The Forest is Everywhere: A review of Ernst Junger's The Forest Passage

 

The Forest is Everywhere

“It is essential to know that every man is immortal and that there is eternal life in him, an unexplored yet inhabited land, which, though he himself may deny its existence, no timely power can ever take from him.” Ernst Jünger

The German conservative writer Ernst Jünger is often mistakenly tarred with the same brush as the Nazis, so let me start this review with some reconstruction work. Jünger was never a member of the NSDAP and he twice turned down a seat in the Reichstag. He was courted by Himmler and Goebbels but snubbed both and declined an invitation to join the Deutsche Akademie der Dichtung – the German Writer’s Academy – which was led briefly by Jünger’s equally nationalistic but less fastidious colleague Gottfried Benn. (Early on Benn, another conservative, broke bread with the Nazis but was soon disgusted.) He was a WWI hero – Jünger was wounded fourteen times in the trenches and was the youngest recipient of the pour le Mérite - and unfortunately it is his Dionysian appreciation of the perils of battle – vividly described in his first book Storm of Steel - that informs most English speaking opinions of him today. I say 'informs' but this is a misnomer, as most English readers and critics avoid him because of his unwarranted bad reputation, and so are hardly informed. Yet Jünger was something more than a celebrant of Heraclitus’ dictum that ‘war is the father of all things.’ His allegorical poetic novel On The Marble Cliffs was a thinly veiled and beautifully written critique of totalitarianism in general and the Nazis in particular, but Jünger was so prestigious a national hero that they couldn't ban it. Eventually, he did fall foul of the Reich; he was a conservative thinker who considered Hitler and Co. political thugs and his very visible refusal to collaborate with them was as pointed a criticism as he could make and still survive. He was suspected of involvement in the July 20 1944 attempt on Hitler's life – he was actually on the fringes of it - and one of his sons was imprisoned for 'subversive conversations' regarding the Fuehrer and died soon after. Jünger was a nationalist writer who loved Germany but hated the Nazis and would have nothing to do with them, just as one could, say, love America during the Bush years but have nothing to do with the Neocons.  But because in his early career he extolled the virtues of traditional battle - questionable virtues indeed, but he was not alone in this (Homer, anyone?) - his stock among English readers remains low. This is unfortunate. Jünger is one of the most stimulating (and long lived: he died in 1998 at 102) poetic thinkers of the last century, anticipating a number of themes common to our times: altered states, surveillance societies, the unchecked rise of technology and diminishment of nature, and the need to preserve individual freedom in an increasingly mechanized and managed global world.

The quotation above is from The Forest Passage, Jünger's post-WWII essay on how to maintain inner freedom in a society increasingly bent on instituting conformity. First published in 1951, it was aimed at Germany’s recent Nazi past, its possible Soviet future, and the cultural leveling and consumer consciousness sadly associated with western democracies. Its first English translation (by Thomas Friese) is published by the Telos Press, who should be applauded for making more of Jünger available to English readers; their previous efforts include Jünger’s Nietzschean essay On Pain and the unclassifiable The Adventurous Heart, a collection of short prose pieces on a wide variety of subjects, displaying Jünger’s enviable ability to ‘read’ the surfaces of things in order to extract their inner meaning. (My review of it can be found here: http://realitysandwich.com/165435/rs_review_2/)

Like many in the post-war years, Jünger was concerned with the rising anonymity and pervasiveness of the State and it is against its seemingly unstoppable encroachment into our personal lives that The Forest Passage is aimed. The ‘unexplored yet inhabited land’ that lies within us is Jünger’s ‘forest’, an inner (yet sometimes outer) ‘temporary autonomous zone’ ( in Peter Lamborn Wilson’s phrase) that one can enter, provided one has the courage, determination, and will to take on the challenges of being an ‘internal exile’. Readers of Jünger will know that the figure of the ‘forest rebel’ is a kind of prototype of Jünger’s more realized character of the ‘anarch’, the central theme of his late novel Eumeswil. Jünger’s ‘anarch’, however, is not the same as an anarchist. The anarchist needs society, if only as something to tear down, while the anarch seeks a way to maintain his or her freedom within it, while avoiding its dehumanizing effects. The anarch’s resistance can be invisible, unlike the anarchist’s, and his ‘state’ is the one that lies within him, not the one in which he is forced to live. In a way, The Forest Passage aims at providing the reader with a guide to preserving his or her ‘self’ while subjected to the unavoidable pressures of modern government, much as Jünger’s more belligerent and cantankerous English contemporary Wyndham Lewis did in his early work The Art of Being Ruled. (Lewis too served in WWI and his account of his experience – very different from Jünger’s - can be found in his memoir Blasting and Bombardiering.)

