I want to read Alfred Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz. Should I read Ulysses first?
June 23, 2009 10:01 PM   Subscribe

I want to read Alfred Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz. Should I read Ulysses first?

I've been watching Fassbinder's adaptation of the novel recently, and so naturally, the prospect of reading the original novel intrigues me. What I'm wondering is if its impact will really be felt if I have no experience with Ulysses.

Of course, I understand that theoretically I could read any derivative work on its own and like it on its own merit. This has often been my entry way into original works, so I'm not necessarily opposed to the idea. On the other hand, I'm quite fond of syllabi, precisely because the idea behind it is that someone has taken the time to think carefully about the best way to take in the information/content at hand. I know if I hadn't read things in a certain order for some authors, I certainly would never have liked them as much as I did, and when I suggest them to other people, I often relate my own journey as a potential model--syllabus--to follow (obviously allowing that other paths are also possible).

So given all this, I'm just wondering if it makes more sense to jump right into Döblin, since I'll be done with Fassbinder soon, or if I should take the time to really see how Döblin evolved his work and made it unique from Joyce's Dublin. The continuum would be interesting, I think. Then again, I'm worried about having a 'forgettable' read--which often happens to me when I'm not in the right mindset--if I'm not prepared.

And as a side note, part of what's making me hesitate at all is a perusal of the secondary literature out there on Fassbinder--many of the essays seem to have familiarity with both Ulysses and Alexanderplatz as prerequisites for really getting at the profundity of their arguments.

posted by parkbench to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It seems to me that both ways are entirely okay in some ways, as you write. The problem might be Joyce: I believe that if you haven't set your mind a 100% on dealing with Ulysses, it will be a really hard book to swallow. So any idea of using it as a warm-up-read should be eliminated. Read it for its own sake, breathe, decide what you read afterwards (it may not be Döblin at all). This also depends on how much time you have to spend, actually. Joyce will take you a while.
posted by Namlit at 12:14 AM on June 24, 2009

No, just jump right in and read Alexanderplatz. I read it without even having heard of Ulysses, and I found it impressive in its own right, and memorable without any reflective "profundity".

Honestly, if you want to read all "derivatives" in proper chronological order, you'd have to start at a much earlier point. Like, by reading the Iliad, and all works of fiction and non-fiction that were influenced by it. It would probably take several lifespans just to get to modern novels. And it doesn't sound like much fun. Go light on the secondary stuff, modern literature is hard enough to get without theories.

(And this is coming from a doctorate-level philosopher who really, really likes herself some fancy theories. I just don't think literature should be about them.)
posted by The Toad at 1:17 AM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

A few interesting relfections on the connections between Joyce and Doblin in this Ian Buruma review of the Criterion edition of Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz
posted by shothotbot at 6:20 AM on June 24, 2009

Jump right in.
/has read them both
posted by languagehat at 3:05 PM on June 24, 2009

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