torsdag 8 maj 2014

The Adventurous Heart by Ernst Jünger -- A Timeless Classic

Edit, November 2014: The Australian imprint Manticore Press has published an Ernst Jünger biography that I've written. "Ernst Jünger -- A Portrait" is the name of the book. This post from earlier this year is a chapter of that book. -- I know something about the German author Ernst Jünger (1895-1998). For instance I've been looking at his science fiction. Moreover I've been probing the character of his spirituality. The subject of this post is Jünger's essay collection "The Adventurous Heart".

Many Jünger books defies description, living as they do in a borderline between genres and forms, consisting of reflections, anecdotes, visions and stories presented in a more or less systematic form. ”Das abenteuerliche Herz” (”The Adventurous Heart”) was the first Jünger book of this kind: short pieces of prose ranging from observations of everyday life and fiction to musings and philosophical reflections, everyhing in a precise and pedantic prose, however not pedantic as in boring but pedantic as in enchanting, if that’s possible. And it is, in Jünger’s hands.

The Master Key

The first version of ”The Adventurous Heart” was published in 1929. In 1938 a second version was issued, having had 220 of the 263 pages of the original revised or changed altogether. This was problably a ruse to evade the eagle eye of the Nazi censorship. So definition-wise this was hardly a revision; the 1938 version is virtually a new book.

Be that as it may. The 1938 version is now a classic in itself, being for example the one translated into English by Telos Press in 2012. And in this entry I focus on the 1938 version too. The translations into English presented here, however, are mine throughout.

One of the many intriguing pieces of this volume is ”Der Hauptschlüssel” (”The Master Key”), about the art of entering into the essence of things. This is one of many clues to Jünger's idealistic philosophy, of his partly obscure way of looking at things:
Every meaningful event looks like a circle whose periphery can be wholly measured by daylight. During the night however the periphery disappears to be supplanted by the shimmer of the phosphoric centre, like the petals of the Lunaria that Wierus tells about in his book De Praestigiis Daemonum. In the light the shape, in the twilight the creative powers appear.

In the District of the Blind

A nice short story in ”The Adventurous Heart” is ”Im Blindenviertel” (”In the District of the Blind”). Strolling in a city the narrator soon finds out that he’s in the district of the blind. One clue is a dance parlour where the mats have certain inlays of cork for the dancers to feel their way with. There’s also a bar where a blind man is kept by the proprietor as a curiosity, as a conversation partner for people to ridicule, giving him a theme to elaborate on which due to his blindness tends to end up in the wrong. The guests, the seeing, then get an easy sense of superiority.

The narrator however wants something else. And here the humanism of Jünger is shown in an unsought way. Inviting the blind man to sit down he thinks about a subject in which none of them has any advantage over the other. Finally he has it – ”and so we had a wonderful conversation during our breakfast about the un-foreseen.


”The Adventurous Heart” hasn’t aged at all, giving us the whole spectrum of the Jünger worldview in pieces rich in reflections, scenes and symbols. I’ll give you two more quotes, the first one centering on the fictional teacher Nigromontanus who has some similarities with Hugo Fischer. However, it could be said that the name ”Nigromontanus” is borrowed from a short story by Goethe. And in some way this Nigromonatnus is a kind of Jüngerian self portrait. In ”Die Vexierbilder” (”Enigmatic Images”) we hear about Nigromontani fascination with materials that change, like iridizing glass and some precious stones. But the images in question mean more than that:
He [= Nigromontanus] had a collection of masked pictures, emanating like magic out of monochrome mosaics. They were made of pebbles which during bright days couldn’t be distinguished from others, however during twilight they lit up like phosphorus. In his house he had ovens on which, when heated, proverbs in red appeared, and in his garden terrasses on which a burst of rain elicited black symbols. You could also be enjoyed by the ornaments in his room and on his tools, like the meander in which alternately the bright or the dark rock arose, or vortexes drawn on the surface now showing the observer its front and now its backside. He had transparencies on which everyday motives turned into gruelties, or where the horrifying turned into the beautiful by the rays of the light. He also liked the caleidoscope of which he had samples built, in which cut precious stones easily formed into roses and stars, a struggle between freedom and symmetry.

The Colour Blue

That’s how it is with ”The Adventurous Heart”: finely wrought gems of prose that you feel like quoting, not having much to add. So I’ll finish this blog post with yet another quote from the book in question, letting the lines speak for themselves. They are about the colour blue and all its marine manifestations:
The deep sea embodies this colour and reflects it variously, from matt cobolt to bright azure. There are seascapes of a sombre silkish hue or sapphiric lustre, then again surfaces of hyaline lustre over a bright bottom and by the cliffs' vortexes, with the stream spreading out wonderously and flashing of colours from bouquets and starfish. Any lover of the sea can recall moments of perplexity and then bright, spiritual joy before such dramas. It isn’t the water or the infinity of the water creating this joy but its divine, neptunian power living in every wave.

The Adventurous Heart (Das Abenteuerliche Herz, 1938). Telos Press, New York 2012

New Book Out: "Ernst Jünger -- A Portrait"
Jünger the Pious
Ernst Jünger and the Craft of Science Fiction
Svensson: Antropolis
My Bibliography
Melina Starr, agent i befrielsen av Sverige (del 1 av 17)
The current Telos edition of "The Adventurous Heart".

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