poetics of versions

In November 1941, Joseph Goebbels reviewed the first volume of the diaries that Ernst Jiinger was later to publish under the title “Radiations”: The author of “Steel Thunderstorm” had “spun himself completely into a fruitless philosophizing”. His “literacy” would become “intolerable in the long run”.

The verdict was unequivocal, but even the Minister of Propaganda only allowed himself to think about the consequences for the highly decorated World War II hero in the subjunctive: “It might be a good thing if we took the opportunity to take a look at him and give him a new shot. In this way he isolates himself more and more from the driving forces of the time and runs the risk of becoming a literary hermit”. For Ernst Jiinger, of course, it was the other way around: only those who expose themselves to the passage of time and at the same time keep the greatest possible distance from current events recognize the “driving forces of the time”.

In the diaries of the Second World War, Jiinger endeavored to maintain precisely this distance in ever new “versions” of the text. Up to the second edition of his work in the 1970s, he layered variant upon variant and thus “consisted of” himself over and over again.

There are two different versions of the first edition

A number of literary studies have dealt with the “versions” of Jiinger’s works. However, until a few years ago, when Helmuth Kiesel completely edited the original diaries of the First World War and then presented a historical-critical edition of “Steel Thunderstorm”, one could only get one’s own impression of how it was in Jiinger’s archives and through extensive research writing workshop. With the historical-critical edition of “Radiation”, which Kiesel published together with Joana van de Löcht and with the collaboration of Friederike Mayer-Lindenberg, another major step has now been taken towards a philological approach to the “reflected authenticity” of Jiinger enable.

The “Radiations” of the work edition consist of five diaries with their own (sub)titles: “Gardens and Streets” (1939-40), “The First Paris Diary” (1941-42), “Caucasian Notes” (1942-43) , “The Second Paris Diary” (1943-44), “Kirchhorst Leaves” (1944-45) and “Years of Occupation” (or “The Hut in the Vineyard”, 1945-48). The present edition supplements the three to four variants of these text witnesses with the handwritten versions: Twenty diaries, the transcript in the so-called “Journal” as well as numerous notebooks and various loose-leaf bundles were evaluated.

How complicated the situation is can be seen from the fact that the first edition of “Gardens and Radiation” from 1942 is available in two different versions due to censorship, or from the fact that over time, Jiinger first builds up the published text, then shortens it and finally again expanded. Processing tendencies that follow a clear development logic can only be determined with restrictions.

The reading pleasure in historical-critical editions is usually clouded – not here

Some of the changes have something to do with the specific writing situation, some with the conditions of publication, some with Jiinger’s work on his own interpretation skills, some with questions of personal decency or with stylistic improvements and mannerisms. Overall, the impression of a writing process that takes very different and conflicting norms into account prevails. Up to now one has tried to bring Jiinger to a common denominator for the different phases of the work. Now it would be time to understand him as an author who forms a hub of exciting, often self-chosen and externally imposed requirements.

The reading pleasure of historical-critical editions is usually clouded by complicated transmission situations. Unconventional arsenals of signs intended to make the genesis of the text comprehensible, complex sets of variants made by specialists for specialists, or page images that are difficult to understand make it difficult to read fluently.

Here it is different. The editors have reduced the characters for extensions or cuts to the necessary minimum. The assignment of passages to different sources is done by text colors. Marginal information also allows for quick orientation about the process of adding or deleting. A variant apparatus provides further detailed information. Questions of fact are clarified precisely and with great expertise in the commentary.

A line number like in the “Steel Thunderstorm” edition would have been useful for quick access to individual passages. A legend with sigla, explanations of signs and colors that you can put next to the book when reading would make access easier. With a little practice, however, the output reads astonishingly fluently, allowing immersion in detail or continuous reading as required.

The “radiations” were at the center of the debates about whether and to what extent Jiinger had undergone a “change”.

It is regrettable that there are no illustrations at all, which would enable a more precise idea of the work on paper and at least give an impression of the aesthetics of the material. Of course, this does not detract from the extremely impressive editorial and publishing achievement, which represents a milestone for disciples and disciples alike.

Based on the earliest surviving handwritten document, the historical-critical edition of the “Radiations” constructs the maximum expansion of an important part of Jiinger’s diaries with all relevant additions, deleted passages and revisions. Unlike before, the respective versions, which are due to a specific writing and publication opportunity, now have to be extracted from the text context and reconstructed.

It is the task of a larger-scale and, above all, digitally processed edition to enable the double optics of a process-oriented as well as situation-interested perception of Jiinger’s works with the same comfort. The migration movement of text excerpts in magazines, anthologies and in Jiinger’s work itself would then have to be documented more precisely here – if you will: the journalistic network that Jiinger spun with his diaries and into which he was spun. It is significant for the work-political status of the diary that Jiinger transferred some notes from the post-war diaries to the volume “Sgraffiti”, a continuation of the “Adventurous Heart”, i.e. the work in which he “consisted” in literary terms.

The “radiations” were at the center of the debates about whether and to what extent Jiinger had undergone a “change”. Peter de Mendelssohn, the sharpest and most astute critic of the diaries, commented on the first edition in 1949: “Nowhere in these six hundred pages do I find a single indication that Jiinger sees the Second World War as a crime committed by Hitler willingly”. On the basis of the entire history of the text one will perhaps not arrive at friendlier, but in any case less clear judgments as to the content.

At the same time, the historical-critical edition brings another aspect to the fore, which Goebbels missed in his verdict of “unfruitful philosophizing” and “literacy” by Jiinger in terms of content alone. The fact that he saw the “radiations” as his “intellectual contribution to the Second World War,” “as far as the pen can make it,” is formulated in a subtle way. Jiinger understood his poetics of the “Versions” as a kind of literary mobilization with which he engaged in a text battle: in a “battle with the paper”, as he put it “on the occasion of the first complete edition”. Jiinger may have “walked through” the modern “technical world” that he summed up in his 1932 diagnosis of the era “The Worker” “like through the great battles”. Now you can check how he behaved as a text worker.

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