The unperishable. On Ernst Jünger’s On the Marble Cliffs (NYRB, 2023). by Gerardo Muñoz

On the Marble Cliffs (1939), which appeared for the first time in Nazi Germany in 1939 (the new NYRB has just been published) offered a narrative of a thorough civilizational collapse of the West. I will side with many of the commentators that have reminded the readers that this novel doesn’t simply amount to an allegory of the rise of National Socialism or the reemergence of indirect powers of civil war in the European interwar years. By underlining “just”, I also mean to say that it is also very much about its epoch. Jünger was an insider of the German elite, and one of the most astute interpreters of his time as his theses on the dominion of the worker and the force of total mobilization were fully realized. It happens that On the Marble Cliffs introduces the civilizational collapse not through the allegorical reduction of the narrative procedure, but rather through a weaving, never truly resolved (much to Jünger’s own intentions), of temporalities that do not land in historical form. Circumventing the meanderings of a dreamlike stage and that of a thick and sensorial description, the novel diachronous movement resembles the stage of a vigil that retrospectively looks from page one at the advent of the disaster: “Only then do we recognize how fortunate we humans are to live from day to day in our small communities, under peaceful roofs, engaged in please conversation, and with the effective greetings morning and night. Alas, we always recognize too late that these simple things offered us a cornucopia of riches” (Jünger, 3). Granted, the vigil is an incomplete assessment of how (not so much as to why, which speaks to Jünger’s separation between his critico-politico essays and his narrative universe) the luminous community of brothers at Grand Marina entered the stage of destruction. During their peaceful time at Grand Marina, the brothers dedicate themselves to studying plants: a contemplative activity through an herbarium that becomes an exercise in clearing the mind and “draining time”. Botany has always stood as a minor activity to escape the realization of death, even if inevitable the cycle of temporal caducity.

But the ruinous time begins with the dominion of the Head Forester, an old governor of Mauretania region whose territorial ambitions are rooted in the domination of world affairs, and the willful defense of its doctrine Semper Vitrix (Jünger, 23). For those familiar with the worldview of Jünger, it is not surprising to find that domination does not begging at the original act of taking, but rather in the scheme of disposition that prepares the liquidation of the originary depth of the world’s opacity. Hence, imperii vitrix is always cartographical, and thus concerned with the the procedure of legible reduction: “For them [Mauretaninas] the world was reduced to a map like those thare engraved for amateour using little compasses and polished insutrmentions that are pleasing to hold. And so it seemed odd to come upon figures like the Head Forester in these clear, perfectly abstract realms freed of any shadows” (Jünger, 23). To dominate the world, one must first dominate over the ideals and images that unify a world. This is why Jünger, just a few years earlier in The Worker, had ended his treatise pointing at the passage from the classical social contract theories of social cohesion to the efficiency of planning of production in order to weaken any possible resistance [1]. This is another reason why On the Marble Cliffs fails at any allegorical instantiation, since allegory hinges upon the unfulfilled stage of historical consciousness, whereas Jünger levels his narrative with the metaphysical disposition that is accomplished in modernity. One could call this the triumph of nihilism and anarchy; the never-ending triumph of ‘barbarism and religion’ of the West since at least the Roman Empire to put in the terms of historian J.G.A. Pocock. This is the “line” of modernity, but it is also the line that is breached at the collapse of modernity staged On the Marble Cliffs.

