Collecting and Writing in Ernst Jünger's Heliopolis, Gläserne Bienen, and Eumeswil
Saliba, Norman Rudolph
For Ernst Jünger, collecting was a lifelong process of constructing nature in his own particular way. With the capacity to recreate the natural world in its diversity, collecting provided a path to the idyllic comfort of nature of which poets had long written. After the devastations of the Second World War, however, the destruction of nature—even its inconspicuous forms, like the increasing disappearance of beetles from their former habitats—came to the fore both in Jünger’s literary imagination and in his collecting practices. Departing from historicist readings of Jünger’s later novels, this study proposes that the author’s oeuvre from the second half of the twentieth century constructs a phenomenology of nature. Contrary to established scholarship, it contends that Jünger’s writing cannot be understood without his collecting and vice versa. Collecting and writing are two reciprocal sides of the same process of creating artworks from objects and experiences extracted from everyday use. Chapter one situates Jünger in the historical context of nineteenth-century back-to-nature movements like the Wandervogel and Lebensreform. It then introduces three dystopian novels, Heliopolis: Rückblick auf eine Stadt (1949), Gläserne Bienen (1957), and Eumeswil (1977) and explores how each novel experiments with alternative depictions of nature. Chapter two analyzes the collections prevalent in Heliopolis—studiolo, cabinet of curiosities, museum. It then lays out the ways Heliopolis itself proposes collections as a response to catastrophe and atrocity. Chapter three focuses on the role of technology in the conceptualization of nature in Gläserne Bienen. Despite its apparent commentary on the destructive quality of technology, this chapter engages in the discourse of realness and artificiality behind the novel and argues that the novel’s robots embody our sole access to nature through the artificial means of aesthetic mediation. Chapter four examines the role of literary tropes in Eumeswil. It asserts that the element of historiography in the novel functions as an allegory for the search for nature and that the novel reinvents the ancient trope of the locus amoenus. Finally, chapter four contends that Jünger ends his trilogy with the suggestion of a new form of narration: metafiction, the use of narrative means that simultaneously reflect on the application, impact, and outcomes of such means. Chapter five explores the possibilities of nature after Jünger’s trilogy and the ecological questions these three novels suggest. This study concludes that for Jünger, the search for new ways of approaching nature consolidates literature and collecting in a metafictional process of self-reflection. Rather than mere escapism, Jünger’s later prose challenges the accessibility and experience of “nature” in a post-catastrophe world.