You can get hold of the copy of The Glass Bees I read here.
Children, in particular, were held spellbound [by his films]. Zapparoni had dethroned the old stock figures of the fairy tales...Parents even complained that their children were too preoccupied with him.
[My father] had led a quiet life, but at the end he hadn't been too happy either. Lying sick in bed, he said to me: "My boy, I am dying at just the right moment." Saying this, he gave me a sad, worried look. He had certainly foreseen many things.
Human perfection and technical perfection are incompatible. If we strive for one, we must sacrifice the other...Technical perfection strives toward the calculable, human perfection toward the incalculable. Perfect mechanisms...evoke both fear and a titanic pride which will be humbled not by insight but only by catastrophe.
What is curious here is that before the Second World War, Jünger advocated Germany's complete embracing of the technological age as the only way it could find victory in the next war. He felt that it was Germany and Austria-Hungary's traditional, aristocratic hierarchy that prevented it from being able to properly mobilise itself in the total way the more levelled, egalitarian societies of the democracies were capable of doing (he discusses this in his work Total Mobilisation), and only by accepting the levelling effects of technological modernity could Germany once again find itself triumphant. Perhaps by the time of writing The Glass Bees Jünger had simply become disenchanted with the fury of warfare.
Elsewhere Richard, and maybe Jünger, speaks of the loss of the simple 'joy' of labour, of working the earth, of harvesting crops, of the well-deserved rest at the end of the long day, and how this has been traded in for labour that is certainly easier, and leisure time that is longer, but doesn't carry the same weight of satisfaction. The fear that we have lost much and gained little except damnation in return is the central theme of this book.
Zapparoni himself, in fact, has utilised his vast wealth and power to create a private world at first seemingly devoid of the artefacts that have made his name. He has a residence located within the grounds of his plant (which Bruce Sterling, in his introduction, remarks is not dissimilar to the campus feeling of Silicon Valley) in the form of a converted abbey. Richard explores its private library, finding books on Rosicrucianism and other occult sciences, and is later sent down the path to a cottage that comes close to the very Platonic Form of idyllic country residences. What is curious here is that this retreat from modernity has only been made possible by Zapparoni's very success at the practices and theories that Richard feels have destroyed the simple authenticity of the old world. How might this be read? Perhaps Jünger is suggesting that the only way back into the world that has been lost is to pass through the modern one, presuming we are capable of surviving it, and to use its mechanisms and ingenuity to recreate a new version of the old.
There's a feeling of resignation in this novel. Jünger isn't really calling on us to take up arms against the machines. His constant allusions to astrology suggest that he feels that what we now find ourselves in was, somehow, inevitable. It is our bad luck to find ourselves in the midst of it, but a way out might be found if we can weather the storm of the new. This being said, Richard repeatedly describes his attitude as 'defeatist'. Perhaps the more subtle suggestion Jünger is making here is that things only became inevitable when we decided we can't stop them.
I'm left feeling torn by this book. I share Jünger's concerns about the insidious nature of these devices we're now surrounded by, and yet the past he (or Richard) is seemingly appealing to is one that is forever out of reach, and if we were to find ourselves in it, it wouldn't be what we wanted. Consider the above statement about how now modern war doesn't kill one cleanly, that we now have the mutilated, dismembered wounded: we can equally well read this as 'Human technical ingenuity is now such that it can protect us, admittedly only limitedly, from the extremities of human malice.'
The question posed by modernity is one that has not yet had a satisfactory answer. Indeed, the question itself has yet to be fully formulated. Jünger's contribution to understanding the condition that we find ourselves in is an important one. If nothing else, he can remind us how incredibly recent all of this still is. Up until only very recently, there were people alive who'd fought in the war of Kings, Kaisers and Tsars, witnessed the rise of all the great and terrible varieties of attempted Utopia the last century produced, saw a human being walk upon the surface of the Moon (an image which disturbed Heidegger no end), and died in the age of Facebook.
It really is anyone's guess where this will all lead.
2016 Reading List Progress
2. Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam by Peter Lamborn Wilson
3. Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
4. United States of Paranoia by Jesse Walker