Leon Bloy: The Dangerous Spirituality of an Anti-Modern ‘Demolition Expert’

“Any Christian who is not a hero is a pig.”
–Leon Bloy

A presence far more forceful upon [Ernst] Junger than Bernanos was another French Catholic, Leon Bloy (1846-1917). An extraordinary personality such as the French call a monstre, Bloy could be called an anti-Junger. With the countenance of a bulldog, bulging eyes, and a Nietzschean mustache, he presented a calling card identifying him as a demolition expert. He wrote prolifically, invented “the Catholic novel,” and led a life of embittering poverty. He gave frequent vent to a cruel spleen, concentrating his animus upon the haute bourgeoisie. His pleasureful notes on the Opera Comique fire of 1887 and the Titanic suggest psychopathy. He had the wounded soul’s longing for an apocalypse to give cosmic release to his fastidious parochialism. With thoroughgoing chauvinism he abominated Germany and England, the great political, military, and spiritual enemies of France. He idolized Napoleon. He was intrigued by mystical experiences of the faithful but received no visitations. No angel would have dared approach him.

On Carl Schmitt’s recommendation, Junger began to read Bloy before the Second World War. What would an elitist of cosmopolitan and pagan disposition find attractive in this self-styled “ungrateful beggar”? Junger answers: “I believe I’ve learned to recognize men in their mind even though they differ from me in will, and to see them in their Gestalt, which lies beyond borders and oppositions” (October 4, 1942). His earliest remarks on Bloy, when reading the novel La Femme Pauvre, indicate an almost clinical interest in the book’s lively dynamics: “Bloy is a twin crystal of diamond and dung. His most recurrent word is ‘shit.’ His hero Marchenoir proclaims that he shall enter heaven with a crown wrought from human excrement” (July 7, 1939). Citing other coprophilic passages, Junger finds only one gem among many “perfect and accurate sentences: “It is the festival of man to see die that which did not seem mortal.”

Junger, cosseted by ease most of his life, could not go far in sympathy for Bloy in his grinding poverty. To Bloy’s journal entry that time is a dog who bites only the poor, he answered that time bites everyone. “It is the democratic principle, in contrast to space, which is aristocratic” (June 22, 1942). But even Bloy’s “maniacal and indiscriminate outbursts against everything German” did not keep Junger from feeling “continually contented” with his books. Bloy offered an antidote to Junger’s psychological unease during the Occupation precisely because he spoke to it. On reading Bloy’s fin-de-siecle journal, for instance, he commends his “complete immunity to the illusions of technology.” This “anti-modern eremite” regarded the automobile as an engine of destruction. Acknowledging a demonic beauty in the catacombs of the new Paris metro, Bloy intuited the death of the human soul there, too. His sort of dread makes technology God’s oblique instrument for accelerating the contest of good and evil.

If Bloy showed a luddite indisposition to machinery, his attitude toward scientific advances was positively antediluvian. We shudder at his clapping of hands upon the accidental death of Pierre Curie, “the diabolical inventor of radium [whose] precious brains made contact with a bit of shit [une moindre ordure].” His glee suggests that death became his ally, his means of revenge against the world. As Junger saw, it was also Bloy’s rescuer. On his Meditations d’un Solitaire Junger comments:

“It reflects all of its author’s virtues and vices — even his terrible strength in hatred, where he rivals Kniebolo [Junger‘s code word for Hitler]. And yet I find reading him not only refreshing but even decidedly invigorating. There is a genuine arcanum there against the times and its debilities. Raising himself to such heights from a mired plain, this Christian offers a rare spectacle. His tower’s battlements soar into the lofty air. A longing for death must be a part of it, and he often gives it powerful expression: a longing for the wise man’s stone to appear from lowly scum and dark sediment; longing for a great distillation.” (July 14, 1944)

How, though, did Bloy’s longing for death, his ghoulish delight in disaster, his persistence in hatred of classes and whole nations differ from the nihilism of the SS lemurs [lemurs, Junger’s code for the SS secret policemen]? For all his admiration, Junger could see the Fuhrer in this Christian, and read the calling card’s message as nihilistic. The key to Bloy’s exceptional appeal for him lies in an unshakable egotism and its conviction about private access to the supernatural world. Deaths of enemies and cherished disasters were like signs of divine favor for him to read. To Junger, like many Protestants a cosmic loner, Bloy’s metaphysical egotism was wondrous, like one of nature’s magic shows, and all the better that the resilient absolutism of his medieval spirituality was set so completely against an age of flux and slippery self-consciousness.

It was Bloy’s home-grown passion that built his battlements. “His mind has something compact and scalded about it, like a soup made of extinct fish and crustaceans that has stood through lengthy cooking. Very good to read when one has lost the appetite for all too lukewarm dishes.” The taste Bloy cultivates is for death, but with a condiment Hugo Fischer had never remarked: “Twice he mentions that dead people awakened him; they knocked on his door or he heard their name. Then he arose and prayed for their salvation. Thus perhaps even today we live not only through the power of past but also of future prayers that will be made after our death” (July 7,1942).

It is substantially thanks to Bloy that Junger won distance from his own nontheistic fatalism in which the world seems a puppet theater governed by cold and immutable laws, with past and future played out like a senseless card game. “It is humanity’s privilege not to know the future,” he writes. “That is one of the diamonds in the diadem of the will’s freedom. Were man to lose it, he would become an automaton in an automatic world” (August 9, 1942). Bloy’s amor fati engaged Junger because it had a fervor far deeper than anything humanism could achieve, and a more elevating freedom than mere voluntarism could afford.
–excerpt from Ernst Junger and Germany: Into the Abyss, 1914-1945 by Thomas Nevin

“Every man who begets a free act projects his personality into the infinite. If he gives a poor man a penny grudgingly, that penny pierces the poor man’s hand, falls, pierces the earth, bores holes in suns, crosses the firmament and compromises the universe. If he begets an impure act, he perhaps darkens thousands of hearts whom he does not know, who are mysteriously linked to him, and who need this man to be pure as a traveler dying of thirst needs the Gospel’s draught of water. A charitable act, an impulse of real pity sings for him the divine praises, from the time of Adam to the end of the ages; it cures the sick, consoles those in despair, calms storms, ransoms prisoners, converts the infidel and protects mankind.”
–Leon Bloy (1846-1917), In Pilgrim of the Absolute.

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