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Psychoanalysis and Culture in Weimar Republic Germany and Beyond
By Veronika Fuechtner
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESSCopyright © 2011 The Regents of the University of California
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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. 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. 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 developed a model of fictional psychology that he deemed more successful at revealing the soul than the various scientific approaches that he at once construes and undermines.
ALFRED DÖBLIN AND THE BERLIN PSYCHOANALYTIC INSTITUTE
Born in 1878 in Stettin, Alfred Döblin studied medicine and psychiatry in Berlin and Freiburg and graduated with a dissertation on Korsakoff's psychosis, a memory disorder related to alcoholism. Despite his traditional psychiatric training, which had focused on the classification of diseases, diagnostics, and pharmacology and assumed a purely physiological basis for psychological processes, Döblin's dissertation also indicates a remarkable interest in exploring the psychological role language and personal history play in pathological conditions. It investigates how memory works, how stories seem to emerge out of nothing, and how language functions in this context. As early as 1905, Döblin was fascinated by the idea of a link between the present and the past via the psychological existence of the past outside of our present consciousness.
After graduating from the University of Freiburg, Döblin worked as a psychiatrist in a series of large hospitals in southern Germany and in Berlin. Disillusioned, he later dismissed this period of "confinement in hospitals" as pure "diagnostics." He opened his own general and psychiatric practice in 1911, first in the more affluent western part of Berlin, then, in 1913, in the eastern part of the city, in the working-class neighborhood of Lichtenberg. In 1914, he started treating patients with psychoanalytical methods while also promoting psychoanalysis publicly, pointing out the significance of psychotherapy in the treatment of hysteria.
Döblin spent the war years as a military doctor on the Western front, where—as he wrote—he fought the Battle of Verdun with his ears. The very primitive and brutal treatment of war neurotics during and after World War I led many doctors in the field to reevaluate their approaches to the treatment of trauma. As the historians Andreas Killen and Paul Lerner have depicted, the shift from somatic to psychogenic theories of neurosis within the psychiatric profession was accompanied by its embrace of the Kaufmann method to influence and break the patient's will. The Kaufmann method involved a combination of brutal electric shock treatment and verbal suggestion.
Many psychoanalysts who later became part of the BPI experienced World War I as military physicians, and they opposed the radical physical treatment of shell-shocked patients. Their successful experiments with the psychoanalytic method in the battlefield led to a period of support by medical officials from the Central Powers and gave the psychoanalytic movement a major boost of recognition. Moreover, the clinical study of war neurosis became the theoretical stepping-stone for the concept of the ego in psychoanalytic theory. However, as Lerner has argued, psychoanalysis was presented with the dilemma that these successful treatments and the following recognition of its method ultimately served the war effort. Ernst Simmel and Karl Abraham both gave vivid accounts of the psychiatric treatments that Döblin encountered during his military service. As a military physician, a psychiatrist, and an early reader of psychoanalytic literature, Döblin must have followed the clinical discussions surrounding the treatment of war trauma in the war years. Disoriented by an uprooting war experience and distraught over the death of his sister in postwar street riots, Döblin moved back to Berlin in 1919 and began what he called a "training analysis" with Simmel.
Together with Abraham and Hanns Sachs, Simmel was one of the leading figures of the BPI. Döblin's encounter with him marked the beginning of Döblin's own involvement with the institute, which would influence his medical work, his psychological conceptions, and his literary production. The fruitful connections between clinical theory and practice, political activism, and innovative fiction that resulted from his encounter with Simmel and the BPI would characterize Döblin's work in the 1920s—the decade still perceived as the definitive moment of his writing.
Many previous studies have described Döblin's writing during the 1920s as a continuation of an assumed antipsychological, prewar, expressionist stance, and thus have related his work to the detached style of New Subjectivity. While there have been studies on the inherent connections between Döblin's work as a physician and his literary work, these studies, with a few notable exceptions (such as a study by Thomas Anz), confine themselves mostly to the psychiatric schools in which Döblin was trained, and do not account for his further intellectual development in what he considered his "real profession." As his library and his book reviews show, Döblin was an avid reader in many fields, ranging from natural history to ethnography, and he was vehemently opposed to any kind of dogmatism. His reception of psychoanalysis was decidedly open-minded: he read Freud as well as Freud's foes, like Adler and Jung, and he did not refrain from making fun of what he perceived as the cultlike aspects of institutionalized Freudian psychoanalysis. He also challenged the psychoanalytic claim of original discovery and emphasized that the idea of the unconscious in psychoanalysis owed much to nineteenth-century literature and philosophy.
