too long in exile: worn out welcome

Brecht in exile. He wrote movie scripts and tried to sell them but, except for his scenario for Hangmen Also Die, Brecht sold nothing. He seems to have persistently missed the fact that a great many of the ideas he depended on to astound and tittilate his German audiences: the moral superiority of the downtrodden, for example, or the corruptibility of authority, were the cliches of the American dream. Much of the time Brecht wavered between being morose and elaborately skeptical.

Image: Read More: ---Georg Baselitz painting.---Nor did he get on with representatives of the left theater such as Clifford Odets. For Brecht, Odets was too taken up with the condition of the petty bourgeois family to represent a genuine radicalism: and anyhow, by the time Brecht got to know Odets, Odets was tailoring his talent to Hollywood. Odets, like Brecht, had to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee, but, unlike Brecht, he caved in before it. To earn a living Brecht worked on movie scenarios, the most memorable of which, it is said ... was Hangmen Also Die on which he collaborated with the director, Fritz Lang.... The major production of these years was that of the play, The Life of Galileo Galilei, with Charles Laughton, in Los Angeles in 1947. It ran for 17 performances before the backers got cold feet over the House Un-American Activities Committee. Other plays he wrote in America include The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, where Brecht depicts Hitler as a Chicago gangster; The Visions of Simone Machard - a non-epic play that even contains visitations by an angel to a French servant girl who refuses to collaborate with the Nazis; and a play taken from Jaroslav Hacek's The Good Soldier Schweyk, (Schweyk In the Second World War) and, between 1944-45, The Caucasian Chalk Circle. How much of these plays or the earlier ones were written by Brecht, and how much by collaborators like Elizabeth Hauptmann whose work he simply appropriated, is now a matter of dispute. John Fuegi has uncovered the ‘scandal’ of how Brecht’s collective’ playwriting group, the ‘Brecht Collective’ was run by Brecht, both before and after the war, on the most exploitative basis where he got others to write the bulk of the plays, signed contracts with publishers and took all or most of the royalties. ---

In 1941, after trekking from Denmark to Finland, where, in both countries, friends looked after him and allowed him to write, and where his plays were staged, Brecht finally got a visa to go to the United States where he joined many other intellectual exiles from Germany. His circle included W.H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Aldous Huxley, Charlie Chaplin and, later, Charles Laughton. Yet Brecht’s six years in the United States were less productive than his years of European exile and in terms of getting his work produced, were totally barren until his collaboration with Charles Laughton on an English version of The Life of Galileo Galilei. He was not comfortable in the United States; he detested Los Angeles and the Hollywood lifestyle and was appalled by the commercialism of the theatre. He made an effort to break into Hollywood on its own terms but Hollywood was not interested in him. At the same time he alienated many people, including some of the circle mentioned above. Read More:

Read More: Kuspit:Baselitz insisted, then as he does now, that he was making a "new image" that escaped "interpretations or associations." This is patent nonsense, considering that so many images here were grotesque renderings of the human body with a particular emphasis on its sexual parts. His gesturalism owes an enormous debt to Lovis Corinth and Chaim Soutine--ostensibly minor artists who made surface much more painterly, and thus more intense, than it had hitherto been. And many of Baselitz's fantasies tap into social cliches. Whipping Woman, 1964, illustrates an aggressively demeaning view of woman as mindless body--all bloated belly and breasts, topped by a tiny head. Baselitz's Untitled (new man), a 1965 drawing, depicts a figure that is isolated and abandoned, but the artist still conveys a traditional belief in male dominance and authority. For all of the subject's manneristic distortion and air of futility, he retains a certain grandeur. Indeed, the issue of whether Baselitz's "new man" was in fact the old Nazi Aryan type in tragic disguise continues to haunt the artist. But his decisive fragmentation obviously contradicts the Nazi version of the classical figure, rehabilitating expressionistic art and emphasizing the individual in a way that unequivocally damns National Socialism and mass society. For the artist, who took Artaud as an early role model, emotional disturbances are acts of rebellion against the forced, dreary collective life he experienced as a youth in East Germany (which, he has said, differed from Nazi Germany only in its uniforms).

But gradually, despite his proclaimed uninterest in almost everything American, Brecht attracted attention. Little magazines and the German-language press in New York began to print his poetry. The Private Life of the Master Race, the first of Brecht’s plays to be produced in New York since the outbreak of the war, failed spectacularly in 1945. And then-most signal of turnings- Charles Laughton helped Brecht translate his play  Galileo and brought it, with himself in the title role, first to the professional stage in Hollywood and then for a short time in New York.

Commercially, Laughton’s Galileo , like all of the Brecht plays that had been brought to the American stage, amounted to little. Culturally it was an event; the first presentation in the United States of one of those plays written between 1933 and 1948 which together constitute the canon of Brecht’s mature achievement. Mother COurage and Her Children, Galileo, and The Good Woman of Setzuan were performed during the war in Zurich and their overwhelming success anticipated their becoming classics of the contemporary German stage.

