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Brecht and Critical Theory: Dialectics and contemporary aesthetics
 9780415349741, 0415349745

Table of contents :
Half Title
Title Page
Copyright Page
Note on the text
Introduction: Brecht now
1 Brecht and language
Marxism and rhetoric
Brecht and Postmodernism
Verfremdungseffekt and Unheimlich
Psychoanalysts and class-consciousness
Brecht and class
Gestus, language, negation
Marxism and science
Lacanian gestus
2 Dialectical images
Dialectic at a standstill
Dialectical images
Kafka's gestus
Brechtian Trauerspiel
Mourning as a socially symbolic act
'Marx — das Unheimliche'
3 Brecht and myth
The structuralist activity
The ruins of costume
Brechtian photography
Brecht and myth
Numen and punctum
The maternal
Peaceable speech
The art of living
4 Brecht and narrative
An ethics of Marxism
The political unconscious
Allegory's violence: Life of Galileo
Jameson, Frye, anagogy
Menippean satire
Dialogism and the dialectic
Der Dreigroschenroman
5 Brecht and tragedy
Dialectics in the theatre
Negative dialectics
Dialectical stereoscopy
Adorno and Brecht
Modern tragedy
Brechtian tragedy

Citation preview


Brecht and Critical Theory Dialetics and contemporary aesthetics

Sean Carney Sean Carney

ISBN 978-0-415-34974-1

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Routledge Advances in Theatre & Performance Studies

Brecht and Critical Theory

Bertolt Brecht’s theories of political theatre position him as one of the most important and controversial playwright/directors of the twentieth century. Brecht maintained that unless ideas were useful they should be discarded and this presents a challenge to contemporary Brecht scholarship: what to do with Brecht today? Brecht and Critical Theory argues that Brecht’s aesthetic theories are still highly relevant and that an appreciation of his theory and theatre are essential to an understanding of contemporary critical theory. This book examines the influence of Brecht’s aesthetic on the pre-eminent materialist critics of the twentieth century: Louis Althusser, Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, Frederic Jameson, Theodor W. Adorno and Raymond Williams. Sean Carney goes on to re-read Brecht through the lens of post-structuralism arguing that there is a Lacanian Brecht and a Derridean Brecht, the result is a new Brecht whose vital importance for the present is located in theories of decentred subjectivity. Brecht and Critical Theory maps the many ways in which Brechtian thinking pervades critical thought today, informing the critical tools and stances that make up the contemporary study of aesthetics. Sean Carney is Assistant Professor of Drama and Theatre in the Department of English at McGill University, Montreal.

Routledge advances in theatre and performance studies

1 Theatre and Postcolonial Desires Awam Amkpa 2 Brecht and Critical Theory Dialectics and contemporary aesthetics Sean Carney

Brecht and Critical Theory Dialectics and contemporary aesthetics

Sean Carney

First published 2005 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 711 Third Ave, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group © 2005 Sean Carney Typeset in Garamond by Wearset, Boldon, Tyne and Wear All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN 0-415-34974-5


Acknowledgements Note on the text

vii viii

Introduction: Brecht now



Brecht and language Marxism and rhetoric 9 Brecht and postmodernism 12 Verfremdungseffekt and Unheimlich 14 Psychoanalysis and class-consciousness 22 Brecht and class 25 Gestus, language, negation 29 Marxism and science 35 Lacanian gestus 38



Dialectical images Dialectic at a standstill 45 Jetztzeit 50 Dialectical images 52 Modelbooks 59 Kafka’s gestus 62 Trauerspiel 66 Brechtian Trauerspiel 71 Mourning as a socially symbolic act Hamlet 78 ‘Marx – das Unheimliche’ 80


Brecht and myth The structuralist activity 83 The ruins of costume 85






Brechtian photography 88 Brecht and myth 91 Numen and punctum 94 The maternal 100 Fetishism 103 Peaceable speech 105 The art of living 108 Seismology 112 4

Brecht and narrative An ethics of Marxism 116 The political unconscious 121 Contradiction 125 Allegory’s violence: Life of Galileo 130 Jameson, Frye, anagogy 135 Menippean satire 138 Dialogism and the dialectic 139 Der Dreigroschenroman 140



Brecht and tragedy Dialectics in the theatre 152 Negative dialectics 157 Dialectical stereoscopy 161 Adorno and Brecht 164 Endgame 168 Modern tragedy 173 Brechtian tragedy 177




Notes References Index

188 190 196


I am grateful for permission to include excerpts from Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, edited and translated by John Willett. Translation copyright © 1964, renewed 1992 by John Willett. Reprinted by permission of Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. I am also grateful for permission granted by Suhrkamp Verlag, and Methuen Publishing Limited, to quote from Brecht on Theatre. Material is copyright © 1957, 1963 and 1964 by Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main. This book is based on dissertation work completed under the supervision of Ian Balfour, Barbara Godard and Hersh Zeifman. I am grateful to all three for their support. I must single out Barbara Godard, my primary supervisor. Her commitment, dedication, generosity and energy are an inspiration to me. The research for this book was supported by Ontario Graduate Scholarships and a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada fellowship. My thanks to Joe Whiting and Yeliz Ali at Routledge for their encouragement. Finally, my partner Jackie Buxton’s support throughout this process has been immeasurable, and she has had a powerful influence on my work. I dedicate this book in equal measures to my parents and to the members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903, past, present and future.

Note on the text

I have modified the Harvard reference system in order to avoid anachronism in the text and to accommodate a style dominated by close reading and frequent quotation. When it is clear that subsequent quotations in the same paragraph are from the same source, I’ve given only page numbers. Moreover, the date that is given in the text is the original date of publication of the work cited. The date of the specific edition or translation used is given in the list of works cited, at the end of the entry, if it differs from the original date. For the sake of simplicity I have suspended this rule and allowed for anachronism in my citations of Brecht on Theatre: the Development of an Aesthetic, due to the unique nature of this work, which draws upon materials from various sources. Readers are referred to Brecht on Theatre for John Willett’s historical contextualizing of individual writings by Brecht.

Introduction Brecht now

This book proceeds from a single overarching idea: the dramaturgy of Bertolt Brecht constitutes a unique modern aesthetic that opens new avenues of thought about art and life. What follows is not, however, only a consideration of Brecht’s aesthetic. It is an examination of various responses to this aesthetic, while at the same time being itself another response to Brecht’s aesthetic. This book is an attempt to make something new out of Brecht, even as it remains faithful to the core tenets of Brechtian thought. These chapters are a return to Brecht, yet they also ‘go beyond’ Brecht, in a manner which I consider Brechtian, since, as I suggest, a central Brechtian activity is to take up and contain an historicized and perhaps antiquated aesthetic object and remake it, through theatre, into something new and vital. Brecht’s work makes possible a new kind of critical thinking about theatre, because Brecht was not only a playwright, not only a director, not even only what today we call an artistic director of a company, but he was also a poet, a theoretician, polemicist and political commentator. But Brecht is more than the sum of these parts. Brecht is ultimately a figure for the ongoing potential for theatre to stretch its boundaries and to restage its content in new and unanticipated ways. Brecht’s thought encourages us to rethink our critical perceptions of theatre in general; his work suggests the possibility of examining all theatre from a Brechtian perspective. In this I think that Brecht is unique. His aesthetic provides tools for transforming works of art of various ideological underpinnings into dialectical activities. Just as Brecht staged classics such as Dom Juan and Faust only in order to push against the grain of the drama and bring out the dialectical kernel in the canonical work, so I am interested in examining the ‘complex seeing’ that Brecht’s work offers for looking at theatre in general. While the idea of a Brechtian theatre can mean many things, here I will take it to mean, above all, theatre that absorbs and actively rewrites dramatic tradition in a politicization and dialecticizing of dramatic form. Underlying Brecht’s aesthetic is the assumption that theatre is ideological, but that it need not only be ideological. It can also be something else: ideology plus. Ideology contains a political potential that can be exploited by dialectics. In what follows I consider the question of what



ideology is, and what can be done to ideology through aesthetic production. If ideology is considered as false consciousness that must be demystified in favour of real or true consciousness, then this definition of ideology is of little use in a contemporary situation. Instead, I shall examine how some critics have considered Brecht’s theatre not as a demystificatory theatre, as it is often taken it to be, but as a dialectical, transformative theatre, in which ideology is passed through and transformed through the dialectic. Brecht serves as a kind of quilting point, a privileged signifier who circulates throughout this book and lends sense to its various arguments. In Chapter 1, I survey the key Brechtian theories that will circulate throughout the book, examine how they have been taken up by recent critics, and also situate my own critical positioning in relation to Brecht, an attitude best described as Lacanian structuralist. I also argue that Brecht’s theatre is only Brechtian as long as Brecht’s techniques are bound to an overall Marxist project. In this chapter, I demonstrate that structuralist theories of language, and Marxism and psychoanalysis influenced by structuralism, provide the most satisfactory means of illuminating Brecht’s theory of critical theatrical production. The central Brechtian activity is the estrangement of thinking commonly held to be ‘ideological’, which Brecht more generally characterizes as naturalized or given thinking. The estrangement of the ideological is made possible through the activity of the signifier. The theories of Verfremdung and gestus draw their logic from the activity of language, and I suggest that Brecht’s overall purpose was to import the activity of the signifier into the space of the stage, not just in dramatic language, but into visual stage activity. Brecht’s dramaturgy sought to mark the ideological field of theatrical activity with the trace of the signifier. The Marxist adoption of structuralism demonstrates for us that this is a dialectical, historicizing activity. Finally, this chapter addresses an interpretative problem raised by its central argument: since the space of the stage is, significantly, a space of visual signification, what can it mean to introduce the activity of language into the field of the visual? As an answer I suggest a Lacanian theory of Brechtian gestus. Chapter 2 builds on the discussion of Brecht’s politicization of the imaginary register, through an analysis of what Walter Benjamin calls the dialectical image. Benjamin is Brecht’s first major critic, and in this chapter I examine the conjunction between Benjamin’s comments on Brecht, and Benjamin’s version of the dialectic, especially as it is figured through the dialectical image and the dialectic at a standstill. I articulate Benjamin’s unorthodox dialectic and demonstrate the influence of Brecht’s theatre on Benjamin’s dialectical thought, while also suggesting that Benjamin allows us to see an unexpected Brecht. In this chapter, the dialectic that emerges is, I argue, a critical one that cannot be understood in orthodox Hegelian terms. Here, Brecht’s interest is in the political function of the image, for in paintings, photographs and the Brechtian modelbooks, he emphasizes the dialectical activity made possible by the frozen image. Brecht’s attention to



