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Ernst Junger: a man for all cultures?
EU-funding helped scholar Christophe Fricker restart his academic career and link it up with his experiences in the business world. His research has shed new light on the life and writing of controversial German author Ernst Junger.
Jünger had written some 50 volumes of diaries, novels, stories and essays by the time he died in 1998 at the age of 102. Along the way he received praise and honours as a master stylist and early analyst of social and technological networks, while being denounced by others as a German nationalist and Nazi apologist.
Fricker stepped into this divide with the help of a Marie Curie Fellowship grant and came down on the side of Jünger as a man who valued all cultures. The Fellowship allowed Fricker to break new ground in understanding Jünger through research into the author’s extensive travel writing and other documents.
His fresh look at Jünger coincided with rising interest in the author and his life. Fricker’s research led to the edition of three previously unknown audio tapes documenting interviews with Jünger on a wide range of topics. Fricker also published a number of articles and book reviews; he organised a conference on intercultural exchanges, a translation competition and workshops; and appeared on radio and TV.
He travelled with a BBC TV documentary team to France to help with the making of ‘War of Words: Poets of the Somme’, which charts Jünger’s experience in one of World War I’s most infamous battles. The documentary was first broadcast in November 2014. Fricker is now working on four further publications – in article and book form – related to his research.
“Above all Jünger was interested in the variety of forms of human existence,” Fricker said, when asked whether the author had become a humanist. “Many of the controversies surrounding him did not do justice to the scope of his work, critical parts of which, including his travel writing, were largely ignored, leaving many with assumptions that don’t match Jünger’s actual views.”
Fricker says his research clearly shows that, as early as 1932, Jünger had moved significantly away from calls to military action and social conformity.
His later writings of travels in Europe and outside the continent showed that he considered all cultures to be equally deserving of respect. He was an individualist who was deeply suspicious of institutions and bureaucracies, says Fricker.
Fricker’s research focused on the way Jünger approached, experienced, and interpreted his personal encounters in other countries with both people and cultures. The encounters took place during his extensive international travels, during war, and in every-day settings.
“The aim was to challenge notions of Jünger as an aloof and detached writer through charting his intimate and careful exchanges, and to highlight and examine their significance for Jünger’s literary and intellectual oeuvre,” he says.
One of Fricker’s research breakthroughs was the discovery of about six hours of audio recordings in a private archive in Munich. The conversations between Jünger and André Müller, who Fricker describes as Germany’s best-known ‘interview artist’, “provided further evidence of how far Jünger had come since his earliest writings, an evolution that began even before WWII and led to his embrace of cultural, social, and religious traditions in other countries and continents”, says Fricker.
In this light, Jünger saw European integration as a way of safeguarding difference through the recognition of cultural identities and “constant exchanges of ideas between people who were once fighting one another”, he adds.
For Fricker, who is both a French and German national, the grant was an opportunity to restart his academic career. He holds a DPhil in German from Oxford University, had lectured at Duke University in the US, and, for one semester in 2011, served as a visiting scholar and writer-in-residence at Rutgers University.
Fricker then took a big step out of academia to co-found, and become managing partner of, Nimirum, a research services provider in Germany, but after two years he wanted to do his own active research again. He applied for and received a Marie Curie Fellowship. He took up the research at the University of Bristol, where he still works as an instructor.
With the resurgence in interest in Jünger, in part due to Fricker’s research, he is now much in demand at conferences and workshops.
“I am back in academia in a way that I had not anticipated at all,” Fricker says. “It has been a big step for me, and I am very happy about it!”.