occupy wall street : young brecht

With nationhood came a belated industrial puberty. German traditions: diligence to duty, bureaucratic organization, an elaborate system of social caste, all seemed ready-made for empire. The new middle-classes of the day proved the most arrogant of snobs, the most officious of paper shufflers. It was the age of gunboat diplomacy, of officers who wore spiked helmets and gilt epaulets while they fired the imaginatons of meaner men with what Hemingway was later to call the obscene and abstract words, before shooting them forward to die.

---Bertold Brecht saw it clearly: the chief enemy of his ideal communist society, of his socialist New Man, was the empathy and identification, the desire for a happy ending and its pleasingly exhausting refusal, the acceptance of suffering and imperfection, that constitutes the drama of tragedy....Read More:http://frederickturnerpoet.com/?page_id=149

Young Bertolt Brecht, born into the well-to-do home of an Augsburg paper-mill director, reacted early to these traditions. While still a gymnasium schoolboy, during the opning year of WWI, he handed in a required essay on “The Glory of Dying for the Kaiser and the Fatherland” that precipitated the first of a lifetime of scandals. For in it he wrote:

“the expression that it would be sweet and worthy of respect to die for the fatherland can only be evaluated as purposeful propaganda. …only simpletons can push pride so far as to speak of an easy leap through the dark gateway, and even this only so long as they believe themselves far from the final hour.”

Such heresies provoked a predictable civic furor, but family influence saved the iconoclast for the time being. Brecht received his diploma, began to study medecine, and then, after his first several terms, was called up to serve as an orderly in a military hospital. After months of bandaging exposed brains in cracked skulls, amputating limbs, and pulling sheets over bloodless faces, he came away confirmed in his earlier conviction that war was premeditated butchery and the social class he grew up in did the planning.

---For Brecht, "criticism is to be understood in the sense that politics is its continuation by other means." In "The Author as Producer", Benjamin argued that "the politically correct tendency includes a literary tendency"; a continuation of politics by other means. For both, "high artistic standards" were identical with "politically advanced ones". Benjamin admired Brecht's timeliness; his was a theatre for the "scientific age", an "apparatus" to effect change. Wizisla quotes Benjamin's benchmark: "A total absence of illusion about the age and... an unlimited commitment to it." Benjamin perceived Brecht as the poet "most at home in this century" according to Hannah Arendt. Benjamin's remark contains potent ambiguity, as does our recognition of him as a key 20th-century figure. --- Read More:http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/walter-benjamin-and-bertolt-brecht-by-erdmut-wizisla-trans-christine-shuttleworth-1828444.html

At war’s end Brecht returned to the study of medicine. But he had seen too much and he soon began a subsidiary existence as one of the prime characters of the Munich artistic underworld, as a critic for Socialist papers, and as a fledgling dramatist. By 1921 he had given up his medicinal ambitions and the people of Munich were beginning to talk about the short, bony, wiry young man with the steel rimmed glasses, the two days growth of beard, the hair combed carefully down over his forehead, and the laborer’s smock, who spent his evenings in the cellars of Schwabing cabarets croaking vitriolic ballads at his followers.

---Wizisla, like Stanley Mitchell before him, is drawn to Benjamin's radically optimistic analysis of Brecht's poetry, in particular a poem about enforced exile published in 1939 which Benjamin recited in French internment camps. The message of Brecht's Lao-tzu poem is that the "soft water" of friendly unity "vanquishes in time the mighty stone"; "what is hard must yield." Wizisla's story of artistic and political radicalism in the darkest of times is a landmark publication. These two friends "inhabited" their times supremely well; their traces ought to inspire us in ours.--- Read More:http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/walter-benjamin-and-bertolt-brecht-by-erdmut-wizisla-trans-christine-shuttleworth-1828444.html

Anonymous public passions. It seemed to Brecht as it seemed to many Germans in those years, that Germany’s stuffy official aims and attitudes and repressions had no right to claim even pragmatic success. The war had been lost, the currency was worthless and debased, and the regimes kept on collapsing. Through it all, what was left of the self-righteous, phlegmatic middle-class sat placidly on its property, Germany, amiably digesting the political parties one after the other. In the background lay a setting that Brecht projected theatrically to America, a particularly to Chicago, in the images of such plays as St. Joan of the Stockyards: the lush phosphorescent jungle city through which pathetic human animals slink, quickly degenerating, goaded by genital hungers and visceral fears.

To express the situation on a stage was not enough for Brecht. Something specific and political had to be done. Despite his life-long conviction that truth is concrete, he shared the German weakness for abstraction. Along with many of his generation Brecht became first a pacifist, then a Marxist, and ultimately, though he never officially joined the party, a Communist. professed and ardent. By the end of the 1920′s in Germany, the Communists seemed to Brecht and many others

one political group with humanitarian ideals, however distant their realization, that had not sold out to the old order and the industrial and financial barons. Nazism was gathering force, and Brecht, always primarily an intuitive personality, discerned readily the dark threat of the national character and began to grow very frightened by it.


Frederick Turner:The Verfremdungseffekt he devised ( Brecht ) in his drama is surely the equivalent of those strategies of abstraction and distortion by which, as Kuspit shows, modernist painters sought to alienate the sympathies of their viewers from the lachrymose sentimentality of bourgeois perception. But the world has chosen against Brecht’s vision, and it is only a matter of time before it chooses against the puritanism of avant garde art; it has chosen instead the tragic view of life. It is thus no longer a modernist world.

But why should the world have chosen the tragic vision–if only with its feet? The answer is another paradox: the tragic vision is the only realistic form of true optimism, and the only sound basis for hope and progress. The anguish of tragedy can only come from gigantic loss and waste. Such loss presupposes that there is something supremely valuable and dear to be lost; a worthless and trivial world cannot contain anything whose loss would be worth mourning. The world must then be meaningful, or at least productive of meaning. But if the world can supply, create, or grow objects or persons with such supreme value that their loss is tragic, then the world can do it again; tragedy is at base a triumphant assertion of our universe’s power to generate springtimes and children, hostages whose loss would be the cause of infinite suffering. Tragedy affirms something even darker, even more splendid, more terrible: the ability of at least some human beings to suffer adequately, to give the accurate emotional response, to such loss. This ability is godlike; may we be protected from having to exercise it! Read More:http://frederickturnerpoet.com/?page_id=149


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