Wadzek's Battle with the Steam Turbine
From the first appearance of Döblin's second published novel, Wadzek's Battle with the Steam Turbine, in 1918, most readers have found it a strange and disturbing work. Martin Buber, to whom Döblin had sent the typescript, could find no connection between Wadzek and its predecessor The Three Leaps of Wang-lun (Briefe 76–79). Most critics who reviewed the book also had to admit their perplexity. The bewilderment of the reviewer for Geschichtsblätter für Technik, Industrie und Gewerbe (a journal of industrial and technological history), who was doubtless misled by the novel's title into reading it in the first place, is fairly typical. He "searched in vain for a good thought, a subtle psychological insight." To be sure, there were a few positive voices early on, above all that of the young Bertolt Brecht, who in his diary praised the antitragic character of the work and called it "altogether a powerful book." But basically, this novel has remained an anomaly to critics and scholars alike.
It is difficult to fit Wadzek developmentally between Wang-lun and Wallenstein —two long, epic novels of historical societies in upheaval, works in which Döblin by his own admission took "pleasure in grandiose phenomena" (AzL 388). Wadzek 's modern urban setting, small cast of characters, and claustrophobic narrative make it seem the work of another author altogether. If one compares Wadzek to the later and more famous Berlin Alexanderplatz, however, one can discern thematic parallels which suggest that Wadzek is a first attempt to give fictional expression to problems that would be much more thoroughly treated in Döblin's masterpiece.
Wadzek's Battle with the Steam Turbine is Döblin's only novel whose title does not correspond to its contents. It is not about the individual's battle against enslaving technology, as one would expect, although that may have been Döblin's original intention. By his own account, he began with a Futuristic theme, but the book took matters into its own hands (we have already seen how Döblin describes his
method of composition as similar to automatic writing): "I planned the technology of a gigantic Berlin, but it became something on a very human scale, that is, the first part of that story, how technology expels a person, a comical book" (Briefe 77, emphasis in the original). Even this characterization of the novel is not quite right, for Wadzek willfully withdraws from the world of industrial and technological competition rather than being expelled by it. But it is important to note that Döblin's initial intention was to write a "gigantic" novel like Wang-lun or Wallenstein, but set in contemporary, industrial Berlin. He is even supposed to have done extensive background research at the factories of Siemens and Halske and the AEG (the Berlin General Electric Company). As we will see, it is the psychopathology of the central character and his family—"something on a very human scale"—that overwhelmed this original intention.
Wadzek is divided into four books, each of which is subdivided into unnumbered episodes. We meet Franz Wadzek in the role of engineer and industrialist only in book 1, and even then only briefly. Wadzek's competitor Jakob Rommel has defeated him by producing a new steam turbine (Wadzek produces piston-driven machines), and also by secretly buying up shares in his company. Wadzek first tries to enlist the help of his former protégée, Gabriele Wessel or Gaby, who is now Rommel's mistress. She agrees to get a list of the stock certificates Rommel plans to buy in exchange for an introduction to Wadzek's daughter Herta. When this plan fails, Wadzek, aided by his friend Schneemann (an engineer who works for Rommel), desperately attempts to impede his rival by intercepting and changing the text of a letter from Rommel to the agent who is purchasing shares for him.
When this attempt is also foiled, Wadzek insanely decides to barricade himself in his suburban villa in Reinickendorf on the edge of Berlin, along with his wife, daughter, and ally Schneemann, there to await attack by the authorities—or rather, by the whole society. This slapstick "siege" comprises the long second book. The longer the besieged household awaits this completely illusory attack, the more Wadzek becomes entangled in his delusion. Finally one night, he fires on supposed attackers (who are only poaching wild birds in his front yard), is interrogated with Schneemann at the local police station, then reprimanded and released. Profoundly downcast, he returns to Berlin.
The third book begins with a series of darkly symbolic, highly enig-
matic scenes. Wadzek breaks off with the "traitor" Schneemann, discovers renewed passion for his enormously fat wife Pauline, but then also renews contact with Gaby Wessel.
In the fourth book, after Pauline throws a disgustingly drunken costume party with two women cronies, Wadzek leaves his family, fleeing to America with Gaby aboard an ocean liner.
It was already clear to Brecht in 1920 that a basic theme of Wadzek was a critique of the related concepts of tragic fate and heroism: "The hero [i.e., the central character] refuses a tragic fate. One shouldn't fob off tragedy on mankind . . . [Wadzek ] leaves man modestly in partial darkness and doesn't proselytize." In his December 1915 letter to Martin Buber, who found the novel incomprehensible, Döblin himself mentions the "apparent tragedy" and the "fate" against which Wadzek struggles, and then "the affectionately comic fundamental feeling" that underlies and relativizes them (Briefe 80).
The theme of heroism emerges early in the first book after Wadzek pays a humiliating, futile, and senseless visit to his industrial competitor Rommel in an attempt to borrow money and end their rivalry. He gains only a sweaty collar for his pains, and that damp collar becomes a motif to remind the reader (and Wadzek) again and again of his humiliation. Wadzek goes straight from Rommel to the patent office, where he looks up heroic figures from the history of technology in order to fortify himself for the coming battle: "He read about Watt and Stephenson. He got more and more excited. He sunk his teeth in and didn't let go" (W 24).
