Alfred Döblin Talks to Ernst Simmel
The writer Alfred Döblin came into contact with the BPI and its members at a point when psychoanalysis was well on its way to transcending its disciplinary and institutional confines. As becomes manifest in Karl Abraham's letters to Freud, there was a "great enthusiasm" in the group after the end of World War I, and Berlin was ready for psychoanalysis. At this juncture, Döblin took an active role in the BPI's project to implement psychoanalysis in other fields and thereby bring it to other audiences. As a result of his fruitful clinical and intellectual collaboration with the psychoanalyst Ernst Simmel and other members of the BPI, Alfred Döblin moved from a late-nineteenth-century psychiatric understanding of mental illness to a psychoanalytic conception of the soul. This development changed his medical practice and simultaneously drove his search for radical new forms of narration in his fiction. It also influenced the way in which he thought about the relationship between science and literature.
In his psychoanalytic case study Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, Döblin deploys a large scientific apparatus in the form of an appendix to the narration, which includes a summary of published reactions to the case, an analysis of the protagonists' handwriting, psychoanalytic interpretations of their dreams in prison, and a series of illustrations of their psychological development before and after the murder. But this gigantic scientific effort is paired with a deep-seated skepticism as to its efficacy in capturing any kind of truth about the case, and ultimately Döblin developed a model of fictional psychology that he deemed more successful at revealing the soul than the various scientific approaches that he at once construes and undermines.
Alfred Döblin and the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute
Born in 1878 in Stettin, Alfred Döblin studied medicine and psychiatry in Berlin and Freiburg and graduated with a dissertation on Korsakoff's psychosis, a memory disorder related to alcoholism. Despite his traditional psychiatric training, which had focused on the classification of diseases, diagnostics, and pharmacology and assumed a purely physiological basis for psychological processes, Döblin's dissertation also indicates a remarkable interest in exploring the psychological role language and personal history play in pathological conditions. It investigates how memory works, how stories seem to emerge out of nothing, and how language functions in this context. As early as 1905, Döblin was fascinated by the idea of a link between the present and the past via the psychological existence of the past outside of our present consciousness.
After graduating from the University of Freiburg, Döblin worked as a psychiatrist in a series of large hospitals in southern Germany and in Berlin. Disillusioned, he later dismissed this period of "confinement in hospitals" as pure "diagnostics." He opened his own general and psychiatric practice in 1911, first in the more affluent western part of Berlin, then, in 1913, in the eastern part of the city, in the working-class neighborhood of Lichtenberg. In 1914, he started treating patients with psychoanalytical methods while also promoting psychoanalysis publicly, pointing out the significance of psychotherapy in the treatment of hysteria.
Döblin spent the war years as a military doctor on the Western front, where-as he wrote-he fought the Battle of Verdun with his ears. The very primitive and brutal treatment of war neurotics during and after World War I led many doctors in the field to reevaluate their approaches to the treatment of trauma. As the historians Andreas Killen and Paul Lerner have depicted, the shift from somatic to psychogenic theories of neurosis within the psychiatric profession was accompanied by its embrace of the Kaufmann method to influence and break the patient's will. The Kaufmann method involved a combination of brutal electric shock treatment and verbal suggestion.
Many psychoanalysts who later became part of the BPI experienced World War I as military physicians, and they opposed the radical physical treatment of shell-shocked patients. Their successful experiments with the psychoanalytic method in the battlefield led to a period of support by medical officials from the Central Powers and gave the psychoanalytic movement a major boost of recognition. Moreover, the clinical study of war neurosis became the theoretical stepping-stone for the concept of the ego in psychoanalytic theory. However, as Lerner has argued, psychoanalysis was presented with the dilemma that these successful treatments and the following recognition of its method ultimately served the war effort. Ernst Simmel and Karl Abraham both gave vivid accounts of the psychiatric treatments that Döblin encountered during his military service. As a military physician, a psychiatrist, and an early reader of psychoanalytic literature, Döblin must have followed the clinical discussions surrounding the treatment of war trauma in the war years. Disoriented by an uprooting war experience and distraught over the death of his sister in postwar street riots, Döblin moved back to Berlin in 1919 and began what he called a "training analysis" with Simmel.
Together with Abraham and Hanns Sachs, Simmel was one of the leading figures of the BPI. Döblin's encounter with him marked the beginning of Döblin's own involvement with the institute, which would influence his medical work, his psychological conceptions, and his literary production. The fruitful connections between clinical theory and practice, political activism, and innovative fiction that resulted from his encounter with Simmel and the BPI would characterize Döblin's work in the 1920s-the decade still perceived as the definitive moment of his writing.
Many previous studies have described Döblin's writing during the 1920s as a continuation of an assumed antipsychological, prewar, expressionist stance, and thus have related his work to the detached style of New Subjectivity. While there have been studies on the inherent connections between Döblin's work as a physician and his literary work, these studies, with a few notable exceptions (such as a study by Thomas Anz), confine themselves mostly to the psychiatric schools in which Döblin was trained, and do not account for his further intellectual development in what he considered his "real profession." As his library and his book reviews show, Döblin was an avid reader in many fields, ranging from natural history to ethnography, and he was vehemently opposed to any kind of dogmatism. His reception of psychoanalysis was decidedly open-minded: he read Freud as well as Freud's foes, like Adler and Jung, and he did not refrain from making fun of what he perceived as the cultlike aspects of institutionalized Freudian psychoanalysis. He also challenged the psychoanalytic claim of original discovery and emphasized that the idea of the unconscious in psychoanalysis owed much to nineteenth-century literature and philosophy.
Yet, the BPI offered Döblin an emerging institutional framework where he could connect his two professions-those of writer and physician. Moreover, he became part of an exciting theoretical moment in Berlin psychoanalysis: the convergence of psychoanalytic theory and communist and socialist theory in the works of Simmel, Wilhelm Reich, Otto Fenichel, and Erich Fromm. Because Döblin was familiar with the correlation between social and psychological misery from his medical work in the working-class neighborhood of Lichtenberg, he must have been intrigued by his encounter with this group of doctors dedicated to addressing the psychological vulnerability of the working poor and imbued with the idealism of a theory that was gaining international recognition.
Since Döblin's connections with the BPI are not usually included in accounts of his life and work, I will relate a few examples of his support for the goals and interests of the BPI, whose members perceived him as a colleague and collaborator. The psychoanalyst Heinrich Meng listed Döblin as a member of the BPI polyclinic's staff and mentioned that the two of them conducted a joint psychoanalysis, which, as he noted, was quite unusual. Meng later emigrated to Switzerland to escape Nazi persecution, but he and Döblin stayed in touch until Döblin's death in 1957.
The BPI polyclinic was established in 1920 under the direction of Abraham, Eitingon, and Simmel. Maintained by salary donations from the BPI psychoanalysts, the polyclinic provided free treatment for low-income patients. The BPI regularly trained outside physicians in courses designed specifically to familiarize them with psychoanalytic treatment. Since Döblin was training with Simmel and, as early as 1921, claimed to be "doing psychoanalysis," it is likely that these first courses were part of his training at the BPI, which later led to his practice in the polyclinic.
In 1923, Döblin publicly praised the work of the polyclinic and described how most of the cases, ranging from neurasthenia to paralysis, were treated over the course of half a year in several sessions per week. In his public statements, however, he omitted mention that the source of his intimate knowledge of this work was his own experience. Döblin was also familiar with the work of the psychoanalytic clinic Schloß Tegel, another clinic that Simmel directed, where up to thirty patients-primarily neurotics and drug addicts-were treated in an idyllic setting, and where Freud himself stayed as a guest on his trips to Berlin.
Like Meng and Simmel, Döblin was also a member of the Association of Socialist Physicians (Verein Sozialistischer Ärzte, or VSÄ) and was elected to represent the association in the professional chamber of doctors. This forum for discussions on medicine, psychoanalysis, and socialism had been founded in 1913 by Simmel and the doctors Ignaz Zadek and Karl Kollwitz, the husband of the artist Käthe Kollwitz. Simmel also coedited the association's official organ, the Socialist Doctor, where Döblin published an article against Germany's restrictive abortion laws. Like Simmel and other BPI analysts, Döblin was also active in the General Medical Society for Psychotherapy, which demonstrates his interest in a wide variety of psychotherapeutic approaches.
Döblin's involvement in the polyclinic, the VSÄ, and the General Medical Society for Psychotherapy indicates that he was attracted to psychoanalysis as a clinical discipline that offered him new techniques he could then incorporate into his medical practice. In 1922, Döblin reported from the Berlin convention of the International Psychoanalytic Association for the daily newspaper Vossische Zeitung. In this article he praised a talk by Simmel for its insistence on the clinical within psychoanalytic theory, thereby emphasizing his interest in the intersection of medicine and psychoanalysis.
The patient books of Döblin's doctor's office at Frankfurter Allee 340 for the years 1923-1926 have survived and tell a fascinating story of the professional life for which Döblin is less known. His office hours were from 4 to 6 P.M. each afternoon. His patients-mostly unskilled laborers, factory workers, and railroad employees-came from the surrounding working-class neighborhood. Many had been sent by their employer's health insurance company for him to evaluate whether they were fit to return to work. Döblin often gave them extra time and described this particular form of "medicine of the working class" in terms of an unconventional solidarity with his proletarian patients. In other descriptions of his own work, Döblin argues that the role of a doctor was inherently connected to the role of a therapist: "I am a doctor and yet, not just a doctor. There is nothing or almost nothing wrong with these people." He goes on to describe a young man who came to his office for headache treatment, but the true source of his pain was a marriage crisis. Döblin suggested that the young man bring his wife to their next session.
As a physician licensed by the state health insurance system (his stationary listed him as a "specialist in internal and nervous diseases"), Döblin treated a wide range of psychological and physiological complaints: a long fall from a factory staircase, menopausal disturbances, stomach ulcers, and many cases of insomnia. The young Helene M. came to talk about her depression after her father killed himself, while Johanna H. came to Döblin pondering killing others. Onetime visitors were an "old psychotic" and another patient who had violently attacked the referring doctor, cases which give insight into the fact that Döblin was working in a neighborhood that we would describe today as a "social hotspot." [figure 2]
The frequent appearances of war trauma in Döblin's patient records, along with the routine questions concerning war trauma in the health insurance questionnaires of the time, reflect the extent to which even in the mid-1920s Berlin still suffered from the psychological consequences of World War I. Döblin's patient Alma S. had survived being buried alive and subsequently suffered from claustrophobia and insomnia. Karl W. had headaches as a result of a mine explosion during the war. Johann S. came first to complain of rheumatism, and then returned for long-term treatment for attacks of fear and war neurosis. These cases are just a few examples of the considerable number of male and female war neurotics whom Döblin treated during this time. He usually treated his neurotic patients in a series of meetings once or twice a week, some of them over the course of several years. Thus, at the polyclinic as well as in his doctor's office, he was directly involved with war neurosis, one of the main theoretical and clinical concerns of the BPI.
