Wolfgang Hildesheimer - Plagued by incessant rumination, the narrator’s restless mind spins thread after thread of thought, fantasy, and memory into an elaborate tapestry spanning centuries and covering thousands of miles―all without the narrator ever leaving his house

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Wolfgang Hildesheimer, Tynset, Trans. by Jeffrey Castle, Dalkey Archive Press, 2016.


Tynset takes place during a sleepless night, but as the work unfolds it becomes apparent that the circumstances of the immediate present serve merely as points of departure. Plagued by incessant rumination, the narrator’s restless mind spins thread after thread of thought, fantasy, and memory into an elaborate tapestry spanning centuries and covering thousands of miles―all without the narrator ever leaving his house. Hildesheimer famously refused to describe Tynset as a novel; instead, he chose to think of the work as an extended monologue whose structure derives from the musical rondo form, with the recurrence of the titular Norwegian town functioning as a refrain.
An insomniac’s thoughts ravel out across the night.
A man can’t sleep. Over the course of a night, he thinks, obsessively, about whatever flits through his mind. His housekeeper, for instance, who “drinks a lot and prays a lot.” Also the books in his library and the contents of his night table. About this aspiring sleeper the reader knows next to nothing: not his name, age, occupation, or general whereabouts. This man, our narrator, is a longtime insomniac. He has grown accustomed to living this way. He has developed various coping mechanisms and strategies. Sometimes he reads the telephone book. For a period of time, he would make telephone calls to some of the names he found listed there. Lest this all sound too harmlessly whimsical, consider the following: “Do you feel guilty, Mr. Huncke?” he says during one sample call. “Mr. Huncke, please listen to me now: they know everything, everything. Do you understand? I would advise you to leave now, while you still have time!” Hildesheimer (Marbot, 1983, etc.), who served as an interpreter at the Nuremberg trials, published the book in the mid-1960s. Appearing now for the first time in English, the work alludes darkly, cryptically, almost never directly to the second world war. “I exist in a world of monstrosities,” he admits in a rare moment of clarity. For most of his “monologue” (which Hildesheimer famously insisted the book was, not a novel at all), he is almost maddeningly elliptical. This makes the moments of lucidity all the more momentous. Trying to sleep, he picks up and reads an old Norwegian railway timetable. There he comes across the name of a town, a name that appeals to him, and from which the book gets its title. What is it that appeals to him?—or, as he says, “What should I expect from Tynset?” In Tynset, “there have never been any battles. No Battle of Tynset….There is nothing to document or depict.” By following his thought process, we witness the memories he tries to avoid, to repress. Whether he’s successful is no simple matter.
An opaquely powerful work about obsession, delusion, repression, and guilt.  - Kirkus Reviews

The existing criticism of Wolfgang Hildesheimer’s Tynset and Masante has categorised the narrative form of the texts as either ‘musical’, ‘spatial’, or ‘stream-of-consciousness’. All three approaches, however, fail to take account of the inescapably temporal nature of narrative. This article begins by examining the thematics of temporality in Tynset and Masante. Implicit in both is a conception of time as cyclicality within linearity, the former being represented by the liturgical calendar, the latter by clock time and the imagery of entropy. The narrative techniques of the texts are then analysed to show how they encourage linear, end-directed reading whilst simultaneously impeding linear reading by means of extensive repetition. Finally, it is shown that the dynamics of narrative form provide a way of both acknowledging and combating the entropy inherent not only in the represented world, but also in the narrative enterprise itself. - J. J. Long  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1468-0483.00146/abstract


Though a member of the outlined category on the basis of the representational strategies employed in his works, especially in Tynset and Masante, he approaches the Holocaust from a position of greater remove. In consequence of his having been exposed to its atrocities in a less immediate way, and having embarked on his writing career at a later stage, his work marks the point where individual and personal trauma crosses over into collectively transmittable (non-)‘memory’. It bridges the divide between the survivor generation and the age of ‘postmemory’. Hildesheimer’s texts no longer depict a traumatic aftermath specific to the Holocaust but present imaginatively recreated ‘generic’ placeholder effects. As such, Tynset and Masante are reflections not of and on the past but on the narrative processes involved where the impossibility of telling a story meets the necessity of transmitting it anyway. - Kirstin Gwyer  http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198709930.001.0001/acprof-9780198709930-chapter-6
An Undecided Allegiance to Unhappiness
Hildesheimer's "Tynset" records a man's nocturnal ramblings, both in his mind and around his house, during one sleepless night. It has absurdist or surrealist moments -- a man frozen in his car, a narrator who used to dial people at random and tell them they should be afraid, a harmonium playing out of tune in a cavernous space, a Renaissance bed that slept seven people -- but those moments are rendered ineffective by the novel's framing: after all, a sleepless night, filled with miscellaneous memories, is going to be full of leaps and incongruities. If such a novel is going to work, then, it needs something other than playful absurdity or surprise to hold it together (or to demonstrate that it is fragmented, like its narrator's mind).
The title is the name of an actual town in Norway, a few hours south of Trondheim. The narrator has picked it a random from a train schedule, which he reads, along with phone books, as an engine for his imagination. It's a thin conceit by definition, and it never becomes poignant. The book has two or three long set pieces: a party, during which hymns are sung; an extended Boccaccian fantasy about seven people who one slept on the narrator's antique bed; and an inventory of the house.
The problem here is that set-pieces, especially in a narrative structure that will by its own definition be looking for coherence and thematic continuity, need to be magnetic: they need to work to pull the novel together (or to provide proof it is fragmented). These do neither.
"Tynset" is undecided between two promising poles: a purposeless, desperately lonely night spent with an anti-social insomniac; and an entertaining, stream-of-consciousness showpiece of the novelist's (and the insomniac's) thronged and bursting imagination. Or, to add a third: the novel could also have drawn us, hopelessly, toward the chimera of Tynset, the place that the narrator had never visited, which he continuously planned to visit, but would in fact never visit. It's too bad "Tynset" wasn't reworked in one of those directions, or in some other, because as it stands it's an indecisive mixture, afraid of deep despair, infatuated with colorful stories, inconstant in its allegiance to its narrator's empty life. - James Elkins   https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2210336336


The Structure of Wolfgang Hildesheimer's "Tynset"


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Wolfgang Hildesheimer (1916–1991) was a German writer, dramatist, and painter known for his contributions to the so-called Theater of the Absurd, as well as his inventive treatments of the biographical genre. He was born in Hamburg, but studied and worked in England and Palestine before returning to Germany to serve as an interpreter in the Nuremberg Trials. He later became associated with the Gruppe 47, and in 1957 settled in Poschiavo, Switzerland, where he spent the remaining years of his life.

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