In the course of the second book, Wadzek's sense of heroic mission hypertrophies into a delusion of grandeur and a persecution complex; both evaporate in the sober reality of the Reinickendorf police station at the end of the illusory siege. The comedy of this scene, like the comedy in Don Quixote, lies in the confrontation between an imperturbably mad heroic ideal and the antiheroic and corrupt reality of everyday life. Döblin himself uses the analogy of Quixote, calling both Wadzek and the Don "weaklings" in his letter to Buber (Briefe 80). Otto Keller has remarked about Franz Biberkopf in Berlin Alexanderplatz that "His heroic posture is . . . a constant contrast with the actual state of affairs, so that a satirical disjunction arises between pretension and re-
ality. Biberkopf becomes another Quixote, tilting at windmills." This statement is equally valid for Wadzek—indeed, his windmills are far more illusory than Biberkopf's.
The structure of Wadzek 's plot mirrors the critique of heroism, its stages clearly reflected in the titles of the four books: "The Conspiracy" (heroic battle against fate); "The Siege of Renickendorf" (persecution complex and retreat after the initial defeat); "Knocked to the Ground and Shattered" (stroke of fate); "Let's Pull Ourselves Together and Go Home" (a new and more hopeful beginning). It is significant that the heaviest blow to Wadzek is not defeat at the hands of his business rival Rommel. That is already a foregone conclusion at the beginning of the novel, for Wadzek realizes very early that Rommel's engine Model 65 is in fact superior to his own R4 (W 30). The real stroke of fate is Wadzek's realization at the end of the second book that no one has persecuted and besieged him, that he has been heroically tilting at windmills. The crisis in the middle of the novel is precipitated precisely by the destruction of his heroic image of himself.
This critique of heroism is anticipated at the beginning of the novel by a kind of cautionary tale, contained in the biography of Schneemann. The narrator makes clear at the first introduction of Schneemann that he is important as a type: "There were many men like him in the city," and "Like all men of his type, he had a clever, suffering wife and several children" (W 12). The parallels to Wadzek are obvious: Schneemann begins as an engineer and inventor who "suffered from ideas" (W 12). A powerful industrial firm steals his invention and crushes him. He curses his native city, Stettin (which was also Döblin's native city), and settles in Berlin where he "grew a skin of sullen obstinacy" (W 13). In just the same way, Wadzek decides to go to Reinickendorf and "refuse, refuse" (W 76) after his business defeat at the hands of Rommel.
Following his own defeat, Schneemann has withdrawn into a petit-bourgeois family idyll. His heroic self-image survives only in his dreams, in which he "stands there like an ancient Roman with his shield on his left arm, his short sword grasped in his right fist, awaiting the assault" (W 13). He has chosen Wadzek as his substitute hero. The dynamics of their relationship are defined by their inversely varying moods; when Wadzek is enthusiastic and full of fight, Schneemann is fearful, and vice versa. Schneemann's constant impulse is to take shelter in the security of his family circle. "I'm a decent man" (W 72), he
protests, when Wadzek wants to draw him into the battle against Rommel. He believes himself already in possession of that conventional decency to which Franz Biberkopf aspires at the beginning of Berlin Alexanderplatz . The portrait of Schneemann as a petit bourgeois is completed by his fondness for quoting scraps of Goethe out of context, his political conservatism, and his admiration for the military: "He discovered in Berlin his passion for the army, in which he himself had not served on account of his corpulence" (W 13).
In his letter to Buber, Döblin characterizes Schneemann as Wadzek's "comparative" (Briefe 80), and that suggests two things. First, Schneemann is offered from the beginning as an object of comparison to Wadzek, and second, he is literally Wadzek's comparative degree: more Wadzek than Wadzek. He is one developmental stage ahead of Wadzek, and therefore not just a comparison but also a warning. In the late essay "Epilog," in which Döblin surveys his past work, he characterizes Wadzek's Battle with the Steam Turbine in the following way: "In Wadzek, man struggled breathlessly in pursuit of technology; he kicked, screamed, stumbled, and fell flat on his face. Then came someone else, ran, raced, gasped" (AzL 387). Although this passage has been interpreted as referring to Wadzek and Rommel, it makes more sense when applied to Schneemann and Wadzek. The word "struggled" in the preceding quotation is an inadequate translation of one of Döblin's most characteristic words, zappeln . It denotes helpless, convulsive motion and combines the ideas "dangle," "wriggle," and "struggle." Such a word seems much more fitting for the compulsive antics of Wadzek and Schneemann than for the ponderous giant Rommel.
Schneemann's role as Wadzek's predecessor and Doppelgänger is underlined by his name: Snowman, a pale figure liable to melt away under the heat of reality. Wadzek plays repeatedly with his friend's labile name. He calls him "King Schneemann" and "Weissmann" or Whiteman (W 28) and later "Schneemann alias Polar Bear" (W 220). The narrator also plays with the name, atomizing Schneemann in the act of enjoying a glass of beer into "numerous little beer-drinking Snowmen" (W 120). Even Schneemann himself tries to withdraw from the Reinickendorf adventure with the words, "The Snowman has snowed his last" (W 147). At another point in the often slapstick second book, the obese Schneemann insists that the same Loden coat will fit him and the small, nervous Wadzek: "You've got the same build.
There are small differences, but they don't count. The chest and shoulder measurements are the main thing. Ask your tailor if that isn't the main thing in a coat. You're a militiaman like me." They then stand chest to chest and back to back, but cannot reach agreement and accuse each other of "subjectivity and prejudice" (W 83).
