It is our hope as editors that this Companion volume will serve not merely as another reminder that Alfred Döblin was an important modernist writer, but rather that it will provoke curiosity and provide insight into the many aspects of his work and life. Perhaps more than his contemporaries Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and Franz Kafka, Döblin grappled with the idea of becoming modern, exploring it in both his fictional and his theoretical and essayistic writings. And, more than Gottfried Benn, the other prominent contemporary physician/poet, Döblin actively participated in the medical, psychiatric, and psychoanalytical debates of the time. The reasons for his eclipse as a writer and a politically active intellectual are manifold. In part, they are attributable to the stylistic and thematic complexities of his writings and his often contradictory and extreme positions; in part, however, the reasons lie in the times. The collapse of the Weimar Republic, the burning of his books and the years of exile in Switzerland, Paris, and California, as well as a vain attempt to reestablish himself in postwar Germany disrupted a literary career that had finally achieved success in 1929 with the publication of his best-known novel, Berlin Alexanderplatz. The conjunction of Döblin's creative impulse and the turbulent and disastrous history of the first half of the twentieth century establish the terms necessary for understanding this complex figure.
The essays in this volume were selected to give a representative overview of Döblin's oeuvre — admittedly a formidable task, given this author's wide-ranging concerns. Written by established Döblin scholars from Germany and the United States, they address major themes, problems, and questions. The essays are not intended to provide a unified viewpoint. Rather, they put forth the diverse perspectives and approaches of our contributors. The editors believe that these multiple points of view will enhance a continuing discussion.
Our thanks go first to our contributors, for their good work and their patience and cooperation during the editing process. We also would like to thank the translators, Kurt A. Beals, Detlev Koepke, Lee Stavenhagen, and Brian Tucker. They acquitted themselves very well of the often difficult task of rendering academic German into English. We are, of course, much indebted to our editors at Camden House. Jim Hardin provided prompt and expert guidance and timely encouragement during the preparation of the manuscript.