“Aus dem Dunkeln ins Licht.” Dissolving Dichotomies in Wolfgang Hilbig’s “Ich” (1993)
Jennifer William

Published four years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the narration of Wolfgang Hilbig’s novel “Ich” spans the four years preceding this event. Through his protagonist M.W., a GDR writer and Stasi informant, Hilbig mocks the West as both an ideal destination and as a model of enlightenment. At the same time, the writer does not wax nostalgic for the East in the novel, but instead conveys a strong sense of ambivalence and ambiguity in regard to both sides. Hilbig calls attention to the intrinsic arbitrariness of the physical East-West division through the frequent use of spatial deictic references with both literal and metaphorical functions. He relies heavily on expressions such as jenseits/diesseits der Grenze, dort drüben, and die da oben, which reinforce the inherent arbitrariness of the physical East-West borders, while pointing to the embedment of the corresponding mental divisions. I propose that Hilbig’s conspicuous employment of such terminology underscores the precarious symbiosis that keeps ideological and geographical “sides” afloat. Thus, the very foundations upon which rested the separation of the German states, and their later unity, reveal themselves in this novel as inherently unstable. While “Ich” speaks out neither for nor against German unification, it successfully outlines the tremendous complexities of the Wende and its origins. The novel also prompts reflection on the general uncertainty characterizing the historical period immediately preceding the Wende, when those accustomed to identifying with one institution or another began to find those familiar divisions dissolving.

The novel “Ich” revolves around the misadventures and nonadventures of a literary writer, M.W., whom the Stasi has assigned to follow another writer named Reader, who is prominent in the underground literary scene of Berlin.[1] Thus, the writer-turned-informant M.W.[2] works simultaneously within two supposedly covert operations: first, the alternative literary and cultural underground, known as the “Szene,” such as that which thrived in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg in the 1980s; and second, the entire Stasi institution, which the narrator dubs the “Firma.” Both labels, “Szene” and “Firma” are spatially connoted in that their literal meanings signify conceptual places, locations, or sites in which some individuals try in vain to ground their identity and security. In reality though, these “places” are only decentralized abstracts with no solid, physical home base or foundation. In Hilbig’s novel, the terms stand in for their respective institutions consistently: there is no actual mention of the Stasi, which is referred to only as “die Firma” (although allegorical terms like “die Sicherheit” appear as well). Similarly, while Berlin constitutes the unmistakable backdrop of the novel, Hilbig avoids any specific mention of Prenzlauer Berg, turning exlusively to the hazy label of “Szene” instead.

M.W.’s main difficulty as an informant is that Reader, whom the protagonist at first believes to be suspected of oppositional aims by the state, never actually tries to publish anything. The apparent futility of his assignment makes M.W. wonder whether he is being taken seriously by the Stasi, especially after he discovers that the writer he has been trailing is yet another informant. Reader is a Stasi plant in the literary underground, providing the state with the kind of oppositional presence it needs for legitimizing its own wavering authority in the dying days of the GDR. M.W. serves a similar function: although he has never written anything specifically for the literary underground, he suddenly sees his own work appear in literary anthologies of dissident writers, texts which he cannot remember composing. In erlebter Rede, the third-person narrator wonders, “Waren die Texte wirklich von ihm? Wenn es noch stimmte, daß seine Hand sie zu Papier gebracht hatte, so waren sie doch von einem anderen als ihm autorisiert worden” (201-02). M.W. suspects that the state might have authorized the use of his texts (or perhaps texts with his name on them, authored by someone else) in the anthologies of subversively-oriented writing. But ultimately, only utter uncertainty pervades his thoughts. He eventually doubts his own identities as a person, as a writer, and as a Stasi “Informeller Mitarbeiter.” While his creative writing becomes muddled with the language of the Stasi, his boss finds that his reports for the “Firma” sound too literary. Eventually, he finds it difficult to write for either domain, as neither his observational reports for the Stasi nor his “own” writing (whatever this may mean) come easy for him anymore.

