“The Glass Bees” by Ernst Junger

“The Glass Bees”  by Ernst Junger (1957) – 209 pages

    “He (Ernst Junger) was a war hero, Weimar dandy, fiery nationalist, but not a Nazi, and loved by the French; he was a hermit, a recluse, an LSD tripper, world traveler, insect collector, controversial Goethe Prize winner, he was loved and hated, an Olympian sage, a witness of the century.”

         “A Dubious Past: Ernst Junger and the Politics of Nazism”  by Eliot Y. Neaman

The life of Ernst Junger is a mass of contradictions.  His politics were extreme right-wing, and he was anti-Semitic.  Yet he severely criticized the Nazis and was banned by the Nazis from writing.  Nazi thugs beat unconscious his former lover Else Lasker-Schüler, because she won a literary award in 1932.  In Paris during World War II he hung around with artists including Pablo Picasso.  Later he experimented with LSD and other drugs.      

“The Glass Bees” by Junger is about a battle-hardened veteran of World War I, Captain Richard, applying for work as a security officer at the factory and mansion of the technical genius and entrepreneur Zapparoni.  Zapparoni’s specialty is electronics.  Since this novel takes place in the indefinite future, it can be considered an allegory and science fiction.  While many science fiction writers of that era wrote of human-size robots, Junger was prescient in the realization that the future belonged to miniaturization.  “In the beginning, probably it was less difficult to create a whale than a hummingbird.”   What is the Internet but billions and billions of tiny circuits?  In the novel, the devices of Zapparoni are thousands of electronic circuits which fly around forming and separating as needed, and they look like glass bees.   Junger was also prescient to have Zapparoni work in the entertainment industry. 

    “Zapparoni created novels which could not only be read, heard, and seen, but could be entered as one enters a garden.”

Sounds like a video game to me.  

In this novel, the digressions are more interesting than the main story.  This is a good thing, because the digressions make up at least two thirds of the novel.  Captain Richard is constantly reminiscing about his schooling, his military service, and people he had met early in his career.  He has good memories of his time in the cavalry when the soldiers rode real horses and you got to look your enemy in the eye before you shot him.  He is very negative about modern warfare where tanks replaced horses, and you hardly saw what you were shooting at.  He is worried that he won’t get the security job with Zapparoni, because of his ‘defeatist’ attitude, which showed itself when he got disgusted when he saw a group of thugs beat up a lone man.  There is much wisdom in these digressions about the tactics for living that Captain Richard has learned along the way.

The set up for the main story here is well done, but the main story itself is not very interesting.  The main story is Captain Richard’s interview with Zapparoni and whether or not he gets the job.  Junger tells but does not show what happens, and the story did not hold my interest.  Some of the digressions from the main story go on for a dozen pages or more, and by the time we got back to the story, I’d lost interest.  I cannot recommend this book.

However some of the digressions are brilliant. 

    “Human perfection and technical perfection are incompatible. If we strive for one, we must sacrifice the other: there is, in any case, a parting of the ways. Whoever realizes this will do cleaner work one way or the other.
    Technical perfection strives towards the calculable, human perfection towards the incalculable. Perfect mechanisms – around which, therefore, stands an uncanny but fascinating halo of brilliance – evoke both fear and Titanic pride which will be humbled not by insight but only by catastrophe.
    The fear and enthusiasm we experience at the sight of perfect mechanisms are in exact contrast to the happiness we feel at the sight of a perfect work of art. We sense an attack on our integrity, on our wholeness. That arms and legs are lost or harmed is not yet the greatest danger.”

I would have preferred this book more without the attempt at a story which was less than compelling.


5 responses to this post.

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  2. Hi segmation,
    Thank you for the link, much enjoyed it, a comparison between Da Vinci and Picasso


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  4. I doubt that Else Lasker-Schüler was ever his lover. She was 26 years older than he was. She was probably his friend Gottfried Benn’s lover.


    • Hi Fred Thompson,
      Thank you for the additional information, especially about the age difference between Ernst Junger and Else Lasker-Schuler. Looking at Wikipedia today, it does say that Gottfried Benn was her lover.


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