The Glass Bees

The Glass Bees, by Ernst Junger, was originally written in 1957 but was dismissed for lacking any particularly deep insight into its time. Five decades later, it appears the novel was much more prophetic than it originally seemed. The plot takes place primarily in the mind of its protagonist, Captain Richard, as he agonizes over the possibility taking a job as a security officer for an infamous tech company. Zapparoni, the company’s head, has made a fortune in the creation of automatons. Most eminently are his glass bees which function as a prototype of drone swarm technology. What is perhaps most outstanding, however, is Junger’s ability not only to foresee what was to come, but look even beyond that:

My query is this: why are those who have endangered and changed our lives in such terrible and unpredictable ways not content with unleashing and controlling enormous forces and with enjoying their consequent fame, power, and wealth? Why must they want to be saints as well?
     This question had especially bothered me when I was employed as a tank inspector. Among the few books I carried with me at that time (along with Flavius Josephus) was the Conquest of Mexico by Prescott. The fascination of this book lies in its evocation of man’s rigid taboos and obsessions during the late stone age civilizations where priesthoods and sun temples and human sacrifices abounded. We see, as through a narrow chink, impassive faces seemingly carved of stone, and the streams of blood which flow down through the grooves and drains of the altar in the Great Teocalli. No wonder the Spanish believed the vast abodes of Satan had opened before their eyes.
     But isn’t is possible that, when once again the curtain of the great world stage has fallen, no less horrified eyes be directed upon us and our saints? We do not know how we shall appear in the history books of future centuries or at the great judgment of the dead on civilizations. Perhaps such a wizened old blood-priest will be preferred to any of our saints.  
     At a certain point in time we can begin to speak of a dynamite civilization (it is no accident that the highest prize for cultural achievement is provided from a dynamite fund*): the world is filled with the noise of explosions—from the rapid, diminutive explosions which set in motion myriads of machines, to the explosions which threaten continents. We walk through a panorama of pictures, which, if we have not fallen under its spell, reminds us of a large lunatic asylum—here we see an automobile race, in the course of which the car drives amongst the spectators like a missile, mowing some dozens of them down; and there, a “pattern bombing,” by which a squadron of bombers rolls up a city like a carpet, in a few minutes dissolving in smoke a work of art which took a thousand years to complete.

And on Zapparoni himself,

Zapparoni had as many faces as his work had meanings. Where was the minotaur in this labyrinth? Was he the kind of grandfather who made children, housewives, and small gardeners happy? Was he the contractor who moralized about the army and, at the same time, equipped it with ingenious weapons?

Again, originally written in 1957.


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