The City Theme in Döblin's Early Works
Alfred Döblin first encountered Berlin under the cloud of a severe trauma. He was born in 1878 into a Jewish family in the provincial Pomeranian port of Stettin (now Szeczin in Poland) as the next-to-youngest of five siblings. When Döblin was ten years old, his father, the proprietor of a tailor shop, abandoned his family and ran off to America with one of his seamstresses. This early experience of abandonment was to affect profoundly Döblin's subsequent life and work. In his first extended autobiographical essay, the "Erster Röckblick" (First Glance Back) of 1928, he describes his family as "driven out of a little paradise" (SLW 111). Döblin's mother, the practical daughter of a successful commercial family, took her five children off to Berlin where they received help from her two brothers, both prosperous businessmen in the capital. Döblin describes his arrival in Berlin in 1888 as a kind of rebirth: "I was actually only pre-born in Stettin" (SLW 110). Thus, his experience of the metropolis is connected with birth, Döblin's habitual metaphor for literary creation.
The external result of Max Döblin's betrayal and abandonment of his family was their removal to Berlin. The internal consequences for Alfred Döblin are more difficult to assess. The difficulty is compounded by Döblin's personal reticence: "Psychically I'm a touch-me-not and only approach myself from the distance of epic narrative" (SLW 37). "First Glance Back," which Döblin wrote on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday in 1928, is revealing but also self-consciously stylized. He presents himself as having inherited his artistic temperament from his father, an amateur artist and musician. His mother, by contrast, "was sensible, from a merchant family," and called his father a "cultured lackey." Döblin adds laconically, "A cruel phrase. A sad story, this mercantile pride in money in my mother's family" (SLW 121). All his artistic talent was thus perceived to come from the father-betrayer, while his mother, who had saved the family, stood for solidity, good sense, and loyalty, but also for repression of creativity. No
wonder Döblin hid his early writings from his family and published them under pseudonyms. They represented a betrayal of his mother. Peter Gay uses the phrase "revolt of the son" to describe the intellectual mood of Expressionism and the early years of the Weimar Republic. But in Döblin's case, this archetypal revolt was frustrated by the literal absence of his father. His mother was the oppressive authority figure in his youth, but overt rebellion against her was blocked, even in the fifty-year-old essayist, by a guilt-ridden need to be loyal.
Surely in the familial disaster of his early childhood lie the roots of the problematic sexuality that informs all of Döblin's work. Almost all his early stories, collected in 1913 under the title The Murder of a Buttercup, concern themselves with the demonic power of sexuality. In both men and women, the sexual drive invariably leads to murder, suicide, or madness. At the age of forty, after seven years of outwardly contented marriage, Döblin was still obsessed with and troubled by his relationship to female sexuality. In an unfinished autobiographical sketch, he admits to having been ignorant of female anatomy as late as the first semester of his medical studies, when he was twenty-two (he had already fallen several years behind in school because of the family's move to Berlin).
It seems probable that this sketch was written as an act of penance and self-examination after the death on January 19, 1918, of the young nurse Frieda Kunke, Döblin's lover and the mother of his illegitimate son. Döblin had met her in 1907, when he was twenty-nine and she sixteen. They were both working at the Berlin Municipal Insane Asylum in Buch. Frieda Kunke was a gentile from a working-class background. Two years later Döblin met the medical student Erna Reiss, the daughter of a well-to-do Jewish businessman. Although he became engaged to Erna Reiss in February 1911, he continued his love affair with Frieda Kunke, and their illegitimate son was born in October 1911. Döblin married Erna Reiss shortly thereafter, in January 1912, and their first son was born in October. In January 1918, Frieda Kunke died of tuberculosis.
What is striking is Döblin's clear repetition of the pattern established by his own father: a socially acceptable marriage to a tyrannical mother-figure, a love affair with a much younger, working-class woman. In Döblin's case, however, the order in which the relationships come is reversed, and it would appear that he intentionally sought out a mother figure as his wife in order to escape both the so-
cial and sexual irregularity of his attachment to Frieda Kunke. She was never mentioned in any of his autobiographical writings. The constellation of his mother and his father's "little modiste" (Schneidermamsell; SLW 20), repeated in his own wife and Frieda Kunke, seems to have determined the polarity of domination and submission so typical for the women in his fiction. We will find this polarity and the related theme of the pater absconditus recurring and being transformed throughout Döblin's career as a writer.
The earliest surviving piece of Döblin's fiction is the story fragment entitled "Modern. Ein Bild aus der Gegenwart" (Modern: An Image from the Present). "Story" is a not entirely satisfactory designation for this remarkable work of the eighteen-year-old Gymnasium student, for "Modern" is an essay on the status of women in Wilhelmian society, framed by an illustrative fictional narrative about a young woman in danger of sinking into prostitution.
In the fictional component, the unemployed seamstress Bertha wanders the streets of Berlin looking for work. She almost surrenders to the sexual advances of her boyfriend, but her provincial Catholic piety saves her. The manuscript breaks off amid her agonized thoughts of contrition and her fears that she will not be able to continue resisting temptation, with a strong suggestion that she will drown herself to escape her dilemma.
In spite of its occasionally florid style and the histrionic pathos of its concluding pages, "Modern" contains the seeds of Döblin's mature prose style. The panorama of Berlin street life that opens the story, for instance, is already cinematic in its flow. Panning like a camera, the narrator's eye picks out seemingly random but characteristic details until it reaches the central character, who first appears as just another face in the crowd. The movement of this crowd of pedestrians is described by the dynamic, restless verbs that are from the first a trademark of Döblin's prose: fluten, drängen, vorbeirauschen, vorübereilen, stob en, trotten, wogen (surge, jostle, rustle away, hurry by, shove, trot, billow). The first and last words specifically suggest water, one of Döblin's central images.
The young author also displays a mastery of details used not just to provide realistic local color, but to introduce, for instance, the central
motif of sexual challenge and temptation. As an elegant lady studies a display of hats in a shop window, a young man looks over her shoulder: "With an expression of satisfaction he blew the smoke of a cheap cigar into the lady's face, who immediately rustled away in indignation. Pretty shop girls with supple bodies hurried past, arm in arm. They shoved and jostled giggling, unabashedly staring every gentleman in the face" (JR 7). It is the effect of the big city's overt sexual temptation on the provincial heroine that interests the narrator. In both her outward circumstances (poverty, unemployment, vulnerability) and her inner life (the irresistible sexual drive in conflict with the dictates of religion), Bertha illustrates the theses of the essay that Döblin inserted into the middle of the fictional narrative.
