Verspätet, verkrüppelt, verschlissen, verkalkt. Zur „negativen” Poetologie des ostdeutschen Dichters Wolfgang Hilbig (vor und nach 1989)

Birgit Dahlke


Delayed, Crippled, Worn Out, Calcified. The „Negative” Poetics of the East German Poet Wolfgang Hilbig (before and after 1989). Is Wolfgang Hilbig (b. 1941) a GDR author? He published his first book when he was 40 in West Germany. Why do his texts nevertheless belong to GDR literature? Because he was a worker turned poet? Hilbig is one of the few recipients of the Büchner Prize from a proletarian background. His texts bear traces of this background, but have little in common with traditional “proletarian literature”. Hilbig’s point of view is always retrospective, focussed on the historical and genealogical-personal past. The protagonists of his tales and novels reject any utopian mode. Physical labor is never idealized; workers appear as a group of people who not only cannot articulate their interests, they do not know what they are. Tongue-tied, they have nothing with which to counter the empty propaganda phrases of the functionaries. While the majority of GDR writers operated for decades in basic agreement with the social project of socialism, Hilbig did not, not even in his earliest prose and poetry. His firstperson figures are always burdened with more past than they could possibly have future. His literary landscapes are contaminated with historical guilt for the murder of the Jews, on the one hand, and for the ravages of unrestrained industrialization. Signs of contemporary human violence against nature merge with historical violent crime in the work of this author. Socialized in the context of the GDR’s antifascist founding myth, Hilbig frees the guilt discourse from its abstractness, and instead localizes and personalizes, even embodies it.


GDR literature; worker turned poet; proletarian literature; utopian mode; historical guilt; GDR’s antifascist founding myth

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