As far as Döblin's therapeutic practices can be discerned, they were heavily influenced by psychoanalysis. Döblin perceived within himself a great sensitivity and ability to analyze the unconscious. These qualities are also featured in a publicity photograph taken for the press: Döblin sits at his office desk, hunched forward with a concentrated expression, facing his wife, Erna Döblin, who poses as his patient. Instead of sitting on the opposite side of the desk, which would have indicated the usual hierarchy between doctor and patient, she is sitting beside him and on the same side of his desk, suggesting a more equal relationship. Although Döblin's desk is covered with books and a large array of intimidating medical instruments and medications, he is turned away from these icons of medical knowledge and faces his "patient" directly. Regardless of whether this staged arrangement was an accurate portrayal of his daily practice or not, the image conveys the manner in which Döblin wanted to be perceived as a doctor. It captures what stood at the foreground of his medical work: equal conversation with his patient. For Döblin, this constituted one of the attractions of psychoanalysis: "All soul work by doctor and patient requires showing your deck of cards. One speaks German, not Latin, and in every sense one has to speak plain German to each other. This is something democratic." [figure 3]
Döblin's notes on a conversation with a female patient in 1921 provide a window on his therapeutic work. At first, Döblin took notes on the physical well-being of this patient and diagnosed a deterioration of her condition, especially evident in her backaches. He then proceeded to describe her dreams, after which he moved on to observations about her childhood: her love for her older brother, and the beatings she received for her stubbornness. He finished with a comparison that his patient drew between him and another man: the excitement, the heart palpitations, that she felt "when she comes to the session" were exactly the same as in her meetings with "K." In these notes, Döblin departed from a diagnosis of physical symptoms, progressed to an interpretation of dreams and the reflection of childhood events, and concluded with a situation of transference-a succession that corresponds very much to a typical setting in psychoanalytically oriented therapy both in 1921 and today.
The comparison of Döblin's clinical vocabulary with the classifications established by the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute shows that by the mid-1920s Döblin was operating with the diagnostic tools of psychoanalysis, for example, "epileptic neurosis"-a diagnosis informed by the contemporary psychoanalytic understanding of epilepsy as more than a purely biological affliction. However, Döblin also departed from the mainstream analysis of his time and literally took poetic license with diagnoses such as "Grübelsucht" (something along the lines of a "brooding addiction")-for patients with a penchant for pondering things too much. As I will elaborate later in this chapter, this mixture of clinical, colloquial, and poetical language becomes an aesthetic principle in Döblin's literary descriptions of psychopathology in the 1920s. They often evoked the workings of the individual and the collective unconscious and, at the same time, undermined the idea of any authority of interpretation in matters of the mind.
Clearly, Döblin engaged deeply with psychoanalysis in his medical practice. However, he was also interested in psychoanalysis as a theory with ramifications not only for his medical profession but also for his general understanding of the relationship between the individual and society, as well as for his artistic goals and means of expression. The psychoanalyst Werner Kemper depicts Döblin as a member of the BPI's younger, more politicized circles, which frequently held heated discussions into the early morning hours at the Romanisches Café on theoretical issues of the day, such as the "conditioned reflex."
Döblin followed closely the events in the psychoanalytic world and the public discourse on psychoanalysis. On occasion, he even intervened, as he did in the discussion of lay analysis, a crucial issue that affected how the BPI established itself as an international training institute. Döblin at first opposed lay analysis and, in 1923, voiced his concern that lay analysts would be rendered helpless in the face of many medical symptoms that might arise during treatment. But by 1926-the point at which the BPI established its training guidelines, and the discussion of lay analysis peaked-Döblin had reversed his opinion and favored lay analysis, citing Freud's article "The Question of Lay Analysis" in support of his view. In 1925, Döblin alluded to the tragic case of Hermine Hugh-Hellmuth, a Viennese psychoanalyst murdered by her "object of research," while pondering the limits of psychoanalytic treatment. In the same year, his obituary for the Viennese neurologist Josef Breuer turned into a celebration of Freud, in which Breuer's merit was reduced to his brief period of collaboration with Freud on Studies on Hysteria. If we consider that, in an article on hysteria that he wrote before World War I, Döblin mentioned only Breuer as a source and omitted Freud completely, his obituary for Breuer is even more surprising. This inversion clearly highlights Döblin's theoretical development away from psychiatry and toward psychoanalysis during these years.
Döblin was familiar with the current publications of the International Psychoanalytic Press and with the most important psychoanalytic journals of the time: Imago and the Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse. He reviewed a broad spectrum of psychoanalytic literature and lectures, ranging from Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle to Sándor Ferenczi's Theory of Genitality to Melanie Klein's The Psychoanalysis of Children. Many of these reviews are brief and barely extend beyond a positive mention, but in particular his reviews of Freud's works engage more thoroughly with psychoanalytic theory. Similarly, Döblin's notes on psychoanalysis cover a broad spectrum of topics, including such tenets of psychoanalytic theory as the development of neuroses, dream interpretation, and the Oedipus complex. He also took notes on the history of psychoanalysis and Freud's biography, including short comparisons between Freud and Adler and Freud and Jung, observations that reveal a genuine effort on his part to consider non-Freudian approaches from the position of an independent-minded therapist and intellectual. This heterodoxy might also explain why, according to the available records, Döblin was never officially listed as a member of the German Psychoanalytic Society (DPG).
Official or not, however, Döblin was very much a part of the BPI's activities, so much so that he gave the keynote address at the institute's celebration of Sigmund Freud's seventieth birthday, in 1926. In his warm and poetic speech, Döblin traced Freud's development from neurology to psychoanalysis, a description of Freud's life that mirrors Döblin's own path. He described Freud's defiance of medical tradition and his discovery of the doctor's simple look at the patient as an analytical instrument for the soul. He also spoke of the persistence of patients who made their doctors listen in new ways, thus attributing experiences to Freud that Döblin described as his own in other instances.
Döblin's speech at this celebration also took on a perspective specific to the Berlin psychoanalytic context when he addressed the critical question of why Freud did not translate his psychoanalytic insights into a theory of societal change or practical political work. Döblin answered the question by portraying Freud as a mistrustful pessimist. He came to a different conclusion about himself, however, seeing himself as part of a force that, rather than wallowing in soulful lyricism, would fight against the remnants of a past, materialist age with a politicized, enlightening version of psychoanalysis: "The time for slackness and defeatism is definitely over." According to Döblin, Freud had paved the way, but it would still require a common effort to follow through. Nevertheless, Freud stood tall in Döblin's eyes as a pathbreaking benefactor of humanity.
Döblin lobbied for Freud in private as well as in public. When he was a member of the awarding committee of the 1930 Goethe Prize of the City of Frankfurt, his enthusiastic support played a key role in turning the vote in Freud's favor. Döblin drew a link between Freud and Goethe in their emphasis of Apollonian rationality, which called for new moral attitudes, over the Dionysian chaos of the unconscious. In the committee session, Döblin described how he overcame his initial reluctance to accept psychoanalysis and presented himself as a "Psycho-Analyst." He expressed his hope that the emerging science of psychoanalysis would become the means for the creation of a new man who could free himself from the current social and psychological misery.
The War in the Mind and on the Streets
Döblin's psychoanalytic writing evokes the language and thought of his psychoanalytic mentor Ernst Simmel. Both biographies show interesting parallels that must have strengthened their intellectual connection: Döblin's junior by only a few years, Simmel, too, moved to Berlin as a child from the Polish-speaking territories of the German Reich. Like Döblin, he also studied medicine in Berlin, came from a secularized Jewish family, was a fervent socialist, and chose Hollywood as his place of exile during the Third Reich, where for a time he lived only a few blocks from Döblin. By all accounts, Simmel was a charismatic and social person, and he even makes a brief literary appearance as a party guest in Mynona's Berlin novel Grey Magic.
Simmel's and Döblin's theoretical affinity is particularly evident in their descriptions of the polyclinic's work and their understanding of the mutual conditioning of poverty and psychopathology. In 1930, Simmel described the motivations behind the opening of the polyclinic for low-income patients: "It was a daring enterprise in a time of economic ruin to bring to life an institute that should attempt to make psychoanalytical treatment accessible to those people who suffer especially hard from poverty due to their neurosis." In a 1923 newspaper article praising the work of the polyclinic, Döblin similarly emphasized the mutual conditioning of mental and material misery as the motor of the psychoanalytic enterprise: "The establishment of similar institutes in all major cities ... seems an urgent necessity to me. I would like to point out to all experienced [professionals] the misery of neurological treatment of the disadvantaged."
Döblin's critique of the inefficiency of insurance-approved traditional treatments had a political dimension. As a provider for the public insurance network, Döblin could act as a mediator between the medical establishment and psychoanalysis, which was not yet subsidized by Germany's public health insurance. For Döblin, as for Simmel, psychoanalytic practice was a means both to liberate the individual and to implement a socialist vision of society. In a fashion strikingly similar to that of Simmel, who viewed the "psychoanalytic liberation" of the individual as "psychologically sanitizing" for society, Döblin described psychoanalysis as "soul drainage, an inner sewer system." Without this kind of sewer system, the massive social pressure underlying daily life in the city of Berlin could rise up in uncontrollable, dangerous ways. Simmel and Döblin both viewed this volatile social pressure as a direct consequence of World War I and conceived of war neurosis as an expression of a deeper societal pathology.
In a 1919 article, "On the Psychoanalysis of War Neurosis," Simmel described the state of mind of the war neurotic. The article is based on Simmel's experiences in a military hospital in Posen, where he successfully treated war neurotics in only a few sessions of combined psychotherapy and hypnosis. Simmel explained war neurosis as essentially a protective psychological mechanism that prevents war psychosis. The personality split in war neurosis is brought on by a repression of the traumatic war events. They resurface in debilitating physical symptoms that hint at their traumatic origin and thus present the psyche's unconscious attempt to heal itself. As one of many examples, Simmel relates the case of a soldier with a nervous facial tic. Hypnosis revealed that, while he was buried unconscious under debris at the front, he grimaced constantly to keep the sand from suffocating him by entering his nose and mouth.
Through years of military training, soldiers are prone to repress unpleasant events. In a military hierarchy, they experience a dramatic weakening of their personality complex (Simmel's early theoretical version of the ego), since the interests of others constantly overrule theirs. With vivid poignancy, Simmel described the humiliation, self-negation, and violence the soldiers experience in combat:
One has to have experienced either the war events or their recapitulation in the analytic-cathartic hypnosis to understand what kind of assault the inner life of a person is subjected to, who has to return to the battlefield after recurrent injury, who has to be separated for an uncertain duration of time from his family during important family events, who is exposed without rescue to the murderous monster of a tank or the approach of a hostile wave of gas, who has been buried or injured by a grenade attack, who often lies for days and hours under bloody, ripped corpses of his friends, and last but not least whose sense of self has been gravely wounded by unjust, cruel superiors full of complexes, and who has to be keep quiet and has to silently bear the pressure of the fact that he is worth nothing as an individual and is only an unessential part of the masses.
Simmel argued that this submission to harmful situations against their own better judgment affected soldiers of lower military rank most dramatically. They were more exposed to humiliation, and they were less equipped to avert and treat a neurosis than were older, wealthier officers. Thus, the masses were especially vulnerable to war neurosis. Simmel built on this idea in his article "Psychoanalysis of the Masses" (1919), in which he argued that the war demanded the suspension of the basic tenets of common morality: that one should not kill, steal, or cheat. The war thus lifted morality from the border between the conscious and the unconscious and unleashed uninhibited primal drives that would continue to govern the people beyond wartime. The war neurosis of the soldier had its equivalent in the peace neurosis of the proletariat, whose fight for sheer existence and recognition could be equally damaging psychologically. Simmel diagnosed "a diseased people," which could be helped by economic compensation and the recognition of psychoanalysis by the medical establishment. This was-according to Simmel-a matter of social hygiene.