This essay on the role of women in contemporary society is longer than the entire narrative. Considering that Döblin was eighteen at the time, it is no surprise that the essay is highly derivative, borrowed sometimes almost word for word from August Bebel's immensely popular and influential Die Frau und der Sozialismus (Woman and Socialism), first published illegally in 1879 and reissued continuously during Bebel's lifetime. Döblin attacks the institution of bourgeois marriage as a purely monetary arrangement and proclaims the naturalness of the sexual drive in both men and women: "What you call animalistic is the only natural thing in our society" (JR 15). A tirade of sarcasm directed at what passes for contemporary sexual education ends by attacking the seductiveness of female fashions in a way that suggests the personal desires and frustrations underlying the essay: "The skirt on the hips, that's going to throw the hips into bold relief, and the corsets, a wasp waist is always interesting—never mind about abdominal illnesses and such nonsense; and then the high heels, to make the fall even harder . . ." (JR 16). If Döblin takes from Bebel the scientific, evolutionary view of man as "the highest of animals" (JR 16), sharing instincts and drives common to all animals, he argues the point with the vehemence of an adolescent overcompensating for his own sexual uncertainty and inexperience. Moreover, instead of adopting Bebel's purely positive view of man's natural instincts, Döblin betrays a good deal of ambiguity toward "nature." On the one hand, it is a benevolent Mutter Natur (JR 23), but it is also called the "terrible ruler Nature" (JR 22).
The essay contemptuously dismisses the question of the role of aristocratic and bourgeois women as "the ladies' issue" and devotes itself
to the "women's issue, which is much, much more serious"—that is, the role of working-class women. While the bourgeois wife is idealized, the working woman is exploited: "And so she accepts for starvation wages any and all employment, harder than a man's, naturally for much lower wages, after all, she's only a—woman!" (JR 17). Yet it is also among the proletariat that the inchoate ideal of a socialist society is already discernible as present necessity: "She must earn, support her husband, nourish her family, feed her children, with no chance to be a mother and housewife. But she is a woman, the companion of her husband with equal duties and responsibilities" (JR 17, emphasis in original).
The central indictment of the essay, for which the story of Bertha is the fictionalized illustration, is that capitalist society forces thousands of working-class women into prostitution. It not only follows Bebel in citing statistical evidence of the miserable wages paid to women and of the number of prostitutes in Berlin, but also in pointing out the roots, social and instinctual, of prostitution: "An implacable law of nature says that you must obey your sexual instinct! And our society says that you must get married! And to be able to marry, you must possess money to support a family. If you have no money, and you want to 'love'—then—there's prostitution" (JR 18). The essay ends with a grandiloquent call for free love and marriage as a private pact, for an end to capitalism, and with the assurance that "a new world will blossom, better and more beautiful than the present one, a world in which all will have an equal duty to work, equal joy from their work, and no joy without work and no work without joy. Indeed, may work itself be a joy!!" (JR 19–20). Presciently, however, Döblin modulates back into the second half of his fictional narrative with the insight that social reform must be accompanied by a change in individual psyches: "as long as women do not feel themselves to be the equals of men, they will continue to be inferior to men, will continue to let men humiliate and degrade them" (JR 20, emphasis in original).
If the socialism in the essay is derivative, the form of the entire work is not derivative at all. The attempt to join fiction and essay, however clumsily executed, shows a tendency toward montage, or the direct juxtaposition of heterogeneous elements, which gains increasing importance in Döblin's work. We see Döblin at the very beginning of his career already trying to break the bonds of traditional narrative, even though the fictional part of the work remains quite conventional, and
in fact is itself not free of the penny-dreadful bathos it satirizes at one point. Juxtaposition is present not just at the level at which story and essay are joined, but also more subtly in narrative details like the rhetorical counter-voices Döblin builds into his essay in order to destroy them: "What do we care about this rabble who throw themselves at the first man they see?!—" (JR 19). From the first, he suppresses smooth narrative transitions in favor of abrupt juxtapositions that heighten the psychological immediacy and veracity of the fiction. For example, in the following passage, Bertha has just sat down on a park bench to rest:
Magnificent trees stretched high their branches; the fountains play amidst the green grass, glittering and dissolving to mist in the sunlight.
And the fountains play and the green leaves, they rustle—rustle—rustle.
Ah youth, youth!
Flooded with light the sky rises before her, the village with its bake oven, the stalls and pond. There, the priest in his cassock, with such a mild and peaceful face—oh, if she should now have to make confession! There is her mother too, her dear mother, and there are the boys; how the rascals call to her, "Bertha, Bertha!" The biggest of the three scamps pinched her in the arm. She wanted to slap him, she raised her arm with the parasol—
But girl, hey, Bertha, get up! Now she's even falling asleep in broad daylight! Hey listen, for God's sake! Let's go! Gee, you're still a little sleepy!
And her girlfriend helped her up . . .
The transitions from waking, to dream, to abrupt reawakening are accomplished without overt narrative guidance. Döblin instead carefully manipulates the tense of narration in order to suggest the process within Bertha's brain. The original preterite of narration ("stretched") changes to present in midsentence ("play") as she gradually nods off. The abrupt end of her dream is anticipated by the return to the preterite while still within the dream ("pinched"). A gradual change in narrative tone replaces explicit narrative comment on the contrast between her village past and her urban present. The thrice repeated "rustle" eases us out of the city and into the dreamworld of Romantic poetry. The exclamation "Ah youth, youth!" is of indeterminate origin. Is it Bertha's internal sigh, the narrator's comment, or simply a disembodied epitaph for the idyllic life that is gone forever? There is no clear-cut answer. Finally, when the dream is interrupted, the ab-
sence of any phrase such as "Liese said" reproduces for the reader Bertha's own experience of being rudely snatched from her dream. Later in life Döblin would answer an interviewer's question "Which stylistic phrase do you hate most?" quite simply: "He said."