Döblin gives their strange relationship unmistakably homoerotic undertones, especially during a scuffle that erupts after Wadzek taunts Schneemann with the threat of going to prison with him: "He pressed the resisting man against himself, tried to hook his knees around his legs, and choked the man into himself, into his throat, so that nothing would remain of Schneemann and nothing of Wadzek. And now, now he wanted to murder him completely" (W 74). The similarity to the medic's pinning down of Emma in the story "On Heavenly Mercy" is striking. There too an act of violence masks a sexual act. The diction of this passage from Wadzek, distorted by its emotional vehemence, has Wadzek figuratively incorporating Schneemann by eating him, thus becoming one with him. At least since The Black Curtain, sex in Döblin's work simultaneously symbolizes lost metaphysical unity and the despairing attempt to regain it. At the drunken costume party in the fourth book, the festivities are similarly described as "cannibalistic" (W 284), with similar homoerotic undertones. Frau Kochanski, the dipsomaniacal tavernkeeper who is one of Pauline's cronies, jumps "wildly onto the overstuffed lady, clamped her slim legs around one of Pauline's columnar ones, shinnied up, sank into the swamp. "Let me hug you, Fatty Pauline. You're [i.e., Pauline and the third friend, Frau Litgau] both swine. We're all pigs in the sty together'" (W 286–87).
Schneemann is thus both Wadzek's double and an exemplum whose function is to warn Wadzek of a wrong path, but the question remains: which is the right path? How is Schneemann's example to be interpreted? At the beginning of the novel, Wadzek's world is divided between his business and his family, and he strives to keep the two separate, especially since the family sphere is a woman's world. In the first episode of book 1, he declares to Gaby, "It is the mental capacity of women, the undifferentiated mental capacity that I always have to contend with. Business is one thing, family relations another" (W 12). This is an expression of the double standard inherent in bourgeois cul-
ture that Döblin, under the influence of Bebel, pilloried in "Modern." Yet we have seen how the contempt for the "undifferentiated mental capacity" of women informs what Döblin himself wrote after "Modern." In Wadzek's remarks about business and the family, the problematic image of women is again connected to the structure of modern industrial society as in "Modern."
In Wadzek himself, the split between family life and business corresponds to a split between his feelings and his intelligence. The novel uses the terms "heart" and "idea," a pair of polar opposites that emerges early on, in the second and third episodes of book 1. Wadzek boasts to Schneemann that he is prepared to sacrifice his daughter to his business interests. He refers to "human sacrifices" and embellishes his supposed heroism with a quote from Wilhelm Tell, whose hero was forced to put his son in mortal danger (Wadzek prefers Schiller to Schneemann's Goethe). Schneemann replies, "As for my daughter, I wouldn't have the heart to . . ." (W 14). But Wadzek brushes Schneemann's objections aside with the rhetorical question, "Hand on your heart, Schneemann, would you doubt the morality of your daughters when all is said and done?" (W 15). The realm of the heart is not even recognized as legitimate; it exists only as a shadow in banal and hackneyed phrases: "Hand on your heart, Schneemann. . . ." The polarity between idea and heart has a clearly sexual aspect from the beginning: the main female characters—Wadzek's wife Pauline, his daughter Herta, and Gaby—are creatures of feeling, but not of thought. Apropos his decision to "sacrifice" his daughter, Wadzek declares, "My wife's got nothing to say about it. The patriarchal standpoint is the correct one" (W 15).
There is a mythical prefiguration lurking beneath the surface of the text at this point, alluded to by phrases like "human sacrifices" and "My wife's got nothing to say about it." The parallel is Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia as recounted in Aeschylus's Oresteia . It is Herta herself, the sacrificial Iphigenia figure, who later draws explicit attention to the parallel in conversation with Gaby: "An evil fate hangs over our house. Agamemnon is nothing compared to us," and "the next time you see him [i.e., Wadzek], he'll be in the bathtub" (W 40). In the Oresteia, Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter to Diana in order to succeed in the heroic and masculine pursuit of war. He dies a shameful and unworthy death when Clytemnestra murders him in the bath to avenge her daughter. Gaby's demand of an introduction to
Herta as the price of her help in Wadzek's struggle with Rommel similarly injects the realm of the family, of the "heart," into the masculine world of business. His punishment, as we shall see, will not be murder, but rather the destruction of his heroic, masculine image of himself. Herta quotes his laments to Gaby: "'They're castrating me; that's right, castrating.' Do you have an encyclopedia? I'd like to see what they're doing to Father."
Following Wadzek and Schneemann's discussion of the sacrifice of Herta, in which the word "heart" figures so prominently in their clichés, the third episode shows Wadzek for the first and last time as a captain of industry in a pitiless capitalist world. He stands embattled before a general meeting of his stockholders, defending his ideas. Here, in the masculine realm of business competition, "idea" is developed as the opposite of "heart." Wadzek is self-confident, mocking, sarcastic. His eyes, later almost always described as "beautiful" and "unforgettable," with "great blue pupils" (W 59), are here "his shrewd little eyes" (W 16). Wadzek is in this episode pure intelligence, a hero of ideas: "He would continue to develop his ideas, he explained, his ideas and no one else's" (W 16). He then tells his stockholders, "Stay out of our struggle, the struggle of ideas" (W 17).
