Madeleine LaRue: One thing that strikes me about all of the stories in The Sleep of the Righteous is Wolfgang Hilbig’s tendency to develop these slowly-unfolding contradictions. He’ll set up one proposition, and then later, seem to state the opposite. This happens even in the very first story: it’s called “The Place of Storms,” but there are, in fact, no storms. And in “The Bottles in the Cellar,” which is my favorite story in the collection—
Isabel Fargo Cole: Mine, too.
ML: It’s so great! And your translation is so beautiful. In that story, there’s a weird contradiction of time. The narrator seems to be terrified of the past that the bottles represent, but also terrified of the future—he’s afraid he’s going to grow up and have to deal with these bottles. And because of these fears, the present is somehow cancelled out. This all seems connected to Hilbig’s relationship to the past, to time in general, and to the post-war state he’s always writing about. Can you comment on that?
IFC: That’s a really interesting observation. I think there are a couple of different levels to it. One of them is that, fundamentally, he always calls into question the idea that you can have a precise idea of reality. Reality can be two things—maybe it’s one thing, maybe it’s the exact opposite, and it’s impossible to figure out what it is. You might try and try to figure it out, and it might look like one thing, but then suddenly turns into the other thing, and then back again . . .