Anarchy and nihilism – for Jünger these are for two routes for prompting a relation with the epochal collapse. More than clearcut positions to endorse, these are unbreachable counters of the limitless epoch. Jünger distinguishes them well through the character of Braquemart: “Suffice it to say that there is a profound difference between fully formed nihilism and unchecked anarchy. The outcome of the struggle will determine whether human settlements will become wasteland or virgin forest. With regards to Braquemart, he was marked by all the traits of full-fledged nihilism. His was a cold, rootless intelligence with a penchant for utopias…On seeing him, one inevitably thought of his master’s profound saying: “The desert grows – woe to him who carries the deserts within!” (Jünger, 76-77). The nihilist suffers from a rather coldness of intelligence, and what Jünger qualifies as the ill-fated adventure of the theorist, always unmatched with that of the pragmatist (Jünger, 78). Granted, everything depends on the internal capacities to react against the growing systematic devastation. On the other side, the anarchist cloaks his accomplice condition within the corruption of the law, where nothing is sacred. This is why the anarchist transforms the forest into an enclosed land for hunting and predatory practice where “cadavers left to rot in the fields spread pestilence, wiping out the herds. The downfall of order brings good to none” (Jünger, 62). On the Marble Cliffs is at times too emphatic with the reiteration of the order in opposition to terror: ‘Terror establishes its reign behind a mask of order” (Jünger, 38). And this speaks to National Socialism antipositivist attitudes to the rule of law, which Jünger seemed to have perceived clearly.

However, it is also true that Jünger’s insistence on order is not just about conservation in the abyss, but rather about how the civilizational collapse is expressed in the puncturing of indirect powers that will ultimately unify the anarchy of domination. To insist on nihilism means to de-hegemonize the indirect powers and factional domination against the visceral hatred of the gratitude of language and the mystery of beauty that burns the inside of demonic spirits (Jünger 39). The luminosity of Jünger’s style and symbolic nakedness speaks, in turn, to an attempt at a mythologization of beauty that emerges in a language devoid of parody. In this sense, Jünger displaces Gianni Carchia’s important thesis about the narrativization of the parody of mystery into the form in the bourgeois novel. Jünger’s beauty is mysterious because it exceeds signification and conceptual closure of the novel conflict, as what language does (or seems to do) on the line of nihilism. For Jünger the revocation of anarchy implies taking a distance from the subsumption of prose into narrative order. Thus, Jünger’s order is a primary order, one of retaining the reserves of sacred and the unfathomable character in the face of barbarism and the destruction of the world.

“We take leave more easily when things are in order” (Jünger, 59). This is the primary order of a plain state of the world, which does not presuppose the obsession with organization and management; it is what allows for the flourishing of contemplative life and the possibility of retreating to the density of the forest. But we know that this is, precisely, what comes crashing down in the rise of anarchy and nihilism, both working in tandem in modernity. Attaching oneself to primary order amounts to “concrete dreaming” at best, as the narrator says early in the book. And it is at this point that On the Marble Cliffs solves this conundrum: the idea of order must not be reduced to a nomos of the world, but rather the possibility of an outside from thinking that there is a finite and finished work of the world. This is where Jünger’s genius shines with usual intensity. It is the moment, towards the end, when the narrator admits: “the beauty of this world now enveloped, I saw, in the purple mantle of destruction” (Jünger, 102). The conflagration of the world, however, only undoes a new capacity for seeing that which had remained in the dense fog of consciousness and aesthetics. In other words, the total collapse brings forth the unperishable element between existence and the world. Jünger achieves the highest point of condensation in this elaboration:

“The harvest of many years of labor fell prey to the element and with the house, our work returned to dust. We cannot count on seeing our work completed here below, and happy is the man whose will is not too painfully invested in his efforts. No house is built, no plan created, in which ruin is not the cornerstone, and what lives imperishably in us does not reside in our works. We perceived this truth in the flame, and its glow was not devoid of joy” (Jünger, 108).

This is not joy or appetite for destruction, but more a joy about what remains unperishable in every destructive act that realizes itself just so that everything could be renewed more or less the same. At the narrative level the unperishable of every work is the mystery that cannot be fully captured either by the deployment of historical allegory or by the mimetic translation of the work of narrative. On the Marble Cliffs remains stubbornly an open novel, but in a very precise sense: it gestures to the divergence between life and the world is barely touched parabolically at a distance. This is why the character of On the Marble Cliffs reaches the end by stressing “the sight of it [an old oak grove] made us feel at home…”(Jünger, 113). Whereas sight is an index of landscape, of seeing beyond the abyss. This is a condition for living among the dead once again. Perhaps this is why Jünger felt the need to record in his French war diaries that Pablo Picasso had asked him if the novel was based on a real landscape [2].