“To have a destiny, or to be classified as a number – this decision is forced upon all of us today,” Jünger tells us, “and each of us must face it alone.” This may smack of idealistic elitism yet Jünger is not selling us reserved seats in an ivory tower. As a captain during the occupation of Paris, Jünger knew too well the results of political violence – he risked his own safety more than once by helping some escape it – and he informs his readers that “we cannot limit ourselves to knowing what is good and true on the top floors while fellow human beings are being flayed alive in the cellar.” (Readers of On the Marble Cliffs will recall that ‘flaying’ is the Head Ranger’s chief means of torture.) Nor does Jünger shy from offering images of very visceral resistance, remarking that in olden times the ‘inviolability of the home’ was ensured by the ‘family father who, sons at his sides, fills the doorway with an axe in his hand.” Yet such muscular defense may be less appropriate to our own time, and can too easily be used to support undesirable aims, such as the ‘right’ to bear arms, even if, as Jünger surmises, one such ‘father’ per street in Berlin circa 1933 would have led to a very different result.

More relevant for us, I believe, is Jünger’s emphasis on the encounter with the self, that is at the heart of the ‘forest passage’. Against the forest, that symbol of ‘supra-temporal being’, whose teaching is ‘as ancient as human history’, Jünger posits ‘the Titanic’, a symbol of technological might heading for disaster. Although many today take the idea of a ‘forest passage’ literally, and in different ways, try to be ‘off the grid’ and ‘self-sufficient’, that option is not open to all. Can we, Jünger asks, remain on board our careering ocean liner, and retain our autonomy, by strengthening our roots in the ‘primal ground’ of Being which we find by discovering our self? The means Jünger suggests for achieving this are myth, religion, the imagination, intuition, and even esotericism; Jünger has a surprisingly early mention of Gurdjieff. All of these are ways of contacting and drawing on the deep, primal forces that lie within us and which our increasingly standardized existence seeks to obscure. It is only through our ‘victory over fear’ – engendered by daily doses of ‘the news’ - that the threat of catastrophe diminishes, and we best achieve this by entering the forest’s path and following it to its end. It is then that we can determine whether freedom is more important to us than mere existence, can decide whether how we are is more important than that  we are. As Jünger writes ‘the edge of the abyss is a good place to seek your own counsel’ – he is nothing if not quotable – and these days its seems the abyss is everywhere. But, as Jünger tells us, so is the forest, that ‘harbour’ and ‘homeland’ we all carry within us. Read this book. By entering the forest we may yet find our way out of the woods.

The Forest Passage

Ernst Jünger

Telos Press

ISBN 9780914386490

December 2013

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George Hamilton's picture
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In “Der Waldgang” Ernst Jünger conceptualizes the “Gestalt” (figure) of the Waldgänger. It's a vademecum for all of us who are allergic to the propaganda, of any regime, including the democratic one. Excellent essay; praise to Gary Lachman.

organiccoffeebreak's picture
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Thanks for the review.

A pity that you liberal types cannot avoid the Bush Derangement Syndrome over half a decade since Bush left office. The breezy association of neo-cons and America with the Nazis and Germany is not only off-base, it is obscene. It trivializes the mass annihilations of the Nazis, the victims of the death camps to those of Bush, Cheney and gang (who were not put in concentration camps and exterminated in the millions).

In case you forgot the incompetent narcissist, who clearly suffers from a messiah complex, namely Barack Obama, is in office.

If you tell me that bashing Obama is not appropriate to a post about the life and vision of Ernst Junger, I agree. The thing is it is appropriate in the context of Lachman's entirely unwarranted, ill-suited and absurd moral relativist blather re George Bush in a review article about the life and ideas of a German writer/philosopher from decades back on a blog about mysticism/Forteana/the paranormal and related.

emlong's picture
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Except that the trajectory of the Neocon ideology if unchecked will logically lead to the atrocities of the Nazis if in fact it has not already done so in Palestine. Likening the Neocons to the Nazis is an exercise in logic and possibilities.