the image concentrates upon the presence of unreconciled contradictions, as in the narrative pictures of the Elder Brueghel, and how those unreconciled contradictions constitute, for Brecht, Verfremdungseffekte. Benjamin’s dialectical images, especially as figured in the reified commodity form, are powered by just such unreconciled contradictions. In The Messingkauf Dialogues, I unearth a Brechtian attitude towards mourning that resonates meaningfully with the Benjaminian vision of Trauerspiel, and in keeping with this unorthodox approach to Brecht, I conclude this chapter with a consideration of Derrida’s Specters of Marx, arguing that Derrida’s critical intersection of mourning, psychoanalysis, Marxism, a Benjaminian reading of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and deconstructive structuralism may be interpreted as a contemporary Verfremdungseffekt worked upon Marxism itself. Chapter 3 examines the influence of Brecht on the critical activity of Roland Barthes. Like Benjamin and Brecht, Barthes’s critical activity is substantially invested in the dialectics of the image, and the common ground between these three critics illuminates them all. The key term that I employ in this chapter is myth, and in this I build on the discussion in the previous chapter, since myth is, in Benjamin’s philosophy, the phenomenological shape of the commodity and the raw material upon which the dialectical image works in the production of historical consciousness. Barthes employs the concept of myth to describe bourgeois ideological consciousness; in other words, naturalized thinking driven by the reification of commodity culture. Inspired by Brecht’s theatre, Barthes produced a body of criticism that systematically estranged ideological thinking in all aspects of French national culture. I examine how Brecht’s thought bridged the divide between the Marxist-structuralist Barthes of the 1950s and the later, libidinal Barthes of the 1960s and 1970s. That divide also separates the earlier, demystifying Barthes, invested in reason and rationality, from the later Barthes, whose criticism is no longer comfortable with exposing ideology as false consciousness. Instead, the ideological is the raw material for an amorous production, and the promise of collective thought inherent in myth, while it is ideological, is also a potential to be exploded into dialectical thinking. In his essays from the 1970s, Barthes suggests that Brecht’s importance lies in how he performatively reiterates heinous, fascistic ideology as a means of producing dialectical truth out of mythic thinking. The key Brechtian activity, for Barthes, is the manipulation of bourgeois thought from within bourgeois signifiers. It is an attempt to transform ideological consciousness not through an attack from without, but through an estranging distanciation, from within. Barthes’s redemption of Brecht within new contexts demonstrates for us the importance of an ongoing, dialectical renewal of Brechtian thinking. While Barthes’s attitude towards Brecht changes over time, he nevertheless remains faithful towards the essential Brechtian attitude, and the Brecht that is fashioned throughout Barthes’s essays survives Barthes’s transition from structuralism to post-structuralism. Chapter 4 builds upon the structuralist and post-structuralist Brecht that



emerges from Barthes’s essays in an examination of Fredric Jameson’s recent Brecht and Method and the relationship of Jameson’s Brecht to Jameson’s critical activity. The key term engaged here is narrative, which is of central importance both to Jameson’s overall project, and to Brecht’s, since the epic theatre was figured primarily as a narrative or storytelling theatre. The concept of narrative, which lurks at the margin of the discussion of dialectical images, is here thoroughly investigated for its relationship to dialectical thinking. While Brecht clearly grasps the political potential in narrative form, there are also strong indications in Brecht’s work that the dialectical disruption of narrative is a crucial element in his Marxist aesthetic. Like Benjamin’s dialectic at a standstill, Brecht’s art stages the contradiction between fixed image and the seeming temporality of narrative; it is this contradiction that is productive for Brecht. The rhetorical figure of allegory serves as a trope for this dialectical activity of narrative, yet the temptation of allegory is the yearning for apotheosis and transcendence. Jameson’s consideration of the activity of allegorization in Brecht’s theatre is indebted to Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism, and in my analysis of Brecht’s only completed novel, the Dreigroschenroman (Threepenny Novel), I turn to Frye’s definition of Menippean satire as an interpretative tool. I argue for the book as a species of Menippean satire, in which the activity of apotheosis itself is the ultimate subject of Brecht’s satiric narrative. In this sense, the Dreisgroschenroman stages for us a dialogic dialectic: it performs transcendence from a critical, satiric perspective. While it is allegorical, it is simultaneously about allegory, and my interpretation of the novel’s conclusion reads it as a satire of apocalypse, and, by implication, a criticism of the rhetorical form of narrative itself. The dialectic of the Dreigroschenroman is a critical, negative dialectic, one amenable to the situation of capitalism in the twentieth century, in which totality has come to signify the totalization of capitalism’s reification of human reality. As an attack on idealism, the Dreigroschenroman reveals that Brecht’s dialectic can never be conflated with an Hegelian one. Instead, the novel stages a post-Hegelian dialectic in which contradiction exacerbates human alienation under capitalism, but resolves nothing. Chapter 5 addresses Brecht’s appropriation of tragedy for dialectical ends. Here, I suggest points of similarity between Brecht’s dialectic and Theodor Adorno’s negative dialectic. Adorno’s aesthetic theory draws heavily upon Benjamin’s theory of the dialectic at a standstill; and I take up the analogy between Brecht’s theatre and Baroque Trauerspiel explored in Chapter 2, connecting the idea that Brecht’s theatre is a parodic iteration of tragedy to Raymond Williams’s discussion of Brecht in Modern Tragedy. As Williams suggests, in the quartet of mature, accomplished plays constituting The Caucasian Chalk Circle, The Good Person of Szechwan, Life of Galileo and Mother Courage and her Children, Brecht realized fully the dialectical, complex seeing that was his goal throughout his dramatic career. I consider Good Person, Galileo and Mother Courage as dialectical estrangements of the tragic ideolo-



geme and as reinscriptions of the significance of tragedy under capitalism. In this chapter, ‘Brechtian theatre’ refers primarily to the generic discontinuities forged by Brecht in this late group of plays. Brechtian theatre works from within the strictures of a bourgeois theatrical edifice, manipulating inherited narrative material, in this case tragedy, in subtle but significant ways. While tragedy serves to naturalize and mythologize bourgeois morality and to universalize capitalism’s reification of Western society, the Brechtian intervention is a Verfremdung, worked upon this narrative ideologeme, distancing us from such given thinking. I eschew an approach focusing upon the isolated Verfremdungseffekte that are so often considered to be Brecht’s crucial theatrical innovations: the jarring intervention of songs and music-hall techniques, the use of signs and devices aiming to disrupt the conventions of naturalism, third-person acting and direct address to the audience. Properly historicized, these techniques are no longer effective devices of estrangement. Instead, I argue that the content of dramatic form is effectively estranged through the employment of generic discontinuities. Brechtian theatre, I suggest, contains a tragedy within it, and works upon this ideological narrative to generate an historical, dialectical consciousness from it. Brecht’s interest in the estrangement of ideological thinking thus takes on renewed importance when the ideological itself is refigured outside of the rationality of the Enlightenment. Of late there has been some suggestion that Brecht’s theory, considered by many to be antiquated, irrelevant, and finally ‘dead’, is anything but expired, anything but irrelevant to the late capitalist, post-GDR moment. The most vibrant and provocative work on Brecht now is the work which posits that Brecht, far from being a didactic playwright and mere polemicist, is a highly unorthodox Marxist who asks us to rethink subjectivity outside of traditional notions of the individual. For example, in the introduction to The Brecht Yearbook 24 (1999), ‘Ghosts in the House of Theory: Brecht and the Unconscious’, Antony Tatlow condemns attempts to lay Brecht to rest (which he characterizes as a particularly German contemporary trend), offering instead a highly Derridean Brecht, a Brecht who haunts us like the spectres Derrida tracks through Marx’s work. For Tatlow, The Good Person of Szechwan ‘figures the social unconscious and shows us why it is unconscious. [. . .] [T]he patriarchal representatives of the symbolic order, the Gods, force Shen Te into the role of hysteric at the end’ (Tatlow 1999: 6–7). Tatlow’s self-described slogan in his approach, ‘Derrida, Zen, Brecht!’ (7) is important for us here. The mediating term between Derridean theory and Brechtian theory, ‘Zen’, is deployed by Tatlow (citing Claude Lévi-Strauss), because ‘Buddhism extends Marxism [. . .] since its anti-metaphysical relationalism returns to social life, for beyond it there is nothing else’ (10). As we will see with Derrida in Chapter 2, deconstruction would not have been possible if not for the Marxism that preceded it. The question of Brecht’s Marxism is a pressing matter for contemporary



Brecht studies. It is the one of the main concerns voiced by Tom Kuhn and Steve Giles in their edited collection, Brecht on Art and Politics (2003). Therein, Kuhn and Giles point out the difficulties that lie in attempts to define clear parameters for Brecht’s Marxism. The last thing we should look for in Brecht is consistency of thinking. His ideas and opinions were in constant flux. They remark, for example, that Brecht is unclear about the nature of the dialectic: On the one hand, he implies that the contradictory processes uncovered by dialectical thinking are themselves objective features of reality [. . .]. On the other hand, he construes dialectic as a mode of cognition, a way of perceiving and understanding reality, and argues that dialectical concepts do not reflect a dialectic which exists in nature. (Kuhn and Giles, in Brecht 2003: 63) Brecht’s indecision on the subject of the dialectic is the most exciting aspect of this material, and we can easily imagine that it was in an attempt to resolve the problem that he took an interest in quantum physics, where the distinction of observer from experiment was blurred. It is Brecht’s unorthodox position in relation to traditional Marxist thought that makes Brecht amenable to consideration through structuralist and post-structuralist theory. Brecht certainly seems to be an improper Marxist, if by proper Marxist we mean someone for whom class and classconsciousness define the effective determinant of the subject. Brecht does not ignore class, but neither does he allow it an overarching, determining position. Obviously, one can locate in Marx a valorization of the labour power inherent in the individual, but social life is often assumed to take precedence over individuality in Marxist theory. Brecht, in contrast, held on to a valorization of creative self-expression throughout his work and his life, throughout all the different phases of his art and his theory, through all his seeming transformations. In an obituary for Frank Wedekind, Brecht wrote, ‘His greatest work was his own personality’ (Brecht 1964: 4). Yet, at the same time, Brecht’s plays in particular demonstrate to us the terrible obstacles that stand in the way of the potential fashioner of the self. In the ‘Short Organum for the Theatre’, Brecht describes the central stumbling block for the Brechtian individual and, at the same time, the anticipated usefulness of his art. He writes of what he hopes his theatre will offer to audiences: Let us hope that their theatre may allow them to enjoy as entertainment that terrible and never-ending labour which should ensure their maintenance, together with the terror of their unceasing transformation. Let them here produce their own lives in the simplest way; for the simplest way of living is in art. (Brecht 1964: 205)