Clearly, the fiction in "Modern" serves Döblin's social commentary. He has chosen a single, unexceptional life from the metropolis in order to illustrate a social thesis. But it is more the fictional than the essayistic component that points toward the future. The glowing socialism of the essay disappears from his work and does not reemerge until 1918, under the impression of the German revolution. "Modern" is atypical in its progressive attitude toward women, and in hindsight, one can discern even in this early work a disturbing sexual ambiguity beneath the socialist polemics. The sex drive is natural, yet also terribly implacable: "man is the highest animal and there is no difference between a pregnant cow lowing miserably as she calves and the mother who gives birth amidst terrible pains" (JR 16). If for Bebel the emphasis is on "highest," for Döblin it is on "animal." There is no indication of any basis for a relationship between men and women other than the erotic drive imposed by the "terrible ruler Nature."
The city in "Modern" is seen in Marxist terms as a place of corruption and exploitation of the working class. Industrial and technical progress in the service of capitalist society will almost inevitably force Bertha into prostitution: "That prostitutes should be so numerous in Berlin is easily explained by the rise of its machines, etc., etc., its industry, each of whose increasing improvements makes a multitude of workers superfluous and thus prostitutes the female workers" (JR 18). This purely negative and Marxist-deterministic attitude toward the city is thus connected to the ambiguous but implacable sexual instinct. During the next eighteen years, Döblin's attention as a writer turned away from the social question and naturalistic urban setting central to "Modern" and toward an almost obsessive preoccupation with psychosexual themes.
Between the turn of the century and The Three Leaps of Wang-lun, completed in 1913, Döblin made two early attempts in the novel form. Jagende Rosse (Galloping Horses), written in 1900 while he was still
in the last year of Gymnasium but unpublished until 1981, is the plotless, lyrical outpouring of a narrative "I" addressed to a longed-for but unattainable "thou." Dedicated "To the Memory of Hölderlin in Love and Devotion" (JR 26), the work is stylistically indebted to that great poet's epistolary novel Hyperion . In 1902–3, Döblin wrote Der schwarze Vorhang (The Black Curtain), which was published in installments in Herwarth Walden's Expressionist journal Der Sturm in 1912 and in revised form as a book in 1919. Its hero, the schoolboy Johannes, has a tortured relationship with a girl, Irene, whom he murders before committing suicide.
These two novels, along with the stories "Adonis" and "Erwachen" (Awakening) of 1901, contain almost no trace of either the metropolitan theme or the social concern so central to "Modern." Both Galloping Horses and "Adonis" have vaguely rural settings, and when the lyrical "I" of the former attains a final affirmation of life, Döblin uses conventional images of a natural existence, close to the earth, to express it: "Reborn to suffering and yearning, [life] turns to the soil, to the earth, to the fields; there it breaks out and expands in the air of heaven and dissipates in change and transformation, to grow again between sky and sea and earth" (JR 82). Such natural cycles were to be one of the main themes in the pantheism Döblin espoused in such writings on natural philosophy as Das Ich über der Natur (The I over Nature; 1927) and Unser Dasein (Our Existence; 1933).
What is remarkable is the contrast between such lyrical, Hölderlin-inspired nature imagery and the naturalism of "Modern." The only thing the earlier story has in common with these works is the issue of sexuality: the adolescent sexual ferment beneath the socialist rhetoric of "Modern" now surfaces with a vengeance. Bebel's critique of capitalist society as the exploiter and degrader of women disappears. The ideal of woman as the social and sexual equal of man is replaced by the timeworn psychological and religious opposition of female sensuality and male spirituality. Woman's susceptibility to exploitation is now reinterpreted as her instinctive readiness to sacrifice herself to the man.
The traces of fear of sexuality and women discernible in "Modern" become centrally important in these works. Women are presented as alien beings, usually hostile and often fatal to the troubled male heroes. The first-person narrator of the story "Awakening" criticizes women's lack of inner life: "The eyes, yes the eyes; they are still the
eyes that have never looked inward" (JR 102). In the story "Adonis," the hero is a psychotic torn between the sensual, maternal attraction of a woman and the intellectual pull of his former teacher, a monk. In the end, he and the woman drown themselves together. The eternal opposition between the sensual and the spiritual could not be more clear.
The narrative "I" of Galloping Horses goes so far as to deny women their humanity even in the sexual act he shares with them: "I only love what is beneath me. Even when I love human females, I'm practicing sodomy" (JR 69). Sexuality is still regarded as a natural drive of the human animal, but it is naturally demonic, undermining and destroying the metaphysical unity all these heroes seek. Johannes, the hero of The Black Curtain, "could not comprehend that the human being was not sufficient unto itself, that it split into man and woman, was eternally pushed beyond its own borders, driven toward an alien being. Everyone bears sexuality's mark of Cain: a fugitive and a wanderer shalt thou be; thou shalt—love" (JR 128). He feels himself both attracted to and repulsed by Irene, and their sadomasochistic relationship ends in a gruesome murder-suicide: Johannes bites her in the throat before killing himself.
The instinctual drives that the polemicist of "Modern" wanted to liberate from the taboos of bourgeois social convention are now seen as dark, implacable forces out of man's control and far beyond the reach of society. There is in effect no society in these works; their only social dimension is the scorn of the narrator in Galloping Horses for the human rights "Modern" so stoutly defended. The "law of nature" now simply reduces mankind to its basest instincts: "Gorging and tippling, those are their sacred 'rights of man,' that was my right. They move in filth, that is their element; in whinnying lust they engender filth, blowflies that couple wherever they are, in any foul air" (JR 44). Notice that the narrator does not exclude himself from his indictment; the self-loathing in these works is most evident in this first-person narrative.
Between the derivative "Modern" and The Black Curtain, Döblin finds an original if disturbing voice as a writer. He turns radically inward, abandoning social and urban themes for a prose of psychosis, inner torment, and violence against both the self and others. In order to return to social themes and the public novel, he had to resolve his tormented view of sexuality. We shall see how he found a provisional
solution to this problem by the time he wrote The Three Leaps of Wang-lun .
Between The Black Curtain and The Three Leaps of Wang-lun, Döblin's fictional output was limited to short stories, partly because of the demands of his medical training. For the most part, these stories continue to exploit the sexual and psychological themes of The Black Curtain . The best of them have a satiric edge that exposes bourgeois pretensions and proprieties to ridicule. This avant-garde scorn for the bourgeoisie, a pose Döblin cultivated his entire life, made him naturally receptive to Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and his Futurist cohorts when they burst onto the Berlin cultural scene in 1912. In March of that year, Der Sturm had prepared the ground by publishing both Marinetti's "Manifesto of Futurism" (originally published in Figaro in 1909) and a separate manifesto of the Futurist painters. The painters then exhibited in Herwarth Walden's Sturm gallery in April and May, and Marinetti came to Berlin for the occasion.