Gary Lachman's picture
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The allusion to the Bush years was not meant as a direct comparison, merely as a way of showing that one could love one's country but dislike the people running it. It was an off-hand remark and I am sorry it has drawn the attention it has. Clearly the Bush government was not on an equal par with the Nazis. While having no love of Bush etc. personally I am critical of comparisons that overshoot the mark either way. In any case the review is about Junger's work, not the Bush years.

Gary Lachman
http://garylachman.co.uk

emlong's picture
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And if one is deeply aware of the role certain well placed neocons played in the 9/11 false flag which has truly been a holocaust and the chain of events that it enabled afterwards then the Nazi comparison looks somewhat apt.
But I digress. The most notable feature of the current psyop called "mass media" is the constant fear mongering and always subtle hint that the PTB have occult powers against which it is "futile to resist." In such a saturated miasma it is wonderful advice Mr. Unger is giving. You can turn it off without tuning out.

organiccoffeebreak's picture
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Thanks Gary for your personal response.

Thing is this blather about the neo-cons in the same sentence with Nazis, is what one hears from the worst of the loony Left and the paranoid militia Right. That is from the kind of people who believe in a 9-11 conspiracy and believe the Jews are running the show for their own nefarious ends. And there are lots of people who think like that, among your fellow Leftists suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome. emlong proves my point. I am not bothering to personally reply to emlong, because it is a waste of time arguing with such types and the Daily Grail is not the place for it, the place for political flame wars I mean (and such posts would probably be removed by the moderator any way); but he has outed himself as a 9-11 conspiracy theorist and in clearly implying a comparison to Israel with Nazi Germany, a real anti-Semite (even though he would deny it as these types do these days).

This is for Gary: there are plenty of folk like emlong out there, in your 'liberal' political camp (and among the far Right, indistinguishable from the far Left in many ways), who go on endlessly about the neo-cons and George Bush, Cheney etc, when not frothing about some deranged 9-11 conspiracy and obsessing endlessly about the Jews (and being anti-Semitic, it's always gibberish). I'm not accusing you Gary of being of the same brand as emlong, but just look at the type of person who gives a thumbs up to your offhand political comment re the neo-cons. There are lots of them around. It appears millions of them. Scary, real scary and it has nothing to do with Bush, Cheney and gang.

emlong's picture
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Junger is really very appropriate for this moment in history when the concentration of wealth in both public and "black" financial systems has a real stranglehold on events - on the ability to stage politically motivated spectacles of violence and the ability to so wreck the legal system that there is virtually no legal oversight. This really is a "runaway train," and our only recourse now is to seek our own interior counsel and somehow hold out while this immensely corrupt network rattles itself to smithereens as they all do eventually. This could be a long, painfully drawn out tragedy requiring as many years of anguish and destruction as it took the previous Reich to finally collapse in on itself. Just look at the insanity of the past two months in Ukraine - such a high degree of recklessness is really kind of amazing. Most people I know are just stunned by it all. Junger is counseling us to break out of the stun and stand ourselves up as best we can.

Greg's picture
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organiccoffeebreak wrote:

I'm not accusing you Gary of being of the same brand as emlong, but just look at the type of person who gives a thumbs up to your offhand political comment re the neo-cons. There are lots of them around. It appears millions of them. Scary, real scary and it has nothing to do with Bush, Cheney and gang.

You may disagree with other members of this site. But if you have a problem with things they are saying, then please debate the things they are saying and don't resort to speaking about them in this manner (and the fact that you know they are reading the thread makes it even less honourable).

As always on this site: debate theories, don't denigrate people.

Kind regards,
Greg
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You monkeys only think you're running things
@DailyGrail

organiccoffeebreak's picture
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Greg, there is nothing dishonourable about refusing to debate 9-11 conspiracy theorists and bigots. It's a waste of time debating those enamoured of the most nutty conspiracies, and a waste of time debating bigots. They don't change their minds, or admit they could be wrong. All one can do is call them out, and leave it at that. If Greg T doesn't know that, well that's not my problem. Ever tried debating those who believe in that loony Obama Birther conspiracy theory? It's a waste of time. That's because like 9-11 conspiracy theorists, they don't care for facts, their motives lie elsewhere.

