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the Complete Review
the complete review - essays

Galilei vermißt Dantes Hölle

Durs Grünbein

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To purchase Galilei vermißt Dantes Hölle

Title: Galilei vermißt Dantes Hölle
Author: Durs Grünbein
Genre: Essays
Written: (1996)
Length: 268 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Galilei vermißt Dantes Hölle - Deutschland
Galilée arpente l'enfer de Dante - France
  • Aufsätze 1989-1995
  • Full title: Galilei vermißt Dantes Hölle und bleibt an den Maßen hängen
  • (Full title of French translation: Galilée arpente l'enfer de Dante et n'en retient que les dimensions)
  • Galilei vermißt Dantes Hölle has not been translated into English yet

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting pieces, solid collection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 2/4/1996 Henning Ritter
Freitag . 29/3/1996 F.Meyer-Gosau
NZZ . 23/4/1996 Angelika Overath
Süddeutsche Zeitung . 4/4/1996 Michael Basse
Tages-Anzeiger . 19/9/1996 Martin Luchsinger
TLS . 6/6/1997 Philip Brady
World Lit. Today . Winter/1997 F.M. Sharp
Die Zeit . 10/5/1996 Richard Baumgart

  From the Reviews:
  • "Dem Autor ist die Versuchung anzumerken, sich in dieser Welt, um welche sich heute so gut wie niemand mehr kümmert, zu verlieren und ihr sprachlich alles nur Erdenkliche abzugewinnen. Der Leser bemerkt allerdings auch, daß die Verwertung fürs Lyrische nicht die ganze Wahrheit sein kann." - Henning Ritter, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Der Band versammelt sehr unterschiedliche Texte (.....) Auffällig sind zunächst nicht Neuerungen, sondern Altbekanntes. (...) Trotzdem wirken die Essays nie langweilig, es sind durchaus eigenständige Anverwandlungen, aus denen man, dank der beeindruckenden Belesenheit Grünbeins, durchaus etwas lernen kann." - Martin Luchsinger, Tages-Anzeiger

  • "The poet, so self-consciously present inside and outside turbulent times, dominates Galilei vermisst Dantes Hoelle ("Galileo measures Dante's Inferno") (...) Gruenbein's view of science, and indeed of poetry, may seem too confrontational, too black and white, but his intention is clear: to assert the unique value of poetry itself and, across an extraordinary variety of unexpected contexts, of the poetic way of observing." - Philip Brady, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Although his essays are individually evocative and persuasive, Grunbein needs, in general, to distinguish at greater length his own contemporary faith in natural science from Galileo's scientism." - Francis Michael Sharp, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Galilei vermißt Dantes Hölle und bleibt an den Maßen hängen collects a variety of non-fiction pieces by Durs Grünbein, including essays, prize-acceptance speeches (for the Bremer Literatur-Förderpreis (1992), the Peter Huchel Prize (1995), and the Georg Büchner Prize (1995)), and other incidental pieces.
       The title translates as something like: "Galileo (mis-)measures Dante's inferno and gets stuck on the measurements". "Vermißt" can mean "measures", "mis-measures" (i.e. measures incorrectly), or even "misses". The title piece focusses on that event -- young Galileo's lecture in which he determined the size, shape, and design of Dante's inferno. It was an odd exercise in trying to make the imagined real, fixing it with scientific precision, like an architectural blueprint. For Grünbein it was also the historical moment when the two cultures -- science and art -- definitively split. It was not just a question of outlook, of how things were seen and interpreted, but specifically how they were expressed: here were two fundamentally different approaches to language and the way it was used. Each has limitations, but the poet Grünbein is clearly a defender of the poetic approach.
       Science -- and specifically biology -- are of particular interest to Grünbein, and again and again he approaches even these from almost a state of ignorance. He is wary of the scientific outlook blinding him to what he values -- though he does also explore it, occasionally in considerable depth (so, for example, in the fascinating Neun Variationen zur Fontanelle, in which he considers the odd cerebral fontanelles).
       Anatomy fascinates him: Im Museum der Mißbildungen, for example, he writes of a lost collection of deformities. Zoology -- and zoos and similar collections -- also are of great interest. He considers the Zeit der Tiefseefische ("time of the deep-sea fish"). He describes childhood visits to the museum of natural history in Gotha with his grandfather, and his fascination with the dioramas on display there: fabulous illusions that captivated him completely. In Bevor der Mensch mit sich allein ist he commemorates 150 years of the Zoological Gardens in Berlin. In Manhattan Monolog he describes a stay in New York -- and finds that the place he felt most comfortable in was the Museum of Natural History:

Hier kam alles zusammen, was diese Stadt mir bedeutete, ihre ganze ethnographische und zoologische Emblematik, die Völkerschaften und ihre Lebensräume, die Tierfamilien auratisch im Diorama, Spuren der ersten Siedler ebenso wie das Skelett des Brontosauriers. (...) Neben den prähistorischen Schätzen der Wallstreet glänzte das jüngste Treibgut vom Hudson-River.

(Here everything this city meant to me came together: all its ethnographic and zoological emblems, the tribes and their milieus, the animal families in their dioramas, traces of the first settlers as well as the skeleton of a brontosaurus. (...) Next to the pre-historic treasures of Wall Street shone the most recent flotsam from the Hudson River.)
       These pieces also span the time of transition in Germany -- to a re-unified state --, and East German Grünbein observes the changes closely. They colour many of the pieces.
       Poetry is also significant -- Grünbein is a poet, through and through. It is how he defines himself, essays and other efforts notwithstanding. There's some insight here, into his work (and his philosophies), and some well-expressed considerations of the craft. Much isn't a surprise, as for example the admission: "Keine Frage, ich liebe Tautologien" ("No question, I love tautologies") -- but Grünbein still spins his material neatly beyond the expected.
       There are a few profiles as well -- Büchner, Felix Hartlaub. Of greatest interest is the longest piece in the collection, an extended introduction to the life and work of Eugen Gottlob Winkler, a promising poet who was a suicide in his early twenties (in 1936).
       There's more, too, including a reading of Canetti's Masse und Macht, a commentary on an Ilya Kabakow-installation, and letters to Marcel Beyer. All of it is solid, some of considerable interest. Grünbein writes well -- always conscious of the use of language, careful and yet artful in his expression. While Galilei vermißt Dantes Hölle lacks some cohesion as a collection, the pieces are almost always interesting and worthwhile.

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Galilei vermißt Dantes Hölle:
  • Suhrkamp publicity page (German)
  • L'Arche publicity page (French)
  • Article in Wiener Zeitung (German)
  • Galileo in Hell: Looking for a dialogue between science and art by M.A.Orthofer, at the crQuarterly
Reviews: Durs Grünbein: Other books by Durs Grünbein under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Durs Grünbein was born in Dresden in 1962. He has won many literary prizes, including the 1995 Georg Büchner Prize.

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