Döblin picked up on Simmel's ideas two years later in a 1921 article, which Döblin titled with a direct quote of Simmel's terminology: "The Diseased People." Like Simmel, Döblin emphasized the fundamental threat that war neurosis posed for the masses, comparing it to the scourge of tuberculosis. Thus, both saw war neurosis as a highly contagious disease afflicting the poor and connected this psychological phenomenon to the contemporary discourse of housing reform and of social hygiene.
While Simmel evoked the image of pleading, shaking, and paralyzed limbs forced toward the passersby whatever the weather, Döblin described his constant encounter with the neurotic "war walk." The daily life of the war neurotic was a never-ending continuation of the war. Döblin diagnosed an irreparable and potentially explosive "attrition of the lower masses." For Döblin, psychopathology was rooted in and enforced by material inequality and a capitalist economy: "The external circumstances have become soulless and take away the soul." Both Simmel and Döblin criticized what they perceived as a change of morals in postwar society, which for Simmel manifested itself in an "unchained sexual drive," and for Döblin in a "tendency toward excesses." The two also agreed that radical politics could be an expression of a connection between a pathological drive to power and an otherwise altruistic ideology like Spartakism. They saw these political and personal excesses, this badly directed surplus of energy, as indicators of the extent of the continuing psychological devastation of the war.
The two men both conceived of a collective soul, which becomes especially relevant in the context of war neurosis. Simmel used the term Volkseele, or "soul of the people." While the soul of the diseased individual expresses war neurosis through the body, the diseased soul of the people expresses its war neurosis through its economy. A few years later, in his fictionalized psychoanalytic case study Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, Döblin employed the terms Seelenmasse, or "soul mass," and Gesamtorganismus, or "collective organism," to express the idea that individuals could not be described without consideration of their rooms, their houses, and their streets. Souls are not discrete entities, but overlap with other souls and with their material surroundings. In his descriptions, the city became a soulscape, where individual pathology expressed a collective problem. As I note in the following section, Simmel's war neurotics, their weakened egos seeking approval in violent acts, their personality splits, their flights from reality, and their militant political activism populated Döblin's fiction of the 1920s, especially Two Girlfriends Commit Murder and Berlin Alexanderplatz, the novel that made Döblin famous.
While psychoanalysis informed Döblin's writing, Döblin himself saw the influence as potentially mutual and envisioned ways in which literature could shape psychoanalysis: "The other way around, it would benefit an analytic practitioner, if he concerned himself more without reserve with literature, and I think that literature might indeed influence psychological thought." Given Döblin's practical and theoretical investment in psychoanalysis, and his explicit statement of literature's potential impact, his literary works of this period could also be read as scientific interventions in the field of psychoanalysis. In fact, Döblin's fictional account of a real case, Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, was reviewed in the psychoanalytic journal Imago (as well as in the sexological publication Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft), and Döblin's attempt to find new visual forms of psychological representation was heavily criticized as "scientifically untenable." The really interesting point about this judgment is that Döblin's text and illustrations were-because of his professional standing as a fellow physician and psychoanalyst-measured in terms of their scientific rather than their literary value, and that they were discussed in a context in which science and literature were perceived as related players in the field of psychopathology.
Two Girlfriends Commit Murder
In 1924, Döblin's Two Girlfriends Commit Murder (Die beiden Freundinnen und ihr Giftmord) appeared as the first volume in the series Society's Outsiders (Außenseiter der Gesellschaft), which had been conceived by the leftist writer and revolutionary activist Rudolf Leonhardt for the small Berlin press Die Schmiede. For each volume of this series Leonhardt contracted authors such as Egon Erwin Kisch and Joseph Roth to render an account of a criminal case based on historical or contemporary juridical records. Döblin's contribution was based on the highly publicized and controversial Klein-Nebbe trial, which took place over the course of five days in March 1923. Two young women, Elli Klein and Margarethe Nebbe, were accused of murdering Klein's husband and plotting to kill Nebbe's husband. Nebbe's mother, Marie Riemer, was also tried for aiding in the crimes.
The newspaper accounts and bill of indictment reveal that the two young women were lovers, and that both of their marriages were unhappy. Elli Klein suffered substantial physical and psychological abuse by her husband. After making two unsuccessful attempts to leave him, Klein poisoned him continuously with arsenic. She took care of him over the course of his prolonged illness until he died in the hospital. After a tip by Elli Klein's mother-in-law, the police searched Klein's apartment and found, hidden under a mattress, about six hundred love letters that Klein and Nebbe had exchanged over the course of a few months. The women, who could see each other's apartments from their respective windows, had frequently exchanged letters, up to several times a day. The prosecution used these letters as evidence and quoted them extensively throughout the trial.
After a trial lasting five days, the jury came to a verdict: Elli Klein was found guilty of second-degree murder, taking into account the mitigating circumstances revealed by the evidence of spousal abuse presented by the defense. Grete Nebbe was found guilty of aiding and abetting, and her mother was acquitted. Based on the jury's verdict, the judge sentenced Klein to four years of prison, but Nebbe was denied the benefit of mitigating circumstances, since she was perceived to be the more active and morally guilty of the two women, and was sentenced to eighteen months in a hard labor camp. The jurors themselves viewed Nebbe's sentence as too harsh and appealed for a pardon, but it was not granted. The trial involved expert statements and discussions about homosexuality, marital violence, and above all the question of whether the women's circumstances or their genes were to blame for the events. It was prominently covered by all major newspapers, picked up by writers such as Joseph Roth and Robert Musil, and extensively discussed by the sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, who also gave an expert statement at the trial.
The murder and the events surrounding it took place in the immediate neighborhood of Döblin's apartment and doctor's office-at Wagnerstrasse in Lichtenberg. Döblin was invited to observe the trial, and he had the opportunity to speak personally with the defendants. He visited the places they inhabited and collected newspaper clippings about the case. His main source, however, was the women's letters contained in the bill of indictment.
At first glance, Two Girlfriends Commit Murder appears to faithfully follow the account that emerged from Döblin's sources. Döblin changed the characters' real names only slightly, evoking the originals either in sound or meaning: Grete's last name, "Nebbe," became the similar sounding "Bende"; and "Riemer," the last name of Grete's mother, from the German for "strap," became "Schnürer," from the German verb meaning "to tie." Döblin emphasized the social context, a leftist working-class environment, by renaming Klein, the murdered communist husband, "Link," a particularly meaningful replacement, as link in German means both "left" (as in "leftist politics") and "mean" (as in sadistic).
While Two Girlfriends Commit Murder offers ample material for discussing the influence of Freudian or Adlerian psychoanalysis (as well as Hirschfeld's sexology) on Döblin in regard to his representation of homosexuality or of drive theory, I will focus on the issues specific to the context of Berlin psychoanalysis, mainly his representation of war neurosis. To establish what I have termed the Berlin Psychoanalytic, I will also discuss the way in which Döblin's text not only reflects psychoanalytic theory but also attempts to contribute to it.
War Neurosis and Soldier Travesty
"The pretty, blond Elli Link arrived in Berlin in 1918." In this opening sentence of Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, World War I is subtly set up as the social background for Elli Link's unfolding individual catastrophe. While nothing further is said about this date, it is worth noting that Döblin selects the year of German capitulation and revolutionary unrest in Berlin as the logical and chronological point of departure for this story, from which his narrator will jump back and forth in time. Elli belongs to the working class: we learn that she comes from a family of carpenters in Braunschweig, and that she apprenticed as a hairdresser. However, "a boyish prank happened to her"-she stole money from a customer, and subsequently she had to work for several weeks in an ammunition factory, before she could finish her apprenticeship with another hairdresser. These few sentences contain the key issues Döblin develops in the book.
First is the loss of agency of his protagonists. Elli's theft of money is presented as a prank that happened to her. Her "act" resembles more a reaction than an action, which is indicative for the mode in which the narrator presents his protagonists' experiences. This agentless narrative mode points to the narrator's difficulty in presenting a causal sequence for an action-something that the narrator ponders explicitly at the end of the book: "With the principle of causality one dresses up." According to the narrator, establishing a logical sequence of external causes for psychological mechanisms means construing causality after the fact. However, once these mechanisms are triggered, they are represented in the text as following a causal sequence: "Thus, bullets can hit us from the invisible, they can change us and we just notice the change, not the actual motor, that which is effective, the bullet; within us everything proceeds causally." Here, Döblin clearly picks up on Nietzsche's metaphor of the cannon shot that reverses time, since one experiences first the effect, then the shot. Both Nietzsche and Döblin argue that the unconscious renders a simple construction of cause and effect problematic. But, while Nietzsche stresses the deceiving quality of the inner world that would render any psychological account fictitious, Döblin opens the possibility of a different type of psychological knowledge and representation that would reflect the disorder of the unconscious on a formal level: "In this instance, disorder is a better type of knowledge than order." In Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, the bullets that hit the protagonists from the invisible and unleash a tragedy are also an allusion to the psychological consequences of war violence.
A second key issue introduced in the opening lines is the change and ambiguity in gender roles: though Elli is a woman, her theft reads as a "boyish" prank (Bubenstreich). This switch of gender roles appears again later in the descriptions of Elli's relationship with her neighbor Grete and in Elli's incorporation of violence that the narration connotes as masculine. That Elli briefly works in an ammunition factory is another image that underscores the gender role reversal. Within a matter of weeks, Elli moves back and forth between two professional realms, hairdressing, a profession dominated by women (and concerned with femininity and appearance), and industrial production, which at this point in the war has become dominated by women because of the absence of men. Elli's move between these two spheres and her role as a male replacement enforce Elli's gender ambiguity in the narration. Elli's work on the home front also prefigures her role in the current of violence that Two Girlfriends Commit Murder closely follows, and which starts, as mentioned above, with bullets hitting the protagonists out of nowhere. Elli produces the weapons that will come to hurt her, once her husband brings the war back home; she becomes a recurrent link in a chain of violence that has no beginning and no end.
The third and last of the key issues laid out in the opening paragraph is the corrosion of moral inhibitions after the war exemplified in Elli's transgression of stealing, which the narrator plays down. All of these issues-loss of agency, gender role reversal, and a weakened collective superego-are related to World War I and its psychological destabilization of the collective state of mind, which Döblin and Simmel described a few years earlier in regard to the Berlin working class. Their analysis suggests that the lack of education or of access to resources plays a large role in these problems. Especially in Elli, the reader is confronted with a young woman who wants to leave a violent marriage and who, at the same time, wants to conform to her background and her family's wishes. With nothing and nobody to guide her, this conflict spirals out of control.
Döblin continues to develop these key issues relating to World War I in subsequent passages of Two Girlfriends Commit Murder. Both of the husbands, Link and Bende, are war veterans. Grete and Willi Bende, an experienced former sergeant, courted through letters while he was a soldier. Their marriage was hasty and propelled by the circumstances of the war. In his 1922 article "Neue Jugend," Döblin described this type of war marriage: "Even worse was the emergency marriage [Nottrauung], the war marriage. It was entered en gros, they knew each other barely three days, barely a week, but one had to leave to the 'field,' to an even more charged environment." He continued to paint a bleak picture-the men went to war, the women stayed at home and worked in ammunition factories. In the case of the Bendes, the awakening came upon his return from the war: he subdued his wife, cheated on her, and contracted a venereal disease. On the one hand, Willi Bende is characterized as a brash soldier; on the other, his masculinity has been weakened by the war. Dominant himself, he desires to be dominated, but Grete fails to provide him with "superiority."
