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Anna Seghers

The Challenge of History

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Edited by Helen Fehervary, Christiane Zehl Romero and Amy Kepple Strawser

Anna Seghers: The Challenge of History features essays by leading scholars devoted to this most important German writer whose novels and stories have been read by millions worldwide. The volume is intended for teachers and students of literature and for general readers. The contributions address facets of Seghers’s large body of work which is characterized by reflections on political events shaping world history and written in a highly imaginative array of narrative styles. The first section focuses on the author’s famous novel The Seventh Cross. Articles in the next two sections analyze her reactions to crises that marked the twentieth century and her connections to other relevant thinkers of her time. The last section features new translations of Seghers’s works.

Philosophizing Brecht

Critical Readings on Art, Consciousness, Social Theory and Performance

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Edited by Norman Roessler and Anthony Squiers

This anthology unites scholars from varied backgrounds with the notion that the theories and artistic productions of Bertolt Brecht are key missing links in bridging diverse discourses in social philosophy, theatre, consciousness studies, and aesthetics. It offers readers interdisciplinary perspectives that create unique dialogues between Brecht and important thinkers such as Althusser, Anders, Bakhtin, Benjamin, Godard, Marx, and Plato. While exploring salient topics such as consciousness, courage, ethics, political aesthetics, and representations of race and the body, it penetrates the philosophical Brecht seeing in him the never-ending dialectic—the idea, the theory, the narrative, the character that is never foreclosed. This book is an essential read for all those interested in Brecht as a socio-cultural theorist and for theatre practitioners.

Contributors: Kevin S. Amidon, José María Durán, Felix J. Fuch, Philip Glahn, Jim Grilli, Wolfgang Fritz Haug, Norman Roessler, Jeremy Spencer, Anthony Squiers, Peter Zazzali.

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Jeremy Spencer

Abstract

This intended paper will address the dialogue between Brecht’s theory and method and the authors associated with the development of so-called “Screen Theory” of the British film magazine Screen between 1971 and 1979. Authors such as Stephen Heath did not read Brecht to appeal to the authority of a person but to articulate a “truly dialectical practice” in a new situation, namely, the reflection on cinema and the intervention of the practice of film in ideology. Heath was concerned with how Brecht’s theory and practice could be used to understand film as an “ideological intervention” and therefore the “possible actuality” of Brecht’s dialectical work. This paper explores the actuality of Brecht’s ideas—his “critical lessons”—in the context of Screen, as part of the magazine’s defence of political modernism or the “politics of form,” how they were mobilised in relation to political cinema, semiotic theory, and psychoanalysis.

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José María Durán

Abstract

This essay explores the claim made by the so-called dialogical aesthetics that the emphasis of today’s socially engaged art lies on a modality of engagement and theatricality that follows the footsteps of the historical avant-garde. It asks if the framework of dialogism is an adequate one for the analysis of today’s socially engaged art practices that claim to be transformative. In searching for an answer, it examines the intersection of thinkers such as Brecht, Althusser, Voloshinov and Medvedev in the context of contemporary art practices.

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Philip Glahn

Abstract

This essay discusses Brecht’s “technics of aesthetics,” his attitude toward class struggle as the active engagement with the tools of intellectual-as-material production, as articulated through the playwright’s disdain for the passive politicking and complicit posturing of his contemporaries in the face of capitalist exploitation and fascist violence. Accusing the “Tuis” or “Tellekt-uell-ins,” including Thomas Mann, Andre Gide, Georg Lukacs, and the “Frankfurtists,” of wanting to save Geist and Kultur rather than addressing questions of ownership and power, Brecht instead sought a proletarian understanding of art as active contest over the mechanisms of representation and imagination, the devices that link the perception of the given to inscribed as well as latent histories and thus multiple, potential futures. Brecht’s attempt at determining a “useful” position of artistic agency and solidarity is traced through his writings on popular culture and communication apparatuses, his poetry, letters and plans to pen a “Tui-novel.”

