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March 2023 Issue [Reviews]

History’s Fool

The long century of Ernst Jünger
Collage by Ben Giles. Source photograph of Ernst Jünger, 1935 © Ullstein Bild/Getty Images

Collage by Ben Giles. Source photograph of Ernst Jünger, 1935 © Ullstein Bild/Getty Images


History’s Fool

The long century of Ernst Jünger

Discussed in this essay:

On the Marble Cliffs, by Ernst Jünger, translated from the German by Tess Lewis. New York Review Books. 144 pages. $14.95.

Ernst Jünger is the intractable land mine of German literature. Demolition squads of scholars have stencil-brushed the casing and every wire of the corpus; warning tape encircles the mother lode of fifty books, which are still capable of sending readers sky-high. Millions of soldiers came home from the First World War missing a body part or a piece of their mind. Jünger, who learned not to flinch at the abyss—who positively courted shrapnel, was wounded seven times, and ended up one of the most decorated soldiers on the German side—came out with a style. Terse, clean, cool: he ran against the grain of the language and pressed the decadent accents of l’art pour l’art into the service of total war, treating incoming bombshells as if they were Madame Bovary’s parasols. “The odd thing was that the little birds in the forest seemed quite untroubled by the myriad noise,” he wrote of his first artillery onslaught on the Western Front. “In the short intervals of firing, we could hear them singing happily or ardently to one another, if anything even inspired or encouraged by the dreadful noise on all sides.”

Jünger leapt into infamy in 1920 as the author of the war memoir Storm of Steel. Ever since his turn to fiction later that decade, he has been hailed as a sublime prophet of doom-laden modernity and dismissed as the purveyor of the purest kitsch of the postwar. The Dresden poet Durs Grünbein—no Jünger partisan himself—once divided Cold War German writers between those who studied Jünger openly and those who studied him in secret. Jünger’s international admirers have included Jorge Luis Borges, Hannah Arendt, Julien Gracq, François Mitterrand, Alberto Moravia, Henry Kissinger, Neo Rauch, and Elon Musk. Equally striking have been his detractors: Theodor Adorno (“so little talent that positive negation is already baked into his success”), Walter Benjamin (a “depraved mystic”), Jean-Paul Sartre (“I hate him, not as a German, but as an aristocrat”), W. G. Sebald (“a very blatant example of how not to respond to catastrophes”), and Thomas Mann, who called Jünger a “pioneer and ice-cold playboy of barbarism.” Corporal Hitler adored Lieutenant Jünger for his manly heroics in the trenches; he read all of Jünger’s war books; his esteem was undented even after Jünger was linked to a plot to kill him. Hitler’s fellow Austrian Elfriede Jelinek diagnosed a suppressed feminine side in the coldest of cold soldiers when she befriended the ancient Jünger in the Nineties.

Few of Jünger’s biographers have been able to resist the image of the subject as a “seismograph” of the twentieth century. The same man who bayonet-charged the English army at the Somme watched on television as the Americans flattened Baghdad with laser-guided bombs. The same Jünger who steamed with hatred for the French occupiers of the Ruhr came to worry about the prospects of a planet with Chinese automobile drivers. Surveying the span of his one hundred and two years, one finds several Jüngers to choose from: the dandy storm trooper on the Western Front; the rabid nationalist pamphleteer of the Weimar Republic; the solemn postwar advocate of Christian Eurofederalism; the uncanny futurist who in his novels dreamed up prototypes of the drone and the smartphone, as well as a video database of all happenings in world history; the intrepid entomologist who had nine types of beetle named after him; the psychedelic spelunker who brimmed with opium recipes and dropped acid with Albert Hofmann; the smiling man on Franco-German television giving grandfatherly tours of his war booty and curios—the helmet of an English officer, Liberian statuary, the carpenter’s bill for Schiller’s coffin.

