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Alfred Döblin as Berliner and Cosmopolitan

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Lecture at USC Max Kade Institute, December 5, 2019

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Alfred Döblin as Berliner and Cosmopolitan

  1. 1. EXILE AND RESISTANCE Migrants and Refugees in Literature, History, and Public Affairs Max Kade Institute for Austrian-German- Swiss Studies Department of French and Italian Döblin/Doblin: French citizen since 1936, public servant 1939/40, officer 1945–1948 Feuchtwanger Memorial Library Exile and Resistance opening event with Adrian and Edgar Feuchtwanger
  2. 2. “WITH THE EYES OF A GLOBAL CITIZEN” “Certainly, today's great novelists prefer to choose Heimat as the matter of their work, but they see it not only with the eyes of a local patriot, but with the eyes of a global citizen!” Examples: Buddenbrooks, Berlin Alexanderplatz Lion Feuchtwanger: Der Roman von heute ist international, 1932 Villa Aurora
  3. 3. DÖBLIN TO FEUCHTWANGER, APRIL 28, 1933 “On May 10 there will be the auto-da-fé, I believe the Jew with my name will also be present, fortunately only in paper form. They honor me by this. ... how will it be later on, in 1 year, 2 years, when will the publishing houses also be ‘coordinated’? Abroad, I can't be a doctor anymore, and why write, for whom? I cannot think about this fatal chapter.”
  4. 4. ALFRED DÖBLIN – PRIOR WARNINGS • “the evil man” (Samuel Fischer), “the wonderful fighter” (Walter von Molo): Berlin- province debate, resistance, literature as “ars militans” or fighting art • “my illegitimate father” (Bertolt Brecht), My Teacher Alfred Döblin (Günter Grass): artist’s artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Portrait Dr Alfred Döblin, 1912 • Expressionism, Futurism, New Objectivity: “Döblinism” (Open Letter to Marinetti, 1913) • The Three Leaps of Wang Lun, 1916 • Berlin Alexanderplatz, 1929 • The Living Thoughts of Confucius, 1940 • Destiny’s Journey, 1949
  5. 5. Döblin in French military coatDöblin in German military coat
  6. 6. ALFRED DÖBLIN IN THE NEW YORK REVIEW BOOKS CLASSICS 20182016
  7. 7. ADAPTIONS OF BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ Fassbinder, 1980Heinrich George, 1931
  8. 8. BRECHT TO DÖBLIN, 1938 “I can hardly imagine how someone who wants to tackle the description of movements of large crowds could do without studying your description technique groundbreaking in this field. Also for the description of the position of the individual in mass processes and its development you came up with completely new aspects to the epic work of art.”
  9. 9. GRASS ON DÖBLIN, 1967 “New in this novel [Wang-lun] and staggeringly revolutionary are the depictions of the mass scenes: people get in flux, they storm mountains, they become a movable mountain, the elements storm with them.”
  10. 10. MASSES • narrative mastery of the masses / crowds • representation, understanding and communication of the masses / crowds • “the propper and natural epic figure,” e.g. Troy, Babylon, Berlin, China, Warsaw, Paris • masses connected to life: “The earth under the feet of the raging mass begins to live,” Die Bilder der Futuristen, 1912 • “If I could paint, I would paint ‘Berlin’ as a picture in the manner of the futurist Severini” (i.e. Gino Severini, Rome, Paris)
  11. 11. Gino Severini: La danse du Pan-Pan au “Monico,” 1911, 1959
  12. 12. • night café in Montmartre • fragmented surfaces to show several simultaneous views of a dancer • different states of movement • plurality and unity • accumulation and discharge of energy in (pre-modern and modern) big city life • moderated by media: “Pan Pan” love song – euphoria, Pan – mythology • the city as repetition of similar elements • Döblin’s arrival in Berlin in 1888: the city train as a carousel, repetition of stations, lights, power lines, streets
  13. 13. „BERLINER AMONG BERLINERS“ • Doctor Döblin, 1917: “Lived only in two cities, Stettin and Berlin, actually only in Berlin [...]. He hardly made a trip to Basel on his return as a young doctor from Freiburg, hardly saw Brussels during the World Fair; also a few days Munich happened. He was a Berliner with a pale idea of other places.” • “That breathed, pulsed, lived, loved and suffered. That was life. That was my life.” • battle about regional identity, Heimat • anti-urban concepts of Heimat, Berlin Alexanderplatz as a main object of anti-urban sentiments around 1930 (Wilhelm Stapel: The Spiritual Man and his People) • resistance through an urban concept of Heimat • “I often called that whole thing ‘Heimat’ and was annoyed about the moles which undermined the soil of the country, which wanted to build Heimat only around a village barn with duck pond and a meadow with a grazing cattle herd. According to them, Heimat had to comprise a mosquito swarm and a pipe smoking farmer.”
