Louise Bogan & Elizabeth Mayer (transl.) The Glass Bees
New York Review Books, 2000
THE Glass Bees is an introspective novel about a quiet but dignified cavalry officer called Richard. Unable to adjust to life after war and needing money, he applies for a security job at the headquarters of the mysterious oligarch Zapparoni. Confronted with mechanical and psychological trials, the dream becomes a nightmare, and Richard is forced to contemplate his place in the modern world and the nature of reality itself.
Although philosophical and lyrical, this book is nonetheless a tense page-turner with all the qualities of great sci-fi drama. The poetic imagery is highly expressive, but there are times when the sentences are clumsy and over-long, the meaning of a passage can be lost over a seemingly unnecessary paragraph break. Whether this is down to Jünger's original German or the fault of translation I couldn't possibly say. Nonetheless Ernst Jünger stands among the most lucid and skilful of continental modern writers.
Jünger's vision of the future isn't the ultra-Jacobin "boot stamping on a human face" of Nineteen-Eighty-Four - it is a subtler, more Western dystopia. Jünger is amazingly prescient in this, although he is rarely given credit for it; he predicts that the media and entertainment will rule the psyches of men, that miniaturisation and hyperreal gratification will become our new Faustian obsession and that for all the wonders and benefits of technology it is ultimately dehumanising and alienating. The new world won't be ruled by crude and brutal tyrants like Hitler, Stalin or Kim Jong Ill, but by benevolent and private businessmen, like Rupert Murdoch. We won’t be dominated by the authoritarian father-ego of Freud, but by the hedonistic-pervert of Lacan. Jünger anticipates the theory of hyperreality formulated by Baudrillard, and it is interesting that this book was published before theories on post-modernism and deconstruction became vogue.
Faced with this less than perfect future, Jünger's doesn't try to incite revolution or political struggle – his message remains the same throughout his work – but to inspire individual autonomy. Despite all outward constraints, uprightedness and self-reliance is real freedom. Jünger depicts a superficial and spiritually bankrupt future, but if he is to be believed, the potential for man to be his true self is always the same.