The thread that holds the various Jüngers together was his nearly lifelong revolt against the bourgeois order. He was born in Heidelberg in 1895 and grew up in Hannover and its environs in the twilight of German empire. It was a world stuffed with Biedermeier furniture, military parades, and endless Kaffee und Kuchen. Art and literature were ruled by desiccated academic mandarins, while the pall of positivist science pervaded everything. (Jünger’s boyhood religion teacher explained the Gospel passage of Christ walking on water as an optical illusion owing to the well-attested fog on the Sea of Galilee.) Jünger’s father was a pharmacist by profession, in an age when death itself seemed to have been domesticated. His mother was a stranger fish: she had once met Ibsen and delighted when a suffragette defaced a painting in the British Museum. As a child Jünger gorged on westerns and penny dreadfuls. He found Germany a fortress of boredom, its insects more interesting than its people. Cuckolds no longer avenged themselves in duels; horsemanship was on the wane; a soft commercial spirit sapped what little singularity was left of the national terrain. The real action was farther afield: in Asia, where the Japanese had walloped the Russians, and in Africa, where sun-drenched German imperialists dug up dinosaurs and it was open season on the Herero. Packed off to boarding school at sixteen, Jünger used his allowance to buy a six-shot revolver and escaped to Algeria in the ranks of the French Foreign Legion. After tracking him down, his father requested that the teenager pose for a photograph in uniform and return home. The boy rebel submitted to the man of reason.

For such young men, the First World War came like a gift from heaven. Karl Marx had wondered whether Achilles was possible in an age of powder and lead. It was now time to find out! In his early skirmishes on the Western Front, Jünger was “irresistibly drawn to the site of calamity.” He developed a surplus of a special sangfroid that he would call désinvolture, a kind of insight-granting sensibility that mysteriously heightened one’s own subjectivity in the very act of shedding it. For no apparent reason, he once wore a British officer’s greatcoat in the midst of heavy fire, and used his gas mask kit as a lunch box. Here is Jünger at the Battle of Les Éparges, one of the deadliest engagements of the conflict:

Unmolested by any fire, I strolled along the ravaged trench. It was the short mid-morning lull that was often to be my only moment of respite on the battlefield. I used it to take a good look at everything. The unfamiliar weapons, the darkness of the dugouts, the colourful contents of the haversacks, it was all new and strange to me. I pocketed some French ammunition, undid a silky-soft tarpaulin and picked up a canteen wrapped in blue cloth, only to chuck it all away again a few steps further along. The sight of a beautiful striped shirt, lying next to a ripped-open officer’s valise, seduced me to strip off my uniform and get into some fresh linen. I relished the pleasant tickle of clean cloth against my skin.

Taking “a good look at everything” was Jünger’s main game. But he was not simply a flaneur at the front. He experienced fear and boredom; he privately cursed the conflict as a “shit war”; he was no stranger to rats and spilled guts and shell shock. As the haunted drawings he sketched in his war notebooks attest, from the very beginning, Jünger tried to wrest coherence from the chaos. “We must believe that everything is meaningfully ordered,” he wrote, “otherwise we shipwreck with the masses of the inwardly oppressed, the disillusioned, or the do-gooders, or we live in suffering like animals from day to day.”

Jünger came to believe that proximity to death granted one privileged access to deep folds of reality otherwise hidden. He got very close. At Les Éparges, a bullet grazed his left thigh; at Lorraine, his hand was wounded in a blast; at the Somme, grenade shrapnel tore his left shin. One bullet went through his right calf and grazed the left; another grazed his head. He briefly went berserk when a shell landed in his trench. After he was shot through the lung, one of the men carrying him off on the stretcher was killed by a shot through the back of his head. Another officer who picked him up was quickly killed in turn. Asked by a French reporter what he regretted about the war, Jünger replied, “That we lost.” When a British newspaper later questioned him about Erich Remarque’s pacifist novel All Quiet on the Western Front—the antithesis of his own Storm of Steel—Jünger praised it as a handy piece of “camouflage” that made Germany seem like a country of peace-loving internationalists, which could now more effectively re-arm.

