The Females by Wolfgang Hilbig

The Females by Wolfgang Hilbig

German fiction

Original title – Die Weiber

Translator – Isabel Fargo Cole

Source – personal copy

Wolfgang Hilbig had trained as a toolmaker and first got interested more in literature whilst he was a stoker on the ship used in 1968 by a group of east german writers protesting about the centralized censorship and control of literature in East Germany since the start of world war two. He initially worked as a poet but showed no-one, but at the 1968 event which he showed his poetry.  This lead to his poetry being published a number of years after this when he stopped before writing his debut novel Ich(I) which was autobiographical this is a later book that is thematically linked with other books he wrote including the Tiding of trees which I reviewed here. 

My losses accumulated: it seemd I’d even lost my name, yes, I no longer knew who I was, my name was tge property if a strange personage, that alone put it in the presence of females, and they suspected nothing. My name was lost, as all that flowing and rustling hair was lost to me … It was lost because I was forbidden to touch it ah, it was beyond saving

loss despair and sexual loss al her as he losses himself in the maelstrom of his life.

I struggled with the last book by Hilbig I read, in fact, the same happened this time I read this last year and read it again just this week. it is rather like wading through treacle as a reader there isn’t a lot of plot here it reminds me at times of reading Mervyn Peake in my youth there is a wonderfully descriptive nature to Hilbig world as dark and vile as this is as we see Mr c a machinist a nod to Hilbig’s own past working in a factory as he is there he watches the woman that works in the factory but not in his section so he only gets glimpses of them which he describes in a very sexual nature he then says he lost his job at the factory but it doesn’t need to know fully why and why have the woman gone this is where the reader struggles as there is no linear nature to the events that follow they seem to drift back to a dream about getting tortured in a sexual fantasy by the witch of Buchenwald the notorious wife of the commandant of the concentration camp. Then we have a sort twisted masturbation scenes to rubbish and here I was reminded of the similar sexual imagery Ballard used in his book The crash which dealt with the fetish of sex and cars well here it is a similar fetish around rubbish and sex. Mother fixation and a strange dream about stroking a young woman hair and then an attempt to kill himself in an act similar to that of Oskar Brusewitz who killed himself as a political act in 1976 in front police after placing posters about religious freedoms in East Germany. All this is the background to him trying to find where the woman of the town seemed to have disappeared too. This is all a poke at the control of sexual images and natures under the east german regime he grew up in a backlash.

I had gradually begun to transform into a sickness, Like all things I produced, this transformation was utterly excessive, an agony not quite hiuman , it was no longer that of an animal, either. It led to my dismissal from the factory, though the details aren’t worth mentioning, I lived in circumstances in which symptons, I hid in my apartment by day and went out only at night, in the dark, roaming the  town’s deserted streets solilopuizing, holding rousing speeches to myself, sweating, covered woth milky greem pusticles, A terrible thing had happenedsince I’d learned to use life to manufacture descriptions which made an inner life possible for me.

I was remind of Peakes description of , Abiatha Swelter. the chef in gormenghast.

This is a complex work that probably to fully get needs a more careful reader than me and maybe some with more knowledge of former east Germany. But as a work of literature, it is rich with the darker side of the life of what it is like when sexual feelings are repressed then just let out of a dark past echoed in the remains of the concentration camp on the edge of town and our narrator’s sexual dream of an S and M act with Ilse Kock. Hilbig blows open the sexual repression of the East German regime where everyone watched each other so real sexual freedom was deeply repressed.It is a book that reminds me of the rich descriptive style of Mervyn Peake, in fact, the world he describes is similar at times to Peakes Gormenghast. I also remembered the sexual nature of J G  Ballards crash in the description of sex here. Two lines have done a great job bringing him to English.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. roughghosts
    Jan 14, 2020 @ 21:25:39

    This is by far my least favourite of the Hilbigs I have read. He was inconsistent, deteriorating as alcohol took its toll. One would like to imagine only the best gets published but that’s not necessarily the case.

    Reply

  2. Trackback: That was the month that was January 2020 | Winstonsdad's Blog

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