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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Sibylle Lewitscharoff

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To purchase Blumenberg

Title: Blumenberg
Author: Sibylle Lewitscharoff
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 217 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Blumenberg - US
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  • Germn title: Blumenberg
  • Translated by Wieland Hoban

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Our Assessment:

B+ : unusual but quite fascinating

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 8/10/2011 Patrick Bahners
NZZ . 13/9/2011 Uwe Justus Wenzel
Die Zeit . 8/9/2011 Ijoma Mangold

  From the Reviews:
  • "Sibylle Lewitscharoffs Blumenberg ist ein königliches Lesevergnügen, weil es im Kontext der Romanwirklichkeit absolut glaubwürdig ist, dass in der Studierstube eines an die Einsamkeit gewöhnten Philosophen eines Nachts ein Löwe erscheint. (...) Der Roman Blumenberg ist erstaunlich kurz. Die emblematische Absicht stiftet perspektivische Einheit im Reichtum der biographischen und sozialhistorischen Details." - Patrick Bahners, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Ist Blumenberg nun getröstet, ist er – erlöst? Auch der Leser weiss es nicht; er weiss nur, dass er selbst es war – solange er diese märchenhafte Heiligenvita las." - Uwe Justus Wenzel, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Blumenberg ist ein stolzes Buch, weil es ablehnt, sich in die Karten schauen zu lassen. Es hält sich bedeckt, was seine Mission, Absicht oder Botschaft sein könnte. (...) Am Ende handelt dieser Roman mehr als von Blumenberg von Sibylle Lewitscharoffs Versuch, die Literatur als ein Medium metaphysischer Fragen auszutesten. Sie benutzt die Figur Blumenbergs, um zu erkunden, wie wir unter den Bedingungen des Rationalismus mit jenen Bedrängnissen umgehen, die der bloßen Empirie nicht zugänglich sind." - Ijoma Mangold, Die Zeit

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:

       The Blumenberg of the title is indeed German philosopher Hans Blumenberg (1920-1996) -- biographically and otherwise clearly recognizable as such. Still, Blumenberg is nowhere near traditional fictionalized biography, as is clear from its opening scene, in 1982, the Münster professor looking up from his work in his study to find a lion there. It is a creature that remains a presence for most of the rest of his life -- "One even gets used to something as extraordinary as a lion, he thought contently" soon enough --, unseen by (almost all) others, but entirely real to him. At his death there's a: "trace of lion's smell in the room", and some: "short, dull, yellowish hairs that could hardly have come from a human head" (but no one really notices either).
       How real is the lion ? Real enough. Blumenberg accepts -- and welcomes -- his presence, and rationalizes:

     The lion has come to me because I am the last philosopher who can appreciate it.
       As to its nature:
     The lion did not function as Wittgenstein had believed. 'If a lion could speak, we would not understand it.' Blumenberg certainly understood it. The lion acted as a confidence generator that lightly smoothed down the hairs of protest that kept standing up in Blumenberg's thought.
       It's a good influence on him, too. So, for example, Blumenberg finds he's now less envious -- no longer jealous of, say, colleague Habermas' popularity. And:
The lion helped establish clarity and trust, in the small personal things as well as the larger ones.
       But this isn't entirely a philosopher-and-his-new-animal-best-friend novel. The lion is a presence, but an almost spectral one -- and even more so in the significant chunks of the book in which attention turns to others, especially several of Blumenberg's students.
       This isn't a continuous, flowing narrative. The chapters are discrete pieces, some continuing the story from one to the next, others going entirely elsewhere. While the novel as a whole progresses more or less chronologically, even the Blumenberg-chapters include retrospective pieces, such as one that recounts an extended 1956 trip to Egypt. Others focus on the (more or less tragic) fates of several of his students -- while there are even some in which the narrator steps forward, questioning the entire narrative undertaking: 'A Brief Interlude about Where the Narrator's Responsibility Ends' is the title of one of them.
       One of Blumenberg's students -- though he is almost entirely unaware of her -- is Elisabeth, called Isa, whose out-of-nowhere suicide and its aftermath make up a significant part of the story. Another is Richard, who abandons his studies to go traveling in South America and meets a grisly fate. Another mutual friend of Isa and Richard's, Gerhard, also figures significantly -- and survives longer, though Lewitscharoff doesn't let him off the hook either, offering a quick preview of his death in 1997, age thirty-nine (adding that he left behind: "a wife, an eight-year-old daughter, boy of one and a half, and an extremely cheerful, not yet fully-housetrained terrier he had given his children for Christmas").
       Yes, Blumenberg is full of disparate elements and threads. Blumenberg, his philosophy, and his own life-experiences, including during the Second World War, inform the text, yet Lewitscharoff uses them very freely -- creatively, even; to repeat, this is nothing like standard fictional-biography fare, and the biographical aspect, the use of Blumenberg-as-protagonist, shouldn't overshadow Lewitscharoff's much larger intentions. Even as much is presented soberly-realistically, there's also a mystical feel to the novel -- even beyond the lion-figure.
       It is all decidedly odd, too -- with Isa, for example, "hopelessly bound to a novel", as:
     Everything that happened in Her Lover (Belle du Seigneur) by Albert Cohen was about her, with Blumenberg in tow.
       Lewitscharoff dangles such intriguing pieces all over, without expanding on them in the ways one might usually expect. Readers are left to make their own inferences and draw their own conclusions, to connect the pieces (or accept that they don't connect ...).
       Even on the surface, the novel is a puzzle: the meaning of, say, one chapter-title -- 'No. 255431800' -- only clarified (in an incidental mention) three chapters later (it is the number on Isa's ID card, found with her mangled body after her suicide).
       All this (and more ...) makes Blumenberg dreamy and bewitching on the one hand -- and annoying on the other. It offers 'story' -- and, indeed, some good, conventional stories and episodes along the way -- but repeatedly twists itself into very different kinds of narratives. It requires readers to be open to its unusual approaches -- which can be asking a lot, here -- offering uncertain (in all the meanings of the word) rewards.
       Accessible on some levels, this isn't any easy book; it can be frustrating (especially to the reader wanting or expecting something different from it). Lewitscharoff definitely goes her own ways; for those willing to follow, it's a heady, interesting experience.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 June 2017

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Blumenberg: Reviews: Other books by Sibylle Lewitscharoff under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German author Sibylle Lewitscharoff was born in 1954.

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© 2017-2021 the complete review

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