The marriage of Link, whose first name we never learn, and Elli is equally doomed from the outset. The narrator's characterization of the war veteran Link reflects the unconscious struggle of the war neurotic. The narrator describes Link's relationship with Elli as an endlessly tormenting war that allows a "trembling peace" only briefly and leads mostly to new "acts of war." Link's perversion is presented as a "fruitless struggle within himself." Not unlike Willi Bende, Link craves domination to the point of self-negation. As the narrator points out, he seeks to be dominated by dominating his wife: "As he was presenting her with his old ways [his brutality], he subjected himself once again." His drive to destroy others is inherently connected with his drive to destroy himself. He beats, rapes, and tortures his wife, and in the aftermath he attempts to commit suicide. He also demeans himself by wanting to eat her feces. Link turns the violence he experienced at the front against himself and against the one who depends on him, the one at the lower end of what never ceased to be a chain of command.
One of Elli's prison dreams revolves around this psychological constellation, and the narrator lets Elli Link recount the dream in the first person: "I was watching a white flag with a black eagle while smoking a cigarette. Accidentally, I burned a hole in it. I was court-martialed and got sentenced to work camp for life. I hanged myself out of desperation." The narrator interprets the dream as follows: "In this dream with the navy war flag, she also identified with the husband, who had been a sailor in the war, and she punished herself by suffering his fate." In Elli's dream, her crime becomes a war crime, and the tribunal that she has to face, the Berlin court and the jury of Berliners, becomes a tribunal of a society at war. According to the narrator, the punishment meted out by this tribunal, the prison sentence, imprints the power of society and state on women, penetrating even their dreams with violence. The sentence becomes part of the structural violence that the women were already subjected to by their husbands, especially Link: "Link wasn't dead, there was the executor of his testament; it was paid back to them [the women] with loneliness and waiting, Elli with the dreams."
In her prison dreams, Elli is once again a victim of her husband's brutality, but she also comes to impersonate Link and reenact his traumatized existence. The dream interpretation suggests a connection between Link's war experience and his later violent and suicidal mental state. After attacking his wife, Link frequently tried to hang himself, and when his wife would find him and cut the rope in disgust, he would already be blue and gasping. The narrator suggests that his feeling of "unworthiness" led to Link's death, and that this war veteran's self-destructive inferiority and uncontrolled violence continued to spread and took over his wife beyond his death. While in her dream Elli embodies Link and his psychological fate, she also trespasses on forbidden territory by damaging a war symbol, the navy flag, with her cigarette. The severity of her punishment shows that her crime in the dream also encompasses the transgression of gender roles, or what I call her "soldier travesty."
A very similar constellation of events occurs in another passage. In a survey of the secondary literature on this case, the narrator mentions a detail from a sexological study by Karl Besser, a collaborator of Magnus Hirschfeld at the Institute for Sexual Science. Besser reveals that, before her marriage, Elli Klein posed for a photograph dressed in the uniform of a soldier. While Besser interprets this as a sign of Elli's physiological virility, and thus her inherent homosexuality, the photograph gains a different dimension in Döblin's text. It becomes an illustration for a general psychological constellation, an image of multiple levels of travesty in postwar gender relations. In the photograph taken before her marriage, Elli presents herself leading the idealized life of a man, the life of a soldier. The man she marries fought in World War I in the navy, but this former soldier turns out to be a broken man disturbed by the violence of the war and inclined to brutalize her. In return she kills him. The imagined life of a soldier clashes with its reality, and the violence practiced on a national level permeates the families. While Link wasn't killed in the war, he was certainly killed by its continuation at home.
As in the case of Willi Bende, whose sex is literally diseased, Döblin seems to tie the violence and sadism of the war veteran Link to a specific fragility of masculinity. In his notes to the unpublished essay "Civilization and Culture," Döblin mentions the blurring of gender distinctions by "masculinization" in the context of imperialism and nationalism. Two Girlfriends Commit Murder makes the argument that a masculinization of the social sphere led to a barely administered mode of pent-up violence that is ready to break out in the individual as well as in the social order.
The profile of war neurosis that Döblin and Simmel conceived in the early 1920s incorporated the socialist political discourse that both subscribed to at the time in its critique of the alienating conditions and lack of education among the working class. However, the two men also critiqued radical political activism as a potentially dangerous outlet of psychopathology, and this critique is featured in Two Girlfriends Commit Murder. Ironically, Link is-as his name suggests-a radical leftist himself. But his political aspirations are presented as a flight from his private problems, rather than as an enlightening or liberating activity. When things become tumultuous at home, he runs off to political assemblies in bars, where he fills himself with alcohol and "radical political ideas." Shortly before Link dies from an arsenic overdose, Grete scoffs at his political affiliation as a communist: "Soon, if everything starts punctually, the magnificent celebration begins, and Mr. Communist marches out of this world." This quote suggests that for the women it did not matter which country or ideology Link marched for. Structural violence and militarism affected the very circles whose ideology stood in opposition to war. With the figure of Link, Döblin criticized what he perceived to be "the dictatorial wing of the workers," which by 1930 he deemed militaristic, authoritarian, and ultimately too dogmatic: "Nowhere can the terrible effect and rigid domination of the centralistic tendency be seen as well as here, where the masses think like socialists, but they are led against the capitalist class in a single-minded fashion, which forces them into a warring spirit and an organizational mold, and they can't help but become armies."
Instead of offering an enlightened way out, radical leftist politics can perpetuate the warlike state of the proletarian soul. Link becomes the poster boy for what Simmel and Döblin described as a postwar psychology of excess and moral deterioration, which can infuse even the noblest cause. While Simmel described the unleashing of the unconscious in terms of a primal energy, Döblin lent it a demonic quality: Link is driven by a terrible, rejected, disappointed, ravaging ghost. In connecting this specific psychological constellation with the image of the undead, which could perpetually return (and which connects to other images of the undead in Weimar Republic culture, such as in Robert Wiene's film Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari), Döblin emphasized that the situation was beyond control. In Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, the marriages of the Links and Bendes became prime examples of the ways in which the war haunted the private sphere and rendered it neurotic and perverse.
While Simmel certainly influenced Döblin, I argue that Döblin also influenced Simmel. The imagery that Döblin deployed in Two Girlfriends Commit Murder reemerged in Simmel's later work on war neurosis. During his exile in Hollywood, and influenced by World War II, Simmel returned to the topic of war neurosis and elaborated on his theory by drawing on the concept of the ego that Freud had been developing since the early 1920s. Simmel described the state of mind preceding neurosis as the "military ego." The soldier's superego was weakened and had been externalized: the superiors came to function as the superego. At the moment the superiors mistreated the soldier, he had to come to terms with betrayal, which was experienced as a betrayal within himself. The soldier fought not only for his nation and for his physical survival but also for the survival of his soul. The ego became a battlefield.
The Sound of War in Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz
In 1927, Simmel argued for the necessity of closed psychoanalytic clinics such as Schloß Tegel, since a neurotic patient always represented just one link in a larger chain of collective neurosis, consisting of his family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. While individual psychoanalytic treatment could at times heal the whole "life circle" of the patient, Simmel doubted there was any chance for healing without isolation from the environment that (unconsciously) sustained the disease. Simmel's insistence on the intimate connection between the individual psyche and its surroundings was shared by Döblin, whose Two Girlfriends Commit Murder emphasized the "symbiosis with the others and also with the apartments, houses, streets, squares." Döblin's 1929 novel Berlin Alexanderplatz explores this symbiosis more radically in the formal as well as the thematic aspects of the narrative.
Since Döblin described psychoanalytic therapy as a necessary relief of the clogged-up sewer system of Berlin's collective unconscious, Berlin Alexanderplatz can be read as an unsettling descent into the depths of this psychological canalization. After the last installment of the novel was printed in the Frankfurter Zeitung, an outraged reader expressed relief: "We have reason to hope that a deeper descent into the dirt of life is impossible.... If Döblin enjoys covering himself in shit, so he may, and all those who are interested in this may buy the book (we're not overlooking the psychological aspect)." This anonymous outburst, as well as the rebuke by the newspaper, which pointed out that there is as much "shit" to be found in readers' "bel-étages" as in Döblin's descriptions of the "souterrain of our social edifice," demonstrates just how much Berlin Alexanderplatz was understood by its contemporary readers as a very specific social critique.
The book depicts the dehumanizing effects of the capitalist economy and the deep connection between material and psychological misery that Döblin experienced every day in his medical practice, and which he understood as a call for political and professional action such as he had expressed in his earlier article "The Diseased People." After all, Döblin made the choice to delve into the psychology of the Elli Links and Franz Biberkopfs of his time, rather than that of the Clavdia Chauchats and Professor Corneliuses that populated Thomas Mann's novels during the same time. Making them the protagonists of his works became part of a psychological enterprise that Döblin himself understood as a cultural enterprise rooted in the specific theoretical and social moment of the BPI.
Berlin Alexanderplatz opens with Franz Biberkopf's streetcar journey from the outskirts of the metropolis to Alexanderplatz, the center of Berlin. Biberkopf has just been released from prison, where he served time for killing his girlfriend Ida in a fit of rage. According to the narrator, Biberkopf firmly decides to lead a "decent" existence from now on, yet before long he rapes Ida's sister Minna, beats up his other girlfriends in jealous rage, and after a series of temporary jobs, gets involved with Pum's criminal gang. After a break-in with the gang, Biberkopf's main friend (and foe), Reinhold, shoves Biberkopf out of the getaway car, and Biberkopf loses his arm. Reinhold later murders Biberkopf's girlfriend Mieze during what he had presented as a romantic outing to the nearby countryside. The confirmation of Mieze's death leads to Biberkopf's mental breakdown and a stay in the psychiatric clinic Berlin-Buch. Once released from Berlin-Buch, Biberkopf returns to the center of Berlin, Alexanderplatz, to begin a new life, yet again.
The havoc that World War I continues to wreak in the minds and relationships of Berlin's working class is even more evident in 1929's Berlin Alexanderplatz than it was in 1924's Two Girlfriends Commit Murder. In Berlin Alexanderplatz, modern life is a war. The novel is replete with war stories, military ranks, marching, Biberkopf's "war walk," and the accompanying soundtrack, which includes march music (Tschingdaradada), alarms, gunshots, and explosions, all of which come to stand for the dehumanized and dehumanizing violence that surrounds and floods Biberkopf. The sound wumm wumm, of the storm that brews over the forest after Mieze's death and pounds on both the walls of Berlin-Buch and Biberkopf's head, is the sound of destruction: "Attention, wumm, wumm, wumm, those are aircraft bombs." World War I, the war of daily life, and the war inside Biberkopf's head are becoming one. And Biberkopf, despite being endowed with a name that means "beaver head," is unable to build dams against the outside world.
As the sound of war invades Biberkopf's head to the point of complete breakdown, it also invades human relationships in the world of Berlin Alexanderplatz. Just before Biberkopf's nemesis, Reinhold, kills Mieze, Reinhold's loss of control and the unleashing of violence are described with the image of a cannonball's inevitability and destruction: "Then it breaks and it splinters and no storms or falling rocks can hold up against it, that which is ammunition from a cannon, a flying mine. That flies to the encounter, breaks through, pushes it aside, further, it goes further, further." The image of the cannonball is reminiscent of the bullets from nowhere that strike Elli and the other protagonists in Two Girlfriends Commit Murder. However, those bullets emanate from the invisible, and move from outside to the inside, while in Berlin Alexanderplatz there is no outside anymore. Semantically, the cannonball's origin is the German word es-literally "it," but also the term in Freud's writings translated to English as "id"-and it no longer seems to matter whether "es" is inside or outside. "Es" is self-perpetuating, there is no end to its path of destruction, the violence of which is forcefully hammered home by the repetition "further, further."
