book review - nevin
Ernst Jünger and Germany: Into the Abyss, 1914-1945. By Thomas Nevin. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996. 284pp.
There is something afoot in Anglo-Saxon Germanistik - Ernst Jünger has been rediscovered and established as a canonical author worthy as much of study as of dispute. For decades he had been abandoned to the categories of war writer, proto-fascist or inner emigré, a marginal case, deserving only fleeting interest, a footnote in literary history. We have come a long way since the silence that followed J. P. Stern's resounding castigation of Jünger's 'defective sensibility' (1953). Roger Woods (1982) showed the possibility of a more distanced approach in his detailed study of Jünger's political journalism. Marcus Bullock's spectacularly unfocussed book (1992) brought new flashes of insight. And the New German Critique special issue (1993) revealed a growing interest among more theoretically inclined Germanists. Thomas Nevin's critical biography is the latest in this series and perhaps the most important - not merely because of the extraordinary attention it has received in the English speaking press.
The importance of Nevin's book lies in his endeavour to provide a systematic account of Jünger's life and work up to 1945 and Der Friede. Nevin works through the extensive material in chronological fashion, beginning with perhaps the most detailed account of Jünger's pre-First World War days to date. The next chapter deals with Lt. Jünger's War, but Nevin's work here is mostly a commented retelling of In Stahlgewittern which does not do justice to the complexity of Jünger's revisions (compare Kunicki, 1993). His account of Jünger's Weimar days is both more comprehensive and more distanced - his critique of Jünger's 'Peter Pan nationalism' (p. 111) is quite accurate, but his neglect of the first edition of Das abenteuerliche Herz puzzling. There follows an entire chapter on Der Arbeiter whose anti-bourgeois radicalism is explained as a totemic assault on the world of the father - a curious feature in a study which otherwise owes little to Freud, or indeed to any other theorist. We then follow Jünger's "Inner Emigration" and Nevin takes us from the Brazil of Atlantische Fahrt to the Marmorklippen via the capriccios of the second edition of Das abenteuerliche Herz before we turn to the Paris diaries and Jünger's final confrontation with the bestial face of Nazi nihilism.
Nevin's work is thorough and his criticisms often telling and trenchant. As biography, it will no doubt be overtaken as new material becomes available in Marbach and Wilflingen. As literary criticism, it focuses excessively on Jünger's personality at the expense of other textual approaches. The book will be valuable not so much for the specialist as for the general reader for whom it provides a cogent and fair, if sometimes verbose, introduction to the first fifty years of this controversial author. As such, it marks a sea change in Anglo-Saxon reception of Jünger.
© John King, 2017. Last updated Thu, 20th May 2010.