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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Monday, February 23, 2015

An unsympathetic hero: Alexanderplatz-Berlin

Doblin's Alexanderplatz-Berlin lives to a degree on the shadow of Ulysses (is Doblin a pen name, a pun name?), as it's an attempt to create a portrait of a working-class city, or section of a city, primarily through the vision of one man (Franz Biberkopf, in this case) and his episodic observations, and also including lots of documentary details: street names, tramcar routes, signage, periodicals of the day. It differs considerably, however, in that it's not written in the high literary style by any means, although Doblin does go in for some Joycean-Woolfian streams of consciousness, and it takes place over several months rather than observing the Aristotelian unities. The novel, despite its strengths, feels loose in some ways - we for fairly extended periods of time lose sight of Franz - and in other ways stuffed with baggage: a fairly long description of the cattle yards and slaughterhouses, while pretty engrossing, if not gross, in its own right, has little to do w/ anything else going on in this novel, as just one example - but there's a wealth of ore to be mined, which I guess Fassbinder did when translating this into a German TV miniseries. Biberkopf is a true anti-hero, very difficult to like or even to sympathize with: reminds me in some ways of Bigger (Native Son), and I suspect he may learn and grow from his experiences, as Bigger did - but at the he's far from sympathetic: killer of his girlfriend, exploiter of women, thug and petty thief, irresponsible about money, a serious drinker, and on top of all that a fascist sympathizer. But he's also a survivor and a victim of his times, little education, little opportunity, and no system for social rehabilitation of ex-cons.

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