Both Futurist manifestoes reject the art of the past, especially as it is enshrined by bourgeois society: "Set fire to the libraries! Divert the canals in order to flood the museums!" Both proclaim a new aesthetic of speed and dynamism and declare Futurist art to be the art adequate to the modern world. They reject individual man as the central subject matter of art, praising instead the modern machine: "Just as interesting as the pain of a man is for us the pain of an electric lamp twitching under electric cramps in the most heart-rending colors."
Döblin was tremendously excited by the Futurists' paintings. He wrote an enthusiastic review of the exhibition for Der Sturm . When he met the painters and Marinetti during their visit, he remarked to the latter, "If only we had something similar in literature" (AzL 9). In July, Döblin began writing his first mature novel, The Three Leaps of Wang-lun .
Herwarth Walden, meanwhile, continued to champion the cause of Futurism in Germany. In October 1912, Der Sturm published Marinetti's "Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature" and in March 1913, the "Supplement to the Technical Manifesto," both of which elaborate the stylistic implications for literature of the general prin-
ciples enunciated in the first manifesto. On the basis of these stylistic pronouncements, Döblin had second thoughts about Futurism and published his "Futuristic Verbal Technique: Open Letter to F. T. Marinetti." This open letter explicitly ended his year-long flirtation with the Italian movement: "Cultivate your Futurism. I'll cultivate my Döblinism" (AzL 15).
What was it that made Döblin first extol Futurism and then reject it barely a year later? It is clear from his review, "Die Bilder der Futuristen" (The Pictures of the Futurists), that he was initially attracted to these paintings by their rejection of mimetic realism in favor of subjective, expressive dynamism. The painter, he writes, "is not an imitator, but an innovator. Animation is everything" (Zeitlupe 9). Beyond this rather general enthusiasm, Döblin discerns no particular Futurist program: "It is not a direction, but a movement" (Zeitlupe 11). In Marinetti's "Technical Manifesto" and "Supplement," there was much with which Döblin could agree because it conformed to his own emerging narrative, the new "epic" style of Wang-lun: the rejection of levels of style; advocacy of intuition and the unconscious in artistic practice; and hostility to the psychological analysis characteristic of nineteenth-century realism: "The 'I' in literature must be destroyed, and that means all psychology."
But when Marinetti proposes specific stylistic rules in order to achieve the goals of Futurism, Döblin rebels against the Italian's reductive monomania. In order to reshape literature as an intuitive, irrational art, Marinetti feels an "impetuous need to free words from the prison of the Latin period." Verbs should appear in infinitive form in order to free them from the tyranny of the narrator's control. Adjectives and adverbs are abolished because they retard and add undesirable nuance to the dynamic flow. Mathematical and musical symbols will replace punctuation. Nouns should be juxtaposed to each other in chains of analogy, unconnected by conjunctions. Not surprisingly, given Marinetti's worship of war, his fierce misogyny, and his elitism, the examples he offers are "man—torpedo boat, woman—harbor, crowd—surf."
The core of Marinetti's new style is the theory of analogies, that is, pairs or chains of nouns whose interrelation both writer and audience grasp intuitively, without the mediation of "like" or "as." The more unexpected and farfetched these analogies, the more profound will be their effect. The "Supplement" of March 1913 ends with a text by
Marinetti in French entitled "Bataille: Poids + Odeur" (Battle: Weight + Smell) which actually follows the rules laid down in the "Technical Manifesto." It consists almost entirely of such analogic pairs, with an occasional mathematical symbol thrown in.
Döblin begins his "Open Letter to Marinetti" by reaffirming his allegiance to the general stylistic aims that he understands them to share:
It's clear to both you and me, Marinetti: we desire no embellishment, no decoration, no style, nothing superficial, but hardness, cold and fire, softness, the transcendental and the shocking, without wrapping paper. . . . We both reject whatever is not direct, not immediate, not saturated with objectivity [gesättigt von Sachlichkeit ] . . . naturalism, naturalism; we still fall far short of being naturalists.
Döblin uses two terms that were to become centrally important in his mature works: Sachlichkeit and Naturalismus . Sachlichkeit is a difficult word to translate adequately into English; it can mean both "objectivity" and "sense of reality" but also "impartiality," "detachment," and "pertinence." The root noun Sache (physical object, thing) suggests external, physical reality as opposed to inward, psychic states. Sachlichkeit is the main ingredient of what Döblin now calls naturalism. He would repeatedly make clear over the next twenty years that he used this term not to refer to the literary movement of the late nineteenth century, but rather to a recurrent impulse toward a nondecorative art that attempts to convey reality as directly as possible: "Naturalism is no historic 'ism,' but the torrent that of necessity breaks in on art again and again" (AzL 18).
Having stated the general principles he believes they share, Döblin proceeds to attack Marinetti for narrowness and dogmatism in their application. On the one hand, he writes, Marinetti has fallen victim to a "tiny, tiny mistake" by confusing reality and materiality (AzL 11). The Italian is in effect propounding a new but impoverished theory of mimesis: "We are supposed to imitate only the bleating, puffing, rattling, howling, snuffling of earthly things, to try to achieve the tempo of reality, and you call this not phonography, but art, and not just art but Futurism?" (AzL 10). On the other hand, the "telegram style" of "Bataille," far from making literature more sachlich, actually makes it more abstract by distilling it into analogical lists. With specific reference to Marinetti's pairs "général îlot" and "ventres arrosoirs têtes foot-ball éparpillement," Döblin writes:
Your battle is chock full of images, analogies, similes from beginning to end. Fine, but that doesn't look very modern to me, it's just good old reliable literature; I'll grant you all your images,—but let's have that battle! Be direct, Marinetti! Yes, it's easy to call the general an "island," to let heads fly like footballs and let ripped-open bellies gush like watering cans. Frivolity! Antiquated! Museum! Where are the heads? What about the bellies? And you claim to be a Futurist? That's the worst kind of aestheticism! Things are unique; a belly is a belly and not a watering can. That's the ABC of the naturalist, the genuine, direct artist. It is the task of the prose writer to forego images.
In place of Marinetti's skeletal analogies, Döblin posits gesture as the means to approach reality: "A general can and must be plastically presented by means of a movement. He must be presented in this way; everything else is empty talk" (AzL 14).
