book review - müller & segeberg
Ernst Jünger im 20. Jahrhundert. Edited by Hans-Harald Müller and Harro Segeberg. Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1995. Pp. 296. DM 58,00.
The grand old man of German literature has just turned one hundred, the latest episode of a remarkable life and literary career that has been dogged by seemingly never-ending controversy and debate. Müller and Segeberg have produced a book that avoids the extreme reactions provoked by Jünger amongst his readers on the political left and right. In pursuing that aim they have certainly succeeded, for here we find none of the fawning adulation or bitter hatred which characterizes so much of the literature on Jünger. Not only in this respect is the book a success: many of the papers printed here represent a significant advance in several areas of Jünger research. Müller's own contribution adds to the already heavily-worked field of Jünger's early war books, but casts a new light on the earliest phase of Jünger's writing which, he argues, was essentially unpolitical. Brigitte Werneburg's discussions of Jünger's aesthetics of photography and the new media in the 1920s and 1930s add to our understanding of his work by discussing the collections of photographs which he produced. Her work is taken further by Segeberg who provides a convincing account of Jünger's esoteric theories of language, and interprets the celebrated and controversial novel Auf den Marmorklippen (1939) in terms of Jünger's attempts to escape the emergent total media environment. Günter Figal's essay on the post-war nihilism debate between Jünger and Heidegger is the most accessible account to date of this often obscure topic. Ulrich Baron's paper fills one of the most noticeable gaps in Jünger research: his extensive experimentation with hallucinogens and his interpretation of the short story Besuch auf Godenholm (1952) in terms of Jünger's own early experimentation with LSD is long overdue. Jünger's later work has been much neglected by critics, possibly because it is not an easy target like his enthusiasm for the First World War or his engagement in the far-right circles of the Conservative Revolution. This book helps redress the balance. For example, the neglected novel Eumeswil (1977) provides the focal point for Renner's essay on Jünger's "postmodernism" which, he argues, is not simply a matter of Lyotardian rejection of metanarrative, but also of a complex example of intertextual writing. Bringing the book almost up to date is Assheuer's short essay on Jünger's "neo-paganism" (p. 278) as that is manifested in the massive diaries entitled Siebzig verweht I-III, with only the recent fourth volume left unconsidered. These essays are the high-points of a book which has few disappointments, even if Peter Koslowski's account of An der Zeitmauer (1959) does spin out his esoteric, but simple, version of postmodernity, essentially repeating a chapter in his Jünger monograph of 1991. The remaining essays are all solid, but are less exciting. Alfred Andersch's literary relationship with Ernst Jünger is discussed again by Scherpe. Lothar Blum adds more detail to his already substantial work on Jünger's Second World War diaries, and whilst Ketelsen's ponderous prose makes heavy weather of Der Arbeiter (1932), Fürnkäs convincingly disproves Bohrer's contention (1978) that Jünger was a surrealist. Overall, this is a fine book with much in the way of new material, and although Jünger's birthday was marked by the expected round of pointless polemics, it is to be hoped that Müller and Segeberg will set a trend for more sober examination of this difficult and controversial author.
It should be noted that this review dates from early 1996, before I began my stay at the University of Hamburg where I worked closely with both Profs. Müller and Segeberg on my thesis research.
© John King, 2017. Last updated Thu, 20th May 2010.