Carl Gelderloos deposited “Ersticken im Stofflichen”: Characters as Collectives in Alfred Döblin’s Wallenstein and his Theoretical Writings in the group GS Prose Fiction on MLA Commons 6 years, 10 months ago
In foregrounding the epochal figures of Albrecht von Wallenstein and the Emperor Ferdinand, Alfred Döblin’s historical novel Wallenstein (1920) would seem to confound the genre’s habitual focus on average, typical figures. The catastrophic power struggle that results from the irreconcilability of the protagonists of Wallenstein is a far cry from the broadly representative function of middling anti-heroes theorized by Georg Lukács in his foundational work on the historical novel. Yet paradoxically, it is precisely through the depiction of these historical titans that Wallenstein subverts the centrality of individual characters and portrays history as mass history. By depicting key characters as the bodily concretization of mass movements, Döblin dissolves individual figures into their broader social, historical, and linguistic contexts and thereby arrives at a representative typicality very different from the one Lukács identified in Walter Scott’s work. Drawing on close readings of scenes of characterization and the detailed depictions of individual bodies throughout the text, I will show how the genre of the historical novel allowed Döblin to rework the literary category of character and thereby intervene in central literary-theoretical debates of the Weimar Republic concerning the relationship between epic and documentary representation. Wallenstein is thus not only an early pivotal work in Döblin’s burgeoning theorization of the individual, the mass, and the type, it also offers a surprising paradigm for reading the early 20th-century historical novel, perched between the anti-realist excesses of Expressionism on the one hand and the cataloging, documentary gaze of epic representation on the other.