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Seeking Pan

The myth of the wilderness in our hyper-technological age

Josephine Condemi
a story by
Josephine Condemi
Seeking Pan

What is left of Pan, the idle god of the wilderness, in our times? Can we still contrast him with the titan Prometheus and his logic of performance, of which technology is both cause and effect? What does Friedrich Georg Jünger’s reflection teach us at the time of Nazism?

«Stop, Palamedes. Linger a while by this elm, on which the wild vine climbs1»: Chiron, the centaur mentor of heroes, leads his last disciple to the land of Pan, the god of the wild. Beyond the cultivated fields, the realm of Demeter, beyond the pastures inhabited by shepherds, begins the land without name, which thrives independently of human beings. Chiron, half-man and half-animal, does not want Palamedes to forget the first law, that of the Origin: nature grows spontaneously without human intervention, which can only care for it. And the centaur knows that without stopping, lingering, the young Palamedes will never perceive Pan’s presence, who makes himself heard, rather than seen. Dusk is already upon us.

Myth’s psychic force

The dialogue between Chiron and Palamedes, Die Wildnis, was published in 19502 as part of Martin Heidegger’s 60th birthday anthology by Friedrich Georg Jünger. A poet and essayist, Friedrich Georg Jünger was the younger brother of the more famous Ernst, with whom he shared adherence to German revolutionary nationalist movements in his youth. He explicitly distanced himself from these movements with the 1934 collection of Poems, for which he underwent interrogations, a temporary publishing ban, and a period of surveillance by the Gestapo, the Nazi Germany’s political police.

This inner transformation, which the poet himself compared to a snake shedding its skin, followed the exaltation of technology as power in The March of Nationalism (1926) and led to voluntary exile on Lake Constance. During the dictatorship years, he wrote the essays Apollo, Pan, Dionysus (1943), The Titans (1944), and The Perfection of Technology (1946), published only after World War II. In these essays, Jünger analyzed the progressive automation of the world and humans as a consequence of an instrumental rationality willing to do anything to realize its will to power and boundless projects of domination. A calculating rationality of which the Nazi regime was a logical expression because, as the author emphasized, counting and measuring humans is not far from the idea of dismembering them. For Jünger, those who adhered to Nazism were homo faber, possessed by the mania of remaking the world and humanity according to their desires, in a hubris reminiscent of the titanic. Jünger wrote in The Perfection of Technology, a title that does not lack in irony:

Every technology has a titanic origin, the homo faber always belongs to the Titanides3.

And if «We continually repeat mythical situations without being aware of such repetition4» then it becomes necessary to return to myth to integrate the diversity of the cultural archetypes of ancient gods and titans into our psyche.

The twilight of the Wildnis

Upon arrival in the wilderness, young Palamedes is confused: the landscape is unfamiliar, he has lost his usual points of reference. He knows Pan’s land as a place where one wanders and gets lost. He asks Chiron to show him the border, as he would like to set it up immediately, he is surprised that it is not cultivated. «What you call a place of wandering is hiddenness» the centaur explains «which does not need any sign5» to reveal itself. In the wilderness, where the usual rules do not apply, what is hidden must be listened to with different ears, and it is necessary for what will manifest to emerge. The wild land is nameless, without fame, because it has no ownership: «That is why, everything speaks more distinctly in its own language6» Chiron emphasizes. «But if there were no forest, where would the heath be? And if the origin did not persist, where would the derivative survive7?».

The spontaneous flourishing of nature precedes human intervention: once the original law is discovered, Palamedes chooses to honor the god who protects it. But that same land has long since been untouched: «You would never have found the road that leads to me, and this land and I would be to you the never-seen if another before you had not trodden the path8» Chiron explains. Hercules has already passed through, the demigod sent by Zeus to establish the boundaries of the known and unknown world, boundaries that already measure the spontaneous growth of nature. Untouched nature is thus now only a memory, a myth within a myth.

Over seventy years after this dialogue was written, the eye of technology has explored almost every corner of the planet, and very few lands remain uncharted by human feet: areas of the Amazon rainforest, the Sahara Desert, Greenland, much of Antarctica, and the oceans. However, too often during the twentieth century, “human feet” meant “Western feet”: the concept of “untouched nature”, “virgin land”, justified violent practices of colonization and displacement or impoverishment of indigenous populations in the name of “conservation” that did not consider the presence of those who had cared for those lands for centuries9.

