Bacchus looks after his own

From Ernst Junger’s Storm of Steel (pg 183, Penguin edition)

When I was back in the trench, my comrades Voigt and Haverkamp suddenly appeared.  They had obviously been celebrating, and had had the bizarre idea of leaving our cosy reserve camp behind, walking through the pitch-black wood to the front line, and, as they said, go on patrol.  It’s always been a principle of mine that a man should be responsible for himself, and so I let them climb out of the trench, even though our opponents were still agitated about something.  Their patrol, admittedly, consisted of nothing beyond looking for the silk parachutes of French rockets, and swinging these about their heads, chasing one another back and forth under the enemy’s noses.  Of course, they were fired at, but after a long time they returned happily enough.  Bacchus looks after his own.

The only humor in Storm of Steel comes from moments where the contrast between the deadly seriousness of the setting and the responding behavior of the characters is so marked that it all tips over into a sort of absurdity, a point where cause and effect just don’t correspond.  But there’s more of it than you would expect given the setting – which I think is what lifts this above other such narratives.  There’s a consistent pushback to rehumanize everyone:

Nothing is ever so terrible that some bold and amusing fellow can’t trump it. (pg 237)

There’s even a subtle recasting of the war itself as a second-tier interruption to other more pleasurable matters

The wild drive to the hospital the next day was the last difficult challenge to my powers of survival [after being shot through the chest].  Then I was in the hands of the sisters, and was able to carry on reading Tristram Shandy, from where I had had to put it down for the order to attack. (pg 288)

 

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