The narration of the novel switches between first and third person, a technique which periodically reverses spatial perspective and presents a fragmented narrative self. This crisis of identity is highlighted as well by the protagonist’s various appellations: he is known as W. at some points, later as M.W., and then as C., the abbreviation of his official code name, “Cambert.” In the segments related in third person, he is known only as “er.” Calling further attention to this diffused identity, Hilbig put quotation marks around the novel’s title “Ich”, suggesting right up front the subjective uncertainty and crises of selfhood that plague the main character. This move also points to the novel’s theme of Stasi informants and their often nonsensical code names. First and third-person voices are employed variously to mimic the duplicitous structure of Stasi reports.

The novel juxtaposes the subjective search for identity with a challenge to the unquestioning reliance on politically and ideologically established geographical identifications. The narration of “Ich” takes place from approximately 1986 to shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a point in the GDR’s history when “immer mehr Schriftsteller das Land verließen, sich jenseits der Grenze, häufig in Westberlin, etablierten” (152). In the background of the novel’s denouement is also the loosening of strict border controls between East and West, alluding to September 10, 1989, when Hungarian Foreign Minister Horn officially opened the border between his country and Austria, prompting thousands of East Germans to head westward via this hole in the Iron Curtain. In East Berlin, the increased motility was already quite visible during the time depicted in “Ich”: “so jagte Kohorte auf Kohorte der westlichen Richtung zu, und das Dröhnen ihrer Motorenstärken überrollte die gesamte Stadt: gen Westen, gen Westen, wo alle Bewegung aufenthaltslos hinzuwollen schien” (172). The figures in “Ich” are also preoccupied with migrating to the West, a tendency which is scorned by the protagonist. M.W. fumes upon learning that the hypocritical Stasi functionaries are rewarded for exceptional service with assignments in the West (173-74). He is also derisive of the Stasi building, “wo ein begrenztes Stück westlicher Wohlstandsgesellschaft strahlte, welches das Ministerium sich schon im Diesseits eingerichtet hatte” (320). The Stasi overseer in M.W.’s former small-town home base of “A.” also longs to go westward (179), and in the end he eventually does this, or so we can assume in light of his sudden trip to Hungary at the novel’s close. Even those people in the business of preventing flight to the West are stricken by the urge to travel there, to imitate Western lifestyle, and to import a piece of the so-called Jenseits into their Diesseits of the GDR.

Hilbig turns repeatedly to such spatially-oriented (and indeed mystical-sounding) language as Jenseits and Diesseits in an attempt to reinforce the inherent arbitrariness of politically determined geographical borders.“Ich” displays numerous examples of deictic terms that must be considered in relation to something else if they are to make any sense. The connotations of these expressions often have their origins in Germany’s (and Europe’s) division: for instance, the common GDR usage of “von drüben” (15) to refer to something or someone from the West; or the expression “jenseits des eisernen Vorhangs” where, from the perspective of M.W. in the East, the alcohol is far superior (241). Hilbig plays from time to time with the notion of the Iron Curtain as a visual image and spatial metaphor that became ingrained in everyday language. This metaphor reflected, and perhaps to a certain extent affected, how the divisions of the Cold War period were conceptualized. The fundamental relativity of terms such as drüben and jenseits underlines the relativity of human-made borders; these expressions can be used from either side of the Wall, and of course can also apply to either side of the Wall. Without proper context and point of reference or origin, they are completely meaningless.[3] The prominence of such spatial references in “Ich” reinforces the artificiality of, as well as the resigned acceptance of, the physical East-West demarcations. In addition, they call attention to the entrenchment of the so-called “Mauer im Kopf,” a spatially-oriented conceptual metaphor that speaks for itself in terms of its visuality.[4]

