More Cabbage food 33/40

March 31, 2007 at 7:11 am | Posted in Film, Literature | 7 Comments
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I’ve decided to translate the rest of Döblin’s text Das Theater der kleinen Leute, although in installments. Here is the first part:

[S. 153] Der kleine Mann, die kleine Frau kennen keine Literatur, keine Entwicklung, keine Richtung. Sie pendeln abends durch die Straßen, stehen schwatzend unter den Eisenbahnbrücken, sehen sich einen gestürzten Gaul an; sie wollen gerührt, erregt, entsetzt sein; mit Gelächter losplatzen. Der stärkste Tobak steht bereit. Es handelt sich um die Erreichung von Folterkammern, Seetieren, eventuell um Beteiligung an Revolutionen.

Gegeben sind die Anatomietheater, Panoptika, Kinematographen. Sie pflegen das höchst Verwunderliche und durchaus Gräßliche. Die Güte der Darbietung steht in direkter Proportion zur Stärke der erzielten Gänsehaut. Der Besucher eines Panoptikums ist beim Eintritt im Zweifel, ob er erst einer grimassierenden kaiserlichen Familie seine Reverenz erweisen oder die Daumenschraube besichtigen soll, taumelt zwischen Ehrfurcht und Entsetzen. Da sieht er eine “Mundbirne”: “dieselbe wurde dem Delinquenten in den Mund gesteckt und dann auseinandergeschraubt; sie öffnete sich nach vier Seiten und dehnte den Mund so stark auseinander, daß die Unglücklichen nur winselnde Töne hervorzubringen imstande waren und denselben oft die Mundhöhlen zersprengt wurden”. Der Fremdling staunt einen schlottrigen Fürst Bismarck an, eine Riesenkartoffel; nimmt den aufgeschnittenen Leib eines weiblichen Störs zur Kenntnis, welcher Kaviar, die beliebte Delikatesse, produziert; sieht eine geistig umnachtete Mutter ihr eigenes Kind unter der Nr. 486 in einem Kessel sieden. Halbtot schleppt er sich vor einen Poenitenzkäfig aus der Gegend von Eisleben; wie einen Schlag trifft den Entsetzten noch am Schluß der Anblick der Württembergischen Stiefel; der Höhergebildete ist nämlich an den Füßen sehr empfindlich.

Der Situation ist er nicht gewachsen; schwer geht es ihm [S. 154] ein , daß diese Institute ein wechselndes Bild der fortschreitenden Kultur geben; und er trinkt ein Glas Bier zu zivilen Preisen.

Here is the translation of The ordinary people’s theatre

The ordinary man, the ordinary woman, don’t know any literature, no development, no direction. They commute through the streets at night, stand babbling beneath railway bridges, take a look at a toppled horse; they want to be touched, excited, horrified; burst with laughter. The strongest meat is made available. It is about reaching torture chambers, sea animals, possibly about participation in revolutions.

There are anatomy theatres, panoptica, cinematographs. They tend to the most astounding and the perfectly hideous. The quality of the presentation is in direct proportion to the strength of achieved goose bumps. Upon entering, the visitor of a panopticum is in doubt whether he must first show reverence to a grimacing imperial family or inspect the thumbscrew, staggering between awe and horror. There he sees a “mouth pear”: “the same was stuck into the mouth of the delinquent and then screwed apart; it opened in four directions and thus expanded the mouth to a degree that the unfortunates were merely able to produce whimpering sounds, and the same ones’ oral cavities were blasted.” The stranger marvels at a rickety Fürst Bismarck, a giant potato; takes note of the slivered body of a female sturgeon which produces caviar, the popular delicacy; sees a mentally deranged mother simmer her own child in a cauldron beneath No. 486. In agony he trudges to a penitentiary cage from the region near Eisleben; finally, the sight of the Wurttembergian boots hits the horrified like a hammer; the person of higher education, you see, has very sensitive feet.

He cannot cope with the situation; only with difficulty does he understand [p. 154] that these institutes offer a changing prospect of progressing culture; and he drinks a glass of beer at a moderate price.

Bibliographic details: Alfred Döblin: Das Theater der kleinen Leute. In: Das Theater. Volume 1, No. 8 (Decemver 1909), pp. 191-192. Cited from: Prolog vor dem Film: Nachdenken über ein neues Madium, 1909-1914. Edited and commented by Jörg Schweinitz. Leipzig: Reclam, 1992, pp. 153-155,

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7 Comments »

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  1. This is SO great! I’m just seeing this before bed, but hope to spend some time with it tomorrow. Thank you so much!!! 😀

  2. The smiling face of my last comment looks obscene coming after the Doblin. The first paragraph reads like some version of lyric poetry. The ordinary man, the ordinary woman excited, horrified. One reads Doblin in the same spirit.

    “They commute through the streets at night, stand babbling beneath railway bridges, take a look at a toppled horse.” This could be a line from Eliot’s “Wasteland.” Everything is climactic. The common man and woman want to feel alive, exactly what the technology of industrialization denies, but in the ordinary people’s cinema, affords.

    The “changing prospect of progressing culture” is “awe and horror.” This awe and horror is not Brechtian defmailiarization, it’s in fact precisely what the common person pays for, like a moderately priced glass of beer. When the answer to “can I still feel anything” is only answerable by the excitation to shock, we have a measure of the living death common to common people–their need to consume horror to feel alive.

    The spectacle of the people’s theater opens the eyes like a mouth-pear the mouth.

    Are the Wurttembergian boots worn by a person of higher education?

    “He cannot cope.” We cannot cope. Thank you so much for translating this!!

  3. I don’t know for sure, but I could imagine that these boots are a totureinstrument, similar to the Spanish boots http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanischer_Stiefel

    You’re most welcome. I’ll try to translate the rest soon, but I need to work on my paper before I submit the final version on Thursday, hence I’ll only have time for no brainers on the blog (Maske, for instance)

    Btw, if one doesn’t have an ö on the keyboard, one normally spells Döblin like this: Doeblin. Ö is a different letter from o and also sounds differently – phonetically it is indeed somewhere inbetween o and e, i.e. less open than an o, not quite as closed as an e.

    Talk to you later on the blogosphere!

  4. Thanks for the Doeblin suggestion. Good luck with the paper! Is this the paper you’ll soon be presenting?

  5. I am studying the theorie of film right now and from where i come, it is really hard to get this Döblins piece. If you have it in electronic form, could you send it to my e-mail address (host.uros at gmail.com), please (i’d prefer the german version)?

  6. Hi this reminds me that I should continue translating it for Cabbage. It shouldn’t be a problem to scan it for you (I need to get a scanner first though). Do you have access to any German libraries? They should have it, if not, I#ll be happy to scan it (or maybe photograph it) for you. Please remind me again if I don’t get around to it in the next couple of days.

  7. Btw, there are two and a half pages in total, this is the first one already


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