But both the concept "heart" (or feeling) and the concept "idea" (or intelligence) remain curiously abstract in this novel because of its presentation of character. We have already seen how the empirical psychology of the Berlin Program allows the narrator no privileged insight into the psyche of his figures; he must content himself with the recording of processes, that is, of the chains of their perceptions and affects. Wadzek's Battle with the Steam Turbine shows that such a narrative technique also has implications for the intellectual dimension of the figures. If it works well for the brutalized lumpen proletarians in "On Heavenly Mercy," it is more problematic in the case of the bourgeois entrepreneur Wadzek. There is almost no trace of the thought processes or actual intellectual problems of an engineer and industrialist in the novel. It is as if Wadzek were only pantomiming such a person. For this reason, the competition between Rommel's Model 65 steam turbine and Wadzek's R4 piston engine can later on easily hypertrophy into a "battle of the individual against the monopolies, against the trusts" (W 172). Yet Wadzek should not be misconstrued as a social hero. The struggle in Wadzek has little to do with capitalist competition. It is purely psychological and metaphoric, like the struggle be-
tween Shlink and Garga in Bertolt Brecht's Im Dickicht der Städte (In the Jungle of the Cities), a work that surely reflects the influence of Döblin's novel.
For much of the novel, Wadzek is in fact a psychotic, like the central characters of so many of Döblin's early novels and stories. On a first encounter with so strange and unsettling a novel, it is easy to conclude that all the characters are at least slightly batty. The reviewer of the Geschichtsblätter für Technik, Industrie und Gewerbe described the novel's characters as "some of them imbeciles, the others psychopaths." But to say this is to be misled by the narrative method, the "style of stone" that only registers surface perceptions and ignores any inner life that might connect those perceptions in a logical way. If the narrator occasionally ventures into Wadzek's mind, it is only by way of metaphor: "This is how things were within him: the rattling of bars, a lion's cage opened at the height of his pharynx, then something raged and bellowed out across the iron-clad floor, up and down" (W 68).
This disjunct narrative prevails from the first episode of the novel, in which Gaby comes home and finds Wadzek waiting for her. Objects, persons, and actions are sharply focused but isolated. Wadzek's first appearance is typical: "A bouquet approached her out of the semi-darkness; Wadzek said in his normal voice, 'Good evening, good evening, dear lady'" (W 7). The bouquet and Wadzek simply follow one another paratactically, while their relation to each other has been suppressed. When such suppression is practiced not just in an easily understood detail like this, but consistently throughout the novel, it forces the reader to experience the same deep insecurity and disconnectedness that beset Wadzek.
Here is the first extended description of him:
Wadzek sauntered around the room. He bounced, whipped around all the free-standing furniture in the room, muffled his voice, crowed. He had a childlike, long face with an unkempt reddish-blond beard. Walked up to chairs, whatnots, sniffed them, always as if he were their friend, relative, in-law. He trotted around in his street clothes, his hands buried to the elbows in his pockets, in order to dispel any impression of formality. He seemed only to be comfortable under the protection of some object, seldom stepped into the center of the room. If he had lost contact with something, he would discreetly slip back to it. When
Gabriele had induced him to sit down, he turned on his chair, sought contact with the fringe of the tablecloth.
The description opens with a series of contradictions. The first sentence seems to establish a man at ease with his surroundings, but "sauntered" (schlenderte ) is immediately contradicted by "bounced" and "whipped" (wippte, schnellte ). No sooner has he muffled his voice than he crows. Although at first he is described as a friend and even relative of the things around him, his deep alienation from the world soon manifests itself in the senseless desperation with which he clings to individual objects. Gabriele, on the other hand, is perfectly at her ease—it is her house, after all—so the jagged, paratactic narrative reflects Wadzek's perception of the world, not hers. Part of the threat of women in all of Döblin's works is that they are connected to the material world, to "nature," and at ease in it.
Other characters in the novel, in particular Wadzek's bright, edgy daughter Herta, diagnose him as mad. She calls the villa in Reinickendorf a "madhouse" (W 92) and later says to Gaby, "I tell you, he's quite mad" (W 212). Indeed, Wadzek himself intermittently recognizes his own psychosis. He knows perfectly well, for example, that stealing Rommel's letter will do no good (W 54), but feels compelled to do it. Just before snatching it, he mutters to himself, "I'm suffering from some condition" (W 61) and afterwards, he fights against "the rising tide of a psychotic attack" (W 63).
Given the deeply disturbed relation to the world that underlies the entire narrative, it is no surprise that thematic and symbolic material like the heart/idea dichotomy floats on its surface in a rather insubstantial way. Such themes are nevertheless important to follow, because they supply the stucture that Döblin insisted was there in the novel (Briefe 80). Let us see how it works.
Wadzek's first "reading" of the moral of his life is that one must not give up and devote oneself to the heart, like Schneemann, but rather must battle heroically against fate. This interpretation dominates the first two books, during which Wadzek pays hardly any attention to his family and is ever ready to sacrifice them to his cause. he is Agamemnon, single-mindedly pursuing his masculine aims: "We are kings, the
equals of kings, when we're working. Everything else must be subjugated, must serve us: family, house, daughter. Whether they like it or not" (W 14).
But this interpretation is clearly false from the beginning, and Wadzek's heroic battle for "ideas" is doomed to failure. Gaby's demand in the first episode connects the family sphere to the business sphere, heart to idea. For their part, Wadzek's wife Pauline and Herta mock and undermine the adventure in Reinickendorf. In the police station, at the end of the second book, both Wadzek's heroic ideal and his idea of tragic fate are utterly destroyed. Kurgeweit, the younger of the two policemen on duty, sizes up Wadzek and Schneemann perfectly: "Here's how things stand: they're trying to be big shots. They're a better class of people" (W 176). The slang phrase for "being a big shot," sich dicke tun, is, as we shall see, exactly the one used by a morphine addict in Berlin Alexanderplatz to deflate the pretensions to tragedy of a young friend who has lost his job: "You shouldn't be a big shot about your destiny. I'm against fate. I'm no Greek, I'm a Berliner" (BA 57).
