Ernst Jünger - Worker, Forest Rebel, Anarch Part 1
An interview with Jean-Louis Foncine
Part one of a rather lengthy interview done in 1985. Part two will be released in a week or so. In the background: I continue as well with the Mohler essay on the “Fascist” style and also several other projects - they will be coming in the next few weeks. Thank you everyone for your support - if you enjoy these, please share (twitter, my primary mode of “shilling” these - now throttles them). First half of this essay is free - the second, paywalled. Send me a few dollars to encourage me to keep doing these! DANKE!
JLF: You are one of the last recipients of the highest award given to officers during World War I: the Pour le Merite cross created by Frederick II. And in 1965, on the fiftieth anniversary of the award of the Order, you received the Medal Pour la Couronne.
I am not one of the last recipients, but the last. This award was given only to a handful of officers, including the later Field Marshal Rommel. The last one to die recently was my old comrade van der Linde. He had seized a Belgian fort, Fort Mellon, in 1914 with four men and a trumpet, pretending to at the lead of an formidable force. When he received the Pour la Couronne medal, he returned it to the authorities. He believed that it was a novel intrusion of the Republic. And being extremely conservative, he did intend to get himself involved with that.
JLF: After the anniversary festivities, you returned to Paris.
Yes, President Mitterrand had invited me to lunch at the Élysée Palace, attended by various personalities, including two of the best translators of our time (besides Professor Henri Plard from Brussels, of course) Monsieur Morel, the technical advisor to the President, and Henri Thomas1, to whom I owe numerous French editions of my works. The party was quite pleasant. We did not talk about politics, but about art, literature and history. "Sometimes I get the impression," Francois Mitterrand said to me, "of having been born in a century that does not fully suit me." He added: "In Napoleon's time you would have been a marshal." "Thank you very much!" I replied. "But think of the fate of Ney, of Murat, and, closer to us, of Tuchachevsky, Rommel...and many others. Believe me, I feel much more comfortable in my own skin than in that of a marshal!"
JLF: In your "Paris Diaries" you frequently mentioned the friendships you were able to form with numerous writers and artists from Paris during the war. Can you say a bit more about that period?
Of course, there was also talk about my encounters, the one-on-one meetings as well as the famous "Thursdays" of Florence Gould in the Avenue Malakoff with Sacha Guitry, Drieu la Rochelle, Giraudoux, Montherlant, Cocteau, Léautaud and Paul Morand. Braque and Picasso I visited in their studio. I liked to visit Georges Poupet at Plon in rue Garancière, in that old publishing house so beautiful and so rich in memories. My greatest affections were for Marcel Jouhandeau and Elise. We devoted the same attention to animals, insects and people. Drieu, a volunteer like me in 1914, and I realized, not without astonishment, that on Christmas Eve of 1914, in a village near Reims, we had heard the ringing of the same church bells. We were likely on opposite fronts and heard the same sound. I think it was at Florence Gould's where we came upon this detail from our time as young soldiers. I also met Céline. He an horrid personality, not a trace of chivalry. But like me, he loved cats. I caricatured him in one of my works under the name "Merline." I saw Jouhandeau again shortly before his death. He was 88 years old and almost blind. I was always very close with him.
JLF: During the occupation of Paris, many knew of your hostile attitude towards the Nazi regime. Nevertheless, you were not spared some criticism.
The situation of a German officer who wanted to remain spiritually [or: mentally] independent was not easy. Apart from my time on the Eastern Front from October 1942 to February 1943 and some vacations in Kirchhorst near Hanover, where my wife was living, I remained on the general staff of the senior commander von Stülpnagel from June 1941 to July 1944. Speidel wanted me at this post. He wanted me "in reserve" for himself, Rommel and von Stülpnagel, like a gun with a silencer. I had initially refused, saying that I would rather stay with my company, even in the Caucasus. But in the end I had to obey. I lived in the Raphael and had my offices in the Majestic. At that time I was dealing with highly sensitive documents dealing with the relationship between the army and the party.
As for my relationship with the regime, I must say for the sake of completeness that after the publication of my "Marble Cliffs" in 1939, I was violently attacked by Reichsleiter Bouhler at a meeting of high functionaries. Hitler, however, ordered the shouters to be silent. He did not want the author of "Storm of Steel" to be attacked. Brecht, by the way, took the same attitude to a certain essay directed against communism: "Don't touch Jünger, the warrior!"
I always found a certain taste for difficult situations or what I sometimes call "lost posts[or: causes]." When you are surrounded with human stupidity, what can you do about it? Thus, in 1940, during the French campaign, I placed guards to prevent the plundering of Laon Cathedral, and also at some private buildings like that of Madame Martinet, who had a library of inestimable value. Then, after the war, a big-headed Westphalian accused me of having prevented him from praying in Laon Cathedral. Likewise, at that time, I was accused of having transported extremely fatigued French officers by car. Apparently the Führer had ordered to treat the prisoners with harshness! I replied that I treat the prisoners as I see fit and that no one tells me otherwise regarding this.
JLF: It was alleged that you drank champagne on the terrace of the Majestic during the bombing of the Chapelle district in 1943.
It may even have been written that I proposed a toast for the dead. Well, why not? In fact, in the film "La guerre d'un seul homme" by the Argentine director Cozarinsky, my diary was used to portray me as a Junker who has nothing but contempt for the miserable people hiding in the caverns. The whole film is purely a montage of current events from that time, superimposed with a text that probably corresponded to the needs of a certain French audience. The film is good. I do not feel addressed. However, I took from it the lesson that one must always be careful not to overestimate one's readers.
JLF: Did you wander around Paris a lot in those days?
Of course. To get to meetings with my French and German friends and to familiarize myself better with a city that I love and deeply adore. I explored in great detail the cemeteries whose tombs fascinate me, and the resting places of great men. I remember one evening on July 14[Bastille day], when I traversed the whole of Paris from the Bastille to the Place de la Concorde. There was dancing everywhere. Workers and students shook my hand, even though I was in uniform. The next day I met the police chief, who told me that I had acted with careless imprudence. Because if I had been killed, fifty hostages would have been executed by firing squad. We were still at the beginning of the occupation, and I was not well acquainted with reality. After that I did not go out at night in uniform, just as I did not visit my French friends in uniform out of respect for them.
JLF: Your most recent work, surprisingly a crime novel, is set in Paris. Is it the result of the wanderings of that time?
Yes, everything I describe in "A Dangerous Encounter" I observed myself. Of course, I changed the names, but a house like Madame Stéphanie's really exists behind the Madeleine. I have repeatedly visited the Ducs de Bourgogne restaurant, the Grand Guignol, and so on. This work does not resemble any of my other writings. The detective novel has its merits; Edgar Allan Poe inspired the genre the most. My friends thought I was playing a prank. They are not entirely wrong. But isn't a laugh sometimes just as important as a thought or a poem?
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