August 11, 2008

A Second or Third Chance

In 1929 Alfred Döblin wrote Berlin Alexanderplatz, the first great, modernist novel in German not by a guy named Kafka or Hesse. The plot is pretty straightforward; the protagonist is a construction worker released from prison after a four-year sentence for an involuntary murder. (Involuntary murder - Did someone say modernist?) Fate deals him blow after blow despite his firm intention of becoming an honest citizen in bumpin' Berlin. He becomes an alcoholic, joins a gang of criminals, ends up a pimp, loses an arm through treachery, a jealous thug murders his new girlfriend, and he’s re-arrested and thrown into a psych ward.

Another recent release from prison is Joey Barton, who returns to his role as midfielder at Newcastle United in the English Premiership after serving part of a sentence for assault. He was caught in a drunken late-night fistfight in Liverpool, then while on parole he was re-arrested for beating up a former teammate at the training grounds. Before he disappeared behind bars last year, Barton was a fantasy owner’s dream. Now few clubs are interested in him and the media criticize Newcastle for the huge risk in taking him back.

Redemption is not a popular theme nowadays. Novels from the intervening war years of the Weimar Republic are likewise cynical, but they often end with the typically expressionist motif of rebirth and renewal. Döblin’s protagonist has had it rough, but with every setback he gains new insight, and he can make a final comeback of sorts. At the end of the novel we find him working as an assistant caretaker at a factory, unbothered by any crooks. Newcastle’s manager Kevin Keegan apparently also believes in redemption. He said about signing Joey Barton to his team this year, “People have opinions, and you must respect those, but mine is to give him another chance and back him” (AFP July 29, 2008).


Anonymous said...

I would like a 4th chance, since I've fucked up so many times. I was playing footie the other day, penalty shot, knew the keeper was going left and guess what the ball did, went left! This was after 2 botched goals me vs. goalie. 3rd time is not a charm, 4th is!

Mama V said...

Hey, there's some good theology in there somewhere.

Paul Spinger said...

Dieser Roman ist einer der wichtigsten in der deutschsprachigen Literatur des 20. Jahrhunderts. Danke schön dafür, dass Du Dich damit beschäftigst.

Grüße aus Deutschland

Brains said...

Danke Paul! Deine taegliche Gedichte sind ein Riesengenuss. Ich fuege gleich einen Link zu deinem Blog hierbei ein.