Alfred Döblin’s literary cases about women and crime in Weimar Germany
in A history of the case study

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.

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A history of the case study

Sexology, psychoanalysis, literature

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