Yet, the BPI offered Döblin an emerging institutional framework where he could connect his two professions—those of writer and physician. Moreover, he became part of an exciting theoretical moment in Berlin psychoanalysis: the convergence of psychoanalytic theory and communist and socialist theory in the works of Simmel, Wilhelm Reich, Otto Fenichel, and Erich Fromm. Because Döblin was familiar with the correlation between social and psychological misery from his medical work in the working-class neighborhood of Lichtenberg, he must have been intrigued by his encounter with this group of doctors dedicated to addressing the psychological vulnerability of the working poor and imbued with the idealism of a theory that was gaining international recognition.
Since Döblin's connections with the BPI are not usually included in accounts of his life and work, I will relate a few examples of his support for the goals and interests of the BPI, whose members perceived him as a colleague and collaborator. The psychoanalyst Heinrich Meng listed Döblin as a member of the BPI polyclinic's staff and mentioned that the two of them conducted a joint psychoanalysis, which, as he noted, was quite unusual. Meng later emigrated to Switzerland to escape Nazi persecution, but he and Döblin stayed in touch until Döblin's death in 1957.
The BPI polyclinic was established in 1920 under the direction of Abraham, Eitingon, and Simmel. Maintained by salary donations from the BPI psychoanalysts, the polyclinic provided free treatment for low-income patients. The BPI regularly trained outside physicians in courses designed specifically to familiarize them with psychoanalytic treatment. Since Döblin was training with Simmel and, as early as 1921, claimed to be "doing psychoanalysis," it is likely that these first courses were part of his training at the BPI, which later led to his practice in the polyclinic.
In 1923, Döblin publicly praised the work of the polyclinic and described how most of the cases, ranging from neurasthenia to paralysis, were treated over the course of half a year in several sessions per week. In his public statements, however, he omitted mention that the source of his intimate knowledge of this work was his own experience. Döblin was also familiar with the work of the psychoanalytic clinic Schloß Tegel, another clinic that Simmel directed, where up to thirty patients—primarily neurotics and drug addicts—were treated in an idyllic setting, and where Freud himself stayed as a guest on his trips to Berlin.
Like Meng and Simmel, Döblin was also a member of the Association of Socialist Physicians (Verein Sozialistischer Ärzte, or VSÄ) and was elected to represent the association in the professional chamber of doctors. This forum for discussions on medicine, psychoanalysis, and socialism had been founded in 1913 by Simmel and the doctors Ignaz Zadek and Karl Kollwitz, the husband of the artist Käthe Kollwitz. Simmel also coedited the association's official organ, the Socialist Doctor, where Döblin published an article against Germany's restrictive abortion laws. Like Simmel and other BPI analysts, Döblin was also active in the General Medical Society for Psychotherapy, which demonstrates his interest in a wide variety of psychotherapeutic approaches.
Döblin's involvement in the polyclinic, the VSÄ, and the General Medical Society for Psychotherapy indicates that he was attracted to psychoanalysis as a clinical discipline that offered him new techniques he could then incorporate into his medical practice. In 1922, Döblin reported from the Berlin convention of the International Psychoanalytic Association for the daily newspaper Vossische Zeitung. In this article he praised a talk by Simmel for its insistence on the clinical within psychoanalytic theory, thereby emphasizing his interest in the intersection of medicine and psychoanalysis.
The patient books of Döblin's doctor's office at Frankfurter Allee 340 for the years 1923–1926 have survived and tell a fascinating story of the professional life for which Döblin is less known. His office hours were from 4 to 6 p.m. each afternoon. His patients—mostly unskilled laborers, factory workers, and railroad employees—came from the surrounding working-class neighborhood. Many had been sent by their employer's health insurance company for him to evaluate whether they were fit to return to work. Döblin often gave them extra time and described this particular form of "medicine of the working class" in terms of an unconventional solidarity with his proletarian patients. In other descriptions of his own work, Döblin argues that the role of a doctor was inherently connected to the role of a therapist: "I am a doctor and yet, not just a doctor. There is nothing or almost nothing wrong with these people." He goes on to describe a young man who came to his office for headache treatment, but the true source of his pain was a marriage crisis. Döblin suggested that the young man bring his wife to their next session.