I notice none of the commentators, including Lachman, have one word of criticism for emlong, and his odious opinions. I didn't and don't care for the neo-cons, but comparing them to the Nazis is nuts (as emlong does), it's an insult to the millions of victims of the Nazis.

If somebody is a 9-11 nutter and a vicious bigot, they deserve nothing less than mockery and contempt, not a forced and false politeness and the pretense all that entails.

Since Greg Taylor has come to the defense of a 9-11 conspiracy theorist (inadvertently or not), it would be worthwhile asking Greg if he takes that kind of stuff seriously, that is does Greg T think that 9-11 conspiracy a reasonable or legitimate viewpoint, or complete guff?

PS I did not care for that thug Bush, as incompetent as Obama. Just because I am not a supporter of Obama and his thugs, doesn't mean I supported Bush, but I know how people love simplistic black and white thinking.

This below is an update, that I'm adding to my original post.

I see that emlong has a blog here at the Daily Grail, something I had completely forgotten about or didn't really notice to begin with. It's been ages since I checked in at the Daily Grail. And I see emlong has been upfront about his 9-11 conspiracy for a long while.

All that makes my query re 9-11 directed Greg Taylor's way ever more justified. I hope Greg Taylor addresses my query in this regard, and doesn't just shoot the questioner, namely myself.

Greg's picture
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organiccoffeebreak wrote:

Greg, there is nothing dishonourable about refusing to debate 9-11 conspiracy theorists and bigots.

To be clear, I have no problem with a refusal to debate. That's not the bit I had a problem with. As I mentioned in my initial response, the problem wasn't that you didn't debate the individual, the problem was that you did attack the person in your commentary (and then again above, with the insertion of the unnecessary 'bigots').

Debates should be able to be undertaken, and points made clearly, without attacking your opponent. People are complex multiplicities, and reducing interactions to calling them nutters and bigots is just weak argument. Beyond that, all it does is inflame the debate beyond logical argument and into an emotionally-charged clash, resulting in the devolution of interesting conversations into vacuous flame wars.

Quote:

If somebody is a 9-11 nutter and a vicious bigot, they deserve nothing less than mockery and contempt, not a forced and false politeness and the pretense all that entails.

Go all out on your own website, I could care less. In my house, we have rules that we try to uphold to encourage intelligent debate.

Quote:

Since Greg Taylor has come to the defense of a 9-11 conspiracy theorist (inadvertently or not), it would be worthwhile asking Greg if he takes that kind of stuff seriously, that is does Greg T think that 9-11 conspiracy a reasonable or legitimate viewpoint, or complete guff?

I'm pretty sure that Greg Taylor couldn't give a flying **** what anybody thinks about him. Otherwise he wouldn't run a website like The Daily Grail, allowing a multiplicity of personalities and theorists to interact and share their thoughts.

Quote:

PS I did not care for that thug Bush, as incompetent as Obama. Just because I am not a supporter of Obama and his thugs, doesn't mean I supported Bush, but I know how people love simplistic black and white thinking.

There's a large amount of irony here that you feel you need to add a caveat in case people reduce you down to a certain personality based on one of your opinions, given that earlier in your comment you simplistically reduced others to possibly being just "a 9-11 nutter and a vicious bigot" worthy of scorn. Because we're trying to avoid black and white thinking, right?

Kind regards,
Greg
-------------------------------------------
You monkeys only think you're running things
@DailyGrail

organiccoffeebreak's picture
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Greg, you don't answer the question re your stance on 9-11. I didn't think you would. That's very telling. I mean why don't you just answer it? Just say yes or no, why run away from the question? It makes me think you probably are a 9-11 truther. I mean, what's the problem with just being upfront here?

And emlong is a bigot, that is a Jew-hater. And anybody who agrees with emlong's stance that Israel is as bad as Nazi Germany (which Greg T doesn't bother to acknowledge, namely the reason I call emlong a bigot), is a hardcore antiSemite too. I know his type, and those who concur with him.

Just because I point out that it is historically inaccurate, false and obscene to equate Bush and his administration with the Nazis (and any competent historian would and does say as much), doesn't mean I am a Bush supporter. But I realize that is very difficult for some people to appreciate.

Irony. You have no idea.

