This chapter investigates examples of literary case studies by Alfred Döblin, a medical doctor and a main representative of the 1920s ‘New Objectivity’ aesthetic movement in Weimar Germany. Like fellow poet Gottfried Benn, Döblin brought his professional expertise in medicine to bear on his literary projects. Whereas his contemporaries were preoccupied with questions of social justice, Döblin was particularly interested in gender relations and the nexus between sexuality and crime, and used literature as a metaphorical laboratory to explore shocking and topical themes of the day. With his realistic case studies based on trials and his own expert knowledge of psychiatry, sexology and psychoanalysis, Döblin strove to bridge the gap between highbrow literature and the new empirical life sciences, as well as between his medical practice and his love of literature. His work demonstrates both the benefits and limits of the case study genre as a vehicle for transporting new forms of knowledge. While his attempts to refashion the literary case study as a crime novel by incorporating the latest theories about the human psyche and female homosexuality were of limited success, he achieved greater success with Berlin Alexanderplatz, a modernist novel about crime and sex in the metropolis.
This volume tells the story of the case study genre at a time when it became the genre par excellence for discussing human sexuality across the humanities and the life sciences. A History of the Case Study takes the reader on a transcontinental journey from the imperial world of fin-de-siècle Central Europe and the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the interwar metropolises of Weimar Germany, and to the United States of America in the post-war years. Foregrounding the figures of case study pioneers, and always alert to the radical implications of their engagement with the genre, the six chapters scrutinise the case writing practices of Sigmund Freud and his predecessor sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing; writers such as Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Oskar Panizza and Alfred Döblin; Weimar intellectuals such as Erich Wulffen, and New York psychoanalyst Viola Bernard. There result important new insights into the continuing legacy of such writers, and into the agency increasingly claimed by the readerships that emerged with the development of modernity—from readers who self-identified as masochists, to conmen and female criminals. Where previous accounts of the case study have tended to consider the history of the genre from a single disciplinary perspective, this book is structured by the interdisciplinary approach most applicable to the ambivalent context of modernity. It focuses on key moments in the genre’s past, occasions when and where the conventions of the case study were contested as part of a more profound enquiry into the nature of the human subject.