Today is the 65th anniversary of the death of German playwright Bertolt Brecht, a pioneer of narrative drama.
“Will you sing in the dark/there/will you sing in the dark?” This is a poem written by Brecht when he was exiled to Denmark to avoid the Nazi Holocaust. His life wandered from one place to another. In less than 60 years, he experienced five social system changes in Germany-German Empire, Weimar Republic, Nazi dictatorship, Democratic Germany and Federal Republic of Germany. Nevertheless, his enthusiasm for artistic creation never waned. He wrote 48 plays, more than 2,300 poems, about 200 short stories and 3 novels in his life. Brecht also completed many theoretical, critical, political and philosophical literary works, reaching several volumes, and also served as a screenwriter and deputy director of four films. “Poverty” is an important part of his writing theme. He is good at satirizing the hypocrisy of the bourgeois system and portraying the revolutionary forces of the proletariat in his works.
Bertolt brecht, a famous German dramatist and poet in the 20th century, is shown in the picture. Brecht was a screenwriter and director of the theater when he was young. I took part in the workers’ movement and went into exile in continental Europe after 1933. I went to the United States through the Soviet Union in 1941, was persecuted after the war, and returned to Europe in 1947. He has lived in East Berlin since 1948. In 1951, he won the national prize for his contribution to drama. In 1955, he won the Lenin Peace Prize. Brecht died in Berlin on August 14th, 1956. (Source: vision china)
Brecht’s greatest contribution to the construction of literary theory and drama reform in the 20th century lies in his narrative drama theory, which revolutionized the old drama form, was an attempt of avant-garde aesthetics and a breakthrough of artistic boundaries, but it was not recognized by the famous writers of the older generation in German literary world at that time. In 1922, the Christmas edition of Berliner published a previously unknown debate, with the title of “Old and New”, showing the conflict between the two generations. Facing the criticism and misunderstanding of the older generation of writers, the German philosopher walter benjamin’s interpretation of the significance of narrative drama is a powerful defense for Brecht.
Why is Benjamin completely on Brecht’s side? How did the friendship between the two people form in history? How wonderfully do they resonate with the thinking of intellectuals? A few days ago, the Chinese version of On Brecht was published, which included 11 comments by Benjamin on Brecht’s narrative dramas, poems and other works. The diary written during the conversation with Brecht in 1929 allows us to find the answer in the book on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of Brecht’s death.
Benjamin attracted by Brecht
From this work of Benjamin, we can easily see his affirmation of Brecht’s artistic exploration. Benjamin believes that the narrative drama advocated by Brecht is based on the cutting edge of technology. “It doesn’t compete with new media tools, but tries to use them and learn from them, that is, to study and analyze them.” Narrative drama draws lessons from montage, that is, the dramatic technique of “interrupting” the plot in performance, which plays an educational role in drama. By arousing the consternation of the audience, it forces the public to think about life, and also forces the actors to take a stand on their roles. Benjamin believes that “the breakthrough of narrative drama in drama as a social activity is far greater than the break it caused in drama as a night entertainment industry.”
Brecht and Benjamin met in May 1929 through the introduction of Benjamin’s girlfriend Assia Raccis. They are far apart in temperament. Compared with Brecht’s directness and decisiveness, Benjamin’s character tends to be silent and sensitive. Despite their different personalities, their friendship lasted until September 1940, when Benjamin committed suicide while fleeing Nazi persecution. Whether in his circle of friends or later academic circles, their relationship has attracted much attention and controversy.
Hannah arendt, a German Jewish thinker, thinks that their meeting “is the meeting of the greatest living poet in Germany and the most important critic of that era, which is a fact that both sides are fully aware of”. However, Benjamin’s good friends, German philosopher Theodor Adorno and Israeli Jewish theologian Geshem Sholem, strongly resisted this relationship, thinking that their communication was a mistake and criticizing Brecht’s destructive influence on Benjamin.
Statue of Bertolt Brecht in Huashan Road Campus of Shanghai Theatre Academy (Source: vision china)
It can be seen from Benjamin’s diary and comments that Benjamin was really attracted by Brecht. In his view, “Brecht is a difficult phenomenon to capture. “Benjamin not only highly praised Brecht’s artistic attainments, but also called the narrative drama theory” advanced drama theory “and regarded Brecht’s creation as a model for truly exerting production efficiency. At the same time, he also showed appreciation in a casual conversation with Brecht. “When he said these words, I felt a force that could resist fascism injected into my body.
Special ties during the revolutionary period
In the process of thinking about drama creation, Brecht and Benjamin keep asking what attitude intellectuals should take to create drama and what is the purpose of creating drama. Their discussion has a certain background-two world wars and a global economic crisis broke out in the first half of the 20th century. At this time, the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in German society was sharp, and the regime changed.
In Benjamin’s view, intellectuals often regard themselves as “spiritual figures” rather than producers. In the article “The Author as a Producer”, he quoted Ramon Fernand of France as saying that “intellectuals should be won over to the working class, and they should be made aware that their spiritual activities are consistent with their status as producers”, and further explained that if intellectuals only express their thoughts in form, instead of uniting with the proletariat as producers, then their political inclination, no matter how revolutionary, can only be called “counter-revolution”.
Take the neo-realistic drama that appeared in the 1920s and 1930s as an example. Brecht saw it as a tool against producers. Although neo-realistic dramas publicize revolutionary themes, they lack thinking about events and more complicated class struggles. Benjamin believes that one of the important reasons why this kind of drama, which uses complex machinery, huge lineup and ingenious special effects, has become a tool for anti-producers is that it has been dragged into competition by movies and radio, turning the writing about suffering and the struggle against suffering into consumer goods and being used by the rich for entertainment. The same is true of neo-realistic photography-beautifying rental houses and garbage dumps, and understanding suffering in a fashionable way, thus successfully turning suffering into an object of enjoyment.
How did Brecht firmly unite the proletariat? According to Benjamin, Brecht’s creative object is “poverty”. In his works, he discusses the poverty with creative value and shows the image of the poor. Brecht, with his rough thoughts from the masses and dialectical understanding of poverty, interprets the object of poverty as the most determined force in the revolution, that is, creating revolutionaries from “a test tube full of filth and depravity”