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from Hess
Per Olov Enquist

Translated by Neil Smith.
This article appeared in the 2004 Supplement.

In the following opening six pages of Hess, the character of Pinsch is introduced, followed by the narrator who introduces himself as the Researcher. He pointedly brings his role and identity in the novel to the attention of the reader, yet claims he wants to remain anonymous. He then briefly digresses to Daniel Defoe before returning to himself and his presentation of the character Hess.
After he was captured Pintsch spent three years in German prisons, after which he was released and sent on active service to the Eastern Front. Three weeks later he was captured by the Russians and taken immediately to Moscow, where he was questioned about his part in the affair, and about his relationship to Hess. He told a story which his interrogators regarded as being far too transparent; when he persisted with it they used torture, bending his fingers backwards until they broke, then crushing the knuckles with small hammers, totally depriving him of sleep and starving him for more than a fortnight. During this period Pintsch made a number of additions to his story, and told a series of variations which did nothing to stop the torture. After a time his interrogators grew tired and eventually sent him to the prison in Borchgau, where he remained until his release in 1955. His relationship to Hess was never satisfactorily clarified; his claim to have been Hess’s A.D.C. has to be believed, however, because Hess really did have an A.D.C. of that name in his service, because this person had disappeared after Hess’s flight, and because it is probable, bearing in mind certain of the details of Pintsch’s story, that he really had known Hess for a time, although it is unclear how long.

Unfortunately Pintsch died a short time after arriving in West Germany. The circumstances surrounding his death are peculiar and still unclear; he was found dead in a Berlin hotel room, shot by an Arab who had earlier given his name as Aldubi; more of this later. The murder weapon was a Swedish army pistol, and the two men had, by the time their bodies were discovered, been dead for more than two weeks. On the floor of the room were the murder weapon, a German Luftwaffe medal from the First World War, an identity card which was later used to identify Pintsch, but nothing else of any note. The police investigation was concluded after a week or so, and the case was written off as a combined murder and suicide. Pintsch was buried at an army cemetery in Munich. No-one knows where the Arab is.


At this point I would like to make clear my profound disagreement with the notion that a researcher should not be visible in his work, that he ought to assume a subordinate role and not place himself in the foreground, either through descriptions of himself, or in comments or judgements related to his own situation (as researcher) – in short, not promote himself as being of equal value as his subjects. These foolish and base attitudes cannot be refuted strongly enough. Obviously I am reluctant to use such sharp and provocative words in this context, because I do not like to attack anyone or anything directly, and prefer to express myself calmly and in a matter-of-fact way: I might say, with scientific scrupulousness. But in a matter of such fundamental importance, whose significance for our art (no, I do not hesitate here to call my and our literary science an art!) – in matters of such central importance to our judgement and valuation of the researcher's ends and means, then there are no words or arguments that are too strong. I should also like to repudiate here the views of those who think that, within both my research and my private life, I use formulations that are too polished, too “soft”. When the situation calls for it, for instance in criticism of fruitless scientific methods, I do not hesitate to use such harsh words as “foolish” and “base”.

I am hereby directly suggesting that the prejudiced reduction of the researcher to an anonymous figure, concealed behind the cloak of objectivity and scientific stringency (perhaps I ought to apologise for this far too pretentious metaphor) – that this attitude not only reveals a certain foolishness, but also baseness. I should explain what I mean by this. To me, the important and self-evident principle is, and must be, that the researcher, interpreter, clarifier of texts, in this case, then, myself – that this compiler is an extremely important factor, and that his position must be determined with great care: you cannot be too explicit and detailed on this point. Obviously, this serves only one purpose in the long term: to do the greatest possible justice to the documents dealt with, by determining their position in relation to as many fixed points in their environment as possible. Here I am using topographical terminology which will perhaps not be fully understood by everyone, but I feel obliged to do so for reasons which cannot be discussed here.

Perhaps I have expressed myself unclearly in the above, and if this is the case then I ask forgiveness. I dare to suggest that I personally am a shy man, unwilling to appear in the glare of publicity. When I now assume a position in the vanguard for this method that I have launched, it is with the utmost reluctance, and after much reflection. There is a great risk that during the course of this work I shall be damaged, and that my own personal integrity will be tarnished. However, I regard the possible benefits as being too great to be ignored. The researcher's background, childhood, social circumstances, glimpses of his daily life, discussion of his values - all of this must be included in the picture, in order that it might eventually become polished and clear: I am tempted to say, like a pearl.


In one of his autobiographical sketches, Hess describes the crest of his school, which hung over the main entrance. It was painted by the eighteenth-century French artist Jean Bulesco, a close friend of James Abbot McNeill Whistler, and Whistler’s host during his stay in France; there is no need for me to say more about this. The colours are white, gold and green. In the centre of the emblem is a man. He is emerging from a forest. He has a cudgel in one hand, his hair is matted, but his face is calm and authoritative. His face could be said to be enlightened by a cool confidence. But there is also an element of mannered refinement, of exaltation, perhaps the result of education, which stands in sharp contrast to the impression the figure otherwise makes on the viewer. Around his hips the man wears a garment, an animal skin, and in his hand he is carrying a recently killed animal, probably a deer. When pupils at the school had got as far as the concept of Romanticism, several of them usually took the crest, the man in the crest, as an example of what was meant by the term “the noble savage”. The savage in the crest has, however, one striking characteristic: he is blond.

