The City as Creature : Reconfiguring the Creaturely Self in Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929)

Professorship/Faculty: British Culture  
Author(s): Craig, Robert
Title of the compilation: Biological Discourses : The Language of Science and Literature Around 1900
Editors: Linge, Ina; Craig, Robert
Publisher Information: Oxford : Peter Lang
Year of publication: 2017
Pages: 397-422
ISBN: 9781906165789
Language(s): English
Alfred Döblin’s epic novel Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929) is widely considered to be one of
the twentieth century’s greatest city narratives. This pseudo-religious story of a disturbed
ex-con’s epiphany and redemption has been hailed in recent years as a proto-postmodern
tribute to Weimar Berlin. But my chapter aims to show that we can only do full justice to
Döblin’s masterpiece by reading it against the backdrop of his biologically inflected aesthetics
and anthropology. The first part examines the inexorable collapse of Franz Biberkopf ’s
attempts to restore some kind of sovereign control over his life in the city: both his body
and his environment. But in the face of his repeated defeats, I then turn to read the traces
of ‘creaturely life’ within the text. These relate to uncanny points of crossover and hybridity
between man and animal, which may, in turn, shine unexpected new light on the very
‘nature’ of human identity at the heart of the modern city.
Keywords: Alfred Döblin, City Narrative, Experimental Modernism, Literary Anthropology, Literature and Biology
Document Type: Contribution to an Articlecollection
Year of publication: 7. August 2017