A beige cover with a painting of Italian painter Gino Severini’s La danza del pan pan al Monico


Rezeptionskulturen in Literatur- und Mediengeschichte, Bd. 14 Alfred Döblin Massen, Medien, Metropolen


328 pages







Published by

Königshausen & Neumann

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Alfred Döblin

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This book deals with the nexus of urban life and mass media in the life and work of Alfred Döblin (1878–1957), the German-Jewish writer whose Berlin novels rank him as Germany’s most important big city novelist of the 20th century. Döblin was an enthusiastic Berliner, whose significance for the literary composition of the German capital roughly corresponds to that of Walt Whitman for New York and James Joyce for Dublin. A neurologist whose patients mostly were workers and low-level employees, he was a politically engaged member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) who developed a special interest in a “culture of the masses” potentially capable of replacing the “culture of the individual” shaped by Goethe (the latter I examined in my 2006 book “Grenzen des Ich. Die Verfassung des Subjekts in Goethes Romanen und Erzählungen” [Limits of the Self. The Condition of the Subject in Goethe’s Novels and Stories]). This interest stimulated by his observations of Berlin turned Döblin into a cosmopolite who also explored the mass cultures of European capitals like Warsaw, Paris, and London, reveled in the vitality of New York and Los Angeles, and tuned in to China’s revolutionary masses. Unraveling Döblin’s insights into his beloved Berlin and relating it to his cosmopolitan proclivities forms the book’s innovative framework.
An important way Döblin had of immersing himself into the life of a metropolis was by going to the movies. The movie palaces of his time were designed to hold audiences of several thousand. They were located in the city center and bore citified names like “Capitol” and “Metro.” Chaplin and Disney, slapstick and musicals counted among Döblin the movie goer’s favorites. Still, in the cinemas, Döblin did not watch the movies so much as the mass audience’s reactions to them. The movie theater interested him as a proletarian community space, in which a revolutionary potential can come to light in the interaction between screen and audience. The focus is often on such movie house scenes in Döblin’s big cityscapes. In a first, this book identifies most of the films mentioned in the roughly 40 volumes of Döblin’s oeuvre and interprets their literary use.

Döblin’s observation of modern megacities and social processes predisposed him to a mastery in depicting large crowds, their formation, their motion and their relationship to the individual. Texts like his groundbreaking China novel “The Three Leaps of Wang Lun” (1916), about an 18th century Taoist revolutionary movement, and his Berlin epos “November 1918” that dealt with the German revolution after the First World War, present the crowd as an epic main character. Döblin developed his “cinematic style” (Kinostil) as a dynamic narrative device that became famous in German literature, a distinctive technique that allows the unrolling of epic events in pictures like on the big screen. Relating this movie-like style to Döblin’s texts for film and radio sets the book apart, in that scarcely any other German writer of his time engaged, like this Berlin neurologist and Jewish exile did, with broadcasting and several movie productions. These texts include “The Story of Franz Biberkopf” (1930) and the scenario for “Berlin Alexanderplatz” (1931) as well as the many screenplays that Döblin wrote as a motion picture employee at MGM Studios in Hollywood. The book for the first time analyzes all of Döblin’s film texts, putting them in the German exile’s strained social context in Los Angeles. Part of this exile context, in the end, is also the special hope Döblin held out for the future of humanity that the completion of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge symbolized for him: the convergence between a wise East Asia and a young America.
The book appeared as the 14th volume in the series “Rezeptionskulturen in Literatur- und Mediengeschichte” [Reception Cultures in Literary and Media History] that I co-founded. The book jacket is illustrated with Gino Severini’s painting “La danse du pan-pan” (1911) of an urban coffee house scene complete with lounge band and dance floor. Döblin based his vision of Berlin on the complex, highly energetic structures of this futuristic work that merges crowds (an immeasurable number of pleasure seekers), media (music and dance) and big cities (the scene depicted being endemic to Paris). That Döblin, by using this image, telescopes Berlin and Paris into each other, underlines once again the cosmopolitan perspective of this lover of Berlin who spent the last years of his life in Paris since he lost his hometown to the German divison.

(Written by Stefan Keppler-Tasaki, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology / 2018)

Table of Contents

I. Massen, Medien, Metropolen: Einleitung
    1. „Überwindung der Individuation“ und „Einstellung auf die Masse“
    2. Medien als Verbreitungsmittel
    3. Das Kino als proletarischer Raum
    4. Städtebilder mit Kinos
II. Wadzeks Kampf mit der Dampfturbine: Berlin-Roman im Kinostil
    1. Döblins Kampf mit Samuel Fischer
    2. Ein Berlin-Roman gegen Fontane
    3. Roman im Kinostil
    4. Roman eines ‚Artist’s Artist‘: Figurenkonstruktion und Plot-Modelle
    5. „Es ist überhaupt ein starkes Buch“: der Lehrer Döblin
III. „Dramatik vom Kinema“: filmaffines Theater
    1. Vorüberlegungen, Lydia und Mäxchen
    2. Comteß Mizzi, Lusitania und Die Nonnen von Kemnade
    3. Die Mobilisierung der Medien: Die Ehe
IV. „der Massenkultur das Opfer bringen“: Filmentwürfe zwischen Avantgarde und Industrie
    1. Entstehungskontexte in Berlin, Paris und Hollywood
    2. „immer neue ‚Storys‘“: die Filmhandlungen
    3. Reflexive Trivialität: Formen und Themen
    4. Medienarbeiter und Hollywood-Opfer: Nachwirkungen
V. Berlin Alexanderplatz: Hörspiel und Drehbuch
    1. Die Geschichte vom Franz Biberkopf als „Hörfilm“
    2. „den Filmmassen zugänglich“: Berlin-Alexanderplatz
VI. Random Harvest: Szenen eines probritischen Hollywood-Films
    1. Propaganda, die „4. Waffe im Krieg“
    2. Döblin und James Hilton: „mixed up writers“
    3. „as honestly as possible“: Versionen des Krieges
VII. Der Ausreißer: (Gegen-)Propaganda im Pazifikkrieg
    1 Werkgeschichtliche und zeithistorische Einordnung
    2. Fluchtgeschichte und Tramp-Film
    3. Ein „altes japanisches Buch“ für einen neuen amerikanischen Film
    4. Döblin und Burton Holmes: „geheimnisvolle Bilder“ von Seoul und Yokohama
    5. Antijapanische Implikationen von Döblins Sinophilie
    6. Der Pazifikkrieg und die antijapanische Propaganda im kalifornischen Exil
VIII. Queen Lear: der Dichter als Propagandist
    1. M.G.M., die Höhle des Löwen
    2. Döblin und Shakespeare: eine „heitere Variation des alten Learstoffes“
    3. „not for the few, but for the many“: Shakespeare in Hollywood
IX. Schicksalsreise: Exilautobiographie und Berlin-Erinnerung
    1. Entstehungskontexte in Hollywood und Baden-Baden
    2. „Jetzt waren wir Masse“: Stationen einer christlich-proletarischen Bekehrung
    3. Selbst-, Medien- und Politikbeobachtung
    4. Proteus und Zeitzeuge: der Inquisitor Döblin
X. „Wirklicher Heimatbegriff“: Berliner Heimat und proletarischer Kosmopolitismus
    1. Lob des Kleinstaats
    2. Der urbanistische Heimatbegriff
    3. Kosmopolitische Städtebilder
    4. Kosmopolitismus der Subalternen
    5. Golden Gate: die transpazifische Zukunft
XI. Rückblende

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