Gottfried Benn: A Biography
Chapter 4: “Moi haïssable”: The Late Self: 1917–1930
“Moi haïssable”: The Late Self: 1917–1930
Under the skin: Dr. med. Gottfried Benn
“Diesterweg was deemed to be sick, and was sent back to Berlin”.1 And Benn went with him. But after that both disappear from sight. We know that in March 1917 Benn was still active as a doctor in the army; indeed, he had added to his practical role treating sexually transmitted diseases at the hospital of Saint Gilles in Brussels that of a medical researcher. In that month he participated in supervised tests on medication for soldiers suffering from these diseases, the results of which he wrote up the following year in a scientific paper, “The Secondary Effects of Arthigon” (“Nebenwirkungen bei Arthigon”).2
Within weeks of writing this paper, Benn had left the army and had returned to Berlin, but we know little about his activities there. The account that he left in his “autobiographical” “Diesterweg” story (in German a term that connotes a “gloomy [“düster”] path”) is minimalist, impressionistic, introverted. The singular personality of Rönne stands behind it. Benn returned to his home city, but it was a room, a private space that he was seeking rather than people. The narrator gives us the details of his homecoming in a laconic fashion, describing a simple daily routine that is punctuated by moments of epiphany:
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