It is a pragmatically utopian prescription. Let art serve humanity by allowing human beings to draw pleasure from necessity itself, rendering them artists of their own lives. The suggestion that individuals may find liberating, productive freedom out of the work that is necessary for human survival offers a dialectical vision of agency: freedom arises from the lack of freedom itself. For Brecht, this sense of work appears to be theatrical, work rendered into play. It is a dialectical paradigm of acting, in the sense of performing an action, doing something within and to the inevitability of the world, transforming it, modifying it, changing it, and themselves, effectively. I am tempted to push the formulation to its extreme logic: to transform one’s suffering into productive pleasure. I hope we already hear echoes of Jameson’s idea, drawn from Kenneth Burke, of the ‘socially symbolic act’, the force of transformation that Jameson attributes to the work of art, defined narrowly as some changing of the world. For Brecht, this ongoing struggle for selffashioning was the real art, what in his later writings he would come to describe as the ‘art of living’. Yet lest we take this individualistic activity as an end in itself, Brecht reminds us that it is a means to a larger end: ‘peace is the be-all and end-all of every humanitarian activity, of all production, of all the arts, including the art of life’ (Brecht 2003: 338). This definition of what constitutes real work, real creation, necessarily challenges an orthodox Marxist definition of labour. Here we are already suggesting a Derridean Brecht, a Brecht for whom performativity as a means of transforming is not necessarily an operation of ‘superstructure’ or ‘ideology’. Derrida’s work is a theatre of reading, reading as a performative transformation of the texts that he takes up in his work, a form of avowedly improper work, which is no less work for being improper (and, in Chapter 2, we shall see how mourning is just such a form of work). As Antony Tatlow notes: ‘Epic theatre is a theatre of writing. [. . .] The Epic theatre is an art of inscription, of re-writing, and opposes all prescriptions’ (Tatlow 1999: 8). Yet Brecht is no voluntarist, although he might be easily characterized as one as a means of transforming him into a convenient strawman. Acting, as demonstrated in Brecht’s plays, is so fraught and determined by dominant forces that those who seek to act, while not fully paralysed, find that their actions cannot move through the traditional channels one would associate with the material transformation of reality. Moreover, the freedom found within an ‘art of living’ ultimately arises only from a raw confrontation with a basic lack of agency. My concern throughout the book is how individuals fashion themselves as subjects and as subjected to the capitalist environment that shapes and moulds them, and which they must reckon with if they are to find any means of changing those aspects of their environment that they see as harmful and deserving of alteration. We are alienated, and this alienation both generates the contradictions of our existences and provides what possibilities for agency that are available to us. The paradox of alienation is aptly described by structuralist theory, in which the symbolic order is both the



source of our alienation and the possibility of any historical consciousness. The word ‘structure’ connotes a nebulous and unspecified determinism, a foreclosure upon the concept of human agency, the ‘death of man’. Yet quite to the contrary, it is in the articulation of the law of language and the symbolic order in the process of human socialization that Lacan, for example, locates any possibility of human agency at all. For Lacan, the symbolic order is the price paid for liberation, however partial, from the imaginary order or register, locus of the ego, which is in Lacanian psychoanalysis the determining trap for the human psyche. And yet to accept the extant symbolic order as the necessary price to be tendered for agency is unacceptable, because the symbolic order is patriarchal. A response to Lacan’s formulation comes from Luce Irigaray, who, in her essays ‘Women on the Market’ and ‘Commodities Among Themselves’, raises the question of the possibility of a female symbolic, a symbolic order wherein women refuse to be objectified and reified as the goods to be exchanged, refuse, as commodities, to guarantee men’s ability to engage in social intercourse with one another through the vehicle of women. More recently, Judith Butler confronts the determinism of the Lacanian symbolic order as a social structure that imposes immutable patriarchal kinship relations, and offers the tragic figure of Antigone and her extreme alienation as a fraught performance of humanity that provokes a crisis of humanity: ‘Antigone is the occasion for a new field of the human, achieved through political catachresis, the one that happens when the less than human speaks as human, when gender is displaced, and kinship founders on its own founding laws’ (Butler 2000: 82). Antigone, through her melancholy performance of mourning, changes nothing about her, or our, society, but renders the structures that determine it strange to our view through her performative iteration, her acting of humanity in a situation where it is denied her. Butler’s is, in my reading, a very Brechtian reading of Antigone as a Verfremdungseffekt worked upon Western society now, resonating with Brecht’s own staging of Antigone in 1948, indicating the ongoing importance of the performative staging of oppressive social structures as a means of rendering them intelligible and thus changeable. The political importance of tragedy as a form of social criticism reflects the overall tenor of this book, since the argument that emerges in what follows is that Brecht’s theatre is, ultimately, an attempt to rediscover what is dialectical and contradictory in tragedy as a means of aesthetic intervention into the alienation of late capitalism. It is for his politicization of aesthetic form that we will find Brecht most useful within the contemporary moment.


Brecht and language

Marxism and rhetoric Throughout the history of Brecht studies, there have been attempts to separate Brecht’s aesthetics from his politics. In this chapter I want to argue that the importance of Brecht’s aesthetic theory is directly dependent on the influence of Marxism on his thought. If we find any use for Brecht today, in the period of late capitalism or ‘postmodernity’, this use will find its source in his own Marxist aesthetic. To some this will seem self-evident, while for others Brecht’s strengths as an artist are to be praised despite his politics. In particular, I want to examine the theatrical techniques that Brecht describes in his theoretical essays and suggest that they cannot be separated from Brecht’s Marxism. The Verfremdungseffekt and the gestus, I will argue, cannot be detached from Brecht’s larger Marxist project without sacrificing their proper function. While it is perhaps for his seemingly isolated theatrical techniques that Brecht’s theory is best known, this is not what is most useful or important about Brecht’s work. Those particular techniques are, I feel, indications to us of how Brecht hoped his plays would function generally. Any single moment of Verfremdung or gestus is, in isolation, less important than are Brecht’s plays, which, as aesthetic objects, function as Verfremdungseffekte or as sites of gestus. The ultimate function of Brecht’s aesthetic is to work upon ideology, whether thought or embodied, and through representation, to estrange or distance the ideological, to allow us to see it as ideological. Brecht himself described this daunting project in the simplest of terms: My whole theory is much naïver than people think, or than my way of putting it allows them to suppose. Perhaps I can excuse myself by pointing to the case of Albert Einstein, who told the physicist Infeld that ever since boyhood he had merely reflected on the man running after a ray of light and the man shut in a descending lift. And think what complications that led to! I wanted to take the principle that it was not just a matter of interpreting the world but of changing it, and apply that to the theatre. (Brecht 1964: 248)


Brecht and language

Brecht’s fundamental calm and poise in paraphrasing Marx’s eleventh thesis on Feuerbach is entirely representative of his life’s project. The simplicity of Brecht’s rhetoric belies the complexity of his premise. This rhetoric, of science and Marxism, is also what provokes distaste on the part of some critics who feel the impetus to grapple with Brecht’s spectre. What, if anything, are we supposed to do with Brecht now? Is his seemingly self-willed naive politics of any use to left-inclined critics and artists in the era of late capitalism? What about his belief in Marxism as a science of dialectics? Can we make use now of Brecht’s definition of science itself, if we understand it, as Fredric Jameson does, to be ‘in a larger sense a figure for non-alienated production in general’ (Jameson 1977: 205)? I want to examine Brecht’s theatre as essentially a rhetoric, yet a rhetoric that positions itself precisely as a science set against ideology. As such, Brecht’s theatre embodies a paradox: it tries to persuade us away from an ideological position, but cannot be said to persuade us towards a viewpoint, because dialectics is not a point of view. (In Chapter 5, Adorno will contribute to this discussion of dialectics and standpoints.) I will also argue that the essential presuppositions of Brecht’s aesthetic come from the structure of language and language’s phenomenological activity, yet the activity of language is imported by Brecht into the space of the stage. Thus his theatrical techniques are, I will argue, a kind of visual rhetoric. Marxism, of course, like science, claims to tell us the truth, while rhetoric disregards issues of truth in favour of persuasion. Brecht claims to show or tell us the truth. Yet Brecht’s truth-claims are bound, I will suggest, to the activity of language itself, and here I think that Lacanian psychoanalysis has something invaluable to contribute to a study of Brecht. Brecht’s theatre is a theatre of signification, and the visual field of Brecht’s stage is one that he wilfully marks with the activity of the signifier. Structuralism argues that our psyches are fundamentally shaped around linguistic activity; the consequences of this mark of the signifier on human thought, and especially in the field of the visual, are a challenge for theatre studies. In this chapter I will argue that all seeing is, as Brecht would put it, ‘complex seeing’. There is no bare, unmediated access to the field of the visual for the human mind: it is marked by the trace of the linguistic signifier. This mark is what makes it possible for us to estrange seeing itself, and the trace of the signifier allows us to grasp seeing as ‘complex seeing’. It is when we think that we see in an unmediated way that we are, in fact, seeing ideologically. It is the function of ideology, I suggest, to present itself to the human mind as the unmediated, the bare, ‘common-sense’ facts, transparent and concealing nothing. In A Rhetoric Of Motives (1950) Kenneth Burke diagnoses Marx’s writings for their scientific claims, claims that I think Brecht follows with his own ‘scientific aesthetic’, specifically because Brecht uses aesthetics as his material, which will always make his ‘scientific’ claims fraught with paradox. Similarly, Marxism, which uses language for its own purposes, will also be caught in a paradox. Burke writes: ‘Whatever may be the claims of Marxism

