The Glass Bees
by Ernst Jünger (1895 – 1998)
209 pgs. New York Review Books, 2000.
Originally published, 1957. Trans. by Louise Bogan and Elizabeth Mayer, 1960.
In stature, The Glass Bees is equal to the technocracies of Orwell, Huxley, Kafka and Philip K. Dick, but it seems to be either unknown or unjustly neglected by readers of these and similar dystopian futures. The book’s greatness comes from Jünger’s ability to create psychological tension and ambiguity, and from his foresight into the nascent conjunction of information technology, entertainment media, capital and political power as we know it today.
The novel revolves around an intelligent and ruminative war veteran who is also unemployed. Out of desperation he reluctantly applies for a position with a secretive media and technology mogul by the name of Zapparoni (think Steve Jobs crossed with Walt Disney). He learns that the person who previously held the position has disappeared without a trace, and that the job would require him to use any means necessary to prevent Zapparoni’s trade secrets from being sold by his employees. After an intense and intimidating job interview, the veteran is directed to wait in the garden of the corporate headquarters, where he sees things that frighten him to such a degree that he begins to question his senses and sanity.
Jünger accurately anticipated developments in computer miniaturization, and we may someday find that he had foreseen what lies ahead for our present-day military and surveillance drones. The Glass Bees is psychologically probing, perceptive and subtly menacing. This is a patiently distilled and disquieting meditation on the contingencies of modern life, all the more astonishing for having been written over fifty years ago.
Ernst Jünger received dozens of literary awards over his lifetime, including the Goethe Prize and the Dante Alighieri Prize.