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Peter Zazzali

Abstract

In describing Charles Laughton’s agreement to play the title role in Galileo, Brecht observed that the actor wanted to make a “contribution” to society through the “dissemination [of] ideas…about how people really lived together.” Performed in Los Angeles in 1947 during the aftermath of the Second World War and on the cusp of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s so-called “Red Scare,” Laughton’s Galileo was apt for the politics of its time, insofar as the play jointly addressed institutional dogmatism, government corruption, and the fearful ignorance of the body politic. Laughton’s performance exemplified Brecht’s gestic approach to acting by defamiliarizing himself from the role in favor of underscoring the drama’s sociopolitical messages. As such, his approach was in stark contrast to the widely practiced Stanislavskian method in which actors were expected to “find themselves” in a role towards creating a character that “truthfully” represented human behavior. What was Laughton’s self-awareness or consciousness of his performance? Whereas the Stanislavskian actor uses himself to subconsciously gel with a character, Brecht’s theory is the opposite: “the actor should refrain from living himself into the part…” These two varying approaches raise questions about the acknowledgement and function of the “self” in an actor’s work, thereby offering an intriguing point of analysis for Brechtian performance. This article will examine the Brechtian actor’s aesthetic through the lens of consciousness. Thus, it will account for the actor’s praxis relative to the sociopolitical implications of Brecht’s epic theatre.

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Kevin S. Amidon

Abstract

Taxonomic tropes and themes, particularly gender and class, but also race, function together in Brecht’s plays to create overdetermined characterizations. Parallel to these characterizations, he developed a multilayered theory of performance that emphasizes how those who enact text should approach the representation of diverse human types and groups. His encounter with Chinese acting established foundational elements in this theory. In parallel to his theoretical thinking about performance and race in the mid-1930s, Brecht was developing his stance toward operatic representation. While these two conceptual spheres, race and opera, might appear far apart in their content, they parallel each other closely in their theoretical stakes. The work of Joy Calico reveals that the way the voice becomes fungible through operatic performance both repelled and fascinated Brecht, such that this voice-object of opera accompanied his work as a kind of dialectical foil throughout his career. When read through the lens of race, this insight can be extended to reveal how the acting body itself becomes a fungible object, one that Brecht’s theories of estrangement and gestus strive, however inadequately, to make aesthetically and politically productive.

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Norman Roessler

Abstract

This conclusion explores the importance of the book in context of the extant literature that has tried to either link Brecht and theatre to philosophy or seal them off from each other entirely. It posits the existence of a false dichotomy between theatre and philosophy that can be traced back to Aristotle and argues that Brecht can and needs to be re-functionalized today so he can become a model figure used to cleave the theatre/ philosophy divide.

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Anthony Squiers

Abstract

This essay serves as a general introduction to the volume. It contextualizes, problematizes, and theorizes Brecht given the grim realities of our present day. Expounding on Brecht’s idea that dark times call for extraordinary virtues, it explores the importance of the project of philosophizing Brecht now and argues that Brecht offers un-foreclosed and liberating possibilities which are rendered through his willingness to perplex, empiricism and practical attitude toward philosophy.

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Wolfgang Fritz Haug

Abstract

This essay reconstructs Günther Anders conversations with Bertolt Brecht. It argues that Anders was attracted to the way Brecht creates art by using it philosophically, employing the artistic mode of representation in order to revolutionize the representational mode of philosophy. This type of philosophy for Anders allowed for engagement with the real problems of the time which was of imminent importance because of a fading capacity to act in the face of an overwhelming necessity for action brought about by the victory of technocracy. Anders believes Brecht’s poetic importance resides in what Anders calls Brecht’s “pronounced-ness”—its ability to develop the power of judgment. Anders finds in this an implicit moral commitment, which compels one to fulfill the duties of the age despite the fact that they are both futile and indisputable. Although Brecht resists this type of moralistic formulation of his work and Anders concludes this to reveal a fundamental incongruity in the thoughts of the two, the essay finds a reconciliation in the notion of the morality of practicality and the practicality of morality.