Read The Sleep of the Righteous Online

Authors: Wolfgang Hilbig

The Sleep of the Righteous

Two Lines Press

Originally published as:
Der Schlaf der Gerechten
© 2002, S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, Frankfurt am Main

Translation © 2015 by Isabel Fargo Cole

Published by Two Lines Press

582 Market Street, Suite 700, San Francisco, CA 94104

www.twolinespress.com

ISBN 978-1-931883-48-1

Library of Congress Control Number: 2015934426

Design by Ragina Johnson

Cover design by Gabriele Wilson

Cover photo by Gallery Stock

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The translation of this work was supported by a grant from the Goethe-Institut, which is funded by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Contents

Introduction
Introduction

László Krasznahorkai

Translated by Ottilie Mulzet

The world, from the point where Wolfgang Hilbig existed, was bleak and desolate. It is only his sentences—wondrously quotable, visionary—that give color, light, indeed, in a certain sense, even a kind of magnificence to this bleak and desolate world. But how is this possible? How is it possible to create linguistic magnificence from what is for Hilbig a bleak and desolate world?

Many have already written about Wolfgang Hilbig, but this is worth nothing. Because the secret of Hilbig—and there is a secret!—remains undisclosed. Hardly anyone knows about him; he remains largely unknown in translation, and even in Germany—despite the fact that he should have received every significant literary prize—he is practically unknown. Here “practically unknown” means that the literary public doesn't know about him, the critics don't pay any attention to him, and if it wasn't for the publication of his works by the highly influential publisher S. Fischer Verlag in Frankfurt, and moreover, had there not been, in Hilbig's lifetime, a few—really just a few—older critics who mentioned his name with appreciation (although no one pays attention to
them anymore either), then in all likelihood, at least in the short term, he would completely disappear from our view.

Many have thought and have said about him that because his fate and writerly art are so closely tied with Communist East Germany, Hilbig is just little more than a kind of chronicler of East Germany, a pale Kafkaist—and the Germans themselves don't like this kind very much. Hilbig's art, to wit, and with no further prevarications, is built upon the fact that East Germany is identical to the world. To put it more precisely: for Hilbig, East Germany is the world, because what is beyond it does not exist for Hilbig; it could not even exist for Hilbig; for beyond that hideous juxtaposition that was the East German response, within the Soviet bloc, to the Soviet bloc, that is, beyond that particular individual version of the Soviet type of pseudo-Communist dictatorship, nothing, for Hilbig, existed. For him nothing existed; there was no world beyond this! For can there be yet another world beyond the world? he would have asked uncomprehendingly.

Moreover, no German identifies, especially not willingly, with this point of departure, with this frightening identification. The western, northwestern, and southern Germans—that is, the free Germans, the Germans who built West Germany during the Cold War—generally like to regard the East German Soviet-type dictatorship as a purely political formation, the horrific everyday existence of which they love, even today, to hear and read about voyeuristically: a series of everyday occurrences with all its secrets and disclosures, which was valid exclusively for that East German Germany; which, with its own everyday life, collapsed, disappeared, came to an end. Whoever reads Hilbig quickly understands
that nothing ever ends, and there is especially no end for the Germans, because those ordinary days contain within themselves a force: base, frighteningly motionless, dark, lurking in the depths, a monster that has not collapsed, that did not disappear; even today it lurks there in the depths, frightening, threatening, dark, just as if it were always there. People never ask themselves: why did Kleist do away with himself? And in general: why do the Kleists keep doing away with themselves in such a world? No matter how unexpected and perhaps even unfounded a leap of judgment it may appear to be, Hilbig lived those very ordinary events that were part of the everyday lives of Kleist or Büchner or Lenz.

The horrendous, deathly, unquiet, baleful, murderous everyday situations of the petty bourgeois. These routine occurrences do not pass. The petty bourgeois does not pass. A world comes into being through these everyday events, and these are the mundane situations that Hilbig lived through during the decades of the East German pseudo-Communist dictatorship. He did not write about the particular East German pseudo-Communist dictatorship, but about German everyday experiences.

More precisely: about everyday life.

And this is what is so oppressive in Hilbig. With horrific strength, with evocative sorcery, with obsessive precision, he described a world that is distasteful not only to Germans but actually harrowing for all of us who sense the unbroken strength of those ordinary events. He wrote his astounding novels about a world in which only the weak, the sensitive, those incapable of bargaining and in no way heroic, can sense the chaos and the surrealism. Because this world really does
have its own rules, and there are those who realize and maintain its organizational structures, since this is their world, a world in which the aggressive, mean-spirited, cowardly, servile—namely the rat-person, running away from the monumental, the far-reaching, escaping from freedom—is the lord, pursuing at his pleasure those who are alien in his world, which he creates again and again; the alien, those who don't belong there, whose existence cannot be legitimated—indeed, the unfortunates who cannot legitimize themselves.

Wolfgang Hilbig is an artist of immense stature. He discovered a wondrous language to describe a horrific world. I admit this is a sick illumination. Nonetheless, it is illumination. Unforgettable.

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