  14. 14. BERLIN – CITY OF WORK • commitment to Berlin as city of work: “productive mass settlement,” “a tremendous will to work” • “where everything happens with a tremendous, self-sacrificing tenseness for its own sake” • characterized not by cosmopolitanism, but by work and objectivity: “sobriety and thirty times sobriety,” “almost no longing for pleasure”
  15. 15. PROLETARIAN IDENTITY • “I took it to my heart that we, that I belonged to the poor. This has determined my whole nature. I belong to this people, to this nation: the poor.” • anti-chic sense of community reaching as far as America and China • Impressions of New York, 1939: “As soon as we set foot on American soil, we are poor people, proletarians.” • “We proletarians have barely even gotten to the golden shining synagogue at Oranienburgerstrasse.” • Holidays in France, 1926: “To concern yourself with France looks like cosmopolitism.” • “St. Moritz, the Riviera is someting for the well-off gentlemen.“ – allusions to Thomas Mann and Lion Feuchtwanger
  16. 16. DÖBLIN’S TRAVELS • Warsaw 1924: “lively spirit of the liberated people” (Second Polish Republic) • Paris 1933–1940, 1953–1957: “Paris was swarming with people, they walked and ran and shouted and bought, they had a lot of plans, rest was not their element.” – Babylonian Wandering, 1934 • London 1934 • New York 1939, 1940 • Chicago 1940, 1945 • (Seoul, Yokohama 1941) • Los Angeles 1940–1945 • San Francisco 1945: re-education journal The Golden Gate (Das Goldenen Tor), 1946–1951
  17. 17. 1842 North Cherokee Avenue, 1940
  18. 18. DÖBLIN ON NEW YORK “a very friendly, soothing, yes: homely picture” – Impressions of New York, 1939 “These busy men and women with countless professions, I know their worries and problems.” – Destiny’s Journey, 1949 “In London I rejoice over the immense expanse of the city, over the myriad of shops, the changing types of people. In New York the characteristic rhythm of the traffic, the inhaling and exhaling of the city: At noon, the skyscrapers empty their offices, and all mankind, male and female, surges into the cafeterias and bars and they lunch succinctly, as they did in the morning at breakfast They are standing in pairs, three, four, one behind the other at the set tables, waiting for their turn.” – Big Cities and Big City Citizens, 1953
  19. 19. DÖBLIN ON LOS ANGELES “an area and not a city,” “consisting essentially of gaps,” “basically no crowds,” “One is a lot and extended in the greenery, but am I a cow?” – letters 1941/43 “Below, a large city laid widely spread. Its houses climbed up to the hills. Flowering colorful gardens surrounded magnificent villas, garages and blue swimming pools. Through the manicured avenues cars drove inaudibly in one stream. There were wide shopping streets through which buses and street cars rushed; chairs and benches full of people in green parks. Women crossed the boulevard and looked at shiny shop windows with costumes, shoes, hats, jewelry. It was hot. They spooned ice cream in the drugstores and threw a penny in the jukebox; the quiet, buzzing jazz music.” – August 1945
  20. 20. VERSIONS OF COSMOPOLITISM • cosmopolitism of world government and international law (Suárez, Kant) • bourgeois-elitarian cosmopolitism (Thomas Mann) • proletarian cosmopolitism (Döblin) “The human race, though divided into people and state, has a unity not only as a species, but also as a moral and quasi-political figure, in that the commandment of God and of nature, compassion and charity, embraces all human beings irrelevant of border posts and flags.” – Francisco Suárez: De Legibus, 1612
  21. 21. CRITIQUE OF OUR TIME • radio series Kritik der Zeit, 1946–1952 at Südwestfunk Baden-Baden • comments on the UN procedures and on the World Citizen Movement (Garry Davis, “world citizen no. 1”): “They are representatives of mankind, expression of the general human mind, alive in every people.”
  22. 22. Thank you for your attention!

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