Brecht and language 11 as a “science,” its terminology is not a neutral “preparation for action” but “inducement to action.” In this sense, it is unsleepingly rhetorical’ (Burke 1950: 101). Marxism, while a rhetoric, is also ‘a theory of rhetoric’ (103), because Marxism is addressed to the mystificatory nature of ideological thinking, understood generally to describe collective belief systems that occlude or conceal determining human experiences (private property and the division of labour) in favour of concepts like ‘spirit’, ‘human nature’, ‘Nation’, ‘God’, ‘race’, ‘Civilization’, ‘progress’ or even ‘History’. Ideological motives, which give rise to ideologies, are always partial motives, class-based motives that present themselves as universal motives and function to unite individuals within social groups regardless of an individual’s self-interests. Marxist rhetoric, unlike ideological rhetoric, is divisive. Instead of an ideological collectivity, Marxist rhetoric seeks to divide people into individuals. Burke claims that class ideologemes (to use Bakhtin’s term) ‘set up a fog of merger-terms where the clarity of division-terms is needed’ (109). Ultimately, Marxist rhetoric is dialectical because its goal is to bring into existence the concrete material conditions under which a real universal motive might exist. Burke writes (110): according to Marx, only by the abolition of property relationships that make for such specific, or class motives, might we hope to get truly universal motivation. And such universal or generic motivation would, by the same token, mean the freeing of the individual. Hence, dialectically, all three levels of motivation are involved (generic, specific, and individual). The motive goal of Marxism is a society in which individual and collective motivations co-exist dialectically, and in which rhetoric would no longer be ideological. Theories of language, and specifically structuralism, complicate this Marxist rhetoric. Rhetoric itself, namely language, becomes the alienating factor in human subjectivity, and contemporary critical theory that attempts to hold to structuralism, Marxism, and psychoanalysis must consider the alienation of human subjectivity under capitalism as a result of the division of property and the division of labour, as well as the alienation of the human through the introduction of language or the symbolic order into the human psyche. In both cases, we are psychically structured around a seemingly primordial loss or alienation: we are ‘split’ or ‘divided’ in the core of our mental beings. All beliefs that divert us from this elementary schism in our own minds are, ultimately, ideological. Marxism, and the psychoanalysis that I am concerned with here (Lacanian), are arguably ‘rhetorics’ that aim to confront us, however briefly, with this split or alienation. One of the paradoxes that Lacanian psychoanalysis exploits is the employment of language to bring about a confrontation with the effects of language upon us. The emptiness around which we are constituted is, in effect, the ‘truth’ of the human under capitalism. It is also called the ‘unconscious’. Yet we


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must be wary of the idea that we have been alienated from something, that we have lost touch with the social through privatization and division. While we are constituted around a loss, and thus experience loss, we have not lost a plenitude. Rather, the sense of loss is a presentiment of a social state or collectivity that has never been. Instead, the sense of loss is a presentiment of a promise. As I shall demonstrate, Brecht’s aesthetic, because it is at heart a theory of language, is a Marxist rhetoric that is compatible with Lacanian psychoanalysis. Like Lacanian psychoanalysis, Brecht endorses scientific claims for his theatre, which I want to relate to Lacan’s definition of a ‘true science’ as opposed to an ‘ideological science’. Brecht fashions a theatre that bears a tangential relationship to the psychoanalytic dialogue, and Brecht’s theatrical innovations can be understood in relation to the Lacanian concepts of the imaginary and symbolic registers. The techniques of the Verfremdungseffekt and the gestus are most usefully considered through Lacanian psychoanalytic theories of language.

Brecht and postmodernism Any moment of the present must constantly revisit and re-produce the past for itself. In a dialectical relationship between the past and the present, wherein the past is not just perceived as the producer of the present, but the present, in a very real way, is also the producer of the past, Brecht must be reinvented, refigured within new paradigms and new problems. Any understanding of the past which grants to it a neutral, positive existence, the inert and fixed ground from which the present arises, fails to take a dialectical attitude towards History. Here I suggest that the question which most centrally concerns us is: what does Brecht have to tell us now about a theory of subjectivity and a negotiation of agency through aesthetic intervention? As an initial gesture towards the kind of Brecht we will attempt to excavate here, consider how Brecht’s work has been read as a decentring of subjectivity, on a level with the work of Benjamin and Freud. Rainer Nägele, for example, reads Brecht’s modernism as a radical critique of Hegelian Romantic theories of modernity and self-reflexivity. Brecht’s use of the term Haltung, or posture, is read by Nägele as a rhetorical displacing of interiority altogether, interiority understood as the characteristic spatial constitution of bourgeois subjectivity (Nägele 1991: 148). Instead Haltung, translatable as attitude or stance in a performative sense, becomes a figure for the ‘writing’ of subjectivity which takes place as a form of inscription, perhaps analogous to the Derridean trace. Thus, in Nägele’s interpretation, Brecht takes his place among the more radical of European modernists; indeed, Nägele argues that a properly historicized approach to Brecht simply cannot construe him as a postmodernist. In The Dialectics of Seeing (1989), Susan Buck-Morss observes that: Modernism and postmodernism are not chronological eras, but political

Brecht and language 13 positions in the century-long struggle between art and technology. If modernism expresses utopian longing by anticipating the reconciliation of social function and aesthetic form, postmodernism acknowledges their nonidentity and keeps fantasy alive. Each position thus represents a partial truth; each will recur ‘anew,’ so long as the contradictions of commodity society are not overcome. (Buck-Morss 1989: 359) If this is so, then Brecht is somewhere between modernism and postmodernism, between the aesthetic and the popular, between art and technology. If there is a dialectic between the modern and the postmodern, Brecht usefully keeps open the contradiction. Ultimately, postmodernism is most fruitfully understood in Jameson’s terms, as the cultural logic of late capitalism. Thus ‘[p]ostmodernism is what you have when the modernization process is complete and nature is gone for good’ (Jameson 1991: ix). Postmodernism describes the situation of late capitalism in which it becomes increasingly difficult, if not nearly impossible, to think historically and dialectically. Far beyond a widespread cultural amnesia, postmodernism describes a powerful and pervasive ideology, both thought and lived, that endorses the belief that History is, in effect, at an end, and that Western civilization’s moment of capitalism is the apocalypse. Put bluntly, postmodernism’s narrative tells us that social change is defunct and that capitalist democracy is the ‘natural’ state of human social relations. As Buck-Morss puts it, for some time now, the possibility of a real democracy has been supplanted by the proliferation of a universe of commodities: ‘by the late nineteenth century, the bourgeois dream of democracy itself underwent this form of censorship: freedom was equated with the ability to consume. Benjamin writes that egalité developed its own “phantasmagoria,” and “la revolution” came to mean “clearance sale” in the nineteenth century’ (Buck-Morss 1989: 284). Democracy today has become a description of the mass media’s ability to disseminate information and generate technological innovation at increasingly frenetic speed, a seeming change which engenders more of the same. Buck-Morss suggests that ‘when mass media are seen as themselves the democratization of culture, distributed as miraculously as Christ’s multiplying food, they too become fetishes’ (120). Television and Internet culture replace politicized existence as the new realm of democracy. Technology in the hands of the ruling class means ‘the collective goes on sleeping’ (120), lulled by the illusion that a proliferation of commodities is tantamount to human liberation. The function of a Brechtian aesthetic in postmodernity will be to estrange us from the naturalization of capitalism. Elizabeth Wright’s insightful Postmodern Brecht: A Re-Presentation (1989) analyses Brecht through the lens of structural and psychoanalytic theory in order to illuminate the continuing relevance of Brecht today. Wright transforms the early Brecht of Baal and In the Jungles of Cities, ‘the anarchistic,


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nihilistic, undisciplined, phase-one Brecht [. . .] into a postmodernist Brecht whose effects can be felt almost anywhere in the theatre except in the staging of his own plays’ (Wright 1989: 90). In this way, Wright produces for herself an arguably Artaudian Brecht, even going so far as to find analogies between the poetic imagery in Baal and Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomes and Bodies without Organs. Such an Anti-Oedipal Brecht, presenting discontinuity and confusion instead of capitulating to meaning, strikes Wright as a more political Brecht than the later, Marxist Brecht, since the challenge of these early plays to the spectator means that the ‘work of engaging the audience is not done on the stage via specific V-effects, but pressure is put on the audience to co-produce in order to avoid the unpalatable alternative of placing her- or himself in a psychotic position and abandoning meaning’ (109–10). Wright’s suggestion that Baal be considered as Brecht’s most influential and important play is worth noting. Fredric Jameson refutes this claim, although he does not attribute the idea to anyone in particular (Jameson 1998: 7–8). While Jameson is interested in renewing or revitalizing Brecht, it is not through the rediscovery of hitherto neglected avant-garde elements in Brecht’s early works but through the reconsideration of the strengths of Brecht’s mature final plays. In other words, Jameson is interested in Brecht now as a Marxist, and in the possibilities of a Marxist aesthetic under late capitalism. Baal, I think, must be historicized as a satire of German expressionist drama. Marxism is not, as Wright puts it, an ideology, and it is only as a Marxist artist that Brecht will be of any real use now.

Verfremdungseffekt and Unheimlich It is specifically the theory and technique of the Verfremdungseffekt that Wright argues have become ubiquitous today, and thus have become ineffective, rendering Brecht’s theatre obsolete. Yet while the Verfremdungseffekt is often figured through isolated theatrical gestures and techniques, it ultimately describes the function of Brecht’s theatre as a whole. In The Messingkauf Dialogues, a concise definition appears as: The self-evident – i.e. the particular shape our consciousness gives our experience – is resolved into its components when counteracted by the A-effect and turned into a new form of the evident. An imposed schema is being broken up here. The individual’s own experiences correct or confirm what he has taken over from the community. The original act of discovery is repeated. (Brecht 1965: 102) There is, I think, within the Verfremdungseffekt an entire theory of socialization, subject-formation and the ongoing judgement of reality, tied to the ability of the human subject to be estranged from given or ideological

Brecht and language 15 thinking. Key to understanding the operation of the Verfremdungseffekt is also comprehending how language determines the human subject and is the precondition of human activity and change. Certainly, the Verfremdungseffekt is indebted to theories of modernism and the imperative to render perception anew, and for this reason I will suggest that the Verfremdungseffekt is essentially psychoanalytic. In Wright’s opinion, the Verfremdungseffekt is so commonplace in our era that it no longer holds any shock value: ‘In postmodernist art everything is subject to a V-effect and so the concept becomes redundant. A perennial V-effect is the result of the mismatch between signifier and signified, the uncanniness of the concrete, which itself resists the attempt to name and define it’ (Wright 1989: 96). One is tempted to ask how two elements which are arbitrarily connected (signifier and signified) can actually be mismatched, since they are not matched in the first place. More importantly, Brecht has anticipated the redundant ubiquity of the Verfremdungseffekt, thus providing a response to Wright’s foreclosure upon it as a tool of estrangement. Using Wright’s passing allusion to the Verfremdung as an instance of uncanniness, I will suggest that the Verfremdungseffekt ceases to be itself when it is employed other than as a Marxist rhetoric for the estrangement or distanciation of ideology. In his editorial notes in Brecht on Theatre, John Willett gives every indication that he knows that Verfremdung is not Entfremdung (see Brecht 1964: 76 in particular); the fact that he translates Verfremdung into ‘alienation’ anyway remains an intriguing puzzle, especially considering Willett’s insightful connection of Verfremdung to Brecht’s purported inspiration, Victor Shklovsky’s concept of the ostranenia (Brecht 1964: 99). One wonders if the choice of ‘alienation’ is a deliberate distancing (an estrangement) of the concept from its formalist roots, a means of emphasizing Verfremdung’s political consequences rather than its artistic implications. Most interesting here is Willett’s comment that Verfremdung is a neologism (Brecht 1964: 99), or at least the unearthing and rejuvenation of the unused transitive verb Verfremden. In his analysis of Brecht’s linguistic turns, Rainer Nägele observes the uses to which Brecht puts the prefix ver-, and finds a Freudian strategy: ‘The German prefix ver- imposes here, as usual, its Freudian slips on the verb. Meaningless in itself, it twists verbs vertiginously and displaces agents. It is one of the morphemes of the discourse of modernity’ (Nägele 1991: 147). On Freud’s part, the prefix ver- provides him with the central defence mechanisms of the psyche: Verdrängung (repression), Verleugnung (disavowal), Verneinung (negation) and Verwerfung (foreclosure). Brecht’s Verfremdung is a cousin to these terms. Although Verfremdung cannot be entirely understood as any of these psychic events, I do think that it can be illuminated by reference to another Freudian concept (although one not nearly so important for Freud himself, who sees it almost exclusively in aesthetic terms): the Unheimlich. In an unfinished, 1968 piece of writing published posthumously under the title ‘Sur Brecht et Marx’, Louis Althusser ties Brecht’s theatrical