While Wadzek's heroic interpretation of Schneemann's exemplum prevails in the first two books, the opposite interpretation becomes operative in the third book: one should emulate Schneemann, give in, live for one's family. Thus Wadzek, too, raises the dualism of resistance and acceptance that is central to Wang-lun . In spite of much inner resistance, Wadzek finally surrenders to contrite adulation of his wife.
A scene in the novel's third book has attracted the attention of all interpreters of the novel, for although clearly symbolic, its symbolism is obscure. In this scene, Wadzek first calls a large wardrobe mirror "the hole in the world" (W 191) and then shatters it with his elbows. The scene marks a critical point in Wadzek's change from activity to passivity, from the pantomime of an embattled industrialist to the pantomime of a contented family man. It is important that the glass mirrors not only Wadzek, but also his "comparative" Schneemann; they stand side by side before it. Wadzek uses the mirror to compare the fallen tragic hero (himself now or Schneemann in his Stettin days) with the smug petit bourgeois, who regards himself "with intimate familiarity" (vertraut; W 191): "This on the left, you see, in the mirror, now moving its mouth and talking, is you—in Stettin. You yourself, Schneemann, not me. . . . A wave of the hand, hocus-pocus, there you stand today, powerful, fat, before and after" (W 192). When Wadzek
first spits at and then shatters his own image in the mirror, he is taking symbolic leave of his ideal, heroic self-image. Now he throws Schneemann out. He no longer needs him as a cautionary example, because he is about to become a Schneemann himself. Logically enough, Schneemann shortly thereafter disappears from the novel.
The first interpretation of Schneemann's examplum has been proved wrong, but this second one cannot be correct either. It is nothing but an admission of defeat, the reverse of heroism. Now "the mighty Frau Wadzek" sits reading the newspaper (W 226), now she sits "heroically triumphant over her prey" (W 228). In Wadzek, as in Kafka's "Metamorphosis," reading the newspaper is a quintessentially male occupation, the symbol of patriarchal dominance.
Döblin's rigidly polar image of women is nowhere so clear as in Pauline and Gaby, the two principal women in Wadzek . It is difficult to think of a woman in literature more repellent than Pauline Wadzek. Although the first full-scale description of her does not occur until the second book, the reader already knows of her corpulence. But he is unprepared for the ferocious loathing of the description now unleashed by the narrator. It is worth quoting in extenso in order to convey its full force, and to show the obsessive attention to physical detail characteristic of the entire novel:
Frau Wadzek was a head taller than her husband. She was built like a pyramid, as it were, or better yet, like a cone; for while her head, including its masses of hair, was of normal size, her shoulders narrowed as though in expectation of a graceful, delicate personage further down, and in fact were followed by a narrow, collapsed chest resembling a deflated tire. But only then came her breasts, which in their bulkiest parts seemed to have slipped downwards, causing a pouchlike protrusion from the front elevation. And their unlooked-for swelling (had these organs been transferred to her back, one would have regarded their possessor as a hunchback or as the bearer of a half-filled water bag)—this unexpected swelling continued in a straight line both forwards and to the sides in contours that must have belonged to Frau Wadzek's stomach. For a while, the abdomen continued to extend along the lines initiated by the breasts and described the frontal volume of a taut bladder. What followed further down eluded direct observation. The brown skirts, laced tightly in the vicinity of the lower deposition of the breasts, were forced as a result of unknown circumstances to ruffle out like crinolines, after they had overcome the vault of the belly. The proportions in the rear, from the shoulder blades downwards, also grew increasingly generous; no element needed to be ashamed of any other. Frau Wadzek possessed a flattened face with a somewhat protruding chin; the woman usually shoved her lower jaw forward, especially during attempts at re-
flection. In the course of a long married life she had succeeded in finding a point of support on her body for her stout arms, namely the not clearly visible but nevertheless extant trough between the bottom of the sacks of her breasts and the upper end of her hemispherical stomach. Her crossed arms floated at rest on the inflated belly, half covered by the warm padding above them. No one, upon mere reflection, could have found a better resting place for her arms. Now while Frau Wadzek's tumultuous skirts floated around her when she walked, or more precisely, when the mass of her person was displaced in space, this evenly undulating image underwent a transformation at the moment that it came to rest. Then the relationships of equilibrium were changed: the center of gravity was transferred into the vicinity of her resting arms, somewhat above the conjectural site of her navel. From this point downwards, the lower masses fell diagonally forwards, forming together with her skirts a slanting plane, which was usually distinguished by a blue and red striped apron.
Like the description of the medical attendant Walter in "On Heavenly Mercy," this passage demonstrates that the objectivity of the style of stone does not preclude narrative judgment of characters. Such judgment is simply transferred from overt narrative comment to an attitude inherent in the description of perceptual phenomena. It is not just that Pauline's inner life is not shown: she has no inner life, or at least none beyond her "attempts at reflection." Her conversation throughout the novel consists almost entirely of hackneyed expressions of indignation. As for her exterior, it is not just described but systematically dehumanized—in another passage her figure in a darkened corridor is characterized as "something extensive, something blackly superhuman" (W 123). The controlling metaphor is that of a monumental edifice: she is a "pyramid" with a "front elevation," her belly a "vault," her arms find a "point of support." She is reduced to a series of geometric lines and planes, like some monstrous Expressionist portrait.
