Berlin Alexanderplatz Readalong – Part 2

I don’t think I’ve ever been this inactive during a German Literature Month and I’m sorry about that. I had made plans but now I even struggle to keep up with our readalong. It’s like everything that is annoying and time-consuming came at the same time, robbing me of what precious little time I had to begin with.

  1. What do you make of Döblin’s structuring of the novel?  The short summaries at the beginning of each chapter, each section? The montage technique? 

I think the structuring works well in this context, as it breaks up the narrative and, in doing so, moves away from traditional storytelling techniques. Since Franz is pretty much a guinea pig for Döblin to demonstrate his world view, identification with the protagonist was never his aim. The short summaries convey an ironic tone but also mirror older books, that had a similar approach. I’m thinking of Candide, or Grimmelshausen’s Simplicissimus. Both have tragic heroes the authors use to illustrate their philosophy and world view. Obviously, the older protagonists are very different from Franz. They aren’t criminals or depraved people, but, just like him, victims of the circumstances.

  1. Women and the treatment of women in Berlin Alexanderplatz …. Discuss.

This is such an interesting question. So far, we haven’t seen any positive depictions of women. There will be one in the next book but so far, I’m constantly shaking my head and would like to talk some sense into them. Why do they fall for these men? I can only assume it’s mostly about sex. Many of these relationships are between a pimp and his women, and those can be very complicated. Dependency and addiction come into play. Seeing how so many women are attracted to Franz, I was wondering what he looked like. I don’t seem to remember reading a description. The way Döblin depicts women made me wonder what relationships he had with women. But then again, one can’t say that the men are described in a more positive way.

  1. This section introduces Reinhold, who will prove to be Franz Biberkopf’s main antagonist.  What do you think of Biberkopf’s initial underestimation of Reinhold?

Unfortunately, underestimating Reinhold is quite typical for Franz who is anything but astute. In some ways, one could say, the author wanted to show that Franz is, despite what he does, not a totally bad person and he doesn’t immediately think bad of people or situations. You can’t be entirely bad, if you’re this naïve. One could also say, that Franz triggers something dark in Reinhold.

  1. What was the highlight of this section for you? What the lowlight?

The last scenes were the highlight and the lowlight. I had a hard time believing that Franz didn’t realise was he was signing up for when he joined Pums, Reinhold and the others. I’m not entirely sure what Döblin wanted to tell us. That Franz really meant to become a better man, but was stupid enough not to see what was coming? Franz is decidedly not a very intelligent man, but I think Döblin’s intention was another one.  Once more, Döblin shows us that Franz is a construct. An invention he uses to make us see certain things. He deliberately places him in harm’s way and then pushes him even further down, to illustrate how unfree Franz is. Franz can decide to become better as much as he likes, it won’t work because it’s not up to him. Society and fate are against him. And, most of all, his author who won’t stop before he has destroyed him completely. At least, that’s how it feels at this point.

10 thoughts on “Berlin Alexanderplatz Readalong – Part 2

  1. Interesting points, Caroline, and what you say about Franz simply being a puppet for the author to get his points across might help me should I carry on with the book! TBH, if I met Franz I think he’d trigger something dark in me! :DDD

    • Thanks. I’m glad it helps. He’s not likable. I so don’t get why women fall for him. Unless he’s drop dead gorgeous. Unfortunately, the face of the actors who played him in Fassbinder‘s mini series is stuck in my head. He’s not an oil painting. It’s one of those books I find interesting but don’t love.

  2. Grimmelshausen is getting pretty close. That’s a good comparison.

    I have been puzzled by some of the mention of “identification.” What author has the “aim” of “identification”? I guess I don’t know what that means.

    All fictional characters are puppets used by the author to make his or her arguments.

    • I’ll have to elaborate more regarding Grimmelshausen next week, I think. Nowadays many authors want their readers to identify or at least empathize/sympathize with their characters. At least they do, if they want sales. Of course, you’re right, every character is to some extent a puppet but here it’s explicit- with the author intrusions, breaking of the fourth wall (not sure the term is applicable for literature).

    • Ah, “nowadays.” To be more precise I should have said “What author worth reading has the aim etc.” Who cares what bad writers are doing?

      “Identify” and “sympathize” do not seem like remotely the same thing to me. The point of literary “sympathy” is to feel some kind of emotional connection to someone else, someone who is not me.

      With a novel so influenced by movies, “fourth wall” is a useful term. Sometimes the narrator looks right into the camera.

      • I should have mentioned ‘mainstream’ literature. It does certainly follow other rules. And I also think readers of that kind of literature like to go beyond sympathize and want to identify but enough of that.
        Döblin‘s narrator doesn’t exactly that, looks directly at the reader.

  3. “And, most of all, his author who won’t stop before he has destroyed him completely. At least, that’s how it feels at this point.” It feels exactly like that, but there’s a twist coming …..

    • Sorry to hear that Mme Bibi. It’s pretty much blocking most other reading. But I’m getting something out it, even if it might not look like it. The intertextuality is a lot of fun but that might be lost in translation.

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