Violence lingers everywhere in the lines of Berlin Alexanderplatz, ready to erupt at any second, even accidentally. In this world, a lover's fight, a walk in the woods, or a ride in the car can suddenly turn into a scene of uncontrolled violence-something else takes over and, once "es" is unleashed, there is no stopping it. Even though violence is described in terms of loss of control or a takeover of the pathological unconscious, it is the one moment experienced by the perpetrators as a recovery of control, an attempt to create peace. When Biberkopf beats Mieze in a fit of jealousy, her screaming mouth turns into a war zone, a bombed train station, a screaming wave that needs to be silenced: "Mieze's mouth ripped open, earthquake, lightening, thunder, the train tracks ripped apart, mangled, the train station, the station agent's booth upside down, roaring, rolling, fumes, smoke, darkness." The violent images in Biberkopf's head are projected onto the world. The smoke of his own psychological war is obscuring his senses. In fighting this war, he is able to formulate his deepest desire of the instant: "I-will-kill-her." The moment when he loses control is the moment when he claims his own fragmented speech. The war neurotic, whose self is constantly flooded with violent images and the speech of others, whose ego structure is weakened, and whose superego is externalized, comes into his own language when he does what he is supposed to do: kill.
The war also takes over and marks Biberkopf's and Reinhold's bodies. The moment in which "es" takes over in Biberkopf reads like a psychoanalytic textbook case for a traumatic disorder: "He wants to let go of her, should I hit, Ida, the man from Breslau, now it's coming, his arm becomes paralyzed, it [or he] is paralyzed." Biberkopf alternates between the desire to beat Mieze and the desire to let her go. Then his memories of his former girlfriend Ida, the discovery of her lover-"the man from Breslau"-and his subsequent murder of Ida are triggered, he feels "es" coming, and he experiences paralysis in the severed part of his body. Biberkopf not only displays the classic symptoms of war neurosis, but he is also presented by Reinhold as a "war invalid."
Since Reinhold, who caused the amputation of Biberkopf's arm, describes his deed as a consequence of war, it is only fitting that Reinhold views himself as an instrument of war. Reinhold has a "painful" and "beautiful" anvil tattooed across his chest. When Mieze prompts him to explain it, he describes it as an image of his unapproachable and destructive self. He sees himself as anvil and blacksmith at once: people lie down on him to get hurt by him. Reinhold is, ironically, the only character in Berlin Alexanderplatz with a clear, reflected, and articulate understanding of his role-he serves the war as much as he represents the war.
As in Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, the structural violence in Berlin Alexanderplatz is linked to masculinity. The women in Biberkopf's life-Ida, Minna, Cilly, and Mieze-are subjected to violence as both victims and accomplices. They see violence as an integral and unavoidable element of their relationships with men. The metaphors of victimization that Döblin himself sees as central to this novel are inextricably connected with the psychoanalytic discourse on war neurosis describing the pathology of a capitalist, postwar society. The famous "slaughterhouse scene" in Berlin Alexanderplatz, in which the narrator meticulously describes the industrialized slaughter of a bull, is also its central metaphor: humans and animals die the same way.
Returning to Berlin-Buch
Franz Biberkopf's stay in the psychiatric hospital Berlin-Buch, Döblin's workplace between 1906 and 1908, is one of the most important passages of the novel in regard to Döblin's commentary on contemporary psychiatric and psychoanalytic discourses of war neurosis. As in many other passages of Berlin Alexanderplatz (and of Two Girlfriends Commit Murder), the narrator speaks with the medical authority of the book's author. The doctors who discuss Franz Biberkopf's case represent several stages of a medical career: the supervising doctor, the assistant, the medical student, and the intern. Much to his frustration, and despite his years of work, Döblin never rose beyond the status of assistant doctor at Berlin-Buch or in the Berlin city hospital Am Urban. Not surprisingly, therefore, the text's sympathies clearly lie with the young assistant doctors, and not with the head physician, whose ramblings, according to the text, only reflect the intellectual stagnation of a mind in early retirement rather than at work.
Besides providing the satisfaction of minor literary revenge for his own professional stagnation within the hospital hierarchy, the clinical discussion of Biberkopf's case also reflects Döblin's intellectual development away from psychiatry and toward psychoanalysis. Two years before he published Berlin Alexanderplatz, Döblin contrasted the mechanical diagnostic work of his years in large psychiatric institutions with his later work in Lichtenberg, where he visited his patients in their poor circumstances or where they brought their circumstances into his doctor's office: "I saw their situation, their milieu; everything merged into the social, the ethical and the political." Döblin's position as a mediator between medicine and psychoanalysis, and his newfound understanding of therapeutic and medical practice as political commitment, are reflected in the clinical face-off between the head physician and his assistants. As a result of Biberkopf's complete refusal to engage with his doctors, two generations and two worlds-psychiatry and psychoanalysis-collide. The supervising physician claims that the only action this case demands is that they find the right diagnosis: "Which is, according to my own obviously outdated diagnostics, catatonic stupor." The doctor's insertion of this unexpected insight regarding his own, completely outdated diagnostic system into his otherwise unironic speech also serves as a comment on the clinical system. While the younger doctors diagnose the stupor as a psychological condition, a "loss of touch with reality," their supervisor deems these "soul moments" as "foolishness." Sliding further and further into complete parody, the senior doctor insists on purely physiological reasons for Biberkopf's condition. When he is confronted with the remark that such a diagnosis does not help the patient at all, he defends it with the following absurd logic, which reminds us of the logic of Kaufmannization: Biberkopf must be catatonic, because he is not simulating. If he were simulating the symptoms, he would have jumped at the opportunity to receive therapeutic treatment with the younger doctors rather than almost starving to death and being fed by force. He would pretend to be healed and disappear in a week. Diagnosing Biberkopf as catatonic actually helps the patient, the head physician concludes, since he won't be bothered by the therapists, who pray for health, and who cannot wait to send another telegram to Freud in Vienna.
While the text clearly sides with the younger doctors, Döblin mocks them as well, which reflects his criticism of what he considered speculative versions of psychoanalysis. The assistant doctors ponder administering slight electroshocks to stimulate Biberkopf's speech organs, and for inspiration they helplessly leaf through the report of the latest Congress for Psychotherapy in Baden-Baden, a place which in psychoanalytic circles was associated with the "wild analyst" Georg Groddeck. In Baden-Baden, Groddeck, the founder of psychosomatic medicine, combined therapeutic treatment with baths, massages, and other physical stimuli at his own specialized clinic. The "congress report" refers to the founding congress of the General Medical Society for Psychotherapy in 1926. Döblin joined the Berlin branch of the society in 1928 with, among others, the sexologist Arthur Kronfeld and the psychoanalysts Karen Horney, Hans von Hattingberg, and Harald Schultz-Hencke. Considering Döblin's awareness of Groddeck's work (which I will return to in the following chapter), he seems to position the younger doctors between psychiatry and more physically oriented psychotherapeutic approaches.
In the doctors' discussion, Döblin weaves together different contemporary positions on war neurosis. The head physician reminisces about the efficiency of the Kaufmann treatment during World War I, which unfortunately for him is now considered "modern torture." The younger doctors, however, use warlike terms to engage with Biberkopf's refusal to speak, desiring to have their own private "Locarno" with him. This analogy between talk therapy and the 1925 peace treaty, in which Germany vowed to respect the western borders and the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland established by the Treaty of Versailles, is telling. Biberkopf's own private war is connected to a breakdown of borders, which should remind us of Simmel's diagnosis of a breakdown of the borders between the conscious and the unconscious in a society still traumatized by World War I. Staying with the peace treaty analogy, therapy could function as a "peace treatment."
In accordance with psychoanalytic theories of war neurosis, the younger doctors diagnose Biberkopf's stupor as a complete psychological regression, "a return to the most ancient stages of the soul." The narrator includes this diagnosis in his description of Biberkopf's soul as something that is regressing and wandering, as something that reaches back into the animal stage and joins the "gray mice" that live in the walls-the border between the inside and the outside, and metaphorically the border between the conscious and the unconscious. The gray mice ask Biberkopf what makes him sad, and they discover that it is not easy for Biberkopf to talk. They urge him to put an end to all this, because the human is such an ugly animal and the enemy of all enemies.
Biberkopf continues to regress until he leaves his "human body" to join the mice: "The mice are running, Franz is a field mouse and digs along. ... What was an animal inside him is running on the field." This imagery contains connotations of both a regression to a prehuman stage and a battlefield scenario: digging tunnels and running with a group of gray mice (the color of German soldiers' uniforms) through a "field" is a poignant image evocative of the front during World War I.
As Biberkopf runs and digs his way through the field, his mind returns to the trenches. In this imagery, he becomes victim and perpetrator at the same time. In the company of the mice, he becomes a victim of humankind, "the enemy of enemies." At the same time, the war turns Biberkopf into an animal, which metaphorically stands in for the unleashing of primal drives. In his regression, his mind revisits and relives the battlefield, but this regression also enables him to heal on his own. "Franz's soul returns its plant seeds. ... Franz has many seeds in himself, everyday he blows out of the house and spreads new seeds."
The passage on Berlin-Buch is one of many passages in which Döblin conceives of Biberkopf's pathology as a state of war, and in which he evokes the military ego described by Simmel and Abraham. As Biberkopf fights for his sanity and his survival, he encounters Death, who has started singing his "slow, slow song." Death tells Biberkopf in a heavy Berlin dialect that he has lost the war. The old Biberkopf dies, and another one-armed man, "who has the same papers," starts a new life. This new Biberkopf resists the temptation to march along with the forces left and right of him, since he has to "pay with my head." Rather than perpetuating the language of war, which was once the only language he could claim as his own, he finds a different, reflective voice, which might guide him in the future: "If there's war, and they draft me, and I don't know why, and the war happens even without me, then it's still my fault, and whatever happens to me is justified." The new Biberkopf questions his old notion of fate, which had led him to remain passive and to reject responsibility. Fate has to be "recognized, touched and destroyed," and above all Biberkopf needs to remain alert.
The final lines of Berlin Alexanderplatz, which describe the march of hundreds into war, have often been interpreted as a prefiguration of fascism. If we consider that, like Simmel, Döblin saw military spirit and pathological structures in different kinds of political activism, Biberkopf's marching steps-left and right-could encompass the right wing as well as the left wing of the political spectrum. While this last passage implies a social critique of a pervasive militarism in society and extreme forms of political activism in the masses, it also contains a moment of identification: "On to freedom, into freedom, the old world has to tumble, wake up, new morning air." This battle cry could be read, on the one hand, as an eerily precise comment on the discrepancy in political mass movements between the rhetoric of freedom and new beginnings, and the practice of repressive uniformity. On the other hand it also captures Biberkopf's individual awakening and his newfound sense of freedom.
While the narrator claims to tell the story of a development, a psychological narrative, the text does not substantiate this claim. As Döblin himself conceded, the ending seems to be wishful thinking more than narrative necessity. Berlin Alexanderplatz can be read as a walk through a mind traumatized by actual and imagined wars with an unlikely and ironic happy-not haunted-therapeutic ending.