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techniques firmly to Brecht’s Marxism. As Marx worked from within existing philosophy, so Brecht worked from within the existing theatre. Neither of them wanted to create a radical new philosophy/theatre or anti-philosophy/theatre, but rather to take what already existed and revolutionize philosophical and theatrical practice. Central to Althusser’s analysis is Marx’s eleventh thesis on Feuerbach, which, in its simplicity, fully defines the Marxist/Brechtian innovation in general practice. The motive of the eleventh thesis, in Althusser’s opinion, is not so much to distinguish between the interpretation of the world and the changing of the world, as to indicate that philosophy and theatre are fundamentally determined by the political, and nevertheless they make every effort to efface this determination, to negate this determination, to appear to escape from the political. At the heart of philosophy as at the heart of theatre, it is always the political that speaks: but when philosophy or theatre speak, the result is that we no longer hear the voice of the political. Philosophy and theatre always speak to obscure the voice of the political. (translation mine, Althusser 1968: 547) It is false for philosophy to maintain that it is only interpreting the world, although this is what it proclaims. ‘In reality no philosophy is content to interpret the world: all philosophy is politically active’, but philosophy is engaged in a constant activity of defending itself from the political, of denying that it is political: ‘It is what Freud calls a negation’ (translation mine, Althusser 1968: 547). The mechanism of negation or denegation (Verneinung) is the means by which philosophy and theatre, while asserting that they are not political, simultaneously admit that they are political. Brecht’s major achievement is, then, a kind of psychoanalytic intervention into the discourse of the theatre, a break in the theatre’s denegation of its own political activity which allows the theatre to see what it is itself saying without realizing it: the theatre is political; it is a rhetoric that affects the world, not merely one that interprets it. For Althusser, this is the activity of the Verfremdungseffekt: an overall politicization of the theatre through a psychoanalytic estrangement of theatrical discourse. The Verfremdungseffekt, which Althusser prefers to translate ‘as an effect of displacement or separation’, must not be understood merely as an effect of theatrical techniques, but as a general effect of the revolution in theatrical practice. It consists not in changing places, in displacing a few little elements in the work of the actors, it consists in a displacement which affects the assemblage of conditions of the theatre. [. . .] It thus consists in an assemblage of displacements, which constitutes this new practice. (translation mine, Althusser 1968: 549)

Brecht and language 17 The Verfremdungseffekt, however much it may be adopted superficially as an isolated aesthetic strategy, is in Brecht’s theory ultimately emblematic of his overall aesthetic practice. Althusser points out that ‘[t]oday everyone applies Brecht’s techniques’ (552), but the isolated use of these techniques without a larger Marxist practice is a betrayal of Brecht’s theatre. At stake is the ideological significance of theatre itself, and of the ideologeme that is dramatic and theatrical form. The Brechtian Verfremdung operates first of all by displacing or decentring ‘the theatre in relation to the ideology of theatre that exists in the spectators’ heads’ (550). This happens not through isolated techniques of estrangement but through an overall theatrical practice that works upon the fundamental material of theatrical representation, which is ‘the opinions and the attitudes of men’ (554), or ideology, understood not just as ideas, but as ‘ideas in the attitudes, which form a whole’ (554). Ideology is an assemblage of ideas performed in attitudes and stances. The public goes to the theatre to recognize these stances, to see itself reflected as ideology on the stage. It seeks out this recognition, this ‘confirmation of self’ (555), and this urge for confirmation can only exist because on some level we doubt the self: ‘it’s that one is never entirely sure of the self, that one always doubts a little in one’s self’ (555). The theatre typically plays with this doubt of the ideology of the self, teases us with a false risk, and finally confirms the self. Althusser leaves the piece provocatively unfinished, but we can pick up where he leaves off and suggest that Brecht’s theatre does not play with this doubt, the ego’s unconscious fear that it is a fiction, but rather confronts us with it. Althusser’s essay, heavily inflected with a Lacanian logic in its description of the mechanism of theatre and ideology, invites a further consideration of the psychoanalytic possibilities of the Verfremdungseffekt. Brecht does not hesitate to describe the Verfremdungseffekt as a nearly omnipresent psychic event, visible in everyday life: ‘The [V-effect] consists in turning the object of which one is to be made aware, to which one’s attention is to be drawn, from something ordinary, familiar, immediately accessible, into something peculiar, striking and unexpected. [. . .] To see one’s mother as a man’s wife one needs a [V-effect]; this is provided, for instance, when one acquires a stepfather’ (Brecht 1964: 143–4). Or, presumably, in the case of Oedipus, upon his realization that he is his own stepfather. There is a resemblance to Freud’s Unheimlich here. For Freud, the uneasy, frightening feeling of the Unheimlich comes not when we get a sense of déjà-vu, but when actual repetitions strike us as strange. ‘The factor of the repetition of the same thing will perhaps not appeal to everyone as a source of uncanny feeling’ (Freud 1919: 236), but Freud insists that strange coincidences and unexpected, involuntary repetitions are the sources of the Unheimlich feeling. The Unheimlich, like Verneinung, is one of Freud’s ambivalent, paradoxical operations. It is a familiarity which is experienced as an unfamiliarity. It can be felt when, doing something we have done many times before, we experience a moment of strange distance from it. The ambivalence inherent in the term heimlich itself is borne out by Freud’s citation of Gutzkow in


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which the same disturbing experience is alternately described as heimlich and Unheimlich. Freud writes: ‘In general we are reminded that the word “heimlich” is not unambiguous, but belongs to two sets of ideas, which, without being contradictory, are yet very different: on the one hand it means what is familiar and agreeable, and on the other, what is concealed and kept out of sight’ (224–5). (While Strachey cites the OED to indicate that the word ‘canny’ bears a similar ambivalence in meaning both ‘cosy’ and ‘magical or occult’, this loses the important overtones of home-and-hearth. On this point, the word ‘unfamiliar’ is likely a better way of translating Unheimlich, since heimlich means ‘homely’, and ‘familiar’ is rooted to the Latin familiaris, or family.) Freud’s consultation of Grimms’ dictionary maintains the essential ambivalence of the word heimlich, and indicates that the word is finally untranslatable. The Derridean valence here is unmistakable. No doubt this ambivalence is usefully compared to Derrida’s analysis of words such as the pharmakon, both poison and cure. A Derridean Brecht will appear in the writerly nature of the Brechtian theatre. The Brechtian Verfremdung that allows (or forces) one to see one’s mother as a man’s wife finds its roots in the prohibition against incest and symbolic castration. This intervention of law is a painful and traumatic shock that shapes subjectivity as the form of loss, and is the condition of socialization, what Brecht calls the ‘original act of discovery’ (Brecht 1965: 102). For Freud, experiences of the Unheimlich are involuntary memory reminders of that terrible intervention of the tyrannical castrating father. Yet there appears to be a crucial difference between Verfremdung and Unheimlich: Verfremdung is a part of a larger process that does not end with the shock of estrangement, but instead proceeds on a dialectical path to a new level of greater understanding. It is heuristic and therapeutic. Before we can have greater understanding of something, we must estrange our given understanding of it; we must interrogate what we take as common sense about an object so that we can then overturn that common sense and re-familiarize our understanding of said object on a broader horizon of comprehension. Yet common to both Brecht and Freud is the assumption that the estrangement of the familiar is involuntary: it is not something you can do for yourself. Thus Freud tends to characterize Unheimlich feelings as presentiments of the ‘fateful and inescapable’ (Freud 1919: 237), which come from strange coincidences that provide the intimation of a force beyond human purview. On the one hand this would seem to be the exact opposite of what Brecht sees as the crucial mechanism in Verfremdung, which is to make what we take as given (and thus as natural and inevitable) appear as ‘something unnatural’ (Brecht 1964: 144). But Freud clearly does not want to endorse unheimlich feelings in any way. Instead, his essay itself serves as a kind of Unheimliching of the Unheimlich. By drawing attention to examples of ‘involuntary repetition’ Freud’s constant goal in the analytic session is to help patients to avoid repetition altogether. On this point Brecht and Freud are very close. Thus Brecht’s example of driving a model T Ford after having

Brecht and language 19 only driven more modern cars removes the automobile from the realm of the natural and places it in the realm of the manufactured. But the final point of the process of Verfremdung is not simply to make automobiles seem unnatural, but to make nature itself appear unnatural, because that is precisely what it is: ‘Nature, which certainly embraces the motor-car, is suddenly imbued with an element of unnaturalness, and from now on this is an indelible part of the concept of nature’ (Brecht 1964: 144–5). Nature (fate, the inescapable) is thus subject to a constant process of denaturalization. The eternal repetition of ‘nature’ becomes, through the Verfremdung, altered, historicized. The Verfremdungseffekt is, in fact, a mechanism for the inducing of historical perception. This is a perpetual renewal of perception, and one in which the act of renewal itself must be renewed if it is to function: ‘In a sense the [Verfremdungseffekt] itself has been alienated by the above explanation; we have taken a common, recurrent, universally-practised operation and tried to draw attention to it by illuminating its peculiarity’ (Brecht 1964: 145). Thus the Verfremdungseffekt is not a process of estrangement that one can experience in a voluntary or automatic way. In fact, the process of estrangement is potentially so common that, if unchecked, it can be naturalized to the point where we do not notice it any more. At that point, Brecht wants to intervene, and estrange us from our own estrangement, to keep in motion the process of renewal of perception which, left to its own devices, will falter and stall. Thus, the ubiquity of ‘postmodern’ V-effects that Wright observes, are in fact missing a crucial element, that of process or action, as well as the key term of an intervener who estranges the natural for you, since the V-effect is not a V-effect until it has been exposed to you as one by someone else. As a form of thinking, the Verfremdungseffekt is an elementary kernel of theorization, a critical turning back upon or rereading of one’s own thought that displaces that thought and distinguishes the uncriticized thought as ideological. Ideological thinking, then, is precisely thought that appears as transparent to itself, while the Verfremdungseffekt introduces a dialectical turning back upon ideological thinking. This turning back upon one’s own ideological thought is demonstrated by Freud elsewhere. His ‘A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis’ quite specifically makes use of the term ‘alienation’ (Entfremdung) to describe an Unheimlich experience Freud had at the top of the Acropolis: Freud experienced the errant thought that this experience was not in fact real. In the essay, Freud analyses this strange thought as a displacement of the childhood belief that he would never escape his family’s economic circumstances and actually see the idealized Acropolis (Freud 1936: 246–7). Thus what was estranged from Freud’s thinking here were his class circumstances, circumstances that had produced and naturalized a determining narrative in his mind. His subsequent experience belied that ideologeme and induced in him, in his retelling of the event, a class-consciousness that was also Unheimlich. The resulting sensation was an Entfremdungsgefühl, an alienation-feeling, although it is translated as derealization. ‘[T]hey are certainly failures in

