10 April 2012

Ernst Jünger - "The Devil's Captain"?

UPDATE 10.04.2012: eine neue Rezension zum Buch "The Devil's Captain - Ernst Jünger in Paris, 1941 - 1944), diese auf Deutsch von Helmuth Kiesel...



Autor(en):
Titel:The Devil's Captain. Ernst Jünger in Nazi Paris, 1941-1944
Ort:New York
Verlag:Berghahn Books
Jahr:
ISBN:978-0-85745-114-9
Umfang/Preis:vii, 119 S.; € 35,34
Rezensiert für den Arbeitskreis Historische Friedensforschung bei H-Soz-u-Kult von: 
Hellmuth Kiesel, Germanistisches Seminar, Universität Heidelberg
E-Mail: <helmuth.kiesel@gs.uni-heidelberg.de>
Mitchells Studie „The Devil’s Captain: Ernst Jünger in the Nazi Paris, 1941–1944“ ist ein Addendum zu seinem großen, 2008 erschienenen Buch „Nazi Paris“.[1] Der Titel der Studie verdankt sich, wie leicht erkennbar ist und wie der Verfasser zu Beginn des Vorworts bestätigt, Carl Zuckmayers Drama „Des Teufels General“, das bekanntlich einen Teufelskerl von Fliegeroffizier zwischen den Versuchungen des Nazismus und den Forderungen des Widerstands zappeln lässt. Mitchell las es während seiner Studienzeit am Middlebury College in Vermont, wo Zuckmayer von 1941 bis 1946 lebte und „Des Teufels General“ schrieb. Die Figur des Zuckmayerschen Generals muss sich Mitchell so tief eingeprägt haben, dass er während seiner Beschäftigung mit Jüngers Pariser Tagebüchern begann, den Autor vor dem Hintergrund dieser Gestalt zu sehen. Mit dem ersten Abschnitt des Vorworts räumt Mitchell dann aber auch gleich ein, dass die Differenzen größer als die Ähnlichkeiten sind. Jünger erreichte nie einen höheren Rang als den eines Hauptmanns, und sein Verhalten unterschied sich deutlich von der Rolle des Zuckmayerschen Generals in der deutschen Widerstandsbewegung. Damit ist aber auch gleich gesagt, dass der Titel der Jünger-Studie allenfalls berechtigt wäre, wenn er mit einem Fragezeichen versehen und solchermaßen als Ausdruck einer Fragestellung gekennzeichnet wäre. In der jetzigen Form, die man als Feststellung versteht, ist er unangemessen und irreführend, freilich auch dazu angetan, der Studie Aufmerksamkeit zu verschaffen.
Die reißerische Titelgebung ist allerdings das einzige, was an diesem Buch zu monieren ist; alles weitere besticht durch Gründlichkeit, Umsicht und Ausgewogenheit. Ob damit auch wesentlich neue Einsichten verbunden sind, ist indessen eine andere Frage.
„The Devil’s Captain“ ist in zehn Kapitel (und ein „Postscript“) untergliedert, die der Chronologie von Jüngers Leben folgen, aber zweimal durch eher systematische Ausführungen unterbrochen werden. Das erste Kapitel „The Loner“ skizziert auf sechseinhalb Seiten die Entwicklung Jüngers von der Geburt bis zum Jahr 1939 und charakterisiert ihn als einen Mann mit einer starken Tendenz zum Einzelgängertum, das sich Vereinnahmungsversuchen entzog. Kapitel zwei, „The Road to Paris“, beschreibt minutiös Jüngers Weg von Kirchhorst bei Hannover über den Westwall und die Schlachtfelder des Ersten Weltkriegs nach Paris. Kapitel drei, „Man about Town“, schildert Jüngers Erkundung der Stadt Paris und sein dienstliches und außerdienstliches Leben im Hauptquartier und in exklusiven Salons: Georgs-Runde, Exekution eines Deserteurs, Geisel-Affäre, Liebschaften usw. Das vierte Kapitel, „Dreaming and Musing“, unterbricht den Lebensbericht und widmet sich den auffallend vielen Traumnotaten und Reflexionen, die sich in Jüngers Pariser Tagebüchern finden. Sie kreisen vor allem um fünf Themenbereiche: um den Übergang (oder Abstieg) Europas zum Automatismus oder Amerikanismus; die wachsende Bedeutung der Religion; das Schwanken zwischen der Vorliebe für bürgerliche Häuslichkeit einerseits und Abenteuerlust andererseits; die Probleme mit der zunehmenden Macht der Partei auch in Paris; die unentwegte und beunruhigende Beschäftigung mit dem Tod. Hinsichtlich der denkerischen Dignität von Jüngers Darlegungen stellt Mitchell fest: „Truth to tell, Jünger’s waking thoughts were not appreciably more coherent than his dreams. He cannot be said to have developed an identifiable philosophy or political theory, either of which would have stood in contradiction to his inveterate and self-acclaimed individualism. Furthermore, his favorite mode of expression, the daily journal, militated against any systematic elaboration of a single intellectual scheme“ (S. 32). Dass sie Reduzierungen Jüngers auf ein Schema oder einen Begriff – Proto- oder Präfaschist zum Beispiel – durchweg vermeidet, gehört zu den Vorzügen dieser Studie.