After the war, Jünger became a nationalist icon. His father—ever resourceful in the face of misfortune—suggested that he edit his war notebooks into a volume while he recovered from his wounds. The result was a series unlike any other. Much as Oswald Spengler had elevated the brooding schwarmerei of German café philosophers into a treatise, so Jünger took the rote form of the regimental memoir and affixed a bayonet to it. Unlike English and French war memoirists, Jünger made no attempt to provide context for the violence, no attempt to pass judgment. The title of the most well-known volume—Storm of Steel or, more literally, In Steelstorm—is no metaphor: Jünger describes an English gunner on the opposite side of a trench with a habit of firing his machine gun at such an angle that it came down on the German line like demonic rain. In his writing, war is not an aberration but an intimately natural phenomenon. The bombshells drift over the long surf of explosions like “mechanical insects”; a group of wounded Indian soldiers in an opposing trench moan like frogs “in the grass after a rainstorm”; a sergeant’s temperature chart in a hospital ward “leaps like a wild mustang”; when Jünger himself gets shot in the chest, he collapses “like a gamebird.” In one scene, he shoots a young English boy and treats the experience like a hunter felling a deer. “He lay there, looking quite relaxed,” Jünger writes. “I forced myself to look closely at him. It wasn’t a case of ‘you or me’ anymore.” Mechanized violence was not an alternative to nature, in Jünger’s view, but only another expression of it. Nevertheless, he was in no doubt that a new type of human was produced by the maelstrom.

It’s been axiomatic for a long time to view the collective trauma and madness of the First World War as faithfully reflected in the broken consciousness and fragmentary compulsions of the first generation of literary modernists. Jünger’s prose is something like the opposite: the grammar is ostentatiously intact; the sentences clip into one another with no twists of hesitation and force out preternaturally crisp impressions. (One of Jünger’s friends would remember him speaking in aphorisms, in a curt, martial grumble.) Jünger was not faced with the dilemma of reconciling the liberal ideal of individual autonomy—to which he never subscribed—with the alienating experience of total war, whose lunacy he refused to acknowledge. “The securing of life against fate, that great mother of danger, appears as the truly bourgeois problem,” he wrote. He had no interest in solving it. Instead, as Helmut Lethen noted in his classic book on the subzero sensibility of the Weimar era, he exaggerated the organization of nature to such an extreme degree that he believed a secret order guided everything, from a butterfly’s wings to the whistling shells overhead. Storm of Steel reads like a patient performing an operation on his own body: deliriously sober, he watches isolated emotions writhe and pulsate on the table before him.

A nature-worshipping storm trooper who wants to relive the Iliad: such people are not easy to integrate into fledgling liberal democracies. Jünger despised the Weimar Republic. “I hate democracy as I do the plague,” he wrote in 1922. He saw in its insistence on welfare and rights and constitutionalism everything he despised about bourgeois society: its obsession with safety and security, its denial of sacrifice, its humanist sentimentalism. After a disappointing stint studying science in Leipzig and Naples—“I expected a bumper crop of images. But instead I got inundated by numbers and figures”—Jünger set himself up as a writer in Berlin. One of his few literary-political compositions from the period is an introduction to a coffee-table book of car crashes and other technological failures: welcome intrusions of fate in the heart of the liberal metropolis.

When Walter Benjamin identified the “aestheticization of politics” as the chief card trick in fascism, he may well have had Jünger in mind. The collected edition of Jünger’s interwar theorizing runs to nearly one thousand pages, and gives the impression less of an engaged political writer with a taste for dandyism than a dandy with a taste for politics. Jünger’s early polemics were blinkered celebrations of the cult of the eternal soldier. In direct response, Benjamin took aim at Jünger for failing to see that he and his jingoistic comrades were nothing more than “war-engineers” in the service of the country’s capitalist class. But unlike most of his right-wing peers, Jünger made a point of learning from the avant-garde of Berlin. He met György Lukács and Joseph Roth, and sparred late into the night with the likes of Brecht. He, too, was mesmerized by the power of the Russian Revolution and believed that something similar would come to Germany. But in Jünger’s vision—outlined in his 1932 treatise, The Worker—Germany’s soldiers and workers would join into a single mass of supermen to stave off the coming empire of commercial society. For Jünger, militarism was the alternative to both capitalism and communism: it was not merely about training troops or building up stockpiles of weapons, but about schooling a society in how to consume violence instead of the cheap thrills of the market. Creative destruction was too important to be left to entrepreneurs. Jünger called for a new German aristocracy suited to the times: one composed not of business barons or landed Junkers, but technological adepts.

