Listening to Literature 1900-1950 location:KU Leuven date:12-14 March 2014
So far, literary scholars have shown little interest in the practice of public speaking during the first half of the 20th century. Although they have considered public speaking to constitute just a marginal activity during the time frame indicated, the body of speaking writers – or writing speakers – has turned out to be too large and diverse to sustain this claim. This omnipresence of speaking writers was especially striking in post-1900 Germany and Austria, where speech delivery thrived under the conditions of socio-political turmoil – for example the sudden transformation of both countries to democracies after the First World War – and a rapidly changing media landscape. One of the many speeches delivered during this period was Alfred Döblin's 1931 speech to the members of the Berliner Secession (Berlin Secession). At that moment, the Berlin Secession, having evolved from a rebellious collective of modern painters and sculptors into a well-established art movement, organised its 64th exhibition. For this exhibition, carrying the title "Künstler unter sich" ("Artists among Artists", which must have sounded highly utopian at this moment in history), they had invited Döblin to deliver the introductory speech. His opening words provoked the audience and sparked a debate on the contemporary function of painting. Interestingly, these words, which Döblin improvised and which were simultaneously broadcast by the Berlin radio station, show how traditional oral culture and modern media like radio and gramophone converged and enhanced each other. This paper argues that this convergence allowed Döblin to apply strategies of subversion and meta-reflection to his audience, to himself and to the very ritual of public speaking. This argument is supported by an analysis of his speech's transcript and by samples from the original sound recording. By referring to the recording, the paper also points to the central role of new media in changing the entire media network of the Weimar Republic.