Das fünfte Kapitel folgt Jünger im Winter 1942/43 mit den Kaukasischen Aufzeichnungen nach Russland, wo alles so ganz anders ist als in Paris (S. 37): „Obviously Russia was for Jünger everything that Paris was not.“ Das folgende sechste Kapitel behandelt die Zeit nach der Rückkehr nach Paris und gibt Anlass, nach Jüngers Beziehung zum Nationalsozialismus und zu Hitler zu fragen; der Blick geht zurück bis in die 1920er-Jahre und fällt auf die wichtigsten Berührungspunkte. Dann richtet er sich allerdings auch wieder auf Paris und registriert die Verschärfung der Situation im Jahr 1943, um im siebten Kapitel „The Plot Against Hitler“ die Pariser Verschwörung gegen Hitler zu beschreiben und Jüngers Rolle zu bestimmen. Das Fazit der Beobachtungen lautet: „Jünger was not in fact implicated in the conspiracy, and he would not support a plot to neutralize the SS in French capital“ (S. 49). Und: „Ernst Jünger played no part in the dramatic events of 20 July 1944“ (S. 53). Die Gründe dafür sieht Mitchell in Jüngers Einzelgängertum, in seiner bereits in den „Marmorklippen“ bekundeten Verwerfung des Attentats als Fehlweg und im Misstrauen der Verschwörer gegenüber dem nicht ganz durchschaubaren Jünger.
Das siebte Kapitel schließt mit Jüngers Rückkehr nach Kirchhorst, das achte – „Telling Omissions“ – fragt dann nach den Auslassungen in Jüngers Pariser Tagebüchern. Mitchell registriert sie vor allem in vier Bereichen: „Sex“, „Common people“ (inclusive „Jews“), „Condemnation“ und „Commitment“. Den Grund für die beiden letzten ‚Defizite‘ sieht Mitchell in Jüngers Vorurteilslosigkeit und in seiner „great curiosity about nature and the human condition“ (S. 60). Eine wichtige Ausnahme im unverbindlichen Verhalten Jüngers entdeckt Mitchell zurecht in seinem Verhältnis zur „army, to which he remained faithful throughout the second Thirty Years War from 1914 to 1945“ (S. 60).
Die beiden letzten Kapitel gelten der Zeit nach Paris, genauer: der unmittelbaren Auseinandersetzung mit den Pariser Erfahrungen in den Aufzeichnungen von der Rückkehr nach Kirchhorst bis zum Kriegsende (Kapitel neun) und in den Korrespondenzen mit Gefährten aus der Pariser Zeit und anderen Briefpartnern wie Martin Heidegger und Carl Schmitt (Kapitel zehn). Dann das „Postscript“ unter der Überschrift „Liebe Sophie“: auf der Basis der erstmals einsehbaren Briefe von Jüngers Pariser Geliebter Sophie Ravoux eine prägnante Darstellung nicht nur der Beziehung zwischen Jünger und Sophie Ravoux, für die Jünger der Mann des Lebens war, sondern auch zwischen Jünger und Banine sowie Florence Gould. Hier wird alles, was man wissen kann oder begründeterweise vermuten darf, gesagt, so zum Beispiel über Jünger und die langbeinig, blond und blauäugig strahlende Florence Gould: „From what is known, it is possible but not certain that they shared, at least briefly, a sexual episode“ (S. 83).
In der „Introduction“ beklagt Mitchell, dass Jüngers Pariser Zeit, die er für die wichtigste Zeit in Jüngers Erwachsenenleben hält, in den beiden jüngsten Biographien von Heimo Schwilk und Helmuth Kiesel (beide 2007) etwas zu knapp abgehandelt wird.[2] Über Kiesel schreibt er (S. 5): „Like Schwilk, he glides over Jünger’s four Paris years in less than thirty-five pages, hardly more space than is accorded to his unsuccesseful postwar novel Heliopolis.“ Was dabei ungesagt blieb, ist jetzt in Mitchells minutiöser Studie nachlesbar. Wesentliches ist es meines Erachtens nicht, doch bin ich hier Partei, und wissenswert sind oft auch die Begleitumstände des Wesentlichen.
Anmerkungen:
[1] Allan Mitchell, Nazi Paris. The History of an Occupation, 1940–1944, New York 2008.
[2] Heimo Schwilk, Ernst Jünger. Ein Jahrhundertleben, München 2007; Helmuth Kiesel, Ernst Jünger. Die Biografie, München 2007. 
ZitierweiseHellmuth Kiesel: Rezension zu: Mitchell, Allan: The Devil's Captain. Ernst Jünger in Nazi Paris, 1941-1944. New York 2011, in: H-Soz-u-Kult, 29.03.2012, <http://hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/rezensionen/2012-1-230>.
Copyright (c) 2012 by H-Soz-u-Kult (H-Net) and Arbeitskreis Historische Friedensforschung, all rights reserved. 