Multiple attempts by the Nazis to recruit Jünger into their movement went awry. In the Twenties, Jünger had swapped fan mail with Hitler, sending him a signed copy of “Fire and Blood” in return for a signed copy of Mein Kampf (Jünger’s Californian biographer, Elliot Neaman, has wondered whether by addressing Hitler as “a” rather than “the” Führer Jünger may have been subtly downgrading him.) When Goebbels, who at Hitler’s prompting sought to make Jünger the crown writer of the Reich, invited him to one of his speeches, Jünger surprised the audience by walking out to get a drink at a nearby restaurant. He disapproved of the Nazis not because they were radical but because they were not radical enough. They had a talent for mass rallies, it was true, but Jünger was put off by their participation in the liberal charade of elections and political campaigns and presenting themselves as a “party” rather than as a swelling popular tide. He was aggrieved when Hitler, in an attempt to make the National Socialists more palatable to the middle class, opposed the Rural People’s Movement, a popular anti-Weimar tax revolt, which was commendably trying to blow up buildings in Berlin. Aesthetically, Jünger had no time for Alfred Rosenberg’s mystical blood-and-soil racial self-worship.

He mocked the sort of Nazi who “eats three Jews for breakfast.” He was celebratory, in a grimly fetishizing way, of Shtetl Jews who kept to their ghettos and read their Torah; but he was scornful of Jewish “masters of the mask” who sought to assimilate into German life and super-spread the liberal-democratic contagion. Politically, Jünger’s disenchantment was sealed when Hitler crushed his preferred strain of Nazism—the so-called National Bolsheviks, who stressed the “social” in National Socialism—on the Night of the Long Knives in 1934. He was already looking for an exit from politics as his friends Carl Schmitt and Martin Heidegger began their ascent in the party.

Jünger made his first sustained plunge into imaginative literature—if the ongoing embellishments of his war memoirs are not counted—by publishing in 1929 what even many of his detractors consider his finest work: the short prose collection The Adventurous Heart. Jettisoning the cold style that made his name and immersing himself in romantic symbolism, Jünger published a decade later his best known novel, On the Marble Cliffs. The novel is so shrouded in legend that it is difficult to read it through the mist of its own reputation. It was inspired by an evening Jünger and his brother spent on the shores of Lake Constance drinking heavily with some young aristocratic friends, one of whom, Heinrich von Trott zu Solz, tried unsuccessfully to recruit Jünger to the resistance against Hitler. (Later in life, Jünger would stubbornly insist on confusing this young man with his more famous brother, Adam, who was executed after participating in the Stauffenberg plot.)

The novel is set in “the hermitage,” a small refuge cut into a marble cliff that overlooks the Marina, a great luminescent body of water flanked by ancient villages and vineyards. There are elements of modern technology, but the society resembles a mercantile civilization. Returned from a long war, two brothers have taken up the peaceful art of botany. With them lives Erio, the product of a brief erotic encounter the narrator had during the war, and Erio’s grandmother, Lampusa, along with a protective band of snakes. The brothers search for rare flowers and plants. It is as if science has taken a different road after Linnaeus; their studies are not governed by any will to dissect, but by a kind of romantic passion for inventory: to find objects of worship and give names to them. But all is not well in this quasi-Eden. Beyond the feudal Campagna below there are forests, where the Head Forester sends his Mauretanians and glowworms to terrorize the peasants. Against them fight a declining race of nobles, led by Prince Sunmyra, and one of the peasant warriors, Belovar. The two brothers stay out of the action, which culminates in a vicious war between hounds, with the Head Forester’s dog, Chiffon Rouge, leading the pack. In one scene, the brothers stumble upon a house in the plains—a flayer’s hut—where they find that the Head Forester’s army has hung sets of human skin from the rafters. The nobles are eventually defeated. The land around the Marina burns, and the brothers clear the path for a retreat to the opposite shore.

From the moment it was published, and despite Jünger’s coy protests to the contrary, On the Marble Cliffs was interpreted as a roman à clef for the Nazi era. It was the nimble “resistance” novel that only got past the censors because Hitler refused to ban the work of one of his favored authors. The character of the Head Forester has been variously thought to be Hitler, Stalin, or any number of nationalist agitators. Goebbels was not pleased to find his likeness in the character of Braquemart. Most centrally, the scene of the flayer’s hut has been cited as Jünger’s uncanny prevision of the Holocaust (a concentration camp was up and running in the town in which he composed the novel). But already in The Adventurous Heart, Jünger’s narrator enters a shop selling small amounts of human flesh. Like many writers of his moment, Jünger was enamored with the French decadent tradition, from Mirbeau to Huysmans, in which such delicacies would not be out of place. Jünger continued to produce depraved scenes in many of his novels. In The Glass Bees (1957), a more successful novel than On the Marble Cliffs, the narrator, also a veteran, stumbles into a garden full of hacked-off ears, which turn out to be the revenge of a scientist who has defaced the automatons he created.

