biography - foreign legion
Before he left Germany for France and then for Africa, Ernst Jünger had been developing a passionate interest for the "Dark Continent". Frustrated by an oppressing sense of confinement within an unsympathetic school system, Jünger's search for a more vital, more authentic Other in both literature and Nature led him to focus on the supposed vitality of Africa, where, he imagined, he would be able to live a more exciting, more dynamic life with much greater potential for self-fulfillment. His imagination fuelled by Stanley's accounts of his travels in Africa, Jünger abandoned Germany for the primitivist Other of his imagination.
The semi-autobiographical novel Afrikanische Spiele (1936) relates how he left Germany for Verdun, enlisted in the French Foreign Legion, was sent to Algeria, which, he was disappointed to discover, looked remarkably European, took part in basic training, went AWOL in two unsuccessful attempts to make his way to central Africa's 'vital heart' before his father managed to secure his return via the offices of the Auswärtiges Amt. Heimo Schwilk has reproduced a passage from an unnamed newspaper, dated 16 November 1913, which reports:
Der Unterprimaner Jünger, ein Sohn des Bergwerkbesitzers Dr. phil. Jünger hierselbst [Rehburg], hat sich für die französische Fremdenlegion anwerben lassen und befindet sich bereits auf dem Wege über Marseille nach Afrika. Der Vater des Bedauenwerten hat sich an das Auswärtige Amt in Berlin um Hilfe gewandt (p. 33).
On his return, Jünger made a pact with his father whereby he would complete his Abitur before participating in a properly organised expedition to Kilimanjaro. However, a poem written by Jünger shortly after his return home (cf. Schwilk, p. 38) suggests that he felt that this arrangement was less than satisfactory.
The lyric 'Ich' is a Lower Saxon Legionnaire returning home after being wounded in action in the North African desert, celebrating his return to 'Heimat' where 'alles ist gut'. However, the reaction of the local policeman is: 'Wat leavt denn da? Der kommt aus die Legion [sic]. Det is ja strafbar, komm mein Sohn' and the legionnaire concludes 'So rauh der süßen Schwärmerei entrissen, wird eins mir klar, 's ist hier wie dort beschissen' . The poem is a piece of unpolished juvenilia, but if we equate the lyric 'Ich' to some extent with Jünger and his experience as a legionnaire the poem declares a very obvious sense of reconfinement and reimprisonment within the strictures of the modern realm of the father and of conventional society and schooling in particular.
The coming of the First World War in August 1914 provided the opportunity for self-realisation, escape from the banal and a legitimising framework such that Jünger's escape route was no longer a transgression. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Jünger should have volunteered as soon as the Kaiser ordered the mobilisation.
© John King, 2017. Last updated Thu, 20th May 2010.