Toward New Forms of Psychological Narration I: Science, Fiction, and the Colloquial
In both Two Girlfriends Commit Murder and Berlin Alexanderplatz, Döblin works with psychoanalytic models of psychopathology. His depictions of the impact of World War I on Berlin's working class, as well as his renderings of the symptoms and mechanisms of war neurosis, demonstrate how closely he adhered to Simmel's theory and practice and the overarching context of the BPI. However, it would be an injustice to the depth and complexity of Döblin's writing to simply trace an influence of Berlin psychoanalysis in his works. Döblin's texts can also be read as a scientific intervention. Beyond commenting on current psychoanalytic debates, his texts attempt to find new literary representations of psychology.
Döblin's harsh criticism of certain types of literary psychology has been used to support the argument that his works of the 1920s are antipsychological in their narrative form. The 1913 literary manifesto Berliner Programm, in which Döblin called for a "depersonalization" of literature, has been used as an interpretative frame for discussing both his early short stories and Berlin Alexanderplatz, which was published more than fifteen years later, but which still often retains the "expressionistic" label. The combination of stream-of-consciousness narration and multiple narrators in Berlin Alexanderplatz is overwhelmingly described as cinematic by its critics. While the novel incorporates cinematic techniques (and has in turn influenced many films), I see these narrative forms as a function of Döblin's changed agenda in regard to understanding and representing psychology, rather than solely as a reflection of Döblin's fascination for the new mass medium of film. Therefore, I return to Two Girlfriends Commit Murder and Berlin Alexanderplatz with two questions: In which way do these two literary works develop new forms of literary representation of psychology? And how do they comment on and contribute to Berlin psychoanalysis?
In contrast to most anamnestic literature of his time, Döblin's clinical case studies of the first two decades of the twentieth century feature quotations from the patients' speech and minute attention to their language. In his 1908 study on melancholia, for example, Döblin takes great care to describe the patient's facial expressions and gestures and lets them speak for themselves. Brief moments of lucidity ("I don't know why I speak so much"), paranoia ("ready for slaughter"), and the suppression of sexual desire-in Döblin's words "fantasies of sinning" ("Forgive me for touching down there")-find their way into the clinical text as direct quotes. This strategy hints at the importance that the patient's narrative will acquire in Döblin's later work as a therapist, and it foreshadows the empathy with which Döblin portrays fictionalized accounts of mental afflictions.
As in his earlier clinical case studies, Döblin provides ample room for direct speech in Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, in this case literal quotations from the women's love letters. However, this time Döblin's careful editing of the women's voices reinvents the "voice of the people": simple proverbs become psychological metaphors, and daily routines mirror complicated psychological processes. Considering the fact that the psychiatric tradition in which Döblin trained was based on the assumption of neutral observation and the presumably objective description of what is visible, Döblin's fusion of observation with a subjective literary stance is provocative. His move to what could be called "clinical fiction" is one of many examples of his progression from Freiburg psychiatry toward Berlin psychoanalysis.
Two Girlfriends Commit Murder features an impressive scientific apparatus informed by psychoanalysis, graphology, and sexual science, but this abundance of science fails when the narrative perspective suddenly changes at the very end of the book. While the body of the story is told in the style of a scientific case study from the perspective of an omniscient narrator, the first sentence of the epilogue introduces the voice of the narrator in the first person: "If I survey the whole thing, then it is like a story: 'then came the wind and uprooted the tree.' But I don't know what kind of wind this was and where it came from." At the moment the narrator's subjective stance is introduced, the validity of the omniscient perspective in the book thus far is questioned. It is made uncertain on a formal level, since the sudden narrative of experience undermines the narrative of science, but also on the level of content: the voice of the narrator actually claims that psychological causality is construed. Ultimately, attempts to create a coherent narrative out of psychological events result in fiction: "Most interpretations of the soul are novels." While this epilogue has been read as a rejection of psychology in general, it does not refute psychology as such. What the epilogue refutes is the scientific claims of psychology-for example, in comparison to the "clean" methods of general chemistry. Deploying a descriptive, scientific terminology does not imply knowing or understanding, and at times it even inhibits understanding, according to the narrator, who simply wanted to show the difficulties of the case rather than provide an evaluation. While the narrator carries the scientific approach to a point of failure, he seems to assert an understanding "on a certain level." This understanding results only partly from an analysis of "instincts" and "motors" of action. I argue that the possible level of understanding is a result of the alternative psychological model developed within Döblin's writing. A new kind of psychological fiction emerges from the narrator's many failed attempts to explain a case using the vocabulary and scope of science.
In shaping the protagonists' voices, Döblin borrows extensively from the women's letters that the state's attorney cited as evidence in his indictment. At first sight, the quotations appear to be literal, but Döblin has in fact carefully edited them and at times subtly changed their context. These changes serve primarily to create an understanding of, if not sympathy for, the women's conflicted feelings and their actions. But more significantly, these small changes also shape a new literary psychological language that relies on metaphors rather than metacommentary. In the following I present some of Döblin's editing strategies and the purposes they serve.
In a passage that depicts Elli Link's conflicting emotions while she is poisoning her husband, Döblin starts by paraphrasing from one of Elli Klein's letters. The original quotation reads: "Want to sleep, for I am so tired, unfortunately Klein walks back and forth in the room in his fever, crawls up the walls, it's terrible to see, it doesn't move me much, but it's a terrible image." In his fictionalized account, Döblin, however, gives the image a completely different frame: "Elli saw the terrible image of the sick husband, how he walked up and down in the room in his fever, crawled up the walls in his pain. She suffered cruelly." While Elli Klein claimed that she was not affected much by her husband's agony, Döblin's Elli Link suffers "cruelly" from her husband's agony. In her trial, the state's attorney had presented this quotation as evidence of Elli Klein's coldheartedness and disdain for her husband, but Döblin reads Elli's letter in the context of a letter to a jealous lover (Grete) who is mistrustful of any positive feelings that Elli might still have for her husband: "The sharp, all too sharp eye of her girlfriend saw some of this. If Elli wasn't in love with her husband[?] No, no, she replied, reluctantly." This earlier exchange is mentioned briefly in the bill of indictment, but the state's attorney takes Elli Klein's assertions to Grete Nebbe that she is not in love with her husband anymore at face value and includes it as part of the prosecution's argument that Elli killed her husband in cold blood.
In order to further emphasize the psychological conflict within Elli Link, Döblin contrasts her fear of punishment with a drastic expression of her deep-seated hatred for her husband. Elli Klein's original letter was introduced by the state's attorney as one of the many examples in which she insults him "in the most ugly fashion": "The pig is so resistant, today I gave him drops, but lots, so he had such heart trouble again and had to apply compresses, but didn't put them on the heart, but under his arm, he didn't notice it." The first part of the sentence is underlined with red crayon in Döblin's copy, like many of the key images employed by the women in their letters that Döblin decides to use in Two Girlfriends Commit Murder. On the surface, his fictionalized account contains only slight changes: "If the pig would only croak soon. The pig is so resistant. Today I gave him drops, but lots. So suddenly he had such heart trouble and I had to apply compresses. But I didn't put them on the heart, but under his arm, he didn't notice."
The first sentence of Döblin's version is a direct quotation that he borrowed from a different letter between Elli and Grete: "Now he drank soup, where I really gave it to him, if this pig would only croak." The last part of the sentence that Döblin decided to quote is underlined in red. The bill of indictment also cites other passages of the letters that refer to Klein as a pig. Döblin underlined another sentence in his copy of the bill, but decided not to include it in Two Girlfriends Commit Murder: "If only this pig would fulfill my wish and shut his keister forever." The pig images that recur in several of the original letters are concentrated into one fictional letter. Employing it twice in a row instead of once, as in the original, Döblin emphasizes the image within the letter he creates. At the same time he leaves out the most vulgar image of the original letters, the image that banalizes the poisoning the most: the wish that this pig should forever "shut his keister." This selection reveals Döblin's agenda in the presentation of his character Elli Link. Döblin tones down her vulgarity and omits details that might negatively affect his readers' sympathies (e.g., Elli's alleged unfaithfulness during her marriage, which is mentioned in the original bill of indictment).
Döblin frames his pig quotation as one of the rare moments of "cynical release" for Elli Link, an eruption of "animalistic insouciance." The changes he makes are small but significant. The heart palpitations appear "suddenly" and not "again" as in the original, emphasizing the unique drama of the situation rather than presenting it as a recurring scene within a long and calculated scheme. The way in which he edits, contrasts, and frames the quotation supports his intent to portray Elli as a complicated and conflicted character, not as a heartless murderer. He also changes Elli Klein's punctuation and includes more pauses between the sentences, which increases the sense of drama and separates out what he perceived as conflicting emotions: the hate ("the pig"), the fear ("suddenly ... such heart trouble"), and the reassuring response to her lover's jealousy ("didn't put it on the heart"). In this instance Döblin's editing serves to present an unconscious psychological conflict. The back-and-forth between strong feelings, and the force of repression depicted in this passage, are a textbook illustration of the violent forces of the unconscious described by Simmel and Freud.
Döblin also contrasts one emotion with the other by turning sentence particles into complete sentences. And he occasionally picks one sentence out of the original letters that sums up the emotion or intention of an action. In her original correspondence with Grete Nebbe, Elli Klein wrote a long letter to express her conflicting feelings about the ongoing poisoning of her husband: "Why doesn't it go faster, but he is of such healthy nature, otherwise he wouldn't be any more, dearest Gretchen, I never humiliated myself so much like yesterday evening, how I pleaded with him to stay with me, I would take care of him. Hopefully I succeed in keeping him at home, otherwise I am lost, and if Klein finds out that he has been poisoned, I am lost without charity or mercy."
Döblin paraphrases parts of this letter following the pig passage and its drastic expressions of hate. He quotes only the last sentence literally-after carefully prefacing it with a comment: "On some days she could not contain her feelings of guilt and inner torture. Then she lay before him and pleaded with him to stay with her, she would take care of him. Then she was again the wife, the child from a Braunschweig family, and the man was the one her father had given her. The fear of punishment: 'If Link finds out that he has been poisoned, I am lost without charity or mercy.'" The sentence that Döblin quotes directly from the original emphasizes her expression of her fears. In this instance his editing once again presents Elli Link's complex motivations and emotions, and not her allegedly criminal intent. The paragraph began with the image of Link going up the walls out of pain, moved on to Elli expressing her disdain, and closed with her fear of Link. As further evidence that Döblin edited Elli's letters in such a way as to separate, and heighten the contrasts between, her emotions, Döblin closes with an original quotation from Elli that supports his understanding of her situation and encourages the reader to take sides. Once her words have been stripped and rearranged, the voice that appears in Two Girlfriend's Commit Murder is not the voice of a murderer: it is the voice of desperation and victimization.
This is one goal of Döblin's editing strategies: to shape an image of Elli Link that is fundamentally different from the state's attorney's evaluation of Elli Klein. His editing shapes the women's voices in a way that supports his agenda in regard to the social and psychological dimension of the Klein-Nebbe case. His other goal is closely linked to this first one. When we compare the bill of indictment with Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, it becomes apparent that Döblin decided to quote especially the passages in which the women employ metaphorical language. Some of these metaphors are colloquial or downright vulgar, as in the case of Klein's depiction as a pig. Making them part of the women's fictional voices illustrates their social background. But Döblin goes further.
