- 17,089 ratings
- October 7th 1996
by Arcade Publishing
(first published April 19th 1941)
- Date of birth: February 10, 1898
- Died: August 14, 1956
- Born: in Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany.
- Description: Bertolt Brecht (born Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht) was a German poet, playwright, and theatre director. A seminal theatre practitioner of the twentieth century, Brecht made equally significant contributions to dramaturgy and theatrical production, the latter particularly through the seismic impact of the tours undertaken by the Berliner Ensemble—the post-war theatre company operated by Brecht and his wife and long-time collaborator, the actress Helene Weigel—with its internationally acclaimed productions.
From his late twenties Brecht remained a life-long committed Marxist who, in developing the combined theory and practice of his 'epic theatre', synthesized and extended the experiments of Piscator and Meyerhold to explore the theatre as a forum for political ideas and the creation of a critical aesthetics of dialectical materialism. Brecht's modernist concern with drama-as-a-medium led to his refinement of the 'epic form' of the drama (which constitutes that medium's rendering of 'autonomization' or the 'non-organic work of art'—related in kind to the strategy of divergent chapters in Joyce's novel Ulysses, to Eisenstein's evolution of a constructivist 'montage' in the cinema, and to Picasso's introduction of cubist 'collage' in the visual arts). In contrast to many other avant-garde approaches, however, Brecht had no desire to destroy art as an institution; rather, he hoped to 're-function' the apparatus of theatrical production to a new social use. In this regard he was a vital participant in the aesthetic debates of his era—particularly over the 'high art/popular culture' dichotomy—vying with the likes of Adorno, Lukács, Bloch, and developing a close friendship with Benjamin. Brechtian theatre articulated popular themes and forms with avant-garde formal experimentation to create a modernist realism that stood in sharp contrast both to its psychological and socialist varieties. "Brecht's work is the most important and original in European drama since Ibsen and Strindberg," Raymond Williams argues, while Peter Bürger insists that he is "the most important materialist writer of our time."
As Jameson among others has stressed, "Brecht is also ‘Brecht’"—collective and collaborative working methods were inherent to his approach. This 'Brecht' was a collective subject that "certainly seemed to have a distinctive style (the one we now call 'Brechtian') but was no longer personal in the bourgeois or individualistic sense." During the course of his career, Brecht sustained many long-lasting creative relationships with other writers, composers, scenographers, directors, dramaturgs and actors; the list includes: Elisabeth Hauptmann, Margarete Steffin, Ruth Berlau, Slatan Dudow, Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, Paul Dessau, Caspar Neher, Teo Otto, Karl von Appen, Ernst Busch, Lotte Lenya, Peter Lorre, Therese Giehse, Angelika Hurwicz, and Helene Weigel herself. This is "theatre as collective experiment [...] as something radically different from theatre as expression or as experience."
There are few areas of modern theatrical culture that have not felt the impact or influence of Brecht's ideas and practices; dramatists and directors in whom one may trace a clear Brechtian legacy include: Dario Fo, Augusto Boal, Joan Littlewood, Peter Brook, Peter Weiss, Heiner Müller, Pina Bausch, Tony Kushner and Caryl Churchill. In addition to the theatre, Brechtian theories and techniques have exerted considerable sway over certain strands of film theory and cinematic practice; Brecht's influence may be detected in the films of Joseph Losey, Jean-Luc Godard, Lindsay Anderson, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Nagisa Oshima, Ritwik Ghatak, Lars von Trier, Jan Bucquoy and Hal Hartley.
During the war years, Brecht became a prominent writer of the Exilliteratur. He expressed his opposition to the National Socialist and Fascist movements in his most famous plays.