The repeated advice of M.W.’s Stasi higher-ups, “man sieht am besten, wenn man aus dem Dunkeln ins Licht sieht! Und nicht umgekehrt…” (132), marks another of Hilbig’s techniques for highlighting mental divisions between East and West.[5] The Stasi supervisors fail to clarify their cryptic instruction that M.W. look “aus dem Dunkeln ins Licht,” but nonetheless, it rings as a mantra in his ears. A person looking into the light—for instance, into a lit room through a glass window, as one stands in the darkness outside—is often not noticed by those on the other side. If one is in spy mode, then this stealthiness works to one’s advantage; but if one is searching for the basic needs of recognition, acceptance, and identity, as M.W. is, then such invisibility can only be a disadvantage. Momentarily, it is as if one did not exist at all. This paradox is illustrated by M.W.’s unnoticed voyeuristic peerings into a café, where he remains “für den anderen im Innern unsichtbar” (200).[6] In the context of this post-Wende novel’s larger metaphorical structure, the message here points to the West’s facility in disregarding the East in Cold-War Europe. While by no means truly enlightened, the West generally saw itself as a shining star, as the sun—and many in the East viewed things this way as well.[7] The West shortsights itself through its self-declared brightness and prosperity, while the East cannot find its bearings, as it is blinded by this shine and splendor from without as well.

This mystification is represented by M.W.’s own disorientation, which worsens when light suddenly pours into his dark room, “daß er geblendet rückwärts taumelte” (140). When “die flackernden Fetzen der von Westen herüber durch die Baumlücken pfeilenden Abendsonnenstrahlen” land on his face in the S-Bahn, M.W. feels that his head is “wie von Ohrfeigen hin und her geworfen” (343). The light from the West literally blinds and disorients him, even as he makes his way through various literal and metaphorical labyrinths in the East. The implication here is that trying to reach his goal (particularly considering how elusive this goal is) would be a futile effort, no matter on which side of the imposed border he might find himself.

To look into the light is also to envision the golden future, and to M.W. this means imagining a potentially new life as an émigré writer in the West, “jenseits der Grenze.” He envisions himself looking out westward from the darkness of the East and laments, “noch hier aus dem Verschwommenen mußte man auf dieses Leben blicken…” (325). The “Sonne, die im Westen brannte” (161), which catches M.W.’s eye from his standpoint in East Berlin, or his dream of a place somewhere “dort im Westen unter dem lichtdurchzuckten Himmel” (172), further refer to the protagonist’s perceived obligation to look beyond the darkness which envelops him and into the light before him. Ironically then, his longing and looking toward the forbidden West come a result of the advice from his Stasi higher-ups.

Physically speaking, the sun remains up in the West after it has already set in the East; metaphorically speaking, the West is alleged to hold vision and enlightenment which had not yet filtered into the purported darkness of the GDR.[8] Inflating the typical postmodern critique of a utopian enlightenment until it ruptures altogether, Hilbig hyperbolically presents the unchallenged idealization of the allegedly enlightened West as preferred destination. M.W.’s dreams about life on the other side call to mind “the grass is always greener” proverb:

es spukte mir der Gedanke an den Tunnel unter der Mauer durch den Schlaf, er spukte durch den Schlaf des ganzen Lands, es war womöglich der Gedanke, den ich aufklären sollte…und es gab dort vielleicht Zimmerpflanzen, dunkelgrüne großblättrige Gewächse südlicher Herkunft, sie gediehen prächtig in der stetigen Wärme und dem strahlenden Licht, denn drüben, in den Kellern auf der anderen Seite, war immer Tag, während hier immer Nacht war. (36)

Hilbig mocks the apotheosis of the West by juxtaposing the stark darkness of the cold East and the bright, warm daylight on the “other” side. He also returns often to the concept of “Aufklärung,” which heads the book’s final chapter and which satirically echoes language used by the Stasi. Implemented by the author to an extreme degree, this enlightenment motif tacitly ridicules idealized views of the West and any simplified view of unification. Hilbig does not explicitly call into question the division between the supposedly “dark” East and the contrastively “enlightened” West through his narrator. But by maintaining this split as a most obvious given, Hilbig actually draws attention to the relativity of political borders, and to the lack of sound rationale behind the programmed partiality toward one side of these borders over the other. The GDR is presented as a “postmodern dystopia” (Cooke, “Stasi as Panopticon”)—as is, arguably, the FRG.[9] M.W.’s wish to discover, or recover, his own identity is left unfulfilled when he crosses the border into West Berlin in the S-Bahn (284).[10] The protagonist remains temporally and spatially disoriented, still lacking any certainty about his own sense of self. Hilbig puts forth neither East nor West as superior in this respect. In the West, M.W. finds no answers to his confusion; in the East, his identity is far from secure, due to his double role as informant and writer. Indeed, this alter-ego situation lies at the root of his deep insecurities.