I should like to outline, by way of clarification, the following principle: this study of H.’s life, childhood, adulthood and literary production during his time in prison, this study is intended above all to give a clear picture of the three large manuscripts of novels which he left behind. Everything else is parenthetical; and I would point out once again that I have in an earlier paragraph stated that I have a desire for anonymity, a certain diffidence. This is quite at odds with the number of times the word “I” will be used in this study. However, only someone who was unused to the structure of thought would be likely to be upset by this evident contradiction: the principal lines have already been clarified. I therefore intend to clarify my situation, both internal and external, immediately, in order subsequently to get to grips with the texts in question.

During the first period in this laboratory, when I had the misfortune to break my foot in a fall from my veranda (I still remember the searing pain and Dr Dick’s concerned face as he leaned over me as I lay on the paved yard, and his nervous hands as he gave me an injection of morphine) - during this period, this temporary isolation in my room, I intuitively experienced for the first time some of Hess’s own feelings during his period of imprisonment; yes, the contrast between my earlier life, when I had lived so free and unrestrained in my proud and independent country, and the isolation which was now forced upon me, made me react against the bastion of passivity to which I had been banished.

This was exacerbated by the slow healing process; many times it seemed that my broken bone had not been the true reason for this passivity, that the accident had merely been an excuse to imprison me for other unknown reasons; from the window of my room I could imagine conspiracies, whispered conversations down below in the community, I believed I could perceive movements as if this neatly delineated community were a map with engraved positions where people moved like contingents of troops, directed by red or black arrows – yes, I thought I could perceive how my isolation increased the number of such movements, how the power-relationships changed ever more quickly and less systematically thanks to my absence. In my system of code, this was characterised as “the explosion”.

My leg did heal, however, and I started work again. My separation now proved itself to be useful, and gave me peace in which to work.

I can now move freely in society, supported by a crutch. I often have a servant or a friend as company on these occasions, I often visit shops, walk through a park where I can see children playing, visiting those quiet and calming places of which there are so many in our beautiful country. Occasionally I stop for a few moments down by the river where there are usually men fishing with long wooden rods, I often have conversations with people in shops – yes, without exaggeration I can say that I move through this peculiar environment without fear. I talk to the inhabitants without for a second pretending to be aware of their embarrassing position or even implying with a single word any sort of criticism. I often add a little joke, in order to break a sudden and embarrassing silence.

Here I must insert an historical comment in order to explain certain important contexts.

In 1703, Daniel Defoe was released after a five-month stay in prison which tested him severely; he was by this time over forty years old, and suffered from the peculiar ailment, claustrophobia, which led him to undertake during his imprisonment a series of desperate attempts to get out beyond the prison walls. When he was released, it was on the condition that he would spy on his own party on behalf of the Tory Party, having already long been used by his own party to spy on the Tory Party.

In his new-found liberty he discovered to his dismay that liberty also has its limits. He was sorely tested by double disloyalties, and soon discovered that he lacked contacts on both sides. He felt that he was balancing between two abysses, sought support from both sides, and dared not go any further. He sat down, on his little platform high up beneath the dome, and waited. Imprisoned by his absolute liberty, he spent the whole of this long wait deliberating what his greatest problem might be: he found his enforced passivity pleasant, that he could avoid moving, and he leaned forward and observed with interest the strange movements of the two parties; he could not control them, he could not influence them, he observed everything. In the year 1729 he undertook, to his own surprise, a desperate measure: he ran away, disappeared, went into hiding. In a grubby hotel room on the western outskirts of London he attempted to analyse his situation and explain to himself the reasons for his desperate flight, but failed and died. He took his secret with him to the grave, but not his problem. His problem was not primarily moral, but economic. During the last months of his life, he was visited by Hess, and they had a long conversation. Not long afterwards Hess returned to Sweden.

I would point out that this was before Hess’s meeting with von Richthofen; more of this later. He never spoke about his conversation with Defoe, but Defoe lived on within him. Compare H.’s essay in manuscript 2, page 46. Elaborate.

The fact that the roads around the laboratory are often blocked by drifting snow in winter causes great difficulties. When that happens I myself often go down to the main gate, still limping slightly, but otherwise hale and hearty, and clear a narrow track through the growing mass of snow, creating a path. Down by the gate I turn and come back. Like a shuttle on a loom I clear a path for myself. In the morning I can see the results of my work: a gently curving umbilical cord to the world.

My passivity is only on the surface, however. The nature which surrounds my home is thus to a large extent my own creation, and I would like to spend a few short seconds on this. This nature is obviously not the work of nature itself, but the fruits of a long and persevering work of simulation. The birches were dug up, at great effort on my part, from a nearby wooded hillside covered in deciduous trees, transplanted on my land, and assiduously watered and fed. They are now scattered across the slope in a natural way. A little stream that runs playfully across the same piece of ground can be traced back to a cement dam, carefully concealed beneath grass and smeared with black mud that was collected from a nearby lake by me and my assistants (I had a tin-lined barrow to help with this). The supply of water – gathered from a nearby water-main - is so strong, however, that it is impossible to have the stream running all the time. I now restrict its activity to Sunday afternoons between April and September. I have also brought in a mass of stones over the course of time, and scattered them with what I regard as great precision: across the slope, so that it gives a natural, stony impression. So I am not inactive, I conduct the works, my activity is not restricted to that of the researcher. In the same way I could (if this were not altogether too peripheral to the main purpose of my investigation, and must therefore be excluded for reasons of space) – in the same way, I could list a series of details on this plot of land which, combined, give it its air of pure, powerful and untamed nature. I believe that such a perfect artificial state is impossible to achieve without great humility, and, at the same time, great devotion to the task. However, I do remove the leaves in autumn.