On Shiboruto-san hostas from the past and Jünger glass bees from the future past
“History is merely a list of surprises…Please write that down.” — Kurt Vonnegut, Slapstick (1976)
Today is the birth date of two notable Germans, and hostas and glass bees are now your mnemonic for remembering them. You’re welcome. First up, Japanese hostas. Giboshi was apparently introduced to Europe by a German aristocrat, art collector, physician, and naturalist who also helped to introduce Japan to the European healthcare practices of the day. He lived with a Japanese woman named Kusumoto Taki, and their daughter, Kusumoto Ine, would become the first female physician of “Western” medicine in Japan and court physician to the Empress. They called him Shiboruto-san.
Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796–1866), a ship’s surgeon for the Dutch military, was assigned to work as a physician at the Dutch trading mission on the island of Dejima in Nagasaki. After living in Japan for about eight years some of his Japanese associates were arrested, and he was temporarily banished from the country as a spy for collecting maps and other state secrets. However, he managed to leave the country with a collection of thousands of animals and plants, books, and his map collection, and he was apparently one of the first people to write about Japanese Buddhism, bonsai, and Kampo in a European language.
Siebold continued to communicate with his daughter, who remained in Japan, but he was repeatedly denied permission to enter the country for many years before finally being allowed to return before he and his son were invited to serve as diplomatic advisors elsewhere (SamuraiWiki). In addition to having many Japanese plants named after him, at least one animal — a water snake — is also named after von Siebold.
But, you say, where do the glass bees come in? Meet Ernst Jünger (1895–1998), a soldier decorated with Germany’s highest medal for “ruthless bravery” in the war to end all wars. Jünger was also an entomologist and a prolific writer. His writings included “speculations on technology and industry [that] are so prescient as to be uncanny” (Sterling, 2000) and a memoir of his experiences on the Western Front that is essentially a graphic account of trench warfare. The 1957 science fiction novel, Gläserne Bienen — The Glass Bees — “does not give up its secret all at once, demanding that the reader’s imagination be actively engaged on the first and subsequent readings” (Conor O’Connor).
Labeled a warmonger and Nazi apologist by some, his writing was praised “because it did not censor events or thoughts but presented them as they occurred.” While his military service, “bombastic pathos,’’ and radical nationalism apparently made him popular with the Nazis, his style was ‘’an odd mixture of elevatedness, precision and the rudiments of a German out of the General Staff schooled in Spartan brevity.’’ Later in life he also wrote about his experiences taking LSD and mescaline (NY Times, 1998).
“Together with a great number of others I had twice paid the piper for inefficient governments. We had carried off neither pay nor glory — just the opposite.” — Ernst Jünger, Gläserne Bienen (1957).
Jünger also repeatedly rejected seats in the Reichstag representing the Nazi Party, and he openly denounced Hitler’s suppression of the Landvolkbewegung in 1930. He rejected the Blood and Soil ideology of the Nazis and was denounced as a “intellectualist” and a liberal. In 1934, he wrote a “letter of rejection” letter to the official Nazi newspaper requesting none of his writings be published in their publication. He served as a captain in the German Army during World War II, but he was an inspiration to anti-Nazi conservatives and close to Prussian officers who carried out the assassination attempt against Hitler (Wikipedia).
“Toleration of all sides, of which we were so proud, must be seen for what it is — a negative quality. He who has no real belief in anything can certainly be tolerant and to spare; but only intolerance has any force behind it.” — Ernst Jünger, Gläserne Bienen (1957).
Herr Jünger read Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and had an administrative position in Paris where his day job was supervising the execution of German soldiers who had deserted — and he developed a morbid fascination with the subject. Wounded seven times in World War I, he studied marine biology, zoology, botany, and philosophy after his first war, and became a well-known entomologist before serving in his second and hanging out with prominent artists like Picasso. Banned from publishing in Germany for four years after the war, Jünger refused to submit to denazification. A friend of Martin Heidegger, he aspired to be an Anarch — the “positive counterpart of the anarchist.” Frankly, I’m not really sure what to make of him. But I’ve added several of his books to my reading list and plan to revisit Herr Jünger in the future. So ask me about those bees sometime…
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