20 Brecht and language functioning, and, like dreams, which, in spite of their regular occurrence in healthy people, serve us all [sic – as] models of psychological disorder, they are abnormal structures. These phenomena are to be observed in two forms: the subject feels either that a piece of reality or that a piece of his own self is strange to him’ (244–5). Derealization is a rejecting of external reality from the ego – a keeping of something outside of us, while depersonalization is a form of double consciousness or split personality, a defence by the ego against some internal element. Nevertheless, these two forms of ‘disavowing’ (245) are ‘intimately connected’ (245). I think we can, in passing, make a useful connection between Freud’s own Entfremdungsgefühl and the Verfremdungseffekt, as long as we see that the latter effect is not homologous to Freud’s actual moment of alienation on the Acropolis, but rather with the retroactive construction of meaning, embodied in the essay itself (in fact a letter to Romain Rolland), wherein the estrangement of the moment of estrangement takes place, a critical distancing not available to Freud on the Acropolis. The trip to the Acropolis took place in 1904, while the letter was composed in 1936. The resemblance between that moment on the Acropolis, and moments in ‘The Uncanny’ essay, where Freud describes his own Unheimliche sensations, deserve attention, especially in as much as the recurring theme of travel is noticeable in both cases. Ultimately, Freud’s own travelling experiences figure in his writings as Oedipal journeys, in which the attempt to escape inevitably brings one into confrontation with the past. For Freud the Unheimlich is a manifestation of the return of the repressed. In ‘The Uncanny’, Freud states his belief that human beings do not really grasp the fact of their own mortality and take refuge in superstition and metaphysics (Freud 1919: 242). It is a sign of continuing savagery in the human unconscious that otherwise ‘educated people’ (242) can still be frightened by superstition in the form of Unheimlich sensations. That this fear is also a fear of the womb (244) or the female genitals (245) (places that Freud points out originally had nothing fearful about them at all), seems altogether to conflate the Unheimlich with the fear of castration. ‘As soon as something actually happens in our lives which seems to confirm the old, discarded beliefs we get a feeling of the uncanny’ (247–8). The logical extrapolation from this is that anyone who has rid himself altogether of repressed superstitious animistic beliefs will never experience Unheimlich sensations at all. To relate Brecht’s Verfremdung to Freud’s Unheimlich is to make the Verfremdung a kind of psychoanalyst’s intervention in the discourse of the analysand. In this sense the Verfremdung is the involuntary return of the repressed, a commonplace neurotic occurrence, which, through the Brechtian intervention, is noticed and thence becomes un-repressed. For Freud, the point of this operation is to un-repress as much repressed material as possible, to reduce the repressed thoughts and feelings that exacerbate human misery, and to repress properly the crucial kernel of instinct which must remain unconscious for the sake of socialization. In contrast, the point of Brechtian theory is to take incidents of the Unheimlich and Unheimlich them to a higher level.

Brecht and language 21 The function of psychoanalysis, Brechtian theatre and Marxism is to wrest a kernel of freedom from the realm of necessity. The relationship of this activity to given theatrical practice is fraught. On the one hand, there is a strong argument that claims that Greek tragedy’s proper, historicized function is identical to this narrative of freedom. The complete action of Greek tragedy is to demonstrate the submission of a protagonist to an alien, incomprehensible fate, and through this submission, to judge this inhuman judgement, and in so doing actively assert a human freedom. Yet, on the other hand, the argument can be made that this full action of Greek tragedy has been lost and dramatic form today has become a narrative of necessity without freedom, of catharsis as a pseudo-scientific figure for the mechanistic release of pressure. On this point Brecht and Freud are both set squarely against the neo-classical reception of Aristotle’s Poetics, which describes the best form of tragedy as that which contains the greatest amount of necessity. Aristotle ends Chapter 24 of the Poetics with the observation that the use of impossible probabilities is preferable to that of unpersuasive possibilities, which seems to have some connection to the privileged image of a man being crushed by the falling statue of a man he has killed (see Chapter 9 of Poetics). Such an image, of overwhelming fate, predestination and determination – or, as Freud would say, animism – is precisely what Brecht constructs his ‘anti-aristotelian’ theatre to work against. ‘Catharsis is not the main object of this dramaturgy’ (Brecht 1964: 78), Brecht writes, presumably because the received understanding of the neo-classical concept of catharsis (and here I am putting aside the problem of what catharsis actually means in the Poetics) construes it as a relaxation in the spectator of the need to act; in other words catharsis is the production and perpetuation of a consumer. Like Brecht’s aesthetic, Freud’s theory is also positioned against the production and maintenance of passive consumers. In the 1906 paper, ‘Psychopathic Characters on the Stage’, Freud describes the cathartic pleasure that comes from the encounter with Greek tragedy as ‘blowing off steam’ (Freud 1942: 305). This arises from the distanced identification with a protagonist who rebels against overarching fate and a deterministic universe. In contrast, the ideal spectator of psychopathological drama (and here I think Freud is generally referring to the Ibsenite drama of the late nineteenth century) is a repressed neurotic, who finds pleasure in the theatre through the return of the repressed that engagement with the protagonist allows. ‘Here the precondition of enjoyment is that the spectator should himself be a neurotic, for it is only such people who can derive pleasure instead of simple aversion from the revelation and the more or less conscious recognition of a repressed impulse’ (Freud 1942: 308–9). This description immediately brings theatre close to psychoanalysis, yet lest we think Freud approves of such an operation, let us note that this aesthetic experience is an entirely mechanical process, and only has an effect on highly unstable neurotics who cannot hold their repressed material in check on their own. Psychopathological drama is drama in which the hero struggles between a conscious and an unconscious


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impulse; this latter impulse is quite specifically not named, and so is unconscious to the drama itself, an absence requiring a psychoanalyst to intervene and identify it. Such art exacerbates an already unstable situation in neurotic spectators, while spectators in whom repressed material is soundly repressed will simply maintain the repression of the material that the artwork seeks to call up. Psychopathological theatre, then, is hardly a cure for neurosis: ‘Thus it is only in neurotics that a struggle can occur of a kind which can be made the subject of a drama; but even in them the dramatist will provoke not merely an enjoyment of the liberation but a resistance to it as well’ (309). In doing both, the dramatist seems to do no good at all. Freud’s ur-text of neurosis is Hamlet, whose psychically balanced protagonist is put in a situation where a soundly and firmly repressed impulse which all humans share is ‘shaken up by the situation in the play’ (Freud 1942: 309). The result is a mechanical engagement of the audience with Hamlet’s dilemma, as his unnamed, unacknowledged repressed impulse starts to free itself, producing in him neurotic symptoms, while ‘in the spectator too the process is carried through with his attention averted, and he is in the grip of his emotions instead of taking stock of what is happening. A certain amount of resistance is no doubt saved in this way, just as, in an analytic treatment, we find derivatives of the repressed material reaching consciousness, owing to a lower resistance, while the repressed material itself is unable to do so’ (309–10). Contemporary drama goes even further than Hamlet, showing us the development of neurosis in such a manner that it ‘would seem to be the dramatist’s business to induce the same illness in us’ (310). While Freud becomes somewhat vague at the conclusion of this essay, the overall tenor of his comments here signals that the function of identification in modern drama of the naturalistic, psychopathological variety is not curative but mechanistically repetitive: it does not achieve the goal which Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis seeks, but instead induces and perpetuates neurotic illness as a means of maintaining the pre-existing status quo, both in the audience and on the stage. The psychic health and liberation of the audience is not the goal, since the repetitive return of the repressed takes place in an involuntary circuit that modern drama exploits. In fact, the implication of Freud’s observations seems to be that the process of neurotic identification serves most of all to keep the audience in the dark about what events are unfolding inside themselves, rather than enabling them to take ‘stock of what is happening’ (309). We have here a fashioning of art as a form of mechanized safety valve for social pressure. The Verfremdungseffekt is not such an automatized activity, and neither is the psychoanalytic session.

