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

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

More puzzlement about Alexanderplatz - Berlin

Book or section 5 of Alfred Doblin's Alexanderplatz - Berlin focuses on Franz Biberkopf's strange and exploitative relationships with women. We meet a new "friend" of Franz's, a guy who meets women - "janes" in the antique slangy translation from the German - falls madly in love with them and within a few weeks is repulsed by them and wants to get rid of them; this is where Franz comes in - they work out a system in which the women run an errand for the guy and bring something - boots or an article of clothing or something - to Franz, who then seduces the woman and takes her over. They go through a few serial relationships like this - until after a few Franz actually falls for one of the women and doesn't want to ditch her for his friend's latest cast-off. This set of relationships raises a # of questions, such as what do these women see in either of these low-lifes? And what kind of man shuffles through relationships like that - one would suspect maybe a latent or not-so-latent homosexuality maybe? Or some kind of disorder, sexual or psychological? In any event, at the end of this section, which marks the end of volume I of this two-volume novel, Franz goes out for a walk and gets waylaid by a bunch of guys who want him to go on some kind of job - petty theft maybe? - with them and things go wrong and, though it wasn't entirely clear to me, it seems that Franz maybe gets run over by a car? In any event, Doblin notes almost parenthetically that the woman he left at home would never see him again. So this section of the novel ends with everything and everyone in doubt; we still, or at least I still, have no deep knowledge about Franz and what makes him who and what he is - a petty criminal trying to make a go of things selling cheap, maybe pornographic?, magazines and papers. It's a totally strange novel, in that it's an attempt to document a social sphere rather than develop character and action. The great social realists - Zola, Balzac, even the Americans such as, at times, Steinbeck and Dreiser, relied on plot and character, even on melodrama, to tell their tale but Doblin shuttles that off his back - it's a work of high literary ambitions, not always achieved, written in plain style.

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