Only a painter that had witness the crisis of modern space (beginning with the “Blue Room” of 1900) could directly engage with the trope of the ‘marble cliff’: it is here that the altar of a sacrificial history and political domination turns into the site of theoria. Now the faculty of seeing grows outside of itself, “to manifest freedom in the face of danger” (Jünger, 117). On the Marble Cliffs is an invitation to this interior unperishable landscape that removes us from idle fictions in the face of anguish if only we do not turn our back to it (in the name of science or technology or new idols). Given that the desert of nihilism can only grow, I wonder how many today could even stand on the cliff. I fear that the effort of raising the head and looking beyond is already too much to ask.




1. Ernst Jünger. The Worker: Dominion and Form (Northwestern University Press, 2017), 173-178.

2. Ernst Jünger. A German Office in Occupied Paris: The War Journal 1941-1945 (Columbia University Press, 2019), 78. 

Four positions of refusal. by Gerardo Muñoz

A friend recently suggested that the refusal is at center of multiple critical positions against the moralization of politics. And I agree. In fact, I would go as far as saying that the strategy of refusal is something like a common denominator in positions critical of political mediation. Although the refusal could take many forms, I would also add that the refusal is directed against hegemony broadly understood (culturalist, political, logistical, etc.). Primarily, the refusal awakes from the dream of hegemony as contributing towards any real substantive transformation anchored in “political realism”. Realism today is mostly deployed as a freestanding argument aimed at political traction, although it merely contributes to stagnation and paralysis; it is a katechon to any concrete transformative movement of the actual moment.

It is telling that the notion of ‘refusal’ was first developed in the French political context by the likes of Maurice Blanchot and Dionys Mascolo in the journal Le 14 Julliet, a project obscured by the monumental historiographies of May 68. In his short text “Refusal”, Maurice Blanchot defines the notion as the gap in representation between an event and language: “accomplished by neither us nor in our name, but from a very poor beginning that belongs to those who cannot speak” [1]. The refusal denotes a limit to representation. Similarly, in “Refus Inconditional”, Dionys Mascolo understands refusal as the constitutive possibility of silence so that true communication can indeed take place [2]. For both Mascolo and Blanchot, the notion of refusal was the condition for the possibility of friendship preceding subjectivism. By way of refusal, the realization of a “community of the species” is guarded against the socialization of alienable classes. I think one could name four positions of refusal against the closure of hegemony as the organization of secondly separations (alienation). These might not be the only positions – and many a time there is a clear overlap of the problem at hand.

1. The refusal of culture. First, there is Mario Tronti’s “The Strategy of refusal” (Operaio e capitale), which grasps the refusal in classical Marxist terms by way of criticizing culture as resistance against capitalist form. In fact, for Tronti culture amounted to a mediation of social relation of capitalism uncapped expansion. And for Tronti, “oppositional culture does not escape this fact; rather, it merely states the body of the worker’s movement ideologies in the common clothing of bourgeoisie culture” [3]. Hence, for Tronti, refusal meant disengaging from “becoming of intellectuals” as disengaged from the practice of the class struggle. The critique of culture functioned as an inversion of mediation with no transformative leverage whatsoever. However, for Tronti ‘refusal’ was still understood as a political strategy, which necessarily needed to engage with the “subjected” force of class and organized in the party form. In other words, the refusal in Tronti’s early work was the rejection of cultural mediation by intensifying the antagonism of the autonomy of the political. There is not yet a rejection of politics, but rather the assumption that the refusal can lead the way in the destruction of capital production given the “pagan force” of the proletariat. 