Despite all its alleged adumbrations of modern horror, Marble Cliffs is nearly the opposite of a dystopian novel. For Jünger, the world of the Marina is shot through with beauty. (When Picasso met Jünger in Paris, he supposedly asked where the writer got his inspiration for the landscape.) The type of science the brothers conduct and the type of violence depicted were both to Jünger’s taste. Aristocrats unable to fight off ghoulish modern upstarts was the transposition of the tragedy Jünger believed was taking place in his own time. But Jünger—like the narrator and his brother in the novel—faced the facts with equanimity: such was the way of the world. He, too, would take his leave to the opposite shore, in what became known as the “inner emigration” of German aesthetes who believed they could maintain their autonomy from the politics around them by burrowing deeper into their art.

There’s an enveloping quality to Jünger’s lapidary stylistic turn in the novel. Its opening—“You all know the fierce melancholy that overcomes us at the memory of happy times”—is a sentence that the German reader especially may be tempted to pull up like a warm duvet in contrast to Jünger’s earlier, colder offerings. The lush density of the imagery gives the book a greenhouse feel. The British rock critic Ian Penman has aptly described Jünger’s prose in the novel as “humid.” But the charge of kitschification is surely just, especially if kitsch is understood as the result of trying to jam an antic, mothballed sensibility into a historical moment that refuses to reciprocate. The residual power of the novel is that it’s a kind of historical gamble: a bid to represent the avant-garde in a German Europe, or at least another Europe that did not come to pass, one where Kafka would have been banned forever and in which different aesthetic standards would have applied.

The legacy of Marble Cliffs was mostly registered in France, where Jünger’s most skilled admirer, Julien Gracq, used his example to reimport lush romanticism back into postwar French literature much as Jünger himself had imported the cool tones of Stendhal and Baudelaire into German. Gracq’s novel The Opposing Shore (1951) is an homage to Marble Cliffs, with another embattled aristocracy dealing with encroaching hordes, a reckoning that had already been restaged with great effect in Dino Buzzati’s The Tartar Steppe and would later be inverted by J. M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians. But the surest of all students of Jünger may be the Saxon painter Neo Rauch, who raids Jünger’s novels for their storehouse of images, and whose own Waiting for the Barbarians captures the shock of colors and the play with interleaved historical timescales that is the signature of Jünger’s fictional worlds.

I was initially skeptical that any rendering of the novel could better Stuart Hood’s 1947 translation for New Directions. Hood himself was a left-winger and a soldier, famed for his fighting in Italy, as well as being the officer in charge of debriefing Jünger after he was captured by the Allies. Having never joined the Nazi Party, Jünger refused to be “de-Nazified,” which caused him some publishing troubles in the Forties. Hood’s first translations from On the Marble Cliffs appeared in Interim British Army of the Rhine Intelligence Review. But one can only hope Hood was a sharper shot with his Lee-Enfield than he was with his Langenscheidt.

Tess Lewis’s new translation is undeniably superior. In its care for cadences and more precise renderings of even basic words—in the enrapturing first sentence of the novel she translates Schwermut as “melancholy,” whereas Hood inexplicably reaches for “grief”—her work supersedes her predecessor’s on every score.

By the time On the Marble Cliffs was at the printers, Jünger was in the thick of another world war. An army captain, he went to France, where he wound up with a kind of sinecure, working as a censor and intercepting foreign radio transmissions. Living at the Hôtel Raphael in Paris, Jünger spent most of his days trawling antiques shops, studying early-modern entomologists, visiting mistresses, reading the Old Testament (twice), sampling narcotics, exchanging glances with shopgirls, and recording every minute reflection in his notebooks. Much of it confirms Adorno’s verdict that Jünger’s prose was “through-and-through kitsch.” Here is Jünger feeling up a secretary in an afternoon cinema in Vincennes. “There I touched her breast,” Jünger writes. “A hot iceberg, a mound in the spring, filled with myriad seeds of life, perhaps something like white anemones.” The lines would fit appropriately in the voice of the narrator of On the Marble Cliffs. As with the sublime razing of the Marina at the end of the novel, Captain Jünger coolly reveled in the prospect of the destruction of Paris:

Air-raid sirens, planes overhead. From the roof of the Raphael, I watched two enormous detonation clouds billow upward in the region of Saint-Germain while the high-altitude formations cleared off. They were targeting the river bridges. The method and sequence of the tactics aimed at our supply lines imply a subtle mind. When the second raid came at sunset, I was holding a glass of burgundy with strawberries floating in it. The city, with its red towers and domes, was a place of stupendous beauty, like a calyx that they fly over to accomplish their deadly act of pollination. The whole thing was theater—pure power affirmed and magnified by suffering.