It could be objected that here we simply see Pauline from Wadzek's perspective. Yet Wadzek is not particularly hostile to her at this point: his mood is the "melancholy of leave-taking" (W 109). More important, Pauline continues to be described in this way even after their reconciliation in the third book. The narrator returns to the image of her arms resting in their "trough," for example, with tiresome tenacity (W 111, 133, 232), and always refers to her with unconcealed sarcasm and scorn. Her characteristic activity is vomiting, which she does in each of the last three books (W 138, 183, 291).
Pauline's habitual indignation at Wadzek's failure to respect and appreciate her is only one manifestation of her complete solipsism. In Reinickendorf, for example, she has "an overflowing feeling of pity for herself" (W 133). Later she "prayed aloud to 'her dearest, dearest Lord God'" (W 227), and after Wadzek has abandoned her and Herta has suffered a nervous breakdown, she "bore with dignity, indeed, with a certain austerity the fate that God had sent—not to her, but to two others who had once been close to her" (W 321).
Although she neglects her own daughter, Pauline's single selfless act in the entire novel is motherly: she rescues a boy from her husband's literally murderous fury (W 102). And it is to a smotheringly protective mother figure rather than to a wife that Wadzek becomes reconciled in the third book. The first book already hints at his ambivalence toward Pauline, his desire both to command and to submit. As he leaves his house for his interview with Rommel, he "looked around to see if she would call him back, not let him go to Rommel" (W 19). Later he complains to Schneemann, "My wife let me go; you can't trust anybody" (W 25). Yet when she does try to restrain him from a similar act, he "bellowed in fury, knocked her arm away, slammed the door behind him" (W 68). Wadzek's relationship to Pauline is characterized by alternation between contempt and mindless, slavish devotion. His surrender to her doubtful charms is explicitly the result of shattering his self-image in the mirror (W 227). Now he is "a prisoner" (W 227) and "totally contrite" (W 228).
Gaby Wessel is Pauline's polar opposite. She is described repeatedly as beautiful, with dark blonde hair and large breasts. She is a fashionable woman, and Anthony Riley has noted that one description of her in the novel is borrowed from an illustration in the "Fashion and Society" section of the Berliner Zeitung of September 27, 1913 (W 348). Döblin saved the clipping with the Wadzek manuscript, and it suggests his continuing fascination with the feminine fashion against whose seductiveness he railed in "Modern." Here is how Wadzek reproachfully describes Gaby's walk in the novel's first episode:
There is without doubt something about your walk calculated to make men uneasy. . . . You place one foot forward—slowly, much too slowly to our way of thinking—draw the right foot after it, while your upper body sways forward, not in a straight line, but like my hand here, if you imagine my fingers to be your legs. Like a ripe fruit, or a fruit dish. As if you intended to tip and spill out your contents. I might also say you
were like a basin of water, a basin with goldfish, almost brimming over at each step.
As in the description of Pauline Wadzek, human motions here are first described as mechanical movements. But while the narrator's description of Pauline persists in dehumanizing geometrical and architectural metaphors, Wadzek, himself an engineer, modulates from a scientific demonstration into more poetic and conventionally beautiful images—a bowl of fruit, a basin of water. Preserved among Döblin's early notes for the novel, however, is a narrative description of Gaby that is much closer in spirit to the description of Pauline: "muscles with their padding of fat, arms, large breasts, a laced-in belly with winding intestines, a rib-enclosed barrel with the slippery machinery of the lungs, blood vessels" (W 347–48, note to p. 31). Although Döblin did not make use of this passage in the final version of the novel—doubtless in order not to obscure the polarity between the two women—it suggests that Pauline and Gaby are, so to speak, sisters under the skin. Their polarity in the end represents simply two sides of a composite picture of woman; it is not surprising that they never meet. Gaby, in contrast to Pauline, is given a chance to respond to her description, which she does in a perfectly comprehensible way: "Take your hands off the table, please. You're being ridiculous" (W 9). She emerges in both description and dialogue as a human being, perhaps the most "normal" figure in the novel, while Pauline is reduced (or inflated) to an inhuman monstrosity.
If Pauline is solipsistic and devouring, triumphing over her "prey" at the moment Wadzek submits (W 228), Gaby is meek and gentle (sanftmütig; W 206), defenseless to the point of masochism. She is the only character whose past is extensively narrated, another factor that contributes to the impression of her humanity (W 203–205, 207–208, 250–52). But that past consists of a series of willing submissions to sexual exploitation. Of her relationship with Rommel, for instance, Gaby says, "I am nothing better than Rommel's mistress. I chose that for myself" (W 10). Nor does she choose it out of social or financial necessity, like Bertha in "Modern" and Emma in "On Heavenly Mercy." Gaby is the daughter of a naval officer, and thus comes from a good family, as Rommel emphasizes when trying to persuade her to marry him (W 34–35). She associates Rommel with the principal of her school who made an obscene remark to her when she was thirteen
(W 252). A manuscript passage deleted from the printed version goes so far as to suggest that Gaby associates love with rape: "Incidentally, she didn't call this joy she derived from other people 'love,' since she strangely enough used that word for a long-since superannuated feeling for an older man she had known in her eighteenth year, a man who later unfortunately got what he wanted from her in a very violent way" (W 361, noted to p. 325). Thus Gaby's biography from childhood has been shaped by her submissive relations to men. She has chosen the life of a kept woman, the modern parallel to the "sacred prostitution" in Wang-lun . She ultimately chooses the failed and beaten Wadzek over the successful Rommel.
