Berlin Psychoanalytic: Psychoanalysis and Culture in Weimar Republic Germany and Beyond

By Veronika Fuechtner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Berlin Soulscapes:
Alfred Döblin Talks to Ernst Simmel

The writer Alfred Döblin came into contact with the BPI and its members at a point when psychoanalysis was well on its way to transcending its disciplinary and institutional confines. As becomes manifest in Karl Abraham’s letters to Freud, there was a “great enthusiasm” in the group after the end of World War I, and Berlin was ready for psychoanalysis.1 At this juncture, Döblin took an active role in the BPI’s project to implement psychoanalysis in other fields and thereby bring it to other audiences. As a result of his fruitful clinical and intellectual collaboration with the psychoanalyst Ernst Simmel and other members of the BPI, Alfred Döblin moved from a late-nineteenth-century psychiatric understanding of mental illness to a psychoanalytic conception of the soul. This development changed his medical practice and simultaneously drove his search for radical new forms of narration in his fiction. It also influenced the way in which he thought about the relationship between science and literature.

In his psychoanalytic case study Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, Döblin deploys a large scientific apparatus in the form of an appendix to the narration, which includes a summary of published reactions to the case, an analysis of the protagonists’ handwriting, psychoanalytic interpretations of their dreams in prison, and a series of illustrations of their psychological development before and after the murder.2 But this gigantic scientific effort is paired with a deep-seated skepticism as to its efficacy in capturing any kind of truth about the case, and ultimately Döblin

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