This is one of the most gasped-at passages of postwar German prose, with all of Jünger’s obsessions in a single shot: botany, apocalypse, beauty. We know that there was no actual raid at the time and place Jünger designates in his diary, but the line between his fiction and his diaries was always tenuous. In other passages, he notes the quivering fly on the cheek of a German deserter before he is shot, and shifting colors of a horse chestnut tree’s blossoms outside a great bay window as officers discuss conscripting fresh combatants from the prison population. But even at the height of his irresponsibility as a figure in history—“Some people had dirty hands, some people clean hands, but Jünger had no hands,” quipped Cocteau—his perspective never quite abandons that of the single individual in thrall to its own subjectivity. He is not a writer of the actual New Men, whether utopian-communist like Andrei Platonov, or fascist like Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. He came to believe that individual acts were pointless.

A close reader of Jünger’s diaries, Arendt claimed to have partly derived her idea of the banality of evil from a passage in which he relates overhearing a man in a barbershop in Hannover talk about Russian prisoners forced to work around the city. “It seems there are scoundrels among them,” says the man. “They steal food from the dogs.” Jünger’s meditation on this inability to fathom the other’s circumstances is withering: “One often has the impression that the German middle classes are possessed by the devil.” As difficult as he found it to enter into the position of Germany’s victims—Jünger’s encounters with girls wearing the yellow star in Paris makes him embarrassed to be in uniform—he was a sporadic critic of the moral obtuseness that grew like vines all around him.

After the war, like one of the historian-protagonists in his novels, Jünger retreated from public life. It had been a catastrophe: his son had been sent on what amounted to a suicide mission by the Nazi high command after he was overheard cursing the chance of a German victory, dying—uncannily enough—on the marble cliffs of Carrara in Italy. Jünger moved in to a large house that had been—uncannily enough—the chief forester’s residence of one of the Stauffenberg estates in Baden-Württemberg. He threw himself into his diaries, and into his novels, where his protagonists were often old veterans or aging historians. In the 1949 novel Heliopolis, a reprise of On the Marble Cliffs, the protagonist does not escape a burning Marina, but boards a spaceship to quit a destroyed earth.

By the Sixties, Jünger was feverishly cleaning up his record, cutting the more politically unpalatable passages from official editions of his work. While Schmitt and Heidegger stewed in venom at the Anglo-Jewish conspiracies ranged against them, Jünger corresponded with rabbis and became an international star. A rumor circulated that he had once been responsible for trying to rescue his old nemesis Walter Benjamin from the Gestapo lists and grant him safe passage out of Europe. In the Eighties, it was determined that an official Nazi letter demanding Jünger be punished for writing On the Marble Cliffs was a forgery. Jünger may or may not have had a hand in this reputation management, but he had become salonfähig again. A new generation of ecologically minded Germans found his writings on the natural world an inspiration. Some of the leading ’68ers took him as a model of aloofness from the corrupting tide of consumerism.

In the 1977 novel Eumeswil, Jünger developed the ideal of what he called the Anarch, the figure who purges all social norms from himself while outwardly upholding them. But then he had never rode into the wind of his times: a nationalist during the First World War, a well-wisher of “Europe” in the postwar period (still occasionally popping up in radical right-wing publications), a Third World sympathizer in a time of post-colonial sentimentality: he lived long enough to become a biological specimen in his own right, as unpolitical as one of his beetles. By the time he died in 1998, he was covered in honors—civilian ones this time—by a strenuously liberal Germany of which he claimed to be an “unenthusiastic citizen.” In his first book of fiction, he borrowed a line from Francis Bacon for what he took to be the secret of artist survivors who could weather all manner of decaying regimes: be a little of the fool of history, and not too much of the honest man.

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