Does the English speaking world understand Ernst Jünger? Does it even want to? Is it bent on misunderstanding him, always looking at him with suspicion?
I mean, we now have two German biographies looking at Jünger more or less on his own terms. The books I’m referring to are Heimo Schwilk’s Ernst Jünger: Ein Jahrhundertleben (2007) and Helmuth Kiesel’s Ernst Jünger: Die Biographie (2007).
But that’s German books and this is a blog post in English. And looking at the English speaking world, where are the bios treating Jünger on his own terms? At least it isn’t Thomas Nevin’s Ernst Jünger and Germany: Into the Abyss, 1914-1945 (1997). This study is overall fair but, as I say of it in my own Jünger bio, Ernst Jünger — A Portrait (2014), ”I tire a bit of the finger of warning raised here and there.”
Then we have Elliot Neaman’s A Dubious Past – Ernst Jünger and the Politics of Literature After Nazism (1999). This is also a rather viable essay but the subtitle just kills it for me, ”dubious”. As I further say in my bio: ”I don’t find Jünger dubious at all. Now he wasn’t a saint but then who is.”
Further in the English reception we have names such as Stuart Hood (translator of On the Marble Cliffs) and Bruce Chatwin (died 1989), the essayist. I treat them both in Chapter Four of my bio. They are decent fellows trying to understand Jünger, the man and his works, but overall they come through as judgmental and narrow-minded. They can’t live with Jünger being something of an enigma, it seems like they must either have a complete monster or a charming fellow through and through. To this sentiment I say: heard about human beings, about ”integrating the opposites”…? And ”no great man ever escapes blame”…?
So then, if you want a Jünger biography in English, a book presenting the man and his work in a reasonably affirmative way, a book looking at Jünger on his own terms as a writer on combat, Germany, esotericism and everything else he was interested in, then read my book, Ernst Jünger — A Portrait. This book affirms Jünger as being Jünger, it doesn’t resort to name-calling and ”raised fingers of warning” on every other page, as is the standard English way of reception.
Of course, my book isn’t a hagiography. I’m reasonably critical in my approach. That said, you must have some positive feelings (and not negative ones) towards the subject to accomplish a readable bio. Therefore my book is the one to read for the English Jünger afficionado.
I see before me a new English Jünger reception dawning, aided by the many translations currently coming out (q.v. On Pain, The Forest Passage, The Adventurous Heart, Eumeswil etc. etc.). And my book is spearheading this development, this Anglosphere re-interpretation of Jünger, discarding the ”bad boy”-narrative and heading for a more differentiated portrait of the greatest German author since Goethe.