A text as dogmatically conceived as "Bataille" was grist for the mill of Döblin the stylistic critic. But the "Döblinism" announced at the end of the "Open Letter" is as yet only negatively defined as a reaction to the excesses of Futurism. Two months later, in the essay "An Roman-autoren und ihre Kritiker: Berliner Programm" (For Novelists and Their Critics: Berlin Program), Döblin presented the first positive statement of the principles that would inform his prose for the next twenty years.
The essay first declares loyalty to the modern world in tones that still have a Futurist ring: "Old Pegasus, outstripped by technology, has in his bewilderment been transformed into a stubborn jackass. I maintain that every good speculator, banker, soldier, is a better poet than the majority of contemporary authors" (AzL 15). He also writes of the "strict, cold-blooded methods" that will be necessary to render the modern world accurately. But in place of the bullying, elitist Futurist rhetoric, he now introduces the idea of the writer in a social context, "pledged to a common path and a common enterprise": "Writing is not chewing your nails and picking your teeth, but a matter of public interest" (AzL 15). From now on, he will regard literature as, among other things, a public act with social and ethical consequences.
In the course of writing The Three Leaps of Wang-lun, for which the "Berlin Program" is a theoretical pendant, Döblin takes the Futurist dictum of the elimination of the "I" far beyond its merely formalistic meaning. The public writer can no longer write lyrical novels about isolated psyches, as Döblin had done in his earlier works. He
now seeks a more objective, more sachlich, and more public style, one of
genuine novelistic prose with the principle: the subject of the novel is reality liberated from soul [die entseelte Realität ]. The reader in complete independence presented with a structured process: let him evaluate it, not the author. The façade of the novel cannot be other than stone or steel, flashing electrically or dark, but silent.
In order to liberate reality from "soul," Döblin calls for a Kinostil, a motion-picture style in which images pass by "in extreme concentration and precision" (AzL 17). The author, no longer an analyst and interpreter of his characters but only an observer, eschews the role of omniscient narrator. Indeed, Döblin demands total self-abnegation: "I am not I, but rather the street, the streetlights, this or that occurrence, nothing more. That is what I call the style of stone" (AzL 18).
Döblin's encounter with Futurism thus had the positive effect of forcing him to articulate clearly the principles of the new prose style he would use so effectively in Wang-lun . But if he ultimately rejected Futurism on stylistic grounds, we have seen that he continued to think of himself as sharing certain general avant-garde assumptions with Marinetti. Moreover, he went out of his way to express his continuing admiration for Marinetti's 1909 novel Mafarka le Futuriste: "In your 'Mafarka' you often give perfect expression to massive, unrefined feelings. You are rhetorical, but your rhetoric is not a lie" (AzL 9). Indeed, even six years later, Döblin quotes with approval from the polemical preface to Mafarka in order to contrast it to Otto Flake's Die Stadt des Hirns (AzL 32). Thus Döblin is not rejecting the ideology of Futurism, but rather Marinetti's means for realizing it.
Let us return to the first "Manifesto of Futurism" and to Mafarka to see more specifically what elements of that ideology attracted Döblin. Both manifesto and novel were published in 1909. Marinetti had apparently already written the novel in 1907–8, so that it may be assumed to have influenced the content of the manifesto. In both, Futurism appears to have been initially not so much a stylistic as a thematic revolt. In contrast to later texts like "Bataille: Poids + Odeur," the novel does not reject conventional syntax and grammar, although its style is distinguished by extravagant and sometimes outrageous imagery. Similarly, the eleven numbered theses of the manifesto contain
no specific stylistic formulae for Futurist art; they are instead provocative challenges to established notions of the beautiful and to institutionalized art: "A racing car, its body packed with great pipes like serpents with explosive breath, a howling automobile . . . is more beautiful than the 'Winged Victory of Samothrace.'"
But beyond this famous enfant terrible provocation to aesthetic conventionality and tradition, a program emerges which, as Armin Arnold has pointed out, owes much to Nietzsche's Zarathustra . What Arnold does not point out is that the program also propounds the psychological preconditions for fascism. Its irrationality modulates naturally into aggression and brutality: "Just as literature up to now has celebrated contemplative passivity, ecstasy and slumber, we now intend to celebrate aggressive movement, feverish sleeplessness, the gymnastic step, the dangerous leap, the slap, and the punch." And later: "art can only be violence and cruelty."
This diction of violence culminates in the glorification of war and contempt for women, subsumed under one number in Marinetti's list of desiderata: "We shall praise war—the world's sole hygienics—militarism, patriotism, the destroying gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful thoughts that kill, and contempt for womankind." A subsequent manifesto clarifies the logic of this coupling: women are the embodiment of pacifism, naturally timid and opposed to war: "It is certain that our nerves demand war and despise women! Of course, for we fear their tendril-like arms, entwining our knees on the morning of farewell!" It was indeed a woman who embodied the idea of pacifism in Europe at the time Marinetti was writing: Bertha von Suttner, whose novel Die Waffen nieder! (Lay Down Your Arms) had appeared in 1889 and who had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905.
But in his preface to Mafarka, Marinetti defends the misogyny of his manifesto on different grounds: "And yet it is not the animal value of woman that I dispute, but her sentimental importance. . . . I want to vanquish the tyranny of love, the obsession with the unique woman, the great romantic moonlight that bathes the façade of the bordello." He represents his misogyny as an integral part of his rejection of the art of the past, an anti-Romantic revolt against love as the dominating theme of most nineteenth-century art. Marinetti's antifeminism may thus appear at first blush to be purely aesthetic. In fact, in a manifesto entitled "Zerstörung der Syntax—Drahtlose Phantasie—Befreite Worte—Die futuristische Sensibilität" (Destruction of Syntax—Wire-
less Fantasy—Liberated Words—The Futuristic Sensibility) whose German translation was published in Der Sturm in May 1913, he announces that technological change has already brought about "full equality of man and woman, with only a slight difference in her social rights."
Marinetti here sounds almost like a feminist, although no feminist would have claimed in 1913 that women enjoyed anything approaching equal rights, much less proclaimed them a fait accompli . The psychological equality the Futurists actually had in mind was outlined by Valentine de Saint-Point, Marinetti's appointed leader of the Futurist "Action Féminine," in her "Manifesto of the Futurist Woman," whose German version appeared in Der Sturm in May 1912:
WOMEN MUST NOT BE GRANTED ANY OF THE RIGHTS DEMANDED BY THE FEMINISTS. TO GRANT THEM WOULD NOT BE TO INITIATE THE LONGED-FOR FUTURISTIC TRANSFORMATION, ON THE CONTRARY, IT WOULD MEAN SUPERFLUOUS ORDER. . . .
