Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Bert Brecht, I was never supposed to turn to Germanology...

He's an exceptionally soft target, so let me pour all blame on him now: out of all exotic library shelves, I have recently spent too much time between the Germanology ones, searching for more and more studies on the distanciation/alienation/estrangement effect and the guy himself, Bertolt, Bertolt Brecht.

The motivation is half professional, it is a task I have been given by others, but Bert has been on my mind for a few years without anyone pushing me into that direction. And I am not alone in my enterprise. Brechtology is the accepted form of Marxism in Western academia today: everyone seems to be doing it, or at least "big boys" of critical theory like Terry Eagleton and Fredric Jameson. The Brecht pajazzo has been emptied so many times that I wonder if we the younger generation ever find a new angle to study his works from.

I've been trying to find evidence for postcolonial re-interpretations of Brecht. Amitava Kumar, a US-Indian literary theorist, was the first writer who suggested to me in Passport Photos (2000) that such a combination was possible. Indians have all these decades been huge Brecht fans, there he seems to be a bigger household name than here. And also in South Africa, as Loren Kruger demonstrates in Post-Imperial Brecht (2004) , epic theatre has become a channel to contest different interpretations of apartheid history. We can find Brecht centres at universities in Uruguay and South Korea, and the latest news is that an adaptation of Mother Courage and Her Children was played in Tehran at the Fajr Theatre Festival last winter.

It should be more interesting to discuss Brecht, or rather issues around Brecht inspired by his texts, with people who put him at work in less obvious global contexts, than with established literary scholars from Euroamerica. Then the dialogue would no longer reek of musty Germanology shelves, but it would transcend language and cultural boundaries. After all, how many of his plays take place in Germany?

PS: Chumbawamba has a track called "(Words flew) All Around the World", which is based on Brecht's war-time Radio poem. They were just playing it in Augsburg on the annual Brecht festival as guests of honour. In the realm of indie music, Chumbawamba is the most Brechtian band I can think of: all their songs seem to embody the spirit of epic theatre. They are bothering interventions in the stream of everyday life, chants that disturb and haunt you.

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