- Series: New York Review Books Classics
- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: NYRB Classics; 1st edition (September 30, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0940322552
- ISBN-13: 978-0940322554
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 19 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #412,935 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Glass Bees (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – September 30, 2000
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“Human perfection and technical perfection are incompatible. If we strive for one, we must sacrifice the other: there is, in any case, a parting of the ways. Whoever realizes this will do cleaner work one way or the other.
"Technical perfection strives towards the calculable, human perfection towards the incalculable. Perfect mechanisms - around which, therefore, stands an uncanny but fascinating halo of brilliance - evoke both fear and Titanic pride which will be humbled not by insight but only by catastrophe.
The fear and enthusiasm we experience at the sight of perfect mechanisms are in exact contrast to the happiness we feel at the sight of a perfect work of art. We sense an attack on our integrity, on our wholeness. That arms and legs are lost or harmed is not yet the greatest danger.”
― Ernst Jünger, The Glass Bees
THE GLASS BEES is something of a prophetic book, straddling the line between science-fiction and alternate history. Written in the mid-1950s, it foretold many aspects of modern life, most notably the rise of super-corporations led by brilliant but morally ambiguous men, the life-changing effects of technology, and the shift in moral climate that come about as a result of these things. The protagonist, Richards, is an ex-officer looking for work in a postwar economy that views him as something of an anachronism. Instilled with the classic military virtues, but lacking the ruthlessness and unscrupulousness which seems to define the modern man, Richards is practically starving when an old comrade sets up with a job interview with Zapparoni, a sort of cross between Howard Hughes, Henry Ford, Bill Gates and Walt Dinsney. Zapparoni is the brain of a corporate empire whose artificially intelligent, labor-saving machines have revolutionized both everyday life and the concept of entertainment, and his public image is of a charitable, child-loving, benificent old man. Richards, however, has heard more ominous things about Zapparoni: to wit, that he is really a monomaniacal control freak who crushes his corporate rivals into paste and terrorizes his own employees into slavelike obedience, "disappearing" anyone who becomes inconvenient. Richards, however, is desperate to provide for his beloved wife and marches grimly into Zapparoni's compound, reflecting as he tours the facilities on the tectonic changes in society which have occurred in his lifetime. Between audiences with the coldly enigmatic titan, Richards makes a number of jarring discoveries , not the least of which is that he cannot outrun the values instilled in him by his military academy training. The question then becomes twofold: will he leave the compound alive after what he has discovered, and if he does, can he find a place in a world where profit-motive, amorality and lust for power have replaced duty, honor and tradition?
THE GLASS BEES is undoubtedly a strange book, and it is arguable that if Jünger's prose style were less digressive and turgid his observations and questions would have been clearer and easier to understand. However, this does not change the fact that those observations and questions, penned fifty years ago, are not only relevant in today's world but actually crucial. The increasing power of corporations, ominous as that may be, is nothing compared to the way their "values" of Machiavellianism, greed and amorality have become the values of countless millions of people. On the other hand, the desire of scientists to play god just for the sake of it, which Jünger alludes to by showing us Zapparoni's mechanical bees, is not merely a warning about the threat technology poses to the ordinary man (who increasingly finds himself redundant in the workplace) but of the dangers of doing things simply because they can be done, without ever stopping to ask if they should be.