Beyond the East-West distinctions, the spaces of “Ich” are distinguished and defined by the spatial adverbs oben and unten, which appear conspicuously often in the novel in both literal and figurative contexts. Geographically speaking, M.W.’s hometown of “Kleinstadt A.” in Saxony is located “unten,” that is, south of Berlin, the city which is designated on several occasions as being “oben.” From the point of view of M.W.’s superiors in the “Firma”, the phrase “oben bei uns” refers to the assumed privilege of living in the capital of the GDR (173). A Stasi proxy from “A.” even concedes this inferiority: “wir wissen ja nicht sehr viel da unten bei uns” (270). Within the Stasi’s hierarchy, such a dichotomy also exists: the further-higher-ups are named as the “ehrwürdigen Genossen da oben” (261)—meaning both that they literally work on the higher-altitude floors of the building, and that they tower figuratively over the lower officers—whereas the lowest of the low, the informants, are all located “dort unten auf der Straße” (258).

The accumulation of so many polyvalent spatial terms in the novel places these hierarchical distinctions in an absurd light. For the novel’s protagonist, there proves to be no real difference between the physical “oben” and “unten” in this work. On the city’s surface, as M.W. stands amid the prefabricated homogeny of East Berlin’s sprawling Plattenbau, or as he tries to navigate the labyrinth of Bahnhof Alexanderplatz, he has no greater sense of orientation than he does when lurking in the sewer and catacomb system of the city’s underbelly. By analogy, the novel “Ich” contends that in the final months before the Wende, there existed little difference—in terms of “real” power and authority—between those who were metaphorically “oben” in the ranks of the state and those Stasi informants located “unten auf der Strasse.”

The paranoid informant M.W. frets about the Randexistenzen who might be following him, just as he follows others on the street: “man wußte nicht, auf welcher Seite sie gerade waren” (73). The concept of these opposing ideological sides, and of the imagined “Rand” separating them, is noteworthy in relation to the spatial conceptualizations that underpin divisions among people. Further, the explanation of the Randexistenzen accurately describes the ambiguous figure M.W. himself, since he is at times the pursuer (“Verfolger”) while at other times he is the pursued (“Verfolgter”), or at least he perceives himself as such.[11] He is a writer who is suddenly respected and accepted by the “Szene”, because of his “siebzehn links und rechts des eisernen Vorhangs publizierten Gedichten” (316), but who also moonlights with the “Firma.” In this way, Hilbig’s novel characterizes the uncertain period immediately preceding the Wende, when particular institutions were losing their perceived and self-perceived value, and even cancelling each other out, leaving their identity-craving members in the lurch. Just as the quotation marks around the “Ich” of the novel’s title convey the doubt surrounding the protagonist’s identity, the vaguenesss of the labels “Firma” and “Szene” further point to dissolving identities and to the profound uncertainties of the time. The novel “Ich” is in large part the tale of an individual who discovers the emptiness which lies behind the boundaries of both of these milieus, and the instability of the imagined boundaries themselves. The narration takes place after Gorbachev’s introduction of perestroika and glasnost, at a time when underground writing was becoming less and less of an issue in the GDR, yet the figures in the novel make a big deal of the dissidents anyway. The narrator of “Ich” questions the utility of the supposedly progressive “Szene,” where he claims that “nichts ist los” at this point in time. M.W. notes that those writers who were considered oppositional or dissidents were often those who simply had not published officially within their own country; the narrator considers the possibility—seldom articulated by either side—that the bans on publishing were not always politically motivated, but due to the work’s lacking quality (200-01). From the perspective of the main character, the struggle of the “Firma” to legitimize itself parallels the situation of the “Szene”: the more fervently the literary underground struggled to stay alive and prove its necessity, the more superfluous it seemed.

