*** May contain spoilers ***
What do you make of Döblin’s structuring of the novel? The short summaries at the beginning of each chapter, each section? The montage technique?
Those short summaries feel very much like a throwback to the 19th century. You know the days when the chapter headings were half a page long. But that’s a probable misreading of Döblin’s intention, given that the montage technique is something taken from film. Perhaps those short summaries are more clapboard summaries. Either way, I’m glad they’re there. They help me keep my bearings, because, honestly, I sometimes feel quite dizzy! It all feels just like a scrapbook of ideas to me at the moment rather than an artful montage.
Women and the treatment of women in Berlin Alexanderplatz …. Discuss.
Appalling. They are from passed from pillar to post (or rather from Reinhold to Biberkopf), and are quite compliant with it. It’s far too easy to jump a high horse here, but it makes me wonder about the circumstances that cause such dependence. (I don’t think they are drug-addled, just poverty-stricken.) Nor are they unique to that milieu in Weimar Berlin. I’ll bet similar lives (and worse) are still being like lived all over the world.
This makes me want to cheer the widow we met last week, who refused to have anything to do with Biberkopf after she had been robbed by his mate, Lüders. But it also shows how lucky she was to be able to afford such independence.
This section introduces Reinhold, who will prove to be Franz Biberkopf’s main antagonist. What do you think of Biberkopf’s initial underestimation of Reinhold?
First impressions of Reinhold are that he is a feckless, harmless, somewhat shabby, gigolo, who can live with a woman for only 4 weeks. So he passes them onto Biberkopf, who is to pass them further down the chain, when the next woman in the relay appears. Only there’s one he likes and he decides he doesn’t want to continue the arrangement. So he thinks it’s time he had a talk to Reinhold about “becoming decent”.
Reinhold doesn’t turn nasty but there is a moment when his grip on Biberkopf’s arm is tighter and stronger than expected …
Biberkopf, without realising it, has made an enemy, who chooses an opportune moment to inflict maximum damage …
This episode shows an unexpected naivety on the part of Biberkopf, because surely to goodness he must have had his suspicions about Reinhold’s other illegal activities. That Reinhold wasn’t someone to toy with. That he didn’t realise this, didn’t affect a thaw towards him, but it did disarm me a little. (Pun intended.) Perhaps his intentions of cleaning up his game are sincere. Up to this point, I’d never believed it.
What was the highlight of this section for you? What the lowlight?
The slaughterhouse set-piece is both. As a set-piece and metaphor it is undeniably effective, This is the invisible underbelly of the city, a fact that is not openly acknowledged, a place where the defenceless are slaughtered. That snapshots of the slaughterhouse are repeatedly inserted into the text – at seemingly random moments, thereafter – points to an application of the same on the human level. It’s a rough world out there.
BUT, the set-piece is too extended. Even as a meat-eater (or perhaps because I am a meat-eater) I found it distasteful.
Do you have any further observations or questions you’ll be looking to answer at a later stage?
I’m not even going to pretend that I’m enjoying Berlin Alexanderplatz at this stage, but I’ll continue for the sake of the readalong. The scrapiness of the montage is in danger of causing me to skim. So I need to pay attention, find some literary criticism and read a couple of essays. When I understand Döblin’s intention, then perhaps I’ll appreciate the novel more.