Women, you have believed in morality and false prejudices for too long; return to your sublime instincts, to savagery, to cruelty.
While men battle and wage war against each other, you produce children as a bloody tribute to war and heroism; think of the demands of destiny. Let them grow and blossom, not for yourselves, for your enjoyment, but in unbounded freedom.
In this text too, one hears clear echoes of Nietzsche. But in Marinetti's novel Mafarka le Futiriste there are no heroic women bearing the warriors of the future. On the contrary, women are useful only for their "valeur animale," as in the mass rape of captured Negresses in the first chapter:
[The soldiers] had laid out all the Negresses, wriggling and bruised, in the mud, and they were taking aim with their black, sooty rods, more twisted than roots.
One saw the sleek, glossy bellies of the young women and their little breasts the color of roasted coffee writhing with pain under the heavy fists of the males, whose bronze backs rose and fell tirelessly amid the lively slap-slop of the green slime.
Some chanted funereal songs; others furiously sank their teeth into the manes of their mistresses, then paused, their mouths filled with bloody hairs, and knelt for a long time, staring into those mournful eyes rolled up in pain, terror, and lust.
Because from time to time the women would jerk under the recoil of a forced spasm, with a pleasure all the keener for being involuntary. The agile black legs with their delicate ankles thrashed convulsively, like a piece cut off a snake's body, and wound themselves one after the other, with the sound of a whip cracking, around the back of the male.
The scene continues in this vein for four more pages before Mafarka intervenes and disperses the mutinous soldiers. What is noteworthy here is not so much the predictable and smug assurance that women actually enjoy being raped. It is rather the insidious aestheticization of violence, the pleasure of a gourmand in describing the precise colors of the ravished bodies in terms of food: "their little breasts the color of roasted coffee" (later in the passage, the hips of the youngest girl are described as "varnished and sugared, the color of beautiful vanilla"). The imagery dehumanizes the women by focusing interest on isolated body parts—bellies, breasts, eyes—and this dissection culminates in a simile of maiming, the writhing legs "like a piece cut off a snake's body."
Women, indeed, are ultimately not even estimated for their "valeur animale," but rather hated and feared for their sexuality, which threatens to sap the vital energies of men. In a characteristic passage, Mafarka has two dancing girls thrown to the sharks because they have excited him sexually: "Like butterflies and flies, you have invisible proboscises for sucking out the strength and perfume of the male! . . . All the poison of hell is in your glances, and the saliva on your lips has a gleam that kills . . . yes, it kills as well as and better than daggers." The novel's preface declares programmatically that the hour is near when the Futurists, unwilling to accept the lot of being "miserable sons of the vulva," " . . . will engender prodigiously, by a single effort of their exorbitant will, giants of infallible deeds." Marinetti announces "that the spirit of man is an unused ovary. . . . It is we who fertilize it for the first time!"
This Futurist immaculate conception is more than mere metaphor: the novel culminates in Mafarka's construction of a gigantic winged son, Gazourmah, "beautiful and free of all the defects that come from the maleficent vulva and predispose to decrepitude and death!" Clearly, Mafarka goes far beyond Zarathustra's advice to women, "Let your hope be, 'May I bear the Superman!'" Both father and son repel the advances of Coloubbi, the ultimate woman, a seductive mother/lover figure whose sexuality is a deadly threat. She expires after Gazourmah's final rejection and her death unleashes the cataclysmic destruction of the earth, a "bataille tellurique" above which Gazourmah mounts serenely on his giant wings.
Döblin thus found his view of women only confirmed in Marinetti's Mafarka . Even in the "Open Letter" that marked his break with Fu-
turism, he assures Marinetti that he is fully in agreement with what he calls his "anti-eroticism" (AzL 15). In addition, I suggest that he found prefigured in Mafarka the possibility of overcoming the obsession with the demonic, destructive power of sexuality characteristic of his works before 1912.
In The Three Leaps of Wang-lun, written during his encounter with the Futurists, Döblin found a formula, as it were, with which he would lay the demon of sexuality: the idea of a rape followed by "sacred prostitution." In the absence of their leader Wang-lun, the male sectarians of the "Truly Weak" are not able to maintain their vow of chastity. Incited by Wang's second-in-command, Ma-noh, they fall upon their sister sectarians in a mass rape possibly suggested by and worth comparing to the "Viol des Négresses" in Mafarka:
How the women's hill began to tremble.
Cries and shrieks leapt a thousandfold across the valley and echoed from the far hill.
Terror grew ever greater; amid the sharp voices a deep rumbling, cracking, bellowing could be heard.
Wide-eyed horror tried to escape from the shadows of the catalpa and was yanked back.
After long, raving minutes, pieces of white and colored clothing spattered from the top of the hill, fell into the moss, rolled down soundlessly.
A strange quiet fell over the hill, interrupted by long, spasmodic cries, penetrating cat-like whimpers, the music to breathless helplessness that bites itself in the finger, lets the soul shrivel as if in vinegar, to the frenzy of despair that draws bodies into its maelstrom.
Döblin, whose misogyny is less insouciantly automatic than Marinetti's, has managed to make this rape almost incorporeal. Here the violence is more thoroughly aestheticized than in Mafarka; it is an Expressionist tour de force of acoustical images—only the sounds of a mass rape. In the process, both rapists and raped have lost all individuality, are nothing but collective noises, "cries and shrieks leapt a thousandfold" and "a deep rumbling, cracking, bellowing." On the other hand, the collective terror of the women becomes personified: "Wide-eyed horror tried to escape. . . ." If Marinetti's Negresses ultimately surrender willy-nilly to their lust, Döblin's sectarians, both men and women, go a step further: they are joyfully reconciled to their sexuality once the rape has been accomplished. Individuals are gradually reconstituted from the fragments of color and sound into which they had been broken during the rape:
For a long time, nothing moved on the women's hill. Then white and colored dots began to shimmer between the tree trunks. Running of men black as shadows, mixing of colors, handfuls of sounds, talking, fragments of calls, a swell of noise. Bright sisters embraced each other as they came gliding down the hill. The brothers hip by hip. A jubilant cloud, saturated in light, descended into the valley.