The metaphors that Döblin emphasizes in his narration use the women's voices to create an alternative psychological model that differs distinctly from the scientific psychology he proposed in his commentary. Döblin constructs this psychological model out of the uneducated-at times sentimental, and at times vulgar-vernacular that he encounters in the two women's letters. It is in Döblin's reading and recasting that the women's metaphors evoke what could be called a Volkspsychologie, or a psychology of the people, based on their language, the Volksmund.
As already mentioned in regard to the pig metaphor, these images stand for distinct emotions that are then contrasted with still others to create the impression of a turbulent psychological conflict. They can also illustrate the character and intensity of a particular relationship. Margarethe Nebbe writes to Elli Klein how much she loves her and uses the following metaphor: "since only you know that I cling to you like a limpet." This passage is underlined, and Döblin quotes it literally in his own version. This expression becomes more than a popular commonplace for a love relationship. Using Nebbe's words, Döblin describes here a destructive psychological dependency. He follows this quotation with a description of Bende's passion for Elli that goes beyond pride, and equips Elli Link with an insight into its problematic sources, one that cannot be found in the court material: "Also Bende was not good. Yes, Link and Bende, Elli sensed vaguely, belonged together. Bende pushed and courted her like Link had courted her; both disappointed, staggering, love-hungry."
While Döblin endows Elli with the notion that Bende's passion springs as much from weakness and neediness as Link's destructive passion did, he also lets the reader know that her own passion is not the result of love for Grete, but rather of extreme psychological circumstances: "She loved Bende as a fugitive loves his hideout or his weapon. She threw herself into this love full of anger and threat. The passionate love that was awakened now in Elli for Bende was no strong, dormant drive, but these special circumstances created and shaped this passion." The narrative commentary and Döblin's editing of the women's voices support one another in their description of the pathological nature of these relationships. The metaphorical level of the Volksmund is expanded and points to a different, more powerful level of reality, the protagonists' inner lives.
In most cases, Döblin quotes the women's metaphors to describe their inner lives. However, the simple, unscientific language of the women's voices also provides other metaphors that are charged with deeper psychological meaning. The succeeding passage exemplifies this strategy. After her second attempt to leave her husband, Elli Link returns to him yet again. First, the couple experiences a second honeymoon, but things deteriorate quickly: "They woke up again with little things and recognized each other. It started with the return of a tone of voice, with moods, little quarrels. Then they slipped. It followed the trodden path." A complex psychological process is described with a few verbs that usually address simple physiological processes: to awaken, to recognize, to slip, to follow. Awaken becomes a metaphor for the triggering of a psychological dependency, recognize signals that both are ready to fall back into their old mode, slip describes their psychological decline, and follow the trodden path evokes the automatism and entrapment of this relationship on a psychological level. The psychological world can be described with the vocabulary of the physiological world. A highly complex psychological mechanism can be depicted with unscientific language originating in the Volksmund or with the description of our everyday routines.
In some instances, Döblin's use of the women's metaphors also corresponds to the theories that he championed in his scientifically framed model of the soul-for example, in his illustrations of the women's souls. The women's fear that a person could burst as a result of poisoning is well documented in the bill of indictment. The following passage is marked in Döblin's copy: "Furthermore the accused Klein declared in letter 115 and 116 that she could bear everything except 'that like mama said this afternoon, the person bursts completely open.' And in letter 116 it says in this regard: 'just one wish I would have, that this doesn't happen, what you told me, the bursting, then I would be content.' This evidences that Nebbe and especially Riemer had told her in their discussions, that the administration of the poison could have the effect that Klein's body would burst open."
Döblin quotes this image in his narration of the events: "She hears dreary, upsetting words from her girlfriend: a person would burst open from poison. She believes it and is terrified." In the text, Döblin presents this image as an irrational belief expressing Elli Link's generally unstable emotional state. But in the appended illustrations, it becomes a central metaphor for his spatial soul model. The illustrations follow the story and the souls of the three main protagonists, Elli, Grete and Link, over the course of seventeen phases. In the final depiction of Link's soul before his death in phase fifteen, his "soul circle" is bursting with two consuming psychological entities that leave no room for anything else: "perversion" and "basic moodiness" (Grundverstimmung). Döblin comments on the image: "Link, chemically poisoned by Elli, simultaneously succumbs to a soul poisoning." Döblin had already introduced his idea of a self-inflicted soul poisoning at an earlier point in the narration: "It was basically his own drive to hate that killed him later." What was initially presented as a private horror story concocted by the overactive fantasy of three women gains scientific validity within Döblin's illustration: people actually do burst. This image of a soul bursting with perversion, hatred, and violence is a powerful comment on the psychoanalytic discourse on war neurosis. Simmel later reintroduced this image into his observations on war neurosis, and the explosions of war turned into explosions of souls. [figure 4]
Döblin's literary practice of metaphorical psychology stands in close relation to Freudian theory, especially when we consider that everyday language is central to Freud's conception of psychoanalysis. In "The Question of Lay Analysis" (1926), Freud explains that choosing simple German pronouns instead of esoteric Greek terms to denominate the complex psychological instances of the self, namely, Ich and Es (in the English, unfortunately, they are usually translated with the Latin terms ego and id, respectively), and thus rendering simple terms scientifically valuable, ensures a connection between psychoanalysis and popular mentality. It is this quest to render popular language scientific, instead of creating a scientific language entirely separate from everyday experience, that Döblin is pursuing when, for example, he charges the everyday word slipping with the added meaning of psychological decline.
While Freud emphasized that this strategy mediated between the doctor and the patient, the scientific community and the people, the strategy had a political dimension for Döblin. For him, there was no precise scientific language that had to be translated into simpler terms. Everyday language does not mediate psychology, it constitutes psychology. Döblin's psychological model is not applied to the case study, it is part of the case study. While Döblin's model suggests the idea of an organic psychology-one rooted in language and the environment-it also suggests a psychology of the proletariat by the proletariat. While Freud sees metaphors as intrinsic to scientific writing, but still maintains a distinction between scientific and "popular" thought, Döblin blurs the boundaries between scientific and nonscientific writing.
Döblin's narrative challenge to scientific writing also evokes Fritz Mauthner's language criticism. Mauthner posited that in the language of the people one could discover what social psychology was unable to detect, that is, the sensorium commune, a collective organ of sense and thought. The people's language always contained its "unconscious, unwritten people's psychology." Like Mauthner, who described the sense of an individual self as an illusion, Döblin questioned the possibility of a psychology that was solely individual. Focusing on colloquial language allowed him to delve into his psychoanalytically charged version of a sensorium commune.
Döblin's and Mauthner's concepts of language also shared a prominent political impetus. According to Mauthner, language determined social status, and therefore he called for a new system of social mobility devoid of a language that perpetuated hierarchical differences. While Mauthner advocated liberation from language, Döblin's writing seems to suggest the possibility of liberation through language. In Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, the act of narrating the past becomes the only liberating moment for Elli: "Then Elli had told everything she could, in shocks and in convulsions, longingly accepted by the other woman.... It was a literal change, a liberation. She was relying on the old, good part of her soul." The idea of liberation through narration is also present in the inner crisis and the process of reflection that Elli goes through in prison. She writes down her dreams and works on her soul, which is "deepened" by this experience. At the end of this process stand a sense of healing and a rapprochement with her family.
This psychoanalytic notion of liberation through narration resurfaces in Berlin Alexanderplatz in many different ways, such as Franz Biberkopf's various unsuccessful attempts to convey his story. As I have argued, the central problem of Berlin Alexanderplatz is the search for a kind of language that does not perpetuate the structural violence that permeates the narration.
Toward New Forms of Psychological Narration II: No Exit
If Elli's fear of a bursting body gained scientific validity as a metaphor for a bursting soul in Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, this bursting soul regains its corporeality in Berlin Alexanderplatz. The soundtrack of explosions that permeates the novel not only reminds us of the war but also indicates the continuing psychological violence that the war wreaks on Berlin, which Döblin spreads out over hundreds of pages. If we imagine that Link's soul has literally burst in Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, Berlin Alexanderplatz could be described as a walk through the debris of the exploded soul.
While Two Girlfriends Commit Murder presents a negotiation between two different psychological languages-that of science and that of fiction-Berlin Alexanderplatz leaves no question that fictions of the soul come closer to psychological truth than does science. In Berlin Alexanderplatz, the narrative of a pathological unconscious that is at once individual and collective takes over and carries individual psychology to an aesthetically novel place. The workings of the unconscious of "the great, serious mass being Berlin" are reflected in the narration's systematic confusion of agency and perspective. Berlin Alexanderplatz is constructed as a psychological narrative that reflects psychological mechanisms in the narrative structure, rather than addressing them explicitly in the narration as does Two Girlfriends Commit Murder.
This shift in Döblin's literary representation of psychology is revealed in his writings about the process of writing Berlin Alexanderplatz. In a satirical autobiographical article published in 1928, Döblin mentions his research in locations relevant to Berlin Alexanderplatz and explicitly points to his own medical and psychological expertise as a source of his fiction-a place where he might be able to find "some material." In this article, titled "Döblin about Döblin," Döblin the physician, and Döblin the writer, comment on each other as if they were two distinct people (who, by the way, don't necessarily like each other). The structure of this piece indicates that, to write Berlin Alexanderplatz, Döblin used his psychoanalytic resources not only to render believable narrations of specific social milieus but also in a way that concerned narrative form itself.
The fact that Döblin, in retrospect, perceived a shift in his writing around 1924 that led him to adopt a different, more visual style supports the argument that he was experimenting with different types of psychological narrative with and after Two Girlfriends Commit Murder. He described a shift toward individual psychology, initiated by his unconscious, which usually did the work for him. In Döblin's own mind, his succeeding books provided dense images and explored the relationship between self and world in novel ways-ways very different from the psychologizing, essayistic style of his contemporaries. Döblin asserted that his narrative form was dictated by his subject matter. He claimed, in fact, that Berlin Alexanderplatz "wrote itself."
The impression that Döblin conceived Berlin Alexanderplatz as an unmediated narration of the unconscious is sustained by his claim that each book he wrote ended with a question mark that the next book then had to pick up. The book that preceded Berlin Alexanderplatz was the philosophical-psychological treatise The Ego Over Nature (Das Ich über der Natur), and Döblin explained that, in contrast, Berlin Alexanderplatz stood for "ego in nature," thus featuring a passive and tragic element. Indeed, the "Ich" in Berlin Alexanderplatz, the mind of protagonist Franz Biberkopf, struggles to remain distinct from its surroundings. Almost until the very end, nothing originates in Biberkopf and he is constantly invaded by the language and demands of others.
Two years after completing Berlin Alexanderplatz, Döblin mused on his own relationship to the city of Berlin: "From Prinzenstrasse to Moritzplatz, oh, how many memories, this city is like a sponge, or am I such a sponge?" The sponge becomes a metaphor for the relationship (and confusion) between the self and the city: the city absorbs and contains countless facts and stories, which in turn are absorbed by the perceptive self. Considering the intensive research that Döblin conducted for each of his projects, his open curiosity about many different fields, and his seismographic sensitivity to many different discourses of his time, his question seems like a rhetorical one. While the sponge can be read as a metaphor for Döblin's approach to his work as a writer, it would be misleading to present him solely as a meticulous assembly line of contemporary material and thus deprive him of very specific political goals and theoretical agendas. As I have shown in my textual analysis, he edited his sources selectively and with a critical eye toward those causes he wished to further. The image of the sponge, moreover, resonates with the idea of the inseparability of soul and environment that Döblin propagated in the 1920s, and which is reflected in the structure of his fiction.
