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Döblin, Alfred

Entry updated 28 November 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1878-1957) German physician and author who began publishing before World War One, in which he served as a physician; in exile because of his Jewish background 1933-1945. Die Ermordung Einer Butterblume und andere Erzählungen ["The Murder of a Buttercup"] (coll 1913; exp 1962; trans Damion Searles as Bright Magic 2017) assembles hectic fantasies and parables, some powerful. In the surreal abruptions and mechanized distortions of its "epic" narrative structure, Döblin's first novel, Die Drei Sprünge des Wang-lu: Chinesischer Roman (1915; trans C D Godwin as The Three Leaps of Wang Lun: A Chinese Novel 1991), evokes the Futurism of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, and was probably a direct influence on Roberto Bolaño, who cites the author in general (along with Franz Kafka). Manas: Epische Dichtung (1927; trans C D Godwin as Manas 2021) is a massive narrative poem, told in a clear-tongued epic mode, as though spoken aloud, through which is espoused a mythopoeic understanding of deepest India, with a focus on the Reincarnation of Manas himself. Döblin is best known in English-speaking territories for Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929; trans Eugene Jolas as Alexanderplatz: The Story of Franz Biberkopf 1931; vt Alexanderplatz Berlin: The Story of Franz Biberkopf 1931; new trans Michael Hoffmann as Berlin Alexanderplatz 2018), whose hallucinated portrayal of Weimar Berlin edges into the prophetic.

Of direct sf interest is Berge Meere und Giganten ["Mountains, Oceans, and Giants"] (1924; cut vt Giganten ["Giants"] 1932; cut trans C D Godwin of 1924 original as Mountains Oceans Giants 2021), an extremely ambitious Future History, which extends from the aftermath years following the Great War into the twenty-seventh century CE. In the later years of the twentieth century the world, already plagued by Overpopulation and racism due to worldwide economic migrations, becomes a rigid, polarized Dystopia, a fixity (see Roderick Seidenberg) only to be shaken centuries later, when an indolent but restive underclass, locked into a Machine-driven culture that fails to supply its needs, inadvertently foments a world War whose advanced Weapons cause huge damage. Meanwhile, the Japanese have occupied much of North America, and the focus of the History shifts westward from Eurasia. An ill-advised Technology-obsessed campaign to settle Greenland by melting its icecap with volcano-sourced energy from Iceland, and attendant Disasters; connected to this, giant Mutations in plant and animal life threaten the human world, and Monsters roam the transfigured islands that have emerged from what was once Greenland. As in more recent Zombie Apocalypse tales, contact with these Mutants is instantly fatal, and Homo sapiens moves Underground, constructing at the same time giant quasi-living defensive towers. Eventually humans and others tentatively join together to begin to reinhabit the Ruined Earth.

Of Döblin's limited production after multiple exiles and World War Two, Hamlet oder Die lange Nacht nimmt ein Ende ["Hamlet; Or, the Long Night Comes to an End"] (coll of linked stories 1956) is of interest for its Club Story frame and the almost entirely non-mimetic tales told inside. [JC]

Bruno Alfred Döblin

born Stettin, Pomerania, Germany [now Szczecin, Poland]: 10 August 1878

died Emmendingen, West Germany: 26 June 1957

works (selected)


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