University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > German Graduate Research Seminar > '"Wir wissen, was wir wissen": Re-thinking the Metropolitan Subject in Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz.'

'"Wir wissen, was wir wissen": Re-thinking the Metropolitan Subject in Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz.'

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Döblin’s narrator says that his story will be worth reading for those who, like Franz Biberkopf, ‘in einer Menschenhaut wohnen’ and come to demand more from life than ‘das Butterbrot’. What apparently ensues, however, as Adorno would contend in Dialektik der Aufklärung (1947), is the narrative of Biberkopf’s normalisation and re-integration into the metropolis; and our suspicions of ideology are hardly dispelled by Döblin’s strikingly metaphysical suggestion (1932) of a ‘Gedankenposition’ underpinning each of his novels.

This paper argues, however, that it is precisely Berlin Alexanderplatz’s suggestion of the metaphysical which invites a reading – paradoxically – both affirmative and emancipatory for Döblin’s metropolitan subject. Drawing upon Thomas Isermann (1989) and Bettina Hey’l (2002), I submit that its ‘montage’ structures enact a fruitful tension between the repeated promise of an identifiable hermeneutic, and this promise’s repeated collapse into strangeness and alterity. Such a figuration of ‘Aufbau’ and ‘Zerfall’ (Döblin 1932) illuminates intriguing affinities with his philosophical essays and, more broadly, with the tradition of Lebensphilosophie recently revisited by David Midgley (2013). It is in this light that we glimpse Berlin Alexanderplatz’s metaphysical residue: the inextinguishable promise of Biberkopf’s meaningful (because non-ideological) reconciliation, as a radically re-thought subject, with the Other of Berlin.

This talk is part of the German Graduate Research Seminar series.

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