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ORIGINAL BLOG

When I first heard the title of this new book on Ernst Jünger's years in Paris with the German Occupation, I decided I had no interest in it - with such a provocative title, it could only be yet another mechanical reiteration of the old, thoughtless stereotypes of the controversial "noble Nazi". An association of Jünger with Hitler, as if Jünger was his devil-master's representative in Paris, would of course be totally incorrect given what emerges in his WWII writings Strahlungen (his Paris journals) and Der Friede (The Peace), in his son Ernstel's careless reiteration of his father's private opinions on Hitler (which led to the son's death), and of course from Jünger´s allegorical critique in 1939 of Hitler and the Nazis in An der Marmorklippen (On the Marble Cliffs).

So I was relieved when Elliot Neaman, author of A Dubious Past. Ernst Jünger and the Politics of Literature after Nazism, forwarded me his manuscript review of the book for Berghahn from January this year  - read it for yourself below and you will discover that Mitchell's title is indeed misleading, perhaps created more for effect than to reflect its author's opinion and the book's content.

I like the review, which appears to provide a good overview of the book. Since I haven't read Mitchell's book yet, I can't comment on it. But I think I will read it now - and perhaps you should too!

(I am compelled to reiterate my usual comment here that we should first read as much of the primary source as possible, Jünger's books, before venturing into other people's opinions of them.... But that should be clear to any anarch who is intent of forming his own opinions and not simply adopting or adapting the opinions of others, whoever they may be.)

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January 31, 2010
Review of "The Devil’s Captain" by Allan Mitchell.
By Elliot Neaman

Allan Mitchell’s book The Devil’s Captain is a masterfully executed reconstruction of few crucial years of the life of Ernst Jünger, a key player in the German occupation of Paris during the Second World War. Mitchell makes optimal use of the ever more complete set of archival documents and letters stored in the German Literary Archives at Marbach, as well as privately obtained sources. He has a firm grasp of the secondary literature, and, as can be expected from an expert on both National Socialism and the occupation of France, he has a keen grasp of the historical context.

The structure of the book is very compelling because Mitchell takes us along on Ernst Jünger’s travels and adventures. The short introduction and review of the secondary literature makes the convincing argument that Jünger has been treated too polemically by German scholars and though in a more balanced way in the Anglophone world, still awaits literary discovery. Mitchell signals that Jünger could someday be as well known here as Kafka or Mann.
Chapter One introduces us to Jünger’s childhood, his upbringing and his military feats in World War One, which catapulted him to fame as a war hero in the early years of the Weimar Republic. Mitchell does not ignore the fact that Jünger was, like so many of his countrymen, an enemy of the young republic, but he also makes the point, which Jünger’s critics are sometimes reluctant to admit, that this voice for some kind of national revolution early on distanced itself from the Hitler’s hordes, which he viewed as plebian and uncontrolled. Mitchell introduces a theme here for the rest of the book, Jünger as Enzelgänger, a loner, who always felt more comfortable in No-Man’s-Land than belonging to any party for too long.