As a physician licensed by the state health insurance system (his stationary listed him as a "specialist in internal and nervous diseases"), Döblin treated a wide range of psychological and physiological complaints: a long fall from a factory staircase, menopausal disturbances, stomach ulcers, and many cases of insomnia. The young Helene M. came to talk about her depression after her father killed himself, while Johanna H. came to Döblin pondering killing others. Onetime visitors were an "old psychotic" and another patient who had violently attacked the referring doctor, cases which give insight into the fact that Döblin was working in a neighborhood that we would describe today as a "social hotspot."
The frequent appearances of war trauma in Döblin's patient records, along with the routine questions concerning war trauma in the health insurance questionnaires of the time, reflect the extent to which even in the mid-1920s Berlin still suffered from the psychological consequences of World War I. Döblin's patient Alma S. had survived being buried alive and subsequently suffered from claustrophobia and insomnia. Karl W. had headaches as a result of a mine explosion during the war. Johann S. came first to complain of rheumatism, and then returned for long-term treatment for attacks of fear and war neurosis. These cases are just a few examples of the considerable number of male and female war neurotics whom Döblin treated during this time. He usually treated his neurotic patients in a series of meetings once or twice a week, some of them over the course of several years. Thus, at the polyclinic as well as in his doctor's office, he was directly involved with war neurosis, one of the main theoretical and clinical concerns of the BPI.
As far as Döblin's therapeutic practices can be discerned, they were heavily influenced by psychoanalysis. Döblin perceived within himself a great sensitivity and ability to analyze the unconscious. These qualities are also featured in a publicity photograph taken for the press: Döblin sits at his office desk, hunched forward with a concentrated expression, facing his wife, Erna Döblin, who poses as his patient. Instead of sitting on the opposite side of the desk, which would have indicated the usual hierarchy between doctor and patient, she is sitting beside him and on the same side of his desk, suggesting a more equal relationship. Although Döblin's desk is covered with books and a large array of intimidating medical instruments and medications, he is turned away from these icons of medical knowledge and faces his "patient" directly. Regardless of whether this staged arrangement was an accurate portrayal of his daily practice or not, the image conveys the manner in which Döblin wanted to be perceived as a doctor. It captures what stood at the foreground of his medical work: equal conversation with his patient. For Döblin, this constituted one of the attractions of psychoanalysis: "All soul work by doctor and patient requires showing your deck of cards. One speaks German, not Latin, and in every sense one has to speak plain German to each other. This is something democratic."
Döblin's notes on a conversation with a female patient in 1921 provide a window on his therapeutic work. At first, Döblin took notes on the physical well-being of this patient and diagnosed a deterioration of her condition, especially evident in her backaches. He then proceeded to describe her dreams, after which he moved on to observations about her childhood: her love for her older brother, and the beatings she received for her stubbornness. He finished with a comparison that his patient drew between him and another man: the excitement, the heart palpitations, that she felt "when she comes to the session" were exactly the same as in her meetings with "K." In these notes, Döblin departed from a diagnosis of physical symptoms, progressed to an interpretation of dreams and the reflection of childhood events, and concluded with a situation of transference—a succession that corresponds very much to a typical setting in psychoanalytically oriented therapy both in 1921 and today.
Excerpted from Berlin Psychoanalytic by Veronika Fuechtner. Copyright © 2011 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of Contents
ContentsList of Illustrations, ix,
1. Berlin Soulscapes: Alfred Döblin Talks to Ernst Simmel, 18,
2. Wild Psychoanalysis, Religion, and Race: Georg Groddeck Talks to Count Hermann von Keyserling (among Others), 65,
3. The Berlin Psychoanalytic in Palestine: Arnold Zweig Talks to Max Eitingon, 113,
4. Berlin Dada and Psychoanalysis in New York: Richard Huelsenbeck and Charles Hulbeck Talk to Karen Horney, 144,
Selected Bibliography, 211,
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