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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry


Durs Grünbein

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To purchase Schädelbasislektion

Title: Schädelbasislektion
Author: Durs Grünbein
Genre: Poetry
Written: 1991
Length: 154 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Schädelbasislektion - Deutschland
  • Schädelbasislektion was also published in the collection Von der üblen Seite (1994, currently out of print)
  • Schädelbasislektion has not been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

A- : powerful, impressive collection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ . 26/4/1992 Sieglinde Geisel
Süddeutsche Zeitung . 9/11/1991 Ernest Wichner
Die Weltwoche . 10/10/1991 Michael Braun
Die Zeit . 6/12/1991 Michale Kohtes

  • "In Schadelbasislektion (1991) Grunbein subscribes to a view (and a vocabulary) derived from the early work of Gottfried Benn, a biological determinism and clinical cynicism that reduces the human condition to animal instincts and anatomy." - Neil H. Donahue, World Literature Today (Spring/1995)

  • "It was, however, his second volume (1991) -- Schaedelbasislektion ("Lesson at the base of the skull") -- that confirmed his stature as a poet who, with exceptional formal versatility, was exploring from his own self-awareness outwards, so to speak, the confusion around him that was reducing others to silence." - Philip Brady, Times Literary Supplement (6/6/1997)

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:

       Schädelbasislektion is Durs Grünbein's second volume of poetry. It is larger, more ambitious, and more daring than his strong début, Grauzone morgens (see our review). It is a showcase of all of Grünbein's skills.
       The poems collected here were written from the late 1980s through 1991, as East Germany went through the dramatic shifts that would lead to reunification with West Germany. The young East German poet proved again to be the strongest voice of his generation of writers in reflecting the changes in his art, writing perceptively both about the recent past (often sharply critically) as well as (warily) about what might follow.
       It is a challenging collection but, divided up into short, varied sections, easily engages the reader. The formal experimentation that dominates in Grauzone morgens -- lines side-stepping across the page and the like -- can also be found, but to a far lesser extent. Instead Grünbein largely opts for more compact presentation, not as willing to let the words get away from him. The difference is more visual than actual, as he still packs the same dense punch into his verse.
       Grünbein even embraces more traditional forms: there are rhyming verses, for example, and sonnets. And he handles them as well as he does his freer verse.
       The collection begins with an epigraph by Charles Peirce: "Man is a thought-sign." And the title -- translating as something like (but not quite) "Brainstem Lecture" -- again emphasizes the cerebral. It is a central issue throughout the collection.
       The sections are basically poetry cycles, generally thematically or formally related. Tag X (Day X), for example, focusses on reunification, a writing off of the old and wary look to the new state of being. Included here is a translation of Shelley's Ozymandias (along with the original), barely changed (and very well rendered into German). Grünbein does change the title, making it the Transsibirischer Ozymandias (Trans-siberian Ozymandias), and the "traveller" become a 'tourist', the "king of kings" the 'czar of czars' -- the minor changes add to the frisson, but it is appropriate enough to the moment even as is. There is also a cycle within the cycle here, with Sieben Telegramme (Seven Telegrams) marking the transition, dated 23/10/89 through 13/3/90. The guarded observations -- the last one begins like a checklist: "Wieder ein Glaube erledigt" ("Another belief done with") -- seem to strike just the right tone.
       The cycle of Niemands Land Stimmen tries to find a voice: in part to speak for and from the small nation, one of the no man's lands of the title. But it is more to him as well, as he elaborates in a footnote, the voice of a "mega corpse" of those used up by history, war, and industry.
       Other sections also very nicely play off certain ideas, such as Der Cartesische Hund (The Cartesian Dog) which includes a cycle of poems, Porträt des Künstlers als junger Grenzhund (Portrait of the Artist as a Young Border Guard Dog).
       Particularly impressive is also the Gedicht über Dresden (Poem about Dresden) -- ending ominously: "In Futur II wird alles still geworden sein" ("In future two everything will have become silent.")

       Schädelbasislektion has few lulls or weaknesses. Most of what Grünbein tries succeeds, making for a varied, powerful collection. Impressive.

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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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© 2002-2008 the complete review

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