Chapter Two opens with the German invasion of Poland and the nearly nine month Phony War that followed, as the French and Germans settled in on the two sides of the Maginot Line and waited. Mitchell follows Captain Jünger through the French countryside after the German army invaded France on May 10th, 1940, until he paraded on horseback through the Arche de Triomphe on April 24, 1941, ready to take up military duties as part of the German occupying force. Mitchell establishes here another theme of the book, Jünger as a dilettante: his reading is wildly eclectic and the journal style best suited for a writer who didn’t like to dwell on any one theme for too long.

Chapter Three takes us into the Paris of the early occupation years as Jünger lands a plum job as a military censor and sort of ambassador for French-German cooperation and collaboration in matters of culture. This post allowed Jünger rare privileges, such as mixing with the population out of uniform, and establishing contacts to the still vibrant world of French art and literature, diluted to be sure, by the exigencies of the war and the persecution of dissenters. Mitchell takes us inside the “belly of the beast” of the German occupation, the military headquarters at the Hotel Majestic, Jünger’s quarters for most of the period from 1941-44, next door at the elegant Hotel Raphael, and the regular evening gatherings at the Hotel George V, where cultivated members of the military administration mixed with visiting German intellectuals, artists and writers. Mitchell establishes in this chapter Jünger’s persona as a kind of dandy and man about town, a writer with a keen eye for the sights and history of the beautiful city, as well a taste for good living, including enjoying the charms of French women. We are introduced to Sophie Ravoux, the German born, Jewish wife of a French journalist. Mitchell takes a particular interest in the story of “La Dotoresse,” who probably was disguised in the journals under a string of pseudonyms. Mitchell is careful to not speculate about the nature of their relationship beyond what the letters say, but he offers a preponderance of circumstantial evidence leading to the conclusion that they had a sexual relationship and while leaving the reader hanging through most of the book, he finally affirms our suspicions in no uncertain terms at the end.

In Chapter Four Jünger is preparing for a trip to the Eastern Front. Though he loved Paris, his yearning for adventure made even a trip to the grim world of the Soviet Union seem exciting. In the previous chapter we were told of Jünger’s insomnia and occasional bouts with depression, a description that borders on a diagnosis of a nervous breakdown. The prospect of some change in life seemed advisable. In this chapter, Mitchell introduces the reader to Jünger’s pre-occupation with dreams. Throughout his writings Jünger incorporated many themes, characters and inventions from nocturnal wanderings and Mitchell associates the kaleidoscope nature of the dream world to the magical-realistic style of Jünger’s journals.

In Chapter Five Mitchell follows Jünger to Kiev and the Eastern Front. The Soviet Union was everything Paris was not, gray and primitive by contrast. Another theme emerges in this chapter, Jünger’s detachment from people and events when he felt bored, afraid or distracted. The escape into himself or his fantasies were good perhaps for his writing, but in this case Mitchell shows that Jünger was unwilling to confront the harsh reality of the war and the atrocities being committed by Germans on the Eastern Front, of which he was well aware. Mitchell does not excuse Jünger’s avoidance of these unpleasant circumstances, but his presentation of the facts could have been framed in less neutral terms.

Chapter Six does address, logically then, the question about Jünger’s relationship to Hitler and National Socialism. No really new ground is broken here. Mitchell dismisses, quite rightly I think, Jünger’s early enthusiasm for National Socialism as an understandable youthful reaction to the lost war. He also explores Jünger’s fascination with the persona of Hitler, who often appeared to him in his dreams. Finally he shows how Jünger remained aware of, but carefully outside of the growing movement among some officers in the military administration in Paris to support various plots being hatched inside the army against Hitler.

In Chapter Seven the climax of the story is reached, as Jünger is caught up in the whirlwind surrounding the failed assassination attempts by Rommel, which never got off the ground, and by Stauffenberg, which Hitler with dumb luck survived. (In my view the Rommel plot was more potentially significant than Mitchell allows, but no one can know for sure). Mitchell takes up the oft-posed question of Jünger’s aesthetic glorification of violence, the passages in his journals where he seems to take delight in the power of destruction. Mitchell come to the conclusion, that while he may have gone too far at times, the literary value of capturing these moments is high. Mitchell might have added that Jünger is far from alone - both among writers and ordinary people - at falling prey to the rubber-necker’s fascination with acts of destruction. The chapter ends with the gory aftermath of the failed plots against Hitler. Jünger had managed once again to stay out of the danger zone - Cocteau once said some had clean hands, some had dirty hands, Jünger had no hands – but some of his closest friends and colleagues from the Majestic ended up at the looped end of the SS’s piano wire.