Dusk is already upon them: after the offering to Pan, Chiron calls Palamedes back to the mountain and begins to talk to him about their parting. They will soon have to part. The centaur will offer himself as a sacrifice to Zeus for the liberation of Prometheus, the titan who gave humans the first technology, fire. The boy will become a famous inventor but will also be the first man condemned unjustly, stoned under the walls of Troy. The price to pay for the knowledge of the first law, which makes those who know it curators of nature and aware of their limits to the extent that they refuse to use violence?


Pan’s use-less land

In this dialogue, Jünger developed in narrative form what he had detailed in the essay Apollo, Pan, Dionysus, recently translated into Italian10: «In an era that grants plenty of space to what is technical, in an era of rational planning that wants to embrace and encompass everything, in an era where man becomes a victim of the idea of having little time and little space, other questions arise when we deal with myth» he wrote. «The eternal conflict between gods and titans must now appear to us in a new light. What belongs to the titans in its most spiritual form, that of Prometheus, deserves our attention because here lies the answer to the question of how far the Promethean man will push. Since the applicability and use of knowledge are at the center of the homo faber‘s attention, this species, which exploits and consumes things to the point of damaging them, perhaps it is good for us to reflect on the idleness of Greek gods and the Greek man. If we place our ear to the ground, we will hear something, perhaps even that panic voice of nature that sounds strange and incomprehensible to most people11».

Pan’s voice is heard through sounds, his wisdom arises from the elemental knowledge of nature. Animal from the waist down, Pan is the power of sex, represented by the phallus: endowed with horns, famous for his laughter, he lives outdoors, wandering, eternally idle. He dances, plays the flute, hunts, and sleeps.

Pan does not need work, not even human work because everything obtained and produced through it is of no use to him12.

The wild land is use-less, not directed toward a purpose, and the god’s presence sows serenity and panic terror among humans because it reveals the ultimate emptiness of any human project. «The intellect can draw all its deductions from the observation of phenomena: when faced with the origin itself, it is struck by a sense of wonder and terror13».

Traces of terror remain in the adjective, often used as noun, denoting the onslaught of intense fear and anxiety at a psychologically perceived threat, while the sense of wonder is much less common in language, as is panic ecstasy, the experience of mystical or sexual fulfillment that ushered in another time, the time of cyclical nature without history, without worry, without need and therefore without desire. A time long gone since Hercules’ passage, but of which echoes remain in the wild.

  1. From Gregorio, G. (1995). Wildnis e Lichtung: la “terra selvaggia” di Friedrich Georg Jünger, Criterio 1-2, pp. 51. ↩︎
  2. On the dialogue between Chiron and Palamedes, see Heidegger, M. (1950). Anteile: Martin Heidegger zum 60 Geburtstag, Klostermann, Frankfurt. ↩︎
  3. From Jünger, F. G. (1980). Die Perfektion der Technik, pp.171-172. ↩︎
  4. From Jünger, F. G. (1944). I Titani, pp. 9. ↩︎
  5. From Gregorio, G. (1995). Wildnis e Lichtung: la “terra selvaggia” di Friedrich Georg Jünger, Criterio 1-2, pp. 53. ↩︎
  6. From Gregorio, G. (1995). Wildnis e Lichtung: la “terra selvaggia” di Friedrich Georg Jünger, Criterio 1-2, pp. 52. ↩︎
  7. From Gregorio, G. (1995). Wildnis e Lichtung: la “terra selvaggia” di Friedrich Georg Jünger, Criterio 1-2, pp. 59. ↩︎
  8. From Gregorio, G. (1995). Wildnis e Lichtung: la “terra selvaggia” di Friedrich Georg Jünger, Criterio 1-2, pp. 53. ↩︎
  9. For more in-depth information, see Dowie, M. (2011). Conservation Refugees. The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples, MIT Press. ↩︎
  10. For the Italian version of the essay, see Junger, F. G. (2023). Apollo, Pan, Dioniso, Le Lettere, Firenze, a cura di Bosincu M. ↩︎
  11. From Jünger, F. G. (2023). Apollo, Pan, Dioniso, Le Lettere, Firenze, curated by Bosincu M., pp. 169. ↩︎
  12. From Jünger, F. G. (2023). Apollo, Pan, Dioniso, Le Lettere, Firenze, a cura di Bosincu M., pp. 231. ↩︎
  13. From Jünger, F. G. (2023). Apollo, Pan, Dioniso, Le Lettere, Firenze, a cura di Bosincu M., pp.233. ↩︎


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