Ma-noh, with a new feeling of power, adopts sexuality as a doctrine and renames the sect "the Broken Melon." When Wang-lun returns, he recriminates with Ma-noh for having violated the principle of celibacy. Wang, however, has brought with him a great battle-sword, the sign that he has compromised the principle of Wu-wei in a different way and is ready to use force to protect the sect from the persecution of the Emperor. Neither man has been able to maintain the Taoist ethic. It is simultaneously an ethical and a political question that lies at the center of Wang-lun: what is the proper response to oppression—passive acceptance or active resistance? Wang-lun metaphorically takes "three leaps" back and forth between these two positions, perishing in the final battle for Peking without having definitively chosen either one. Thus, although the extravagant language and exotic setting of Wang-lun betray the Futurist influence, Döblin has moved decisively away from the Futurists' amoral, aestheticized aggression and love of violence. Wang-lun's ideal is clearly pacifist and he takes up arms with extreme reluctance. The novel, in fact, first clearly formulates what would remain Döblin's central and unresolved moral dilemma: activism versus passivity. As Leo Kreutzer has written, "the irreconcilability of opposites . . . becomes a sort of basic pattern in Döblin's life and thought."
The "sacred prostitution" of the sect, however, is for Döblin at least a provisional escape from the obsession with the destructive power of sexuality which dominates his early works. Although sexuality still means a disruption of the ideal unity, it now can have a redemptive purpose. Once they have been raped, the sisters of the Broken Melon continue to sacrifice their bodies in order to protect the sect: "The sisters armed themselves to erect a wall of gentleness around the Broken Melon. . . . The younger beauties were the sacred prostitutes. They said that no one would hinder them from treading the smooth path to the Western Paradise, not now, when they were ready to share everything, everything with everyone" (WL 174–75).
With the concept of sacred prostitution, Döblin has moved beyond the dilemma of sexuality in his early stories, where it is simultaneously natural and destructive. But his solution, as we shall see, is to establish an obsessively recurring pattern whose psychological roots lie in the disaster of his childhood. Women can now serve as redemptive figures, but at the price of self-sacrifice for the sake of a male hero, which usually means being literally or metaphorically raped. Moreover, the positive image of the sacred prostitute seems to be accompanied almost automatically by its negative: woman as solipsistic monster. Jost Hermand and Frank Trommler have drawn attention to the cliché character of such polar images of women, based on "the time-honored division into whore and madonna types." It is noteworthy, however, that Döblin's particular variation of this cliché totally excludes the sexually pure madonna ideal. The positive, redemptive pole for him is the prostitute, a figure we will see recurring obsessively in his work.
Before turning to Döblin's first Berlin novel, let us look briefly at the story "Von der himmlischen Gnade" (On Heavenly Mercy), first published in Der Sturm in September 1914, and probably written soon after the completion of Wang-lun . The story is one of Döblin's first works since "Modern" to be set in contemporary Berlin. Its language reflects the new style Döblin described in the Berlin Program. The pathos and polemics of "Modern" have given way to the "style of stone" of an impersonal and self-effacing narrator.
The plot of "On Heavenly Mercy" is purposely aimless and alogical. It concerns the Nasskes, an old and impoverished couple who commit a casual robbery and are caught and imprisoned for a brief period. Upon their release, the husband hangs himself, apparently out of spite. The milieu is the barren edge of the modern city whose inhabitants are more like brutalized peasants than city dwellers. They represent the lumpen proletariat whose poverty has ground them down to almost subhuman status. An important change occurs in the way Döblin portrays working-class characters: In "Modern," he spliced essay and fiction into an indictment of capitalist society and the human toll it takes. In "On Heavenly Mercy," by contrast, the poverty of the Nasskes appears absolute. No causes are sought; only effects are
dispassionately presented. If there is an indictment here, it is totally implicit.
Poverty has killed the Nasskes' emotional lives and turned them into machines: "They had gotten out of the habit of talking. Their bones performed their service tirelessly, machines that had been started up once and for all; they carried their hearts, doing their sluggish and hesitant ticktock, the wheezing lungs; and their heads teetered on their withered necks" (E 140). Their dialogue is reduced to primitive instrumental utterances and brief, spiteful exchanges. When the old man hangs himself, his wife's reaction is brutally matter-of-fact: "Annoyed, she shuffled into the kitchen; after a while she chirped back, 'I'm supposed to cut him down, that good-for-nothing? A dead person like that is disgusting.' Later, after the corpse had been laid on the mattress, she said to Rutschinski, 'Get that out of here. Get a move on'" (E 146).
The fierce, unblinking Sachlichkeit of the story conforms to the narrative ideals of the Berlin Program, yet two contrasting narrative modes interrupt the primary narrative at critical points. One is a wickedly parodied Romanticism. The "blooming chestnut tree" across from the Nasskes' shack is in itself a Romantic icon, but one they expressly take no notice of, passing it "sightlessly." The goldfinch who hops about among its branches, however, leaves the reader in no doubt about a Romantic invasion of the story, for after a preliminary "Kivitt, kivitt, tsvrr" it unexpectedly breaks into song: "Green is the May. With a bouquet of lovely flowerets bedecked are hill and vale. The bubbling of cool brooks is heard by every little forest bird" (E 139). There is wonderful shock value in the sudden intrusion of this snatch of supernatural rhymed kitsch into the naturalistic narrative. Without comment, the narrator simply juxtaposes these two apparently irreconcilable visions of the world. That irreconcilability is underlined by the old man's total deafness to the poetry in the finch's song: "'We don't have to listen to these pieces of shit.' The old man picked up a stone, threw it over the fence into the tree. The bird flew away" (E 139–40).
The song does not exist in his world. It is a purely narrative event, and when it is over, the story continues as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened in the text. At the very end of the story, the same goldfinch reappears (it is clearly the same, since the narrator uses the definite article), this time sitting in a beech, another tree from the Romantic forest: "The goldfinch sang, 'Let nature's bloom dispel man's
gloom, his soul rejoice and flower in this glad time and gentle clime, enjoy the springtime hour. And pray to God above to send his mercy and his love'" (E 147). The montage of these snatches of a pious, optimistic Romanticism that recalls the texts of the poet Matthias Claudius has been interpreted as holding out a hope of transcendence or of the "permanency of natural existence." Yet the juxtaposition is so abrupt, the contrast so extreme, the finch's lyric so shallow compared to the Nasskes' degradation, that it is hard to see how God "sends his mercy" in this story, despite its title. Indeed, the title seems almost cynical when the reader discovers that it is derived from the finch's song rather than from the primary narrative.