M.W. posits that the nonconformity of the alternative scene during these stagnant pre-Wende times rests only on the surface. In this novel’s representation, the “Szene” rebels against the constraints of social convention merely in token and trivial ways, for example, orthographically, by not capitalizing nouns. The supposedly anti-establishment “Szene” is also portrayed as more authoritarian than it would care to admit. From M.W.’s point of view, the “Szene” is “übergreifend” (167-68), ubiquitous and infringing on the creativity of its members, and it is defined by “engen Grenzen” (18). In his mind, the “Szene” therefore restricts personal freedom and independent thought, and in that sense is not entirely different from the “Firma” for him personally. Thus, it is inconsequential that he eventually falls short as a participant in both oddly transposable, and nearly disposable, domains. M.W. remains a vague and unclassifiable figure and, as in regard to the marginal figures (the Randexistenzen) whom he fears, we are left uncertain as to the side, if any, onto which he falls in the end.[12] As Cooke has fittingly remarked, M.W.’s ambiguous existence within both realms can be taken as Hilbig’s criticism of the post-Wende tendency (in both East and West) to immediately essentialize former GDR citizens into strict categories of either Täter or Opfer (Speaking the Taboo 212).

This novel depicts the two waning organizations of the Stasi and the alternative cultural scene as desperately and hopelessly interdependent. That is, the aspiring critical artists need a government to criticize, one which in this case has no real future, while at the same time, the “Firma” needs the allegedly oppositional “Szene” in order to maintain its own authoritative identity. The implied reciprocal power relationship is the social equivalent of the genitive-of-the-genitive, which the narrator sees as characteristic of the rhetoric of the two groups that are being rendered meaningless. The “Genitiv des Genitivs” in bureaucratic language is nonsensical, as all origins become nearly impossible to determine over time. The post-structuralist thinking to which many in the “Szene” ardently adhere culminates absurdly in M.W.’s declaration that he, as the spy who is spying on another spy (Reader), had become the embodiment of the “Genitiv des Menschen” (372): not only are the signified of linguistic and social systems detached from their signifiers, but the origins of an individual’s identity are also meaningless and untraceable. The vagueness of the “Firma” and the “Szene,” in terms of their respective purposes in the final months of the GDR, highlights this meaninglessness.

In summary, Hilbig’s“Ich” depends on spatial metaphors and deictic terminology to achieve a number of effects. The novel challenges and undermines the conceptual boundaries of geography and the hierarchical distinctions of social status that inadvertently become fossilized as self-evident in our languages and in our thought processes. This work also depicts a historical era of instability and uncertainty, the Wende, as a time when empty institutionalized rhetoric and the superfluous character of the institutions themselves were becoming increasingly apparent. The novel “Ich” does not address the subject of German reunification directly, since the narration takes place before the Wende. But through a creative and critical implementation of spatial language, Hilbig’s novel spotlights the many ambiguities involved in the process of tremendous change that is foreshadowed throughout the novel, and in so doing, it implicitly criticizes any simplified and neatly dichotomized views of German unification.

1 Reader, planted in the underground to legitimate the authority of the Stasi, finds possible real-life correspondence in figures such as Sascha Anderson or Rainer Schedlinski, seemingly oppositional intellectuals in the GDR who were revealed later as having worked for the Stasi (the latter was known as “IM Gerhard,” whom Hilbig thanks in his ironic post-script “Anmerkung”). Martin Kane sees resemblance not only between Reader and Anderson, but also between M.W. (a.k.a. Cambert) and Anderson: “Cambert, however, clearly lacks the style and entrepreneurial verve with which Anderson carried out his double role, and is much more a projection of the dismal figure Hilbig imagines he himself might have cut, had he been recruited by the Stasi” (Kane 78).

2 Paul Cooke notes: “Indeed, the role of informant is seen as being equivalent to the role of the writer. Both the informant and the writer are pushed to the margins of their world due to the shared nature of their job. Both are observers of their environment, a function which inevitably leads to their alienation from society […]” (“The Stasi as Panopticon,” forthcoming).

