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Final Thoughts on “Eumeswil” by Ernst Juenger

November 07, 2012 By: John Kindley Category: Uncategorized

The following thoughts are “final” not in the sense that I’m promising not to write anything else about this great novel by an extraordinary man, but in the sense that they relate to a couple interesting things Juenger did in its closing pages. So, ​Spoiler Alert!, although this is the kind of novel that I don’t think is spoiled by knowing in advance how it turns out.

First, the “tyrant” who rules Eumeswil, the Condor, is revealed in the final pages to be himself a “forest fleer,” deciding to go on a Great Hunt “beyond the desert and into the woods,” along with his right-hand man (the Domo, who feels uneasy about the whole thing) and a retinue including the narrator. As the narrator had explained earlier in the novel, the anarch lurks in everyone, including the monarch, and power is burdensome for the anarch. “[E]veryone is anarchic; this is precisely what is normal about us.”

Second, we learn from an epilogue to the narrator’s “notebooks” written by his brother years later that no one who went on the Great Hunt was ever heard from again. We know from these notebooks that this brother is a “typical liberal,” and that the narrator when he was alive gave the phrase “capital punishment,” as well as “freedom of the press,” a wide berth at the family table, for if he had voiced even the slightest criticism he would have laid hands on his brother’s “most hallowed treasure.” But the brother in his epilogue writes:

Reading these pages has thrown me into an inner conflict — between the private man and the historian. My brother did not love his family. Such was his peculiar character. But we loved him. His presentation is larded with judgments and, in my opinion, misjudgments that would justify my burning it as a private person; I have thought about it. Burnings take place with every legacy, perhaps to purge the deceased’s image in our memories, perhaps for the sake of his family.

I, however, am a historian and come from a family of historians. My dear brother — one of the titles he loved was “historian by blood.”

Eumeswil is widely and justifiably regarded as spiritual autobiography, but with this epilogue, written in a different voice than the one we have heard throughout, Juenger reminds us again that what we have read is a novel, and that its fictional narrator should not necessarily be identified with Juenger himself. Thus, it was misleading of me to title some of my recent posts which quoted from Eumeswil “Ernst Juenger on Capital Punishment,” or “Ernst Juenger on Benjamin Tucker.” Thus, it would also be a mistake to regard the narrator of Eumeswil as intended by Juenger as a model for how a person should live his life.

The literary figure of the “anarch” as expounded by the fictional narrator of Eumeswil is striking, but is put in perspective and in its place, as a figure among other figures, by the epilogue. It can be cut down to definitional size as follows: Anarchy is rulerlessness. Rulers are human beings who have the right to make laws for others. The anarch understands that there are no rulers, and sees that society is rulerless.

The anarchist, by contrast, according to the narrator of Eumeswil, emphasizes the will at the expense of the substance. (What exactly then the anarchist wills can be guessed at and stated by individual self-described anarchists, but does not appear to lend itself to precise definition, since the anarchist’s presumed goal — Anarchy — is the presently existing reality.)

The narrator arguably makes too much of this distinction between the anarch and the anarchist, or makes it too dogmatically. Would the pure anarch lift a finger to help or make others see what he sees, as Juenger himself did with Eumeswil and other novels? Would he say aloud, at the family table or elsewhere, that unnecessary killing is morally murder?

The reader of Eumeswil will have to judge for himself, and I think this is precisely what Juenger intended.

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