A GERMAN OFFICER IN OCCUPIED PARIS The War Journals, 1941-1945 by Ernst Junger has held me for the last two months because on every page or so they send me to what he is either reading or thinking about reading or remembering having read.
Of late, because of reading Junger, I have gone back to: William Faulkner’s PYLON,
to Washington Irving’s THE SKETCHBOOK,
to the Book of Esther in the Old Testament,
to Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians in the New Testament,
to Marcel Jouhandeau’s MARCEL AND ELISE, the only one of his many books in English but more a small anthology that has been translated into English (of course more of his books should be in English but what stands in his way: he was homosexual, long married to a woman, a strict Roman Catholic and for a time a very pro-German or at the very least indifferent to the German occupation,
-to Leon Bloy, the French writer Junger turns to frequently and of which I have dipped into his only book available in English PILGRIM OF THE ABSOLUTE—which in an essential book for understanding the appeal of Catholicism--- at the very end of Junger’s life, when he was well beyond a hundred years old he would become Catholic--- he was no fool,
to looking at the art of Cocteau
to chatting with Picasso,
to visiting Braque (I SHOULD PROBABLY QUOTE THE WHOLE OF THIS VISIT but I will not as it so clearly states why while here are many good artists in the world--- that is all they are: good and ah, why not: (the few greats) They are like the Andes, whose absolute elevation is divided in half to our sights by the ocean’s surface. Yet their domain spans the sphere of the condor’s wings down to the measureless reaches of the ocean’s depths
Junger also in the diaries details the on-going military situation both in France and his entries detailing a mission to the Russian front is so fierce and disturbing in the felt detailed observations--- equaled only by the work of Curzio Malaparte--- they re-enforce my personal belief that Junger is the single best writer on what being in combat feels like and I have never really understood why people might think that he is in anyway a war monger when in fact he shows just how awful the experience is and why he wishes it on no one… unlike so much of what passes as anti-war memoirs which always stroke the sentimental for all its worth and thus become a useless form of preaching…
This morning as so many mornings I walk to The Strand Bookstore and often also to Alabaster Books around the corner from that. I always look at the bookstalls on the sidewalk and this morning I found a nice copy of Hannah Green’s LITTLE SAINT and of course the clerk in ALABASTER did not know who Hannah Green was… but no matter as I felt myself to be Leopold Bloom out for his walk (IN ULYSSES--- please surely you know this) and standing at the bookstalls in the shop near O’Connell Bridge in Dublin looking at a book by Paul de Kock and later thinking about a novel SWEETS OF SIN…
AND JUNGER also goes looking through the bookstalls along the Seine and into many of the tiny bookshops that used to give Paris its special charm even for one like myself who does not speak or read French but who also liked to go grazing through the bookshops of Paris imagining to see one of my books which might have escaped English--- I will have this pleasure in June when in Bulgaria I will go into bookstores there and see my THE CORPSE DREAM OF N. PETKOV having escaped its English incarnation…
Of course Junger read French and while I do not know for sure I remember while in the trenches in WWI he was reading and how appropriate it seemed, TRISTRAM SHANDY by Laurence Sterne… and opposing him in those fields was David Jones whose IN PARENTHESIS is the literary equal of Junger’s STORM OF STEEL.. nothing else compares, really, save only Alan Seeger’s poem I HAVE A RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH--- it is no accident that Seeger was in the same class at Harvard as T. S. Eliot.
A final quoted passage by Junger after one of the many visits with the very rich American who stayed in Paris all through the war, Florence Gould where here is a conversation with a Marie-Louise Heller of whom it is asked: “Marie-Louise, you are certain you can’t remember your husband’s birthday anymore?”
“Yes, but on the other hand I can never forget his death day.”
This retort is apt for in death that person is permanently linked to us—as I now feel about my father."