3 To a certain extent it makes sense to consider in this context Edward Said’s notion of an “otherness” from his 1978 work Orientalism, and the construction and subsequent legitimization of identity and power based on constructs. Said writes, “The construction of identity—for identity, whether of Orient or Occident, France or Britain, while obviously a repository of distinct collective experiences, is finally a construction—involves establishing opposites and ‘others’ whose actuality is always subject to the continuous interpretation and re-interpretation of their differences from ‘us’. Each age and society re-creates its ‘Others’” (332). This notion of constructed identity is apparent in the emergence of a we-they dichotomy in some people’s thinking after the inception of the GDR and FRG, a dichotomy which still exists for some in the present time.

4 More than a decade after the Wende, spatial-geographic demarcations like “drüben” are still prevalent in the German media, even if self-consciously through the use of quotation marks, e.g.: “Der Westen erhalte gleichzeitig Zuwanderer von ‘drüben’ und von ‘draußen’, also von Ausländern” (Spiegel on-line article from April 4th, 2002:,1518,190220,00.html). The prevalence of such terminology reinforces, or even helps create, alienation. Identity is then defined by what, or where, one is not. This phenomenon has been discussed in recent years through the problematic concept of an East-German “Trotzidentität.”

5 M.W. believes to adhere to this principle as he moves into his first residence in Berlin, where he hopes to gain “Aussicht”: “Als alles schon aussichtslos schien, hatte er hier ein Zimmer zur Miete gefunden: er wollte darin nichts als einen glücklichen Zufall erkennen. Und gerade in diesem Viertel zeigte sich ihm die Großstadt weiträumig und hell…zum ersten Mal bestätigte sich der Satz, den er im Kopf hatte: er glaubte aus dem Dunkel ins Licht zu blicken” (135). These and other formulations pay homage to the end verse of the “Moritat” in Brecht’s Dreigroschenfilm: “Denn die einen sind im Dunkeln/ Und die anderen sind im Licht/ Und man siehet die im Lichte/ Die im Dunkeln sieht man nicht” (Dreigroschenbuch 116). In addition to honoring Brecht, a literary model for many GDR writers of Hilbig’s generation, Hilbig alludes here to the shady nature of being “underground” in various senses, lacking recognition and thus legitimization by the larger society.

6 This type of voyeurism is a frequent theme not only in the novel “Ich” but also in Hilbig’s short stories, such as “Die Angst vor Beethoven,” in which the protagonist “sieht von außen als Voyeur seines eigenen Innenraums” (Schulz 417). This situation of looking in from the outside symbolizes M.W.’s position within both the alternative cultural underground and the Stasi as well. Genia Schulz remarks interestingly, “In fast allen Erzählungen Hilbigs weiß sich das (schreibende) Ich buchstäblich von der Macht inszeniert, ferngesteuert, ‘auf den Weg geschickt’, ‘fremdgedacht’. Einmal im Kontakt mit der Macht, bleibt es unter Aufsicht, selbst wo es aus dem ‘Innern’ zu schöpfen meint” (415).

7 In his discussion of the “virtual geography” surrounding media coverage of the Berlin Wall, McKenzie Wark posits East and West Germany as “each a lopsided mirror of the other” (60). Through television above all, each side has an image which highlights differences over common ground. Wark continues, “In the imaginary of the West, the West itself figures simply as existence, an everyday thing. It seems the most natural thing in the world for the East to want to climb through the looking glass to join it. In the imaginary of the East, the West does not appear as everyday existence. It appears as something other” (ibid).

8 The physical properties of dark and light also represent psychological states in “Ich”. Without light, disorientation sets in more quickly, as M.W. attests: “Bei geschlossener Jalousie saß er in seinem Sessel und suchte in der Dunkelheit nach Orientierung” (220). M.W. claims himself and the whole city of Berlin to be in a state of depression, and in his own manic state, he ponders the professed tenet of looking into the light from the darkness: “Vielleicht sah man auch im Dunkel des Wahns ab und zu in ein Licht…und vielleicht war dies eine Art lichter Wahn” (294). Introducing the possibility of delusion, Hilbig’s narrator casts doubt on where the “Licht” actually exists, if anywhere. Can this light truly burn in the West, if, as the narrator proclaims facetiously, depression is “kein Begriff, der im Osten zu Hause war,” originating instead from the “Westteil der Stadt” (308)?