Although Pauline and Gaby represent the extremes of solipsism and self-sacrifice, they share certain qualities as women, and this suggests again that they are really two halves of a composite image. Both live purely on instinct and emotion, whether selfishly or selflessly. Theirs is the realm of the heart. Neither is allowed to participate in the world of business, the world of ideas where the battle between Wadzek and Rommel is waged. Both men find it impossible to discuss business with their consorts (W 18, 250). When Wadzek later does attempt to explain his ideas to Pauline, she cannot understand them (W 232–33).
The portrayal of women in Wadzek is thus rigidly binary. They are either monstrously solipsistic and dominating or selflessly submissive and defenseless. This polarity of dominance and submission is related to the polarity of activity and passivity in which Döblin's male heroes struggle. The difference is that the men, like Wadzek and Wang-lun, alternate between one state and the other and are therefore more complex and interesting. They are the center of their respective novels, because it is they who change and thus provide something to narrate. The polarity in Döblin's image of women is static; each female figure is either the one type or the other. Moreover, each female pole is weighted with narrative value judgments. Gaby's masochistic submission is clearly valued positively, Pauline's solipsism negatively. If Wadzek's flight with Gaby at the end of the novel was meant as an escape from the constraints of both polarities, we will see that it is not fully convincing. But in order to deal with the end of the novel, we must consider the Schneemann parable once more.
In the last two books of the novel, a third interpretation of the Schneemann story emerges—a third resolution of the heart/idea dichotomy. Its outlines are contained in two speculative passages in which Wadzek, contrary to his usual behavior, actually engages in something approaching rational thought. Significantly, in both cases Wadzek is attempting to explain himself to women. First, he uses the metaphor of a ship to explain to his wife and daughter his newly emerging attitude:
Wadzek said that he wanted to serve humanity in a critical way. He had been in many ways enlightened by recent events, had learned things. It didn't matter, he continued, at which point in a development one stood, whether more at the front or further back. The helmsman is important; the stoker is important; the passenger is important; the ship is important; the ship owner is important. As he had said, you mustn't neglect anything. Contempt doesn't pay, no question about it. Delusions of grandeur—well, the name said everything. But for the individual it was necessary to be flexible, that is, to scramble adroitly to his place.
Herta interrupted him: then the shoeshine boy on the ship was also important. Not only him, said Wadzek emphatically, but also his wife, who isn't even traveling on the ship, but is at home cooking lentils and bacon, washing her children, drying them off, and so on.
And the beggar knocking at her door? Herta stubbornly persisted.
If a beggar would even knock at the door of such an obviously poor household, was the reply. But if he did, then one would certainly have to say that even this beggar was important for the ship. . . . The main thing were the interrelations: the water on which it sails, it too is of importance for the ship, and the wind. They were difficult considerations, and he wasn't completely finished with them. The basic mistake, at any rate, was persisting to be a stoker and not looking at the whole. Obstinacy in one's own interpretation and stubbornness, pig-headedness. That was the dumb thing. Tack! Tack to the right, tack to the left!
After he leaves his wife, Wadzek develops a related metaphor in conversation with Gaby. He praises birds and fish over plants and flowers, because the former
had to accommodate themselves to the wind, had to adapt to every influence of the weather; because [plants] can't do that, because they can't move, that's why they freeze in the winter. Leaves fall off, blossoms fall off even earlier. "Have you ever seen a human whose arms fall off in the winter? Or a bird whose wings fall off? They simply fly south. One has to orient oneself. It's false praise to say someone is rooted to the land. If I were a member of the nobility, I would put a weathervane in my coat of arms. The principle of adaptation is the most important one; one has to renew oneself."
These passages suggest the possibility of reconciling the dichotomy between heart and idea, of escaping the inevitability of a tragic fate. Wadzek now criticizes his former position as one-sided, as "working in a vacuum, hypothetical activity" (eine Tätigkeit ins Blaue hinein, eine ideelle Tätigkeit; W 237).
The young Brecht must have had these passages in mind when he praised the novel in his diary. But they give the impression of being foreign bodies within the novel, because they are the only passages in which a thought is actually developed intellectually. And they remain mere metaphor, pure theory, because they are not converted into action. They have no consequences for the novel's outcome. Wadzek does not in fact become a lecturer on technology and morality at a private technical college, as he plans (W 237–39), but rather flees to America aboard an ocean liner whose propeller is driven by—supreme irony—one of Rommel's steam turbines.
Wadzek's flight with Gaby is not the result of his new ideology of flexibility and interconnectedness, but rather Döblin's aesthetic escape hatch, suggested by the similar flight of his own father. That new ideology might indeed have made it possible to return to his original intention of writing a novel about the interaction of technology and the individual. But that intention was overwhelmed by the familial constellation—the Agamemnon complex, if one will. Wadzek boasts to Gaby that he has foiled Rommel's attempt to make him into a tragic hero, forgetting he had chosen that role for himself: "He's not going to make me into his Macbeth" (W 335). America is for Wadzek only a new field to conquer, a capitalist's dream, a regression to his old heroic pose: "You've got to have elbow room, have the right to fight force with force, to cast down and destroy what gets in your way. We'll have plenty of that over there" (W 334).
In its sexual aspect too, the end of the novel is a grotesquely comic regression to the polarity of domination and submission. Wadzek and Gaby are about to make love for the first time as the novel ends. After a previous unsuccessful attempt foiled by his inhibitions and habits of command ("You've twisted everything. I don't want love; I'll forgo tenderness. I want obedience"; W 325), the novel closes with Wadzek's declaration, "You see, everything is functioning" (W 336). Its comedy is heightened by the fact that Wadzek addresses Gaby with the formal Sie after having just offered her the familiar du . This engineer's approach to intimacy as a well-functioning machine cannot be
interpreted as a resolution or a happy end. Aboard a real ship, the metaphorical ship that showed the interdependence of all things is forgotten.
