biography - the weimar republic
The Immediate Post-War Period
Having finished the War still recovering from the shot through the lung at Sapignies, Jünger was confronted with the collapse of world as the German Army was defeated, the Kaiserreich was overthrown, Soviets were established, a Republic was declared as political violence erupted on the streets and the new state was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles.
Whilst Jünger remained in the Reichswehr until 1923, combatting smugglers and working on the new Infantry Training Manuals, he was searching for new certainties to replace those swept away by the War. He continued to read widely, exploring his cultural heritage, looking for a new meta-History in Oswald Spengler's Der Untergang des Abendlandes (1918-22), exploring the alien world of medieval demonologies and the strange perspectives offered by various intoxicants. During this time he first began to write for publication.
The first book to appear was In Stahlgewittern, which he published in 1920. It is an account of his war experiences based on the diary he had kept in the trenches and, in the first two versions (the book has been revised many times, often quite significantly) at least, can be seen (in some respects) as representing an attempt to master his past, to order it into a whole that makes sense. His second book, Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis (1922 - First Edition. The second version was substantially modified) set out to interpret the War on a much larger scale, but despite often blustering rhetoric remains entrapped within a confusing polyphany of voices. The fascinating novel Sturm (1923) enters a virtually postmodern literary space full of reflexivity and intertextuality that opens up more questions than it answers. Moreover, Junger was also dabbling with literary expressionism, though of his poems, only one ('Zu Kubins Bild: Der Mensch') has survived to be published and its quality is dubious.
In 1923, Jünger left the army and began to study at the University of Leipzig. This year also marks the start of his controversial political engagement. He wrote an article for the Nazi Völkischer Beobachter entitled 'Revolution und Idee' preaching revolutionary Nationalism and the necessity of dictatorship. I would suggest that Jünger's turn to the revolutionary right was motivated by a need to come to terms with the experience of the War and of Weimar and so to stabilise his world.
Although Jünger soon abandoned the then minuscule Nazi party without ever having joined them formally, he was active in many fringe groups on the Right, moving from the Veterans' League Stahlhelm to Ernst Niekisch's National Bolschewists. At the same time as writing countless political essays in a whole series of journals, Jünger's war books became more politicised. The third edition of In Stahlgewittern was cast in a radically nationalist framework and Das Wäldchen 125 and Feuer und Blut were written to turn the War experience to the service of a radical, revolutionary, technicist nationalism and thus to make sense of it within a totalising framework. Although by 1932 disillusioned by party politics, Jünger's long essay, Der Arbeiter (1932) represents the culmination of his totalising thought in this early period.
If Junger was politically active, his literary bent steered him in a course that took him away from the radical totalisations implicit in his nationalism, and explicit in the neo-Hegelian philosophy of Gestalt laid out in Der Arbeiter. It is my contention that the fragmentary sketches of Das Abenteuerliche Herz (1) (1929), despite the attempts at closure in each sketch, tend rather to open up and deconstruct the total notions of Gestalt.
Jünger continued his studies (of zoology and philosophy) at the University of Leipzig until May 1926. Although he had at one stage intended to complete a doctorate, he left without academic qualifications. His studies had taken him to Naples in 1925. On 3 August 1926, he married Gretha von Jeinsen who he had met in Hannover in 1923. Their first son, Ernst, was born on 1 May 1926, and the second, Alexander, in 1934. From 1926, Jünger lived off his Army pension and his income as a writer, and was able to undertake journeys to France, the Balearics and to Croatia which became the subject of later books.
© John King, 2017. Last updated Thu, 20th May 2010.