Psychoanalysis and class-consciousness The goal of psychoanalysis, as opposed to psychopathological theatre, is to allow the analysand to properly take stock of what is happening, in the

Brecht and language 23 broadest possible sense, a goal shared with Brecht’s theory of ‘antiaristotelian’ theatre. Here the idea raised in The Messingkauf Dialogues – that what the Philosopher wants to create is not a form of theatre at all, and thus perhaps best called thaëter (Brecht 1965: 16) – takes on a new resonance.1 Yet Freud’s theory is concerned above all with the private, bourgeois actions of the individual, while Brecht’s theory is concerned with the actions of the individual in her social and political existence. It is on this point that Brecht and psychoanalysis appear to diverge, since for Freud the psychic history of the individual that is brought to light is not necessarily political. The opposition between society and the unconscious, as Lacanian theory in particular shows us, is a false one, but the question must be raised: what relationship, if any, is there between class relations and the unconscious? In Lacanian theory, the unconscious is a product of socialization, a trace of our indoctrination into social and symbolic economies that shape us as alienated. The unconscious is how the social speaks through us, and so, for Marxism, this is the means by which economic class speaks through individuals. Therefore Lacan famously observes that ‘the unconscious of the subject is the discourse of the other’ (Lacan 1966: 55). This leads him to the conclusion that ‘it must be posited that, produced as it is by an animal at the mercy of language, man’s desire is the desire of the Other’ (264). There has been much theory since Marx that has corrected the assumption that class structure is the only determining factor in the shaping of the subject. Althusser has confronted the problem with his theory of structural causality, in which the economic mode of production is displaced and no longer considered as a foundation or ground that determines or expresses an ‘ideological superstructure’. What we consider to be the ideological is also material and has determining effects upon the social structure. Instead, in Althusser’s theory, society is a Darstellung, an authorless theatre, a constellation of semi-autonomous elements, any of which can have a determining effect on the structure as a whole: society as Darstellung is a structure whose cause is immanent in its effects. The theory of structural causality, derived by Althusser from an attempt to synthesize Marx and Freud, had in fact been predicted by Freud himself, in his ‘New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis’ of 1933. In a discussion of whether or not psychoanalysis can be considered to be a Weltanschauung, Freud remarks: ‘The strength of Marxism clearly lies, not in its view of history or the prophecies of the future that are based on it, but in its sagacious indication of the decisive influence which the economic circumstances of men have upon their intellectual, ethical and artistic attitudes’ (Freud 1933: 178). Yet Freud insists that economics alone is not the sole determinant. Ideology, too, is an determining factor, not just an expression of the economic mode of production, as Freud makes more explicit earlier: It seems likely that what are known as materialistic views of history sin in under-estimating this factor. They brush it aside with the remark


Brecht and language that human ‘ideologies’ are nothing other than the product and superstructure of their contemporary economic conditions. That is true, but very probably not the whole truth. Mankind never lives entirely in the present. The past, the tradition of the race and of the people, lives on in the ideologies of the super-ego, and yields only slowly to the influences of the present and to new changes; and so long as it operates through the super-ego it plays a powerful part in human life, independently of economic conditions. (Freud 1933: 67)

Freud himself made the first attempt to bring together Marxism and psychoanalysis, and certainly pointed to the essential problem to be confronted. On this topic, structuralism makes some useful interventions. In psychoanalysis, structure is understood as the elementary social relations that are inscribed in the individual subject through the process of subjectification. Saussure posits that language is constituted exclusively by relations of difference. Linguistic terms have no positive existence of their own, but are given meaning only in reference to what they are not. Later theorists have transported this fundamental precept of structuralism into the analysis of class relations as themselves relations of difference, in which one’s position in a class structure is not defined positively, but through binary oppositions. Slavoj Z˘iz˘ek makes an overt connection between Marxism, structuralism and psychoanalysis, through a Lacanian lens: ‘the ultimate paradox of the notion of “class struggle” is that society is “held together” by the very antagonism, split, that forever prevents its closure in a harmonious, transparent, rational Whole – by the very impediment that undermines every rational totalization’ (Z˘iz˘ek 1991: 100). In Z˘iz˘ek’s formulation, class contradiction occupies the precise position of the Lacanian unconscious, or Freud’s firmly and permanently repressed impulse: the mark of socialization smears us with a trace of alienation that is both the condition of society existing at all and the condition of society not existing harmoniously and ‘totally’. I think that these complications of the theory of economic class are particularly cogent for a consideration of Brecht’s aesthetic, since Brecht’s Marxism is distinctly disinterested in orthodox class analysis, and much more concerned with the possibilities of a Marxist ethics of the individual. Yet when Marxism appears to ‘abandon’ the matter of class contradictions, it appears to abandon its fundamental ground, and risks a heresy that also ignores the necessity that is central to Marxist theory: the misery, suffering and determining circumstances that are, inarguably, produced by economic class. The importance of a structuralist intervention in class contradictions emerges when we consider that class, like the structure of language, is shaped according to relations of difference. Class is not defined positively, but in reference to what it is not, and these contradictory oppositions, figured now as relations of difference, organize themselves along binary lines. Since class has no positive meaning of its own, it functions in a struc-

Brecht and language 25 tural manner, as an empty position onto which local meanings can be mapped. Derrida’s complication of structuralist theory, his argument that structuralism’s binary oppositions inevitably ‘deconstruct’ themselves, revealing that, as relations of difference, these oppositions ‘smear’ each other with traces of what they are defined against, has provided recent Marxist theory with an interesting complication of the concept of class. Commenting on Derrida’s Specters of Marx, Fredric Jameson argues that deconstructive logic is compatible with a renewal of interest in class analysis: ‘class itself is not at all this simple-minded and unmixed concept in the first place, not at all a primary building block of the most obvious and orthodox ontologies, but rather in its concrete moments something a good deal more complex, internally conflicted and reflexive than any of those stereotypes’ ( Jameson 1999: 47). Jameson argues that class-consciousness manifests itself in internalized binary relations and reorganize other collective symbolic relationships like ethnicity, race and gender as binaries too (47). Jameson’s analysis offers some trenchant points. Class antagonisms are primarily formal, not content-based, and they follow a binary system, as a dichotomous phenomenon: there are only two fundamental classes in every mode of production (48). The result, then, is that classes do not ‘exist’ in an empirical sense: ‘each of the opposing classes necessarily carries the other around in its head and is internally torn and conflicted by a foreign body it cannot exorcise’ (49). Class, in Derridean terms, is not ‘proper’ (49). It is at this point that the empty form of class relations encounters the equally pure form of the unconscious. From Z˘iz˘ek and Jameson we can infer that the individual psyche, in its very form or structure, is the shape of conflict and contradiction, and that the contradictions and tensions of class relations are this selfsame manifestation. As an internalized self-loathing, a double consciousness, or a form of identificatory envy, the impropriety of class will be a theme for us here.

Brecht and class It is when Jameson relates this analysis of class-consciousness to Brecht’s aesthetic that his observations become most useful for us. Class-consciousness, to a more philosophically complex Marxism, has become, now, a kind of vulgarization of the human subject, a simplification of determining social factors. The contradiction, between a simple or vulgar Marxism, and the sophisticated Marxism demonstrated by academics, is highly productive. The tension may itself be thought of as a class contradiction, and Marxist analysis must confront and exacerbate that tension. Brecht’s aesthetic, the dialectical ‘art of living’, advocates a politics of the Haltung, the strategic, political, performative stance or posture that an individual can assume, theatrically. The question at hand is how the individual can act within a Marxist theory, and how these actions in turn can determine consciousness. Brecht, famously, speaks of the need for plumpes Denken, vulgar or rough thinking, as


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the key to a politicized subjectivity. Jameson suggests that the strategy of plumpes Denken was the crude, cynical thinking ‘which any intellectualist and hyperintellectually dialectical (Frankfurt School-type) Marxism had to carry about within itself in order to remain authentic’ (Jameson 1999: 61). Brecht learned this from Karl Korsch. The serene confidence of Brecht’s vulgar thinking emerges as the necessary internal conflict that the politicized intellectual must maintain through the action of Verfremdung. It is a form of performative contradiction characteristic of the most open thinking, one which, as we have seen, Brecht found a representative of in Einstein. Brecht’s own improper Marxism and his approach to class are most in evidence in The Messingkauf Dialogues. The law of class, the Philosopher explains, does not define the individual absolutely, but ‘only in so far as he coincides with his class, i.e. not absolutely; for the concept of class is only arrived at by ignoring particular features of the individual’ (Brecht 1965: 80). Thus we might think of the law of class as functioning much like the law of the signifier (the symbolic order), which colonizes us and becomes the condition of our subjectivity, but does not completely determine our subjectivity and foreclose upon all agency, because in the very act of colonization it produces a repressed, asignifying content that is the guarantee that we are not entirely visible to the symbolic order. I think the Philosopher’s comments are illuminated by a structural approach to class: The workers’ opponents aren’t a unified reactionary mass. Nor is the individual member of the opposing classes a unified, packaged and guaranteed hundred-per-cent hostile body. The class struggle has infected his own inner self. He is torn apart by his interests. Living as one of the mass he is bound to share the mass’s interests, however isolated his life. [. . .] And this meant that these bourgeois came at such moments into genuine and enjoyable contact with the progressive proletarian elements in human society; they felt themselves to be part of humanity as a whole, solving questions in a large-scale and powerful manner. It shows that art can create a certain unity in its audience, which in our period is divided into classes. (Brecht 1965: 93–4) While Brecht typically describes the function of his theatre as a divisive one, awakening class consciousness in the audience, here he allows his Philosopher-surrogate to suggest that art can allow a member of the bourgeoisie to momentarily betray her class background and transcend her own ideology, to experience a non-ideological collectivity, the Marxist promise of a common motive. Here, art is fashioned as pointing towards the ‘it should be otherwise’ beyond class division, that does not efface extant class contradictions through an ideological gesture but rather historicizes them. Both the Verfremdungseffekt and the Unheimlich are moments of estrangement that demand the intervention of another so that we might step outside

Brecht and language 27 of our ideological thinking and theorize about our thoughts from the perspective of another. In that sense they are both inherently social activities. I would like to think of the unending internalization of vulgar thinking as an internalization of both class relations and of the social mechanism of Verfremdung. Ultimately, I understand this as an activity of dialectical thinking, or, as it is figured in the realm of Brecht’s theatre, ‘complex seeing’. Yet I also want to argue that the reason Brecht’s ‘complex seeing’ is essentially compatible with structuralist Marxism and psychoanalysis is because Brecht’s theories of Verfremdung and gestus are theories of linguistic activity. Underlying these observations is the implication that language itself is a material ‘foundation’ of the human subject, and functions much as Marx imagined the economic base or mode of production to operate. V.N. Volosˇinov’s 1929 Marxism and the Philosophy of Language famously declares that ideology cannot exist without language. Ideology is a matter of meaning: ‘In other words, it is a sign. Without signs there is no ideology. A physical body equals itself, so to speak; it does not signify anything but wholly coincides with its particular, given nature’ (Volosˇinov 1929: 9). Therefore, ideology cannot be taken as merely an ‘expression’ of an economic base or mode of production. Terry Eagleton points out the implications of Volosˇinov’s thesis: ‘We have here, then, the outline of a materialist theory of ideology which does not simply reduce it to a “reflex” of the economic “base”, but grants the materiality of the word, and the discursive contexts in which it is caught up, their proper due’ (Eagleton 1991: 195). Yet Eagleton also points out that ‘[i]f language and ideology are in one sense identical for Voloshinov, they are not in another. For contending ideological positions may articulate themselves in the same national language, intersect within the same linguistic community’ (195). Under these circumstances, linguistic signs become the site of class struggle. A related, but (at least in Eagleton’s analysis) distinct approach to language and ideology is one inspired by structuralism. As we shall see in an analysis of Roland Barthes and Brecht in Chapter 3, for structuralism, ideology is a freezing or sedimentation of language’s incessant activity into ‘mythic’ discourses serving class interests. As Eagleton puts it, ‘Language itself is infinitely productive; but this incessant productivity can be artificially arrested into “closure” – into the sealed world of ideological stability, which repels the disruptive, decentred forces of language in the name of an imaginary unity’ (196–7). Eagleton himself is sometimes suspicious of this paradigm of language, and thinks it comes close to an abstract liberalism that valorizes the ludic play of the signifier over banal, ‘ideological’ meaning. For Eagleton, the Derridean approach to language ‘betrays an anarchistic suspicion of institutionality as such, and ignores the extent to which a certain provisional stability of identity is essential not only for psychical well-being but for revolutionary political agency’ (198). What is needed, then, is a dialectic, and a theory of agency. Psychoanalysis provides this theory, however tentatively, and I am not as