The experimental field in which Wadzek's inchoate morality of flexibility and adaptation could have been tested is not America, but "gigantic Berlin." But then it would have had to be the Berlin of Berlin Alexanderplatz, not the rather vague urban backdrop of Wadzek . Only once in this first Berlin novel is there a hint at the rich fictional possibilities of the city. In the fourth book, just before deciding to escape to America, Wadzek and Gaby are riding in a horse-cab through the Friedrichstrasse:
Between the stone masses of the buildings, the façades of the Friedrichstrasse, agape with windows. Buried between the steep, straight walls the whole length of the Friedrichstrasse. The granite slabs of the sidewalk press their edges against each other, impenetrable to the rain. The blackish-brown asphalt from the pits of Ragusa and Caserta, dumped streaming onto the street, stamped onto the gray cement foundation, flattened by hot steamrollers. The horsehooves echo over it. People between the buildings, above the granite slabs, people beside the wagon wheels, people on the traffic islands. Over the wet back of the asphalt, of the giant stage, the carriages roll. The chassis of light automobiles, approaching like invaders [wie ein Einfall ], sway on tires inflated to bursting; from invisible exhaust pipes bluish-gray clouds are exhaled backwards; they spew poisonous gases into the air: suffocating carbon monoxide, stinking acrolein. The thundering towers of the omnibuses wobble past. Around their upper decks run advertising posters, visible from afar: Manoli Cigarettes, Luhn's Soap, Nivea Creme, The Best Lightbulb from the General Electric Company. The air around these stamping edifices vibrates. The weight of their hundreds of tons, window panes, wooden frames, sheet metal sides, trembles. Swaying from side to side they press the asphalt with tires as thick as arms. Above the heads of the teeming animals and men, above their excited skulls, their fluttering mufflers, above the chaos of whispers, screams, men hawking papers and cursing, police whistles: the cones of alabaster-white light beneath tiny black hats. The chasm between the buildings strung with metal wires, arc-light after arc-light, a swaying, endless burden of flame. On the street corners cast-iron candelabra mounted on blocks of stone. The human waves break on them, divide.
Nothing like this rich passage appears elsewhere in the novel. Set off by its switch to present tense in the midst of the novel's otherwise consistent use of narrative preterite and by its reference to the scene as a stage, it is a shortened version of a passage in Döblin's original manuscript that bears the title "Evening Over Berlin," an indication that it
was conceived as a sort of Expressionist prose poem. Baudelaire, the author of prose poems in Le Spleen de Paris, is the only lyric poet mentioned in Döblin's letter to Marinetti. Clearly, the passage has been installed into the text as a set piece, with no immediately apparent connection to Wadzek and Gaby; the narrative of their cab ride simply resumes in the preterite when this city poem ends after something less than two pages.
The passage anticipates the use of the city in Berlin Alexanderplatz . Many techniques and urban details used here are more fully exploited in the later novel: the atomizing, scientifically exact description of everyday phenomena, the quotations of advertisements, the flowing tides of pedestrians. At the same time, the echoes of Futurism are clearly audible in the dynamic verbs alternating with verbless noun phrases, and in the animal images used to describe machines.
The human figures that swarm and flow among the objects are ambiguous. Döblin at least hints that a measure of human enjoyment is possible in this environment: "The valley of this street is filled with the murmuring of these people, with their delighted strolling arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder. They peer right and left into the steamed-up windows, smile, hurry by" (W 315). On the other hand, the prose poem ends in an all but explicit indictment of a materialistic, acquisitive society: "The buildings jammed full from top to bottom, like bookshelves. Behind the windowpanes: objects, let loose upon mankind. The busy creatures wade past them, are held fast, tear themselves free, slip into side streets" (W 315). The city, although viewed in sharp detail in this passage, seems in the end alien to humankind. People are viewed in the collective, as they are in much of Wang-lun, and thus appear controlled and driven by a sinister environment.
Thirteen more years would pass before Döblin fully used the metropolis and its thousands of parallel human stories as a counterweight to his hero Franz Biberkopf. In Wadzek, such balance is blocked by the psychotic point of view of the central character, which makes a real confrontation with urban and industrial reality impossible. For Döblin himself, the affect-laden family theme overwhelmed his original intention to write an urban novel. As Roland Links has written, "the horizon of the author—at least within the novel—reaches no further than that of his hero."
But it is noteworthy that already in Wadzek Döblin uses the image of the city as a coral colony, an image to which he returns in the im-
portant essay of 1924 entitled "Der Geist des naturalistischen Zeitalters" (The Spirit of the Naturalistic Age). As Wadzek rides the streetcar toward his fateful meeting with Rommel early in the novel, the narrator describes the passing scene: "The life of the city went on without end; behind empty construction sites, new shops and restaurants arose, storage yards for coal, iron; the city was growing like a coral colony" (W 19). In the essay of 1924: "The cities are the principal residence and seat of the human group. They are the coral colony for man, the collective being" (AzL 74). Döblin's image of the coral colony changed significantly in the intervening years: whereas in Wadzek the growth of the city is a technological and industrial process seemingly independent of man, the essay defines the cities as an explicitly human achievement, "quite clearly expressions of the human social instinct" (AzL 71). One can, however, discern in the ship metaphor and in the description of the Friedrichstrasse in Wadzek the germ of a collective city that would come to maturity in Berlin Alexanderplatz, a city whose very existence relativizes the theme of individual fate and mocks the idea of heroism.