There is, however, a second intrusive narrative mode that must be taken more seriously as an indication of another level of reality. It consists of a lyrical metaphor for death, first occurring at the very beginning of the story: "No country is so peaceful as the one that leads into death. Life arches above one's head like a bridgespan, and below it flows the water, carries the boat, takes it further" (E 139). The metaphor returns and is elaborated at the moment old Nasske hangs himself. The antitranscendental primary narrative, the "style of stone," has just pictured him as "a long, light package on a rope" (E 145), then: "The bridgespan glided away overhead; a rapids lifted the boat, dropped it into a pool; the boat went down smoothly and freely, a feather in the wind, sank" (E 145–46). While this metaphor is impossible to untangle logically, its import is clear. Life is fragile and brief, while death is the absolute reality underlying it. While the superficial optimism of the finch seems to deny death, this metaphor not only asserts its reality, but celebrates it as ultimate peace.
Yet even the transcendence suggested by the river metaphor does not seem the ultimate, reconciling "meaning" of the story. Both it and the finch's songs are simply juxtaposed to the primary naturalistic narrative without transition or narrative comment. They are, moreover, carefully spaced and alternated within the story. The river metaphor opens the story, followed shortly by the singing goldfinch. The metaphor recurs after Nasske's suicide, while the goldfinch has the last word of the story. Partly because of this placement, the two modes seem to cancel each other. Döblin's narrator is playing with the form of the story itself, emphasizing these intrusions by locating them at particularly important structural points, yet denying us the key to their importance. In spite of the symmetrical, closed form they suggest,
Döblin uses them to keep the story open. Unwilling to accept the stark brutality and hopelessness of the primary narrative as absolute, he is nevertheless unable to subsume it under a redeeming metaphysical order. The montage preserves the jarring clash of irreconcilables without glossing it over.
There remains, however, an attempt at a sort of redemption within the story, and it involves, not surprisingly, the figure of a prostitute. The pimp Rutschinski rents the second floor of the Nasskes' house and occupies it along with his girlfriend Emma. The narrator focuses attention not on the active Rutschinski, but on the passive Emma. The longest continuous episode in the work, in fact, concerns Emma and is completely tangential to the Nasskes' story.
Emma, "a blond former nursemaid" (E 142), represents a step beyond the situation of Bertha in "Modern." Bertha's "redemptive" characteristics—her religiosity, search for legitimate work, resistance to temptation—are apparently absent in Emma. As with all the other characters in "On Heavenly Mercy," Emma's inner life is opaque to the reader, following the principles of the Berlin Program.
Rutschinski sends her out to earn some extra money for the imprisoned Nasskes, and she is brought into the local first-aid station the following morning, drunk, filthy, and bleeding from a beating. What has happened is unclear, but apparently Emma was beaten by a customer she was trying to recruit as a lawyer for the Nasskes. The narrator is not so much interested in causes as in the scene at hand: "Emma was snoring on the floor. Mucus hung from her mouth and was already forming a puddle on the linoleum. She exuded the smell of schnapps and tobacco smoke" (E 143). Her helpless, semiconscious figure is contrasted to the antiseptic atmosphere of the station and to Walter, the medical attendant on duty, "an older man in a white-and-red striped blouse with bared arms. He was wearing steel-frame spectacles; he had lost the hair from the middle of his skull, but on the sides it was bushy and grew malevolently toward the front, black and gray" (E 142). In a narrative so completely restricted to externals, it is no surprise that this figure is as brutal as his description would suggest. In the style of stone, appearance is character, so that his hair can grow "malevolently."
Emma is for him "the female," "a new case" (E 143). He spits contemptuously on the floor in front of her and roughly holds smelling salts under her nose. He is agitated by and obviously interested in the
open seductiveness of her clothes, and when she violates the sanctity of his antiseptic medicine cabinet, he becomes brutal:
"Look at what this slut is wearing. Boots up to her knees." Her net stockings of blue silk were exposed to view. With a jerk she pulled her head out of his arm, crouched down, then crawled like a dog on all fours to the dressing table, while her hair hung down over her swollen face. She pulled herself up, panting, with him right behind her with the wash cloth. She staggered over to the wall, pulled at the latch of the medicine cabinet, pressed her face against the glass, smearing it. He yanked her sideways, "Hey you, get your mitts off there."
His expressions of disgust approach a climax as he unconsciously mimes a rape:
He forced her down with his broad torso, pressed her knees down, held her against the table top with his encircling arms. He ground his teeth; his bald head was moist and shiny with sweat. "Let go of my shirt, you filthy pig. You should be ashamed of yourself, acting like this. You should be ashamed, you should be ashamed!"
Finally, when she scratches his face while struggling to escape the smelling salts, he punches her twice in the mouth.
There is a disturbing ambiguity in the tone of Emma's encounter with the medical attendant Walter. As has already been noted, it contributes nothing at all to the advancement of the plot, yet is the longest single episode in the story. While the attendant is implicitly condemned for his brutality, the narrator presents his mishandling of Emma in such detail and at such length that one begins to suspect a certain voyeuristic enjoyment on his part. Emma is a quadruple victim: exploited by Rutschinski, beaten by a customer, further mishandled by the authorities whose job is supposedly to help her, and also "victimized" by the narrator. The narrative victimization is partly the ritual that allows her to become a redemptress (it is she who earns the money, tries to recruit a lawyer, and comforts the widow Nasske at the end), but partly also an excuse to describe her brutalization in graphic detail. The style of stone creates an "objective" framework for such exploitation. Narrative affect has not really been eliminated, only channeled into the descriptive details.
"On Heavenly Mercy" is a laboratory demonstration of the principles enunciated in the Berlin Program: rejection of psychological
analysis and rational causality; elimination of the subjective, authorial narrator; restriction to the notation of processes and movements. The story's lumpenproletarian characters lend themselves particularly well to these techniques. Yet the story is not simply a nihilistic mirror of their brutal lives. The jarring juxtaposition of irreconcilable narrative modes breaks through the illusion of a unified reality created by conventional narrative. A few years later Döblin formulated this idea in the often-quoted dictum, "If you can't cut a novel into ten pieces like an earthworm and each piece moves independently, then it's no good" (AzL 21). In Wadzek's Battle with the Steam Turbine, written shortly after "On Heavenly Mercy," Döblin continued his assault on traditional narrative fiction by attacking the idea of the hero.