Image: ---Anselm Kiefer.---It seems that after the barbarism of Auschwitz became public in 1945 poetry had to become barbaric again -- as barbaric as civilization had shown itself to be -- to rejuvenate itself. Art had to deal with annihilation to be genuinely creative. Paradoxically, the enemy of creativity became its only source. Adorno seems to be calling for the revival of Expressionism, with its "screaming images,"(7) as the only authentic art. Kiefer's expressionistic pictures answer the call, illustrating Adorno's ironical dialectic of poetry and barbarism: their black surface is the indifference -- and seductiveness -- of absolute negativity in plain sight, and his imagery, much of it dealing, however obliquely, with the barbarism of the Holocaust (Kiefer tends to associate the destruction of the Jews with the self-destruction of Germany, as though their fates were inseparable) -- is nonetheless poetry: tragic poetry. ( Kuspit )

By late 1947 Brecht was ready to go home. The feeling that had induced him, years before, to take out his first United States citizenship papers had died away with the last of the wartime Soviet-American cordiality. Picked out early as one of the most vociferous Marxists in the motion-picture colony, Brecht spent several of his final hours in the United States double-talking around the questions put to him by the members  of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Ever the master of the soft answer that turneth away the facts, Brecht presented himself to the congressmen as most willing but insufferably addled. He persistently confused the plot-lines of his various plays. When queried as to whether he had based his writings principally on the doctrines of Lenin and Marx- as he had- he admitted that, “as a playwright who wrote historical plays, he had of course studied them.”

When confronted with his own lyrics from an American Communist songbook and asked whether he had written them , he replied, not without indignation, that he had most certainly had not. He had indeed written “a German poem, but that it is very different than this.” More than placated , the chairman commended him for his good example and closed the proceedings.

Read More: ---Beatrice Manley as Mother Courage in the American premiere of Bertolt Brecht's play. SFAW, 1956. Director Herbert Blau, l-r Jinx Hone, Beatrice Manley, Malcolm Smith, Stan Young. Photo: Phiz Mozesson---

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Works like The Threepenny Opera, Happy End, The Mother, might be substantially by Elizabeth Hauptmann. But it was Brecht’s name that ensured the big royalties. This subject is controversial. However, there is no doubt Brecht was a fine poet; we have poems and plays undeniably by him; but it seemed he had great difficulty composing whole plays. Brecht probably made a virtue of the episodic plot in which it would be easier to insert the work of others.

Brecht, without doubt, is a major artist of 20th. century theatre. Most likely, he was the guiding force of the ‘Brecht Collective’ even if he was its exploiter. Brecht once defended his authorial practices in a radical paper by saying he had “a fundamental laxity in questions of literary property” which sounds disarmingly honest: however, as Fuegi points out, this did not apply his own literary property, which he jealously guarded and profited from – even when it wasn’t his own work. It was only others literary property that was up for grabs.

One joke going the rounds in Berlin in the 30’s went:
“Who is the play by?” The other person replies, “Brecht”
At which the first says, “Then who is the play by?”

It seems Brecht’s habits did not change when he went into exile or during his last years in East Berlin.

After leaving the United States in 1947, and wandering Europe again (Austria, Switzerland) with no prospect of working in West Germany, Brecht moved to communist East Germany in 1948 with his substantial Swiss Bank account and an Austrian passport. Brecht was given his own theater, (The Theater am Schiffbauerdamm) and built up the finest theater company in Europe. Read More:
“The intellectual isolation here is enormous,” Brecht compained. “Compared to Hollywood, Svendborg was a world center.” His ideas, such as “the production, distribution and enjoyment of bread,” were not taken seriously by movie moguls. In 1947 Brecht was accused of un-American activities, but managed to confuse with half-truths J. Parnell Thomas, the chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, who praised Brecht for being an exemplary witness. The Committee broadcast the hearings on the radio; the “Brecht show” can be heard on a Folkways recording. However, Brecht had seen the writing on the wall and he flew to Switzerland, without waiting for the opening of his play Galileo in New York.

Between the years 1938 and 1945 Brecht wrote his four great plays. LEBEN DES GALILEI (1938-39, The Life of Galileo), which did follow too slavishly the actual historical person, dealt with the hero’s self-condemnation for giving up his heliocentric theory in front of the Inquisition. Originally it was aimed at Broadway with Peter Lorre and Lotte Lenya playing the central roles. MUTTER COURAGE UND IHRE KINDER (1939) was an attempt to demonstrate that greedy small entrepreneurs make devastating wars possible. “What they could do with round here is a good war. What else can you expect with peace running wild all over the place? You know what the trouble with peace is? No organization.” DER GUTE MENSCH VON SEZUAN (1938-40) examined the dilemma of how to be virtuous and at the same time survive in a capitalist world, and DER KAUKASICHE KREIDEKREIS (1944-45), demonstrating that ownership belongs best to those who can make humane use of it. Read More:



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