In Chapter Eight Mitchell analyses the style and content of Jünger’s Paris Diaries in relation to both private and public ethical issues. He returns to the topic of the Captain’s amorous adventures and his need to hide his activities from an ever increasingly suspicious wife. Mitchell brings up the accusation of Jünger’s anti-Semitism, his dealing with ordinary Parisians and the troubling historical analogies he made in trying to grapple with National Socialism and German’s looming defeat. Mitchell points out that Jünger’s literary style necessarily mixed fact with fiction and that although one can accuse him of cowardice to take a stand on the stark moral conundrums everyone confronted during the war, he was at the end a writer, an observer, whose value lies more in the literary record he has left behind rather than as an individual who may or may not have done more to alleviate the suffering caused by the madness of war. Here he sides with Jünger’s self-description as a seismograph that records, but does not judge the earthquakes. Some will argue that he lets Jünger thereby too easily off the hook. I find this way of approaching the man comes closer to the truth than the many attempts to castigate him, which seem aimed at a caricature instead of a living, complex person. Mitchell emphasizes the ambiguity of Jünger’s situation and implies, I think, that it is too easy for us to judge him after the fact from our comfortable and safe perch in time.

Chapter Nine is a kind of Epilogue, in which we follow Jünger back home to his wife and personal troubles, both with her and because of the death of his father and the devastating news that his son had died in battle. It is curious that Mitchell neglects two significant parts of the last story, first that when Jünger went to try and free his son after his capture, he wore his World War medals on his uniform, and second that Ernstel, though freed from jail, was probably executed anyway since he was sent on a Strafexpedition into the Marble Mountains (!) of Carrara. In other words he was sent on an expedition from which it was unlikely he would return alive.

Chapter Ten is about Jünger and his friendships, male and female, German and foreign. Mitchell takes an almost prurient interest in Jünger’s sex life, but the reader is glad to follow the amorous adventures. Mitchell is also a good detective. He sifts the evidence carefully and slyly and reaches sure verdicts about whether he bedded Banine (no), Florence Gould (maybe) and Sophie Ravoux (yes). To be fair, these relationships do tell us much about the man and his times. Jünger was often accused of not caring about women, a put-down which can now be put to rest, though it is true that the female characters in his novels are sometimes rather mannered or wooden. Mitchell’s analysis of Jünger’s postwar novel Heliopolis in this regard is accurate. It was a spirited attempt to gather his World War II experiences into a larger-than-life novel that has ultimately not stood the test of time. This chapter would have been the place to at least devote more attention to the other important publication of the immediate post-war period, The Peace. It is a mystery why Mitchell devotes so little space to that essay-length book –written at the height of the occupation – and which had such an important impact on launching Jünger’s career as part of the intellectual reconstruction of Germany.

On the topic of friendship, one wonders why Mitchell persists in emphasizing Jünger’s reputation as lone wolf, ending the book on that note. As the postwar friendship with Sophie Ravoux shows, which he takes up at length in the postscript, Jünger could be cold at times, but he certainly didn’t cut his ties to his past or his many friends. As Mitchell himself notes, the mountains of letters to hundreds of Jünger’s correspondents, now gathered in the Marbach archive, await a scholarly and systematic treatment. Jünger was very capable of deep friendships, though Mitchell is surely right to point out repeatedly that, above all, he prized his own freedom and autonomy. Jünger had a good term for this – he called himself an Anarch, someone who obeys the rules, customs and laws on the exterior, but follows his own rules beneath the surface.

The Devil’s Captain will make a most valuable addition to the Jünger literature, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world. Mitchell covers some of the same ground as Nevin’s Ernst Jünger and Germany; Into the Abyss, but so much more material is available today that Mitchell’s book supersedes Nevin, at least on the crucial years 1941-44. The Devil’s Captain is meticulously researched and carefully written, but also stages a riveting, tragic drama. Mitchell paints for us the still glowing twilight world of inter-war Parisian high society under Nazi occupation, then the descent into chaos and finally liberation and a reckoning. This book will be read and enjoyed for years to come by scholars and the general educated reader alike.

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