Pierre Laval was interned after his escape from France in 1944. (Siegmaringen, Marshall Pétain’s residence and the scene of Céline’s D’un Château l’autre is only a few miles down the road.)
My own visit to Jünger five years ago was an odd experience. At eighty, he had snow-white hair but the bounce of a very active schoolboy. He had a light cackling laugh and tended to drift off if he was not the center of attention. He had recently published a book describing his experiments with drugs, from his first sniff of ether to lysergic acid, and was about to publish an enormous novel called Eumeswil. The ground floor of the house was furnished in the Biedermeyer style, with net curtains and white faience stoves, and was inhabited by his second wife, a professional archivist and textual critic of Goethe. Jünger’s own quarters upstairs had the leathery look of a soldier’s bunker, with cabinets for beetles on the landing and a sea of memorabilia—fossils, shells, helmets from both wars, skeletons of animals, and a collection of sandglasses. (In 1954 he wrote A Treatise on the Sandglass—a philosophical meditation on the passage of time.)
If I had hoped for more memories of Paris under the Occupation, I was disappointed. In answer to questions, he simply recited an excerpt from the diary, though occasionally he would rush to the filing cabinet and come back with some pièce justificative. One of these was a letter from his friend Henri de Montherlant, quoting a remark of Tolstoy: “There is no point in visiting a great writer because he is incarnate in his works.” Since I had an interest in Montherlant, I was able to draw Jünger out a little further, and he returned again from the filing cabinet, this time flourishing a rather blotchy sheet of Xerox paper on which was written:
Le suicide fait partie du capitale de l’humanité.
8 juin 1972.
This aphorism of Jünger’s dates from the Thirties, and the story goes that Alfred Rosenberg once said: “It’s a pity Herr Jünger doesn’t make use of his capital.” But the scene you have to imagine is this:
Montherlant, dying of cancer, is sitting in his apartment on the Quai Voltaire, surrounded by his collection of Greek and Roman marbles. On his desk are a bottle of champagne, a revolver, a pen, and a sheet of paper. He writes:
“Le suicide fait partie….”
The blotches were photocopies of blood.
March 5, 1981
For a description of Jünger’s “tripping,” see Albert Hofmann, LSD—My Problem Child (McGraw-Hill, 1980), chapter 7, “Radiance from Ernst Jünger.” ↩
For a biography of Adam von Trott zu Solz, see Christopher Sykes, Troubled Loyalty (London, 1968). ↩
Sykes, Troubled Loyalty, p. 447: “Yet the expression on his face showed an extraordinary serenity, and there is almost the suspicion of a smile. His loyalty was no longer troubled.” ↩