This excerpt presents to English readers for the first time Alfred Döblin’s dystopian epic of the future Berge Meere und Giganten (“Mountains Oceans Giants”), written in 1921-23 and published in Berlin in 1924.
In 1921, the lifelong city-dweller Döblin became seized by an overwhelming sense of Nature: “The Earth fetched me…I experienced Nature as a secret…as the World Being: weight, colour, light, dark, its countless materials, as a cornucopia of processes that quietly mingled and criss-crossed… I often became frightened, physically frightened, giddy in the face of these things–and sometimes, I confess, even now I feel uneasy” (Die neue Rundschau, June 1924).
For the first time in his writing career, he took a break from his day job as a neurologist to give expression to this feeling. The result was a monstrous 500-page vision of the next seven centuries, as humanity continues to give technology free rein regardless of adverse consequences for humanity and the world.
H. G. Wells, meet Hieronymous Bosch! Wells the Fabian, in The Shape of Things to Come, saw the solution to humanity’s problems in World Government and a better sort of committee. Döblin’s darker view is a literary counterpart to Bosch’s dark and powerful imagery. Try reading it with Bosch’s The Last Judgment at hand!
Mountains Oceans Giants explores themes relevant to our times: globalisation, consumerism, wealth concentration, mass migration, murderous elites, lust for power, headlong technological “progress” that often makes life worse for its supposed beneficiaries and the natural world.
The excerpt describes the development of synthetic food, marking a radical break between humans and their natural and social worlds.
– Chris Godwin
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