Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Brains” is an exemplary piece of expressionist prose. As in expressionist painting, in which connections to reality may be tenuous and colors subjective, the emphasis in expressionist literature is not on the external world but on inner reality. Few authors are better able to conduct readers convincingly through the enigmas of the human mind than Benn. He not only studied psychiatry but also personally experienced the terrifying dissolution of the self portrayed in “Brains.” His story is a case history that apprehends the experience as well as the symptoms. It focuses on experience and its manifestations; its more poetic passages have the ring of immediate experience about them. “Brains” is a masterful and rare exploration of the spontaneous collapse of the ego and a regression to the first questions of life: Who and what am I?

To illustrate the tenuousness of Rönne’s grasp on his present time and place, Benn uses the stylistic technique he calls montage: The last few lines consist of fragmentary and disjointed associative remarks. Paradoxically, while reflecting Rönne’s loss of more ordered thought patterns, this stylistic technique enables him, by dispensing with complete syntax, vastly to expand the range of his imagery, to transcend and trivialize his own immediate time and surroundings as he concentrates in an ecstatic rush of association on a wealth of feelings and sensations, on exactly what is needed to counterbalance his overly cerebral and narrow approach to existence. “Brains” may, in fact, be seen as a microcosm of Benn’s work, of his cosmic overview and transcendent, at times humorous, response to daily events, which are indeed dated. He deals with fundamental truths.