An Introduction to the Social and Political Philosophy of Bertolt Brecht

Revolution and Aesthetics


Bertolt Brecht is widely considered one of the most important figures in Twentieth Century literature. While there is a broad corpus of scholarship which analyzes the formalistic elements of Brecht’s work, much of this has been limited by formalistic approaches and has neglected his unique contributions to Marxist philosophy. This book serves to remedy this by reconstructing Brecht’s social and political philosophy into a single theoretical framework for the first time. It presents Brecht’s thought in context of a revolutionary Marxist aesthetic and explores his vision of consciousness as it relates to historical materialism, the dialectic of enlightenment, social ontology, epistemology and ethics. This is accomplished by meticulous readings of his theoretical writings and close analysis of three important plays, The Good Woman of Setzuan, Life of Galileo, and his adaption of Coriolanus. In doing so, this book reveals Brecht’s relevance today for anyone interested in politics and aesthetics.
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Biographical Note

Anthony Squiers is a Lecturer and Post-doctoral Researcher at the Universität Passau.

Review Quote

“An important and comprehensive presentation of the social and political thought of Bertolt Brecht. Squiers argues that Brecht, the well-known poet and dramatist, should also be considered a social and political thinker in his own right. Relying on close readings of Brecht’s poems, plays, stage directions and other writings, Squiers reveals the theoretical significance of Brecht’s distinctive account of praxis as well as his critique of instrumental rationality. This is a truly interdisciplinary work that speaks to political and critical theorists as well as to scholars of contemporary literature and theatre.” —Emily Hauptmann, Western Michigan University
“Squiers’ monograph makes the case that Brecht is the Missing Link in Western Discourse, the link that connects philosophy to literature to theater to politics to common sense … [It] is an important contribution to Brecht scholarship and follows a tradition established by Roland Barthes and extended by Fredric Jameson…Barthes, Jameson, and Squiers see Brecht and don’t stare at him ( Glotzen ist nicht Sehen!). This Trinity sees a type of Socrates Complex, a Socratex if you will, i.e. an entity (Brecht) that navigates, mediates, illuminates the most important ideas, philosophies, ideologies, histories, mythologies, and theories of the Western Mind without trying to make Brecht into some type of commodity, or answer. This is a difficult and necessary measure, but Squiers pulls it off with critical rigor in a lucid, cohesive, and engaging intellectual-writing style. Squiers ‘re-discovers’ a Brecht that we desperately need and makes it look easy … dialectically speaking.” —Norman Roessler, Temple University
“Examining Brecht’s strategies for disrupting routine modes of cognition, as well as the social ontology embedded in Brecht’s opposition of individual being to species being, Squiers takes us far beyond narrowly aestheticist analyses of Brecht’s famous “alienation effect.” This is an important book, of interest to philosophers and students of drama alike.” —Barbara C. Foley, Rutgers University – Newark

Table of contents

1. Introduction 2. Brecht’s Ethics of Praxis 3. Consciousness, Cognition and the Altering of Socio-temporal Order 4. Eidetic Reduction and Contradiction 5. Rethinking Brecht’s Split Character: Dialectics, Social Ontology and Literary Technique 6. Brecht’s Dialectics of Enlightenment 7. Primary and Secondary Contradictions 8. Conclusion Bibliography Index of Names Index of Brecht’s Works and Characters Index of Terms Brecht Chronology