Magazine article World Literature Today

Old Rendering Plant

Magazine article World Literature Today

Old Rendering Plant

Article excerpt

Wolfgang Hilbig Old Rendering Plant Trans. Isabel Fargo Cole. San Francisco. Two Lines Press. 2017. 108 pages.

The setting of Old Rendering Plant is the German Democratic Republic in which Wolfgang Hilbig grew up. In a veritable perversion of the conventional German Entwicklungsroman model, Hilbig has his first-person narrator envision his "apotheosis" in a job at the rendering plant, which turns dead and dying animals into soap.

The narrator seems ineluctably drawn to the plant when, with graduation looming and absolutely no prospects for higher education, he must seek work. A job at the plant will satisfy his "strange interest in bad places" in which things harmonize with him, as he puts it. We see him, from childhood on, exploring slimy and malodorous places in a hideous has-been industrial landscape, which seems to be all that his whole village and its environs consist of. He is told not to go into these ruins because, in addition to their obvious structural dangers, it is rumored that they may also be hiding some of the many people who have "disappeared."

The plant itself sits on an abandoned mine whose shafts wend in every direction underneath this moribund landscape. Now that the last tons of coal "had been transported away as reparations, bartered down the ramps of world history," these shafts have room to spare for the bodies of those whom the succeeding state bureaucrats have displaced. It might strike us as ironic that the mine was called "Germania II"-even more that the rendering plant has been named after it. …

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