If we take Döblin's claims about the work of his unconscious and the shift in his writing in earnest, and if we take into account his pronounced interest in the unconscious during these years, Berlin Alexanderplatz can be read as an attempt to do away with any kind of psychological mediation and to let his own unconscious and the unconscious of "the great, serious mass being Berlin" do the work. While this fictional space of the unconscious might at first glance seem to represent a disorderly and associative space, I argue that this space is, in fact, a very carefully and consciously construed unconscious, in which we find not a psychological narrative in the form of psychological commentary by an omniscient narrator but a psychological narrative embedded in narrative structures.
Discussions about the narrative structure of Berlin Alexanderplatz in the vast array of secondary literature introduce theories that range from those of the narrated city to those of the city-narrator, from the idea of a disjointed narrative to the idea of an associative narrative, and from genre classifications such as cinematic novel to bildungsroman or antibildungsroman. Common to many of these interpretations is the idea that an unfiltered city speaks, and that the novel is driven by disjointed internal monologues. Walter Benjamin created the trope of Berlin Alexanderplatz as "a monument" to what was characteristic of Berlin. Benjamin's interpretation steered the novel's critical reception toward an understanding of the novel as a milieu or city novel, rather than as a narration of political psychology. But Benjamin also pointed out that the narrator of the novel is a strong and present voice that speaks via the city, using it as a "megaphone." Döblin's constant obliteration of the narrator's voice (he omitted passages from the final version in which the narrator explicitly took on the identity of the author), and passages such as the much-cited section titled Rosenthaler Square Converses, seem at first to emphasize the principle of depersonalization proclaimed by Döblin in his Berliner Programm from 1913. However, I argue that Berlin Alexanderplatz is aesthetically far removed from the narrative detachment of Döblin's earlier, expressionistic years.
First of all, Berlin Alexanderplatz is set up by a prologue, rounded off by an epilogue, and structured by a clear narrative frame of subsections that provides everything from ironic commentary, to judgmental evaluations, to a reading guide that, for example, might advise the reader to skip the following chapter. The novel features titles and commentary for each subsection, as well as multiple narrators: one organizing voice, the voices of the protagonists, and many other occasional narrators, who may be city squares, streetcar riders, or advertising billboards. The omnipresent narrator sets up Berlin Alexanderplatz as a novel in which Biberkopf first struggles against seemingly external forces, and then realizes that what he once considered to be the result of a cruel fate was in fact his own doing and came from within him. This account of a life change prompted by a shift in perspective resonates with the text of the original book cover, which states that one leads a life not with good intentions but with recognition, understanding, and the right person at one's side. The emphasis on the process of recognition and understanding evokes the idea of a therapeutic journey. In a much later text on analytic technique, Freud described the successful therapeutic process as a changing and strengthening of the ego: the analyst teams up with the ego to subjugate and integrate the uncontrolled parts of the id. The prologue to Berlin Alexanderplatz traces exactly this therapeutic path: Biberkopf fights against forces that he later recognizes as a part of himself. The violent and seemingly external forces come from an impersonal "it": "It pushes and beats him in a cruel way." In these sentences Döblin emphasizes what he previously describes in his writing on psychoanalysis as the violence of psychological life-internal and external at the same time.
If Biberkopf's struggle is to be understood as a therapeutic one, the violence of the forces against him, and his vehement resistance until the very last moment of his stay in Berlin-Buch, can also stand for the psychoanalytic idea of resistance-the patient's unwillingness to recognize and change. In an earlier version of the prologue's final lines, Döblin enforces the idea of Berlin Alexanderplatz as a psychological narrative even more by outlining two paths that Biberkopf has to fight to take: one visible and the other invisible. The invisible path as a psychological one finds its equivalent in the final metaphors of Berlin Alexanderplatz as a "process of revelation"-a journey from the darkness into the light. These metaphors recall those in Döblin's keynote speech on Freud's seventieth birthday and in Döblin's intervention in regard to the Goethe Prize, in which he portrayed psychoanalysis as a civilizing and enlightening endeavor.
However, the dark and tragic quality that Döblin ascribed to Berlin Alexanderplatz also derives from the fact that this narrative of a therapeutic journey is undermined and questioned by the way in which the narrator functions in the novel. The narrator is not only a strong presence in the text, but he also misrepresents the protagonist. Instead of providing the empathetic support that the narrator displayed in Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, the narrator of Berlin Alexanderplatz insists that Biberkopf's failures are the result of his unrealistic expectations. However, this idea is not substantiated in the text: we find Franz Biberkopf stumbling along in life, a smiling cipher, not asking for much, if anything. The first desire he expresses after his release from prison is to have sex with a woman, and it is the narrator, not Biberkopf himself, who voices Biberkopf's desire to be decent. Biberkopf lacks the ability to formulate his own desires until the very end of the novel. It is the narrator who interprets the horrible events in Biberkopf's life as a meaningful experience, as "healing violence." In the fashion of a Brechtian Moritatensänger, the prologue closes with the forceful suggestion that Biberkopf's tale might be a valuable lesson to those readers who want more from life than sheer survival. However, as in Brecht's Three Penny Opera, in which only a deus ex machina can rescue the happy ending, the narrative intent is undermined by the subsequent narrative. The narrator imposes cathartic insight-it does not originate in the protagonist. Franz Biberkopf does not grow or change in slow, progressive steps: at the end of the novel the old Biberkopf suddenly dies in order to make space for the new, insightful one. If Biberkopf's quest is for what the scholar Klaus Scherpe terms Biberkopf's "own narrative terrain," the narrator is more of a hurdle than a helper.
While in Two Girlfriends Commit Murder Döblin uses the women's simple language, the Volksmund, to create a psychological narrative, the Berlin dialect of Berlin Alexanderplatz is devoid of such psychological depth. The protagonists of the latter are far removed from writing down their dreams as Elli Link did in Two Girlfriends Commit Murder. Until the very end of Berlin Alexanderplatz, Biberkopf is incapable of producing any metaphor, let alone a psychoanalytically charged one. The bleakness and failure of the book reflect the hopelessness of the psychological and social pathology that Döblin captures in his images of both individual and collective souls.
If one reads Berlin Alexanderplatz as a carefully construed narration of a pathological unconscious, then the narrative mechanisms that govern this fictional unconscious space deserve special attention. As I have outlined, the novel is set up as a therapeutic process that, at its end, involves a shift in perspective and an assumption of agency by its protagonist. Yet this structure is undermined by confusion over the question of whether Biberkopf really is the agent of his own destiny at the end. As in the framework of the novel, the confusion regarding agency, and the shifts in perspective, are organizing principles for the narrative as a whole.
The following passage of Biberkopf's sexual encounter with Minna, the sister of the woman he killed, is a good example of the constant changes in narrative perspective and the systematic confusion over the question of where action originates.
And now he smells her again, at the neck, it is the same skin, the dampness, that makes dizzy, where does it go. And she, the sister, how strange it is for her. That comes from the touch of his face, from his laying close, she has to, she fights back, but it comes over her like a transformation, her face loses the tension, her arms can't push him away any more, her mouth becomes helpless. The man says nothing, she lets lets lets him her mouth, she softens like in the bathtub, do with me what you will, she flows like water, it is alright, come, I know everything, I do like you.
The passage begins with Biberkopf's sensual perception (third person), then moves to Minna (third person) in the second sentence, and then their two perspectives become more and more entangled. The third sentence starts out with an impersonal subject: the sensation of his face becomes the agent. It is not clear where Minna's transformation comes from, but after it occurs, fragments of her body take over the narration. The perspective shifts back to Biberkopf (third person), who is simply described as the "man." His individuality dissolves in the sexual act. At the same time, the narration emphasizes that he is regaining his sexual confidence after struggling with impotence. Within the same sentence we shift back to Minna (third person). The increasing number of commas creates a sense of speed, and the repetition of lets mimics the monotonous movements of sexual intercourse. Finally, the narration switches to the first person ("Do with me what you will"); presumably, Minna finds her voice in sexual ecstasy, which however, is followed by: "she flows like water." This final observation could be told from the perspective of Minna, Biberkopf, or the narrator. The invitation "come" can be read as being voiced by either of the two. To further confuse the origin of speech and action, the passage is riddled with other impersonal subjects. Considering Minna's scared and conflicted behavior before and after the scene, it could equally be argued that her "transformation" is a creation of Biberkopf's imagination, and not something arising from her actions. Because of these ambiguities, there are many possible answers to the question of what happens in this scene and who does it.
In the paragraph that follows the description of their sexual encounter, we move from Biberkopf and Minna to animals-"the goldfish lights up in the aquarium"-and to the inorganic world of rooms, atoms, and physical forces-"the room lights ... kinetic gas theory." As in the epilogue of Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, the organic and the inorganic matter affect one another. In Berlin Alexanderplatz, their communion is not just a fictional emulation of sexual ecstasy or a reflection of Döblin's interest in Monism, but a comment on the makeup of Berlin's unconscious. The insight that disorder allows superior access to knowledge, which was expressed in Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, translates into a narrative of disorder, which includes several diverging voices along with one unreliable narrator. Excessive changes in perspective and diffusion of agency mirror the workings of the unconscious, the psychoanalytic idea in which Döblin was self-professedly most invested.
Döblin's strategies in developing a different kind of psychological language are especially apparent in one of the central passages of Berlin Alexanderplatz: the slaughterhouse passage, which I have previously mentioned as a metaphor for the pathology of postwar society. The passage begins with the location and layout of the slaughterhouse and the numbers of animals that are processed there daily, a scene that has been described as an example of Döblin's seemingly factual and depersonalized style. However, in the paragraphs of the slaughterhouse passage that follow, different voices emerge and the narrator appears everywhere, addressing both the animals and the reader. In the narrator's brief interjection into an otherwise technical description of a bull's slaughter, he reveals that the slaughter is only a prefiguration of future violence: "Now the knife is positioned, and the blood will pour out, I can already imagine, a fountain thick like an arm, black, beautiful, jubilant blood" (my emphasis). The narrator describes the blood as triumphant-a judgment that ties into the narrator's reading of Biberkopf's path as a path of sacrificial and healing violence. The bull is likened to a building that has been sold and torn down by the new owner for profit's sake. Yet, one more layer of imagination is added on to this passage: at the moment of the bull's death, when the skin is already being pulled back from his throat, the reader gets a glimpse into the bull's head: "Happy meadows, muggy warm stable." The narrator imagines the bull's memory (or dream), its past, and its future at the moment of its death. The passage ends with a description of the meat displays in the butcher store and an appeal to Biberkopf, who has been sitting in his room for a week or two, to pay his overdue rent and prevent his expulsion to a homeless shelter.
Once again, the shifts in perspective and the confusion of agency pervade the passage and create the space of Berlin's fictional unconscious, where houses, animals, and people are all isolated and subjected to violence for the sake of profit. Döblin's psychological fiction emerged from the context of a highly politicized psychoanalytic scene specific to Berlin. Rather than simply translating psychoanalytic principles into a psychologizing narration from the standpoint of an analytical observer, Döblin ultimately deployed his psychoanalytic knowledge to attempt the impossible project of exposing without mediation individual souls and the collective unconscious. Mapping the city becomes part of mapping the soul, and the devastated and disjointed inner landscape of the Elli Links and the Franz Biberkopfs that crowded Döblin's office every day become a mirror of the social and mental misery and disjunction of postwar Berlin.
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