March 11, 2009

Standing on one's own two feet

"Here in Eumeswil, it seems as if the system occasionally falls asleep and the city begins to dream. The ship founders on a sandbank and then gets back afloat. Electric power stops; after a while, the machines start up again. During such recessions, the anarch measures his own strength and autonomy." Eumeswil, Page 195

Noticing that I am finding a peculiarly positive prospect in all the current prognoses of economic catastrophe, I found the above quote from Ernst Jünger's Eumeswil, which in part explains my attitude. Perhaps others can relate....

Setbacks in society's structures and supports provide an opportunity for the anarchic individual to test just how independent of the infrastructure he is. Unlike the anarchist, he takes no special pleasure in the demise of society's structures per se - he does not believe in the possibility of reforming society, therefore a temporary demise would mean as little to him as an equally ephemeral flourishing. Rather he sees in the moment of weakened external authority and support an opportunity to learn about himself, always his primary objective. As Jünger states elsewhere, "Know thyself" is the anarch's first commandant. His second commandment, "Know the rules" is perhaps temporarily less important in moments when the system itself slids into relative anarchy. The rules apply less strictly, he can afford to concentrate more exclusively on his own ability to self-rule.

As much as I would hope this anarchic attitude to self-knowledge explains my current optimism in the face of economic catastrophe, I have to also admit a certain schadenfreude, which takes a positive delight in these hopeful first signs of the inevitable Fall of the Titans. Manuel was more aloof than I am able to be - he judges what he can learn from the titanically-oriented teacher Bruno as highly as what Vigo, his gods-oriented teacher can offer him. He is able to remain independent of both to an extent I am unable to.... I cannot help cheering for a return of the gods.

March 4, 2009

Incidental rewards

“Above all, I could confirm that this fowl was in fact a new breed. Rosner was enraptured; he absolutely insisted on naming it after me: Alectura venatoris. I had a hard time dissuading him. After all, despite everything, I had tricked the good man. However, one of the anarch’s emoluments is that he is distinguished for things that he has done on the side or that go against his grain." Eumeswil, Page 135


In this short passage, Ernst Jünger has his protagonist Manuel relating of research work he volunteered to do for one of his mentors, the zoology professor Rosner. Manuel volunteers for this work in order to provide a valid and believable motive for being in the swamps where he is setting up a secret hideout to be used in case of a coup or other threats in the city. Despite his entirely self-interested hidden motive for this work, he gains special recognition from Rosner, who even names the new species after him.

Jünger comments that such unintended recognition or reward often comes the anarch's way. The anarch conceals his ongoing private battle to maintain personal freedom; in consequence he is often required to do things in the world which he is either uninterested in or that are even contrary to his inclinations. He cannot reveal his true motives, and so when he receives praise or reward for these activities it is quite incidental for him. These incidental effects can even indirectly benefit him, in that they reinforce his apparently normal status in the society.

March 3, 2009

Living in no man's land

“Bruno withdrew from the field of history more resolutely than Vigo; that is why I prefer the former’s retrospect but the latter’s prospect. As an anarch, I am determined to go along with nothing, ultimately take nothing seriously – at least not nihilistically, but rather as a border guard in no man’s land, who sharpens his eyes and ears between the tides." Eumeswil, Page 87-88


Manuel, the protagonist of Ernst Jünger´s novel Eumeswil, has two important mentors or teachers: Bruno, a future-oriented metaphysician, who experiments with the Titanic possibilities of technology for Man’s evolution, and who works, in Jünger’s own words, on the Tree of Life; and Vigo, a past-oriented historian, who is skeptical of technology’s promises and who works rather on the Tree of Knowledge.

Manuel’s attitude to their respective opinions indicates a paradoxical aspect of the anarch’s general attitude to external opinion. That is, he prefers those ideas of each respective teacher regarding the realm they have most distanced themselves from, the realm they can thus view more critically and objectively. From his future-biased vantage point, in the light of new possibilities, Bruno is able to view past events more neutrally; but he is less capable of this neutrality regarding the period with which he identifies or believes in, the future. The opposite is true of Vigo, who as a historian is too nostalgic and identified with past events to be an objective judge. On the other hand, he can more skeptically view future promises, say of technology, since he has a framework of past human experience by which to judge them.

In contrast to both, the anarch is neither future nor past-oriented, but rather “timelessly self-oriented”. He observes and studies both temporal realms, but identifies with neither, just as he takes no external opinion or authority as necessarily worthy of respect or belief. Changes in beliefs and affliliations over time are ultimately as neutral and abstract to him as they are over space.

If he temporarily finds nothing worth believing in past beliefs or future promises, this does not make him a nihilist, who actively believes in Nothing. Instead, he stands guard, by himself and over himself, in a emptied zone, a no-man’s land between past and future tides, listening keenly for what may come, from past experience or future possibility.