Greg's picture
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organiccoffeebreak wrote:

Greg, you don't answer the question re your stance on 9-11.

Why would I answer the question*, it has nothing to do with me moderating this thread. You have been told our comments policy. Deal with it.

* Going by the guesses of commenters including yourself over the past decade, I am a pinko commie right wing conservative shill in the pocket of big oil and out to sell the great lie of Global Warming, an anti-Semite Jew-protecting conspiracy theorist who shoots down conspiracy theories and a woo-promoting rationalist like the good skeptical mouthpiece I am. Hope that helps frame me in the way you need to.

Kind regards,
Greg
-------------------------------------------
You monkeys only think you're running things
@DailyGrail

Gary Lachman's picture
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I should point out just for accuracy's sake that I am not a leftist or rightist, liberal or conservative. Like many people I am aware of the inadequacies and out-datedness of either political slant, but also like many people I do not yet have a viable alternative to them. In my book Politics and the Occult I do try to suggest the need for some new way of thinking about politics, but, alas, recognizing the need for something is not the same as providing it. My gut feeling is something along the lines of 'hold tight, do what you can, and get through it,' and I do not envy the realities a younger generation - such as my children's - will have to face. In From Dawn to Decadence the late Jacques Barzun - a brilliant cultural historian who died a few years back at the age of 107 (like Junger, another long-liver) believed that we were going through a period when conflicting 'goods' are clashing and creating a confusion of values which enfeebles and exhausts our moral, civic and political consciousness. We want our human rights and individual freedoms protected, yet this results in an increasing tight web of regulations aimed at ensuring this: we wind up binding ourselves in order to secure our freedoms. A difficult situation to be sure but it may be possible that the tensions created lead to some as yet un-thought solution. In the meantime, finding a quiet place in Junger's forest where we can hear ourselves think strikes me as a good way to proceed.

Gary Lachman
http://garylachman.co.uk

organiccoffeebreak's picture
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Gary, I am neither a liberal nor a conservative. I concur that this whole Left vs Right thing is one of the great delusions of our age. But given how people are, they feel the need to paint you as either one of them or the so-called enemy.

jupiter.enteract's picture
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Thanks for this, Gary--never heard of Junger before, so it's great to learn of his thoughts.

note to organiccoffeebreak: one doesn't have to be a member of the "loony left" to realize Bush and company left our country (and several others) in shambles. Hard to believe there are those who'd still defend that 8-year disaster.

emlong's picture
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I have always like the way the playwright/screenwriter David Mamet put it - "They screwed the country into a cocked hat."

Jughead23's picture
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What is the policy for blatant racist remarks? If a commenter says that all left-handed people are evil and worse than nazis, what is the appropriate response? Should one get into a fruitless argument that has nothing to do with reality, or simply call it out for what it is?

emlong's picture
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How about we use the terms often bandied about by both sides of the current impasse in the middle east. You can call the Arabs "Islamofascists," and the other side can use the term "Judeofascist."
Both terms have their source in fascism which was almost totally defined by the Nazi regime in Germany. The Germans too were masters of the false flag, and since the major traumas of our times are nearly all false flag attacks, I think it is not straying too far from the original message of this thread to highlight their role in the current miasma.

Jughead23's picture
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When people compare current issues to Nazis it isn't generally to false flag operations. Additionally, while it it obvious to you that there are false flag operations related to the current events it is certainly not an obvious point and that can be open for debate and discussion.
Nazi is a loaded word that is used way too often recently (comparing things to it). My educated guess is that anyone who has the nerve to use it against the very people who suffered enormously and grievously from Nazis is nothing more than antisemitism, plain and simple.
Why hasn't there been an outcry of Assad acting like a Nazi? Or any of the many ruthless dictators? Why isn't any Arab regime who treat their own citizens mercilessly ever compared to Nazis? Whether you like it or not, you reveal very much about your character when you make such mean statements. It is not any other commenter attacking you, simply your own words.

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I see no reason for this discussion to continue if it's just about baiting each other. I'd advise both of you to stop now.

Kind regards,
Greg
-------------------------------------------
You monkeys only think you're running things
@DailyGrail

hazratio's picture
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["Jünger has a surprisingly early mention of Gurdjieff."]

Could you clarify and elaborate on his relationship, if any, to Gurdjieff? Is Gurdjieff mentioned in the Forest essay?