9 Sylvie Marie Bordaux comments on this typical non-preferential treatment by Hilbig: “Sicherlich ist der Kulturschock, die Entäuschung [sic] über den Westen, das Versagen dieses politischen und gesellschaftlichen Systems, das Nicht-ankommen und Sich-nicht-zurechtfinden im Westen ein Motiv mancher Texte Wolfgang Hilbigs. Jedoch wird der Westen nicht pauschal verworfen und abgelehnt […]. Der Vergleich Osten/Westen wird selten eindeutig verwendet. Bei dem Ost-West Vergleich schneidet der Osten bei Hilbig ebenso schlecht, wenn nicht schlechter ab. Es gibt bei Hilbig kaum Nostalgie und kein Festhalten an der sozialistischen Utopie, die definitiv versagt hat” (55).

10 Further, when M.W. leaves the big city altogether for a quieter existence back in his hometown of A., he realizes that his time in Berlin with the “Firma” and the “Szene” was not enlightening to him in the least; instead he had found himself only in teasingly close proximity to a yet unrevealed, presumedly legitimate truth: “Ich hatte nur in der Nähe gestanden, für andere nicht sichtbar, umhüllt von einer diffusen Sphäre aus Schatten, aus der ich in einen Lichtraum schaute: darin wimmelte es von Bewegungen, die ich nicht begriff…Ich habe von außerhalb in ein erleuchtetes Zimmer gesehen, dachte ich, dessen geschlossene Fenster nichts vom Wortlaut der darin geführten Gespräche nach außen übertrugen” (374-75). M.W. remained the outsider in East Berlin, having looked from within the perpetual shadows of the darkness into the bright rays of light which seemed to hide the insiders’ truth from him.

11 This reversal is seen for instance in M.W.’s private mission of chasing a woman from West Berlin. Paranoid, he begins to believe she is trailing him, instead of vice versa. He picks up his pace and turns here and there in an attempt to lose her: “ich wußte die Richtung nicht mehr, doch ich war ihr endlich entkommen […]. Es gab keinen Zweifel, ich war vor ihr geflohen. Sie hatte den Spieß umgedreht und war auf einmal zu meiner Verfolgerin geworden!” (330).

12 Through his protagonist, Hilbig also comments on the paradoxical situation of some younger-generation writers in the GDR who, as Stephen Brockmann elaborates, “were perhaps the most ironic example of the insider-outsider contradiction in GDR society. On the one hand, they viewed themselves as genuine outsiders in opposition to existing power structures; but on the other hand they were heavily infiltrated by the Stasi, and their abstruse poetic theories helped to take the edge off any attempt to combine literature with anti-establishment politics. Their attempt to escape to a no-place beyond politics led—nowhere” (95).

Works Cited

Bordaux, Sylvie Marie. Literatur als Subversion. Eine Untersuchung des Prosawerkes von Wolfgang Hilbig. Göttingen: Cuvillier, 2000.

Brecht, Bertolt. Dreigroschenbuch. Texte, Materialen, Dokumente. Ed. Siegfried Unseld. Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1960.

Brockmann, Stephen. Literature and German Reunification. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 1999.

Cooke, Paul. Speaking the Taboo. A Study of the Work of Wolfgang Hilbig. Amsterdam/Atlanta:
Rodopi, 2000.

- - -. “The Stasi as Panopticon: Wolfgang Hilbig’s ‘Ich’.” Reading Big Brother: Literary Representations of the East German Secret Police. Eds. Paul Cooke and Andrew Plowman. Basingstoke: Palgrave. (forthcoming)

Hilbig, Wolfgang. “Ich.” Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1993.

Kane, Martin. “Writing as Precarious Salvation. The Work of Wolfgang Hilbig.” Contemporary German Writers, their Aesthetics and their Language. Eds. Arthur Williams, Stuart Parkes, Julian Preece. Bern: Lang, 1996. 71-82.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995.

Schulz, Genia. “Graphomanien: Zur Prosa Wolfgang Hilbigs.” Merkur 41.5 (May 1987): 413-18.

Wark, McKenzie. Virtual Geography. Living with Global Media Events. Bloomington: Indiana
UP, 1994.