2. Refusal and fugitivity. Second, there is a clear and direct strategy of refusal in Afropessimism aimed at the totalization of the social bond organized around the destruction of black existence. Hence, for Afropessimism refusal takes the form of an archipolitics that seeks fugitivity from logistics of social death [4]. As Moten & Harney argue in All Incomplete (2021): “The Undercommons is the refusal of the interpersonal, and by extension the international, incomplete in the service of a shared incompletion, which acknowledges and upon which politics is built. To be undercommon is to live insists the inoperative condition of the individual and the nation as these upon brutal and unsustainable fantasies and all of the material effects they generate oscillate in the ever-foreshortening interval between liberalism and fascism. These inoperative forms still try to operate through us” [5]. Against all forms of bondage subsidized by hegemonic sature, the afropessimist refusal opens up a fugitive life in errancy that points to a new central antagonism now framed between black life and the world. In Wayward Lives (2020), Saidiya Hartman puts it in this way: “To strike, to riot, to refuse. To love what is not loved. To be lost to the world. It is the practice of the social otherwise, the insurgent ground that enables new possibilities and new vocabularies; it is the lived experience of enclosure and segregation, assembling and huddling together. It is the directionless search for a free territory; it is a practice of making and relation that enfolds within the policed boundaries of the dark ghetto; it is the mutual aid offered in the open-air prison. It is a queer resource of black survival. It is a beautiful experiment in how-to-live” [6]. The refusal of the total circulation of social relations allocates Black existence at the threshold of politics. This negative community refuses any hegemonic social rearticulation.

3. Refusal of logistics. Thirdly, in the work of the Invisible Committee the refusal entails destituting the social bond, although the emphasis is placed in infrastructure as the concrete and operative terrain of domination. For the collective the refusal becomes twofold: on the one hand, blocking the logistics of circulation and production of subjection; and on the other, separating the form of life from the regime of subjective domestication. At bottom, the refusal in the Committee’s takes aim against the mystification of the social as a site for autonomous gain from political struggle. For both Tiqqun and the Invisible Committee one needs to refuse the artificiality of the subject (Bloom) in the name of the form of life and reject politics of class antagonism favoring the civil war as a generic science of desertion (what remains after the collapse of the authority of modern politics).

4. Posthegemonic refusal. Finally, posthegemony refuses the codependency of politics and domination, and favors their non-correspondence; it refuses politics as hegemony, and hegemony as newcomer after the closure of metaphysics.  In this sense, posthegemony favors the exit from the total structure of socialization ordered through the equivalence of demands. One could say that posthegemony affirms the “realistic option of non-cooperation” with hegemony. But the space of non-cooperation allows the exit from subjective limit of the political. The posthegemonic separation, therefore, is the refusal of cooperation on the basis of refusal of conditions of obligation (what Eric Nelson labels being “stuck on the boat”), whether predicated on a distributive conception of social justice, or as the maximization of indirect interests proper to liberalism [7]. In this sense, the posthegemonic refusal abandons the temptation of establishing a new civilizatory principle with politics as its auxiliary and optimizing tool of order [8]. 




1. Maurice Blanchot. “Refusal”, in Political Writings (1953-1993) (Fordham U Press, 2010). 7.

2. Dionys Mascolo. “Refus inconditionel”, en La révolution par l’amitié (La Fabrique éditions, 2022). 27-30. 

3. Mario Tronti. “The Strategy of Refusal”, in Workers and Capital (Verso, 2021).

4. Alberto Moreiras. “An Invitation to Social Death: Afropessimism and Posthegemony, Archipolitics and Infrapolitics”, Tillfällighetsskrivande

5. Fred Moten & Stefano Harney. All Incomplete (Minor Compositions, 2021). 29.

6. Saidiya Hartman. Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (Norton, 2019). 227.

7. Eric Nelson. The Theology of Liberalism: Political Philosophy and the Justice of God (Harvard U Press, 2019). 163-164.

8. Gerardo Muñoz. “Posthegemonía, o por una retracción de los principios de la civilización”, Infrapolitical Reflections, 2020: