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The Forest-Goer and the Anarch

March 06, 2014 By: John Kindley Category: Uncategorized

I hate to say it, but I prefer this old anonymous partial translation of Ernst Juenger’s The Forest Passage (1951) over the new complete translation by Thomas Friese from Telos Press. I hate to say it, because Friese has done the world a big favor by making the entirety of this great work available to English-speaking readers for the first time, and Friese’s English translation of Juenger’s also wonderful The Adventurous Heart is itself wonderful. It’s just that, having read the anonymous translation of the greater part of the The Forest Passage, which has inspired me to call it possibly the greatest thing I’ve ever read, Friese’s rendering seems positively clunky by comparison. But perhaps to its credit Friese’s is a more rigorously literal translation of the original German. (I wouldn’t know.) And again, there are of course many important passages in Friese’s complete translation you won’t find in the anonymous partial translation, but again, in my opinion the greatest passages are included in the anonymous partial translation, and rendered more powerfully than in Friese’s translation.

I also have to quibble with a few things in Friese’s preface to his translation. He writes:

Since the publication of Eumeswil (1977), no discussion of the forest rebel can be complete without mention of its successor in that later work, the anarch, in my opinion Juenger’s crowning achievement. Indeed, all the qualities ascribed to the forest rebel in The Forest Passage are present in the anarch, and then some, for the anarch is his stronger twin, comprehending all that he is and taking the development further. . . .

A final note regarding the translation of the book’s title and protagonist, of the act and the actor. . . . [T]he translator of Eumeswil, Joachim Neugroschel, translated “Waldgang” and “Waldganger” as “forest flight” and “forest fleer.”. . . I departed from [these English terms], primarily because the word “flight” has a connotation of running away from normal reality, the choice of a weaker, not a stronger, individual. Naturally, the forest rebel does seek to escape oppression, and, being comparatively weaker than the anarch, he must “flee” society to some extent, while the anarch can remain concealed and wholly within it. However, the terms of comparison at the time Juenger conceived the figure of the Waldganger were not the as-yet unborn anarch and his qualities, but the masses, and political activists, anarchists, and partisans. In comparison with these, the inner and outer positions the Waldganger occupies require a stronger will, courage, and inner force; in this context, I find “flight,” as reflecting a relative weakness, inappropriate. . . .

For the actor’s name, I chose a compromise between Neugroschel’s “forest fleer,” which retains “forest,” and the French and Italian translators who simply used “rebel,” which this figure certainly also is. In this manner, a new term, the forest rebel, has also been coined for this freshly conceived and yet timeless existential figure of Ernst Juenger’s.

I don’t quibble with Friese’s choice of “passage” over “flight.” Indeed, in the last couple pages of Eumeswil the mentor of the protagonist and narrator, Martin Venator, who styles himself an anarch, says to him:

Martin, I have never doubted that you prefer the forest. Yet I also know that you regard it as a passage—not as a goal, like Attila, or as a fiction, like the Domo. But what are fictions? A dream comes true in each of our great transformations. You know this as a historian. We fail not because of our dreams but because we do not dream forcefully enough.

On the other hand, rather than “forest fleer,” or “forest rebel,” or simply “rebel,” why not simply “forest-goer”? Certainly the “forest” is essential to the figure, so Friese was certainly right to retain it. As Juenger wrote in The Forest Passage (in the words of the anonymous partial translation I linked to above) in the paragraph introducing the figure:

The ship is a symbol of temporal existence, the forest a symbol of supratemporal being. In our nihilistic epoch, optical illusions multiply and motion seems to become pervasive. Actually, however, all the contemporary display of technical power is merely an ephemeral reflection of the richness of Being. In gaining access to it, and be it only for an instant, man will gain inward security: the temporal phenomena will not only lose their menace, but they will assume a positive significance. We shall call this reorientation toward being the retreat into the forest (Waldgang), and the man who carries it out the wanderer in the forest (Waldgänger). Similar to the term ”worker” (Arbeiter), it signifies a scale of values. For it applies not only to a variety of forms of activity, but also to various stages in the expression of an underlying attitude. The term has its prehistory in an old Icelandic custom. The retreat into the forest followed upon proscription. Through it a man asserted his will to survive by virtue of his own strength. That was held to be honorable, and it is still so today in spite of all commonplaces to the contrary.

As Jesse Byock explains in Viking Age Iceland, the old Icelandic word for full outlawry literally meant “forest-going.” (Personally, I also prefer “forest-goer” and “forest passage” over the anonymous translator’s “wanderer in the forest” and “retreat into the forest.”) It seems clear that Juenger’s figure of the forest-goer was inspired by the old Icelandic “outlaw sagas,” and perhaps especially by Grettir’s Saga. Juenger wrote in Eumeswil:

The forest flight resembles the perfect crime in both its planning and its failures. Nothing is easier than opting for autonomy, nothing is harder than bringing it about. Man has forgotten how to stand for himself–on his own two feet, which grasp the ground directly. He does not like doing without helpers and accomplices. They introduce the first cracks into the system.

The longest forest flight in Iceland was carried out by Grettir, the strongest man on the island: he feared no human being, but he did fear ghosts. When Gudmund advised hirn to settle on an untakable cliff, Grettir replied: “I will try. But I am so scared of the dark that I cannot be alone for the life of me.”

To which Gudmund rejoined: “That may be true. But trust no one as much as yourself.”

Grettir took along his fifteen-year-old brother, Illugi, and that was good; but he also took along Glaum, his slave. Illugi perished at his side while Glaum betrayed him. I have put up a memorial to Illugi on the acacia hill.

What I really have to quibble with is Friese’s suggestion that the forest-goer is “weaker than the anarch.” Let us look at every exposition of the “forest fleer” or the “forest flight” in Eumeswil (in addition to the one quoted above) and see:

The anarch is a forest fleer, the partisans are a collective. I have observed their quarrels as both a historian and a contemporary. Stuffy air, unclear ideas, lethal energy, which ultimately put abdicated monarchs and retired generals back in the saddle—and they then show their gratitude by liquidating those selfsame partisans. I had to love certain ones, because they loved freedom, even though the cause did not deserve their sacrifice; this made me sad.

If I love freedom “above all else,” then any commitment becomes a metaphor, a symbol. This touches on the difference between the forest fleer and the partisan: this distinction is not qualitative but essential in nature. The anarch is closer to Being. The partisan moves within the social or national party structure, the anarch is outside it. Of course, the anarch cannot elude the party structure, since he lives in society.

The difference will be obvious when I go to my forest shack while my Lebanese joins the partisans. I will then not only hold on to my essential freedom, but also gain its full and visible enjoyment. The Lebanese, by contrast, will shift only within society; he will become dependent on a different group, which will get an even tighter hold on him.

. . .

I have done some serious cogitating about the reasons for the failure of the forest flight. This issue haunts many people—indeed, everyone who plans the “perfect crime.” Nearly all these types surrender to a misplaced optimism.

The forest flight confirms the independence of the anarch, who is basically a forest fleer anywhere, any time, whether in the thicket in the metropolis, whether inside or outside society. One must distinguish not only between the forest fleer and the partisan but also between the anarch and the criminal; the difference lies in the relationship to the law. The partisan wants to change the law, the criminal break it; the anarch wants neither. He is not for or against the law. While not acknowledging the law, he does try to recognize it like the laws of nature, and he adjusts accordingly.

. . .

The forest fleer and the partisan are not, as I have said, to be confused with each other; the partisan fights in society, the forest fleer alone. Nor, on the other hand, is the forest fleer to be confused with the anarch, although the two of them grow very similar for a while and are barely to be distinguished in existential terms.

The difference is that the forest fleer has been expelled from society, while the anarch has expelled society from himself. He is and remains his own master in all circumstances. When he decides to flee to the forest, his decision is less an issue of justice and conscience for him than a traffic accident. He changes camouflage; of course, his alien status is more obvious in the forest flight, thereby becoming the weaker form, though, perhaps indispensable.

That is, the “full and visible enjoyment” of the anarch’s “essential freedom” is gained by the forest passage, which is “perhaps indispensable.” Freedom and necessity are at play in this distinction without a difference between the anarch and the forest-goer. From The Forest Passage:

It is well to remain aware of the inevitable in order to avoid being lost in illusions. Freedom coexists with necessity, and only after freedom enters into a relation with necessity can the new state of mind emerge. Every transformation of the concept of necessity has brought with it a change in the concept of freedom. For this reason the notions of freedom of 1789 have become obsolete and are no longer effective against the coercion of our time. Freedom in itself is immortal, but in each period it appears in a different guise and must be conquered anew. History in the true sense can be made only by free men; it is the form given by the free to his destiny.

The anarch who has expelled society from himself will inevitably be expelled from society. The forest-goer who has been expelled from society will inevitably expel society from himself. From The Forest Passage:

Wanderers in the forest (Waldgänger) are all those who, isolated by great upheavals, are confronted with ultimate annihilation. Since this could be the fate of many, indeed, of all, another defining characteristic must be added: the wanderer in the forest (Waldgänger) is determined to offer resistance. He is willing to enter into a struggle that may appear hopeless. Hence he is distinguished by an immediate relationship to freedom which expresses itself in the fact that he is prepared to oppose the automatism and to reject its ethical conclusion of fatalism.

There used to be on YouTube a rare and tremendously valuable interview of Juenger at his home when he was one-hundred years old. I’ve learned through emails with the Swedish producer of the film that, due to unspecified copyright issues, the film, which contains the last filmed interviews ever made with Juenger, is no longer available anywhere, for purchase or otherwise, although according to the producer it “still exists in the Swedish Film Institute Library for research purposes.” In this last interview Juenger corrected the interviewer by clarifying that the anarch is not a (or Juenger’s) “position,” but a “possibility.” By day the anarch might be a civil servant, while at night among his books he “thinks his thoughts.” What distinguishes the anarch is that he “doesn’t interfere.”

But perhaps the best proof that the forest-goer is not “weaker than the anarch” but rather his fulfillment is that Eumeswil itself culminates in a Great Hunt, a Forest Passage, undertaken not only by the anarch but by his pendant, the monarch, from which no one ever returns. The short Epilogue, written by the narrator’s brother, begins: “My brother, Martin Venator, who vanished years ago with the tyrant and his retinue, has now been declared legally dead.”

And is not Death, that inevitability by which we are all ultimately expelled from society, itself a Forest Passage?




1 Comments to “The Forest-Goer and the Anarch”

  1. Excellent piece!

    It was my understanding however that that anonymous translation was indeed by Friese but perhaps Telos might confirm this.


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