Thursday, May 31, 2018

“Helena, em-dash, em-dash, Helena”

It is night. In Kerkauen Castle, someone cannot sleep:

Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz. 1929. Trans. Michael Hoffman (New York: New York Review Books, 2018).

What a novel. Elaine and I are about 180 pages in. Like Walter Ruttmann’s film Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927), Berlin Alexanderplatz is something of an imagist documentary of a metropolis. I’m reminded too of the urban inventory of Walter Benjamin’s One-Way Street (1928). And yes, there’s a resemblance to Ulysses. But Döblin’s novel moves at a quicker pace and ranges more widely than Ulysses, stepping away from the sorrows of the protagonist Franz Biberkopf to explore any matter that commands the narrator’s attention. Which can lead to astonishing moments, as in this passage.

[The last words of this passage in German: “Gänsefüßchen, Lore, Gedankenstrich, Gedankenstrich, Lore, Gedankenstrich, Gänsefüßchen, Gänsebeinchen, Gänseleber mit Zwiebel.” That is, little goose feet (quotation marks: «), Lore (diminutive of Eleonore), em-dash, em-dash, Lore, em-dash, little goose feet (»), little goose legs, goose liver with onion. In Eugene Jolas’s 1931 translation: “quotation marks, Eleanore, dash, Eleanore, dash, quotation marks, quotation francs, quotation dollars — going, going, gone!” Each translator sacrifices the literal sense to suggest the wordplay of the original.]

comments: 1

Frex said...

LOVE IT exclamation mark, exclamation mark.