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I have been coming across the name of Ernst Jünger pretty much since my mid- to late-teens, when I spent hours on end reading the cultural pull-out sections of the main Spanish newspapers (El País, Diario 16, ABC...). His name was frequently referenced in awe, or least in admiration for his work. The fact that Jünger was an old-style national conservative (a traditionalist with some nostalgia for the aristocratic past) who, apparently, did not sympathize much with the Nazis, had a profound dislike of contemporary society and its quasi-religious approach to technology, and was admired by people on the opposite side of the political spectrum, of course, increased his halo of mystery in my eyes. And yet, I never read any of his books, even though some close friends fervently recommended Storm of Steel, On the Marble Cliffs and The Worker. This oversight has now been corrected. However, since I could not find any of those books in the local library, I ended up reading Aladdin's Problem which, I am afraid, may not be more than a very minor book in his bibliography.
The novel tells the story of an East German former army officer, Friedrich Baroh, who defects to the West. There, he spends a few years as a poor college student, marries, and ends up working for his uncle, who owns a funeral business. There, he slowly climbs up what today we would call the "corporate ladder" until, quite accidentally, comes up with a new and innovative idea that will shake the business: an eternal resting ground built in some strange ancient caves somewhere in Turkey. The idea makes him a lot of money, but he loses his appetite for life until he has an encounter with Phares (a mythical figure that also shows up in other of Jünger's stories), who teaches him how everything is interconnected. The reference to Aladdin in the title is quite symbolic, since the hero of the folk tale chose to enjoy his riches with his princess bride, Budur al-Badr. By contrast, Baroh, Jünger's character (and perhaps his alter-ego) is unable to live happily just enjoying with near-infinite wealth.
The book is full of references to our current predicament in this post-nietzschean era of ours (i.e., after the "death of God"):
A spirit of nihilism (perhaps even just plain indifference) that pervades it all, including the modern military:
Baroh does meet kindred spirits here and there:
However, overall, he does not have much good to say in favor of our modern civilization and its obsession with technology as a escape door (in that sense, Jünger and his fans connect with the philosophy of Martin Heidegger):
In conclusion, to Jünger, our civilization is profoundly sick and, in the end, it seems as if the only solution he proposes is similar to Nietzsche's übermensch, an overcoming of our defeatist nihilism symbolically represented in the figure of Phares:
This edition of the book closes with an afterword, written by Martin Meyer, and titled The Parable of "Aladdin's Problem", where we are presented with a brief explanation of the story.
To be honest, the book was quite easy to read, but I'm not sure it was worth the time. As a work of fiction, it lacks real characters and, above all, a real story. Instead, the characters are quite lifeless and rigid. They feel more like ideal representations of intellectual attitudes, almost like walking (and talking) symbols. On the other hand, as an essay, the book lacks originality (both Nietzsche and Heidegger covered some of the topics in a much better way) and depth. Even worse, its non-fiction content could be easily summarized in a single paragraph. I'd imagine that some other books written by Jünger (especially those that gave him fame, some of which are mentioned above) are more worthy of our time, but it looks as if Jünger is not a very popular author here in the United States and I cannot find those other volumes in the local library or in digital format, which is the way I read a good amount of books these days. Perhaps I may give Jünger another try some other day in the future. We'll see.