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sceptical as Eagleton about deconstruction’s possible articulations of agency. The need for a dialectic between identity and non-identity in the field of the aesthetic is a matter that will receive special attention in Chapter 5. Rainer Nägele makes some preliminary, essential connections between Brecht and psychoanalytic theories of language in Theatre, Theory, Speculation: Walter Benjamin and the Scenes of Modernity. Here, Nägele also argues that Brecht must be distanced from postmodernism. Nägele situates European modernism within its historical context, as a critique of the Hegelian/ Romantic theory of modernity. In Nägele’s terms, the concept of modernity describes the secularizing project of the Enlightenment, in which the ‘aesthetic sphere becomes the privileged sphere of the reconciliation of interiority and exteriority and of “nature” and “the law” ’ (Nägele 1991: xii). This aesthetic reconciliation takes place through a Hegelian dialectic of self-conscious self-reflexivity. However, [i]t is Modernism, not some phantasmatically construed ‘Postmodernity’ or ‘Poststructuralism,’ that undertakes the radical critique of modernity. If modernity, as it emerged in the late eighteenth century, is characterized by a move from poetics to aesthetics and by a systematic process of secularization, then Modernism moves back from aesthetics to poetics and insists on the traces of an otherness that could not be erased by secularization. (Nägele 1991: xii) Nägele’s reading of Benjamin’s The Origin of German Tragic Drama (I consider Benjamin’s book in the next chapter) interprets the book as a theory of Modernism that emphasizes the importance of the ‘caesura’ as a radical break in subjectivity. The caesura is the trace of otherness that will not be absorbed by self-reflection. In psychoanalysis, this caesura describes the trauma that engenders subjectivity but will not itself yield to subjectification. It is a cause that can only be detected in its effects. Nägele finds similarities between the epic theatre and psychoanalysis, both of which are situations where the caesura between stage and audience, or analyst and analysand, is an unbridgeable gap, the function of which is not just to communicate knowledge but to produce it (160). For the stage/analyst to tell the other something is to undermine the process marked by the caesura. In both Brechtian spectator and Freudian analysand, the validity of knowledge is determined by whether or not the analysand/spectator produces it him- or herself. According to Nägele, both the epic theatre and psychoanalysis are fully understood through a negative comparison with ‘Romantic theatre’s infinite reflectivity’ (Nägele 1991: 161). While both epic theatre and psychoanalysis ‘give an appearance of self-reflection [. . .] both are fundamentally misunderstood if they are taken as self-reflections. They are a most radical critique of self-reflectivity’ (161). Self-reflexivity produces no knowledge, because it

Brecht and language 29 contains no dialectical ruptures that open it to the other. The romantic emphasis on harmonious reconciliation and wholeness is, for Benjamin, fundamentally undialectical, Nägele argues (161–2). The terms of this analysis may be translated into Lacanian logic: Lacan’s imaginary specular ego (trapped in a mirror of narcissistic self-reflectivity), is ruptured by the subsequent introduction of the law of the linguistic signifier, which appears as a traumatic otherness that cannot be reconciled in the mirror of selfreflection, and which produces the subject around an irreducible split or gap. The trace left by the law subsequently appears as a stain in the mirror, a smear which will not reflect the subject back at itself. Nägele’s historicizing gesture provides a corrective to certain theories of postmodernism or postmodernity that construe it as a break from modernism. While the refusal of the term ‘postmodernism’ is probably a futile action, it seems safe to fashion postmodernism in a Jamesonian manner, as the logical endpoint of the process of modernization itself, and thus perhaps better described as a hypermodernism.

Gestus, language, negation In structuralist psychoanalytic theory, it is language itself that introduces the possibility of historicization. As Teresa Brennan points out in History After Lacan, the symbolic order is, in a Lacanian paradigm, the condition of subjective historicity. This raises a distinct problem for theatre studies, which are focused, to a certain degree, on the field of the visual. However, I will insist that Brecht’s theory subordinates the field of the visual to, as Lacan puts it, ‘the defiles of the signifier’ (Lacan 1966: 264). Describing the operation of the gestic ‘Not . . . But’, Brecht writes, ‘[w]hatever [the actor] doesn’t do must be contained and conserved in what he does. In this way every sentence and every gesture signifies a decision; the character remains under observation and is tested’ (Brecht 1964: 137). The dialectical performance of the actor must somehow contain within it not only everything the character does do, but also that which the character does not do, so that there may be discerned some alternative to the events that take place on the stage. Brecht’s fullest articulation of the theory of gestus deliberately distances it from isolated gestures or actions and portrays it instead as a kind of attitude or overall stance, drawing its inspiration from language. The following passage describes the theatre’s fundamental signifying material, namely the ideas of human beings, embodied in their attitudes: in other words their lived ideologies. This essay, ‘On Gestic Music’, gives a provocative definition of gestus, and one that guides us in the direction of a structural psychoanalytic reading of the concept: [Gestus] is not supposed to mean gesticulation; it is not a matter of explanation or emphatic movements of the hands, but of overall


Brecht and language attitudes. A language is gestic when it is grounded in a [gestus] and conveys particular attitudes adopted by the speaker towards other men. The sentence ‘pluck the eye that offends thee out’ is less effective from the gestic point of view that [sic] ‘if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out’. The latter starts by presenting the eye, and the first clause has the definite gest of making an assumption; the main clause then comes as a surprise, a piece of advice, and a relief. (Brecht 1964: 104)

Gestic language stages a formal performance of its content: in the rhetoric of the sentence there is a presentation (what I will think of here as a Darstellung) of the sentence’s content. Ultimately, gestus is a matter of aesthetic form. Willett finds this the clearest and fullest definition of gestus, although he supplements it with a fragment from the Brecht archive headed ‘representation of sentences in a new encyclopaedia’, which asks the following series of questions: ‘1. Who is the sentence of use to? 2. Who does it claim to be of use to? 3. What does it call for? 4. What practical action corresponds to it? 5. What sort of sentences result from it? What sort of sentences support it? 6. In what situation is it spoken? By whom?’ (Brecht 1964: 106). These dramaturgical questions emphasize the nature of the gestic sentence as a perlocutionary speech act. Significantly, the biblical sentence returns again as the privileged example in ‘On Rhymeless Verse with Irregular Rhythms’, an essay arguing that irregular, discordant rhythms are useful for showing ‘human dealings as contradictory, fiercely fought over, full of violence’ (Brecht 1964: 116). Gestus is described as follows: The biblical sentence ‘Tear out the eye that irritates you’ has a gestus underlying, the gestus of a command. But it is not expressed purely gesturally, because the phrase ‘that irritates you’ actually implies still another gestus that is not expressed, namely, the gestus of reasoning. Purely gesturally expressed, the sentence reads (and Luther who observed ‘how people speak’ forms it thus): ‘When your eye irritates you: tear it out.’ One sees at first glance that this formulation is gesturally much richer and purer. (translated in Nägele 1991: 157) Actually, following Brecht’s punctuation, it should read ‘tear it out!’ Thus in this formulation of the sentence, the final main clause ‘follows a little pause of bewilderment’, and is a ‘devastating proposal’ (Brecht 1964: 117). For Nägele, the colon that divides the sentence marks ‘a moment of silence that constitutes the gestus in a blinding caesura. It also opens the eyes to the torn eyes of Oedipus’ (Nägele 1991: 157). Gestus here is located at a larger overarching horizon, at the level of the perlocutionary, but Brecht argues that gestus must also be embedded in the form of the sentence itself, in the jarring break formed by the syntactical arrangement of clauses. The trauma

Brecht and language 31 of symbolic castration (which we have already seen is the engine of the Verfremdungseffekt), staged by the main clause is articulated on the one hand at the level of form, and on the other in the content of the sentence itself. This mirroring of content in form seems to have a special importance for Brecht, who bestows on the image of Oedipal blinding a representative status. The Verfremdungseffekt, the ‘Not . . . But’ and gestus respond visibly to one another when applied at the level of the sentence. At the heart of them all is the activity of negation. ‘The very simplest sentences that apply in the [Veffect] are those with “Not . . . But”: [. . .] He was not pleased but amazed,’ Brecht writes (Brecht 1964: 144). Fixing the ‘Not . . . But’, the estrangement effect in which what is represented gestures towards what is not represented, also has repercussions in the gestus. As a gestus is dialectical, pointing towards a larger constellation of social attitudes, so are the Verfremdungseffekt and the ‘Not . . . But’. These three techniques find expression at the level of what I will call the ‘gestic sentence’ itself, or more specifically at the level of speech, since Brecht’s examples are drawn from spoken language (‘shouted choruses at workers’ demonstrations’ and ‘the newspaper-seller’s technique of rhythmical cries’ [Brecht 1964: 117–18]). That the content of speech per se should, in Brecht’s theory, endeavour to contain a not at all times brings us a step closer to another psychoanalytic inflection, and the emphasis on negativity in language. In After Babel (1975), George Steiner suggests that negativity provides language with its poetic, utopian potential, its ability to negate what merely is, while Kenneth Burke locates ‘the specific nature of language in the ability to use the Negative’ (Burke 1952: 419). From this perspective, the element of negativity in language is language’s essential function. For Freud, Verneinung, negation (or denegation – the important ambivalence of Verneinung is that it effectively seems to mean both, much like the Unheimlich) is a task of the function of intellectual judgement. This is of note, because judgement is precisely what Brecht’s theatrical techniques attempt to produce in an otherwise passive spectator. Freud writes that the presence of negations in the speech of the analysand (‘You ask who this person in the dream can be. It’s not my mother’), are the means by which ‘the content of the repressed image or idea can make its way into consciousness, on the condition that it is negated’ (Freud 1925: 235). The ideational content becomes unrepressed without the affective content (the essential part of the repression) following suit. Negation contributes to the mechanism of judgement, and judgement ‘is the intellectual action which decides the choice of motor action, which puts an end to the postponement due to thought and which leads over from thinking to acting’ (238). Moreover, Judging is a continuation, along lines of expediency, of the original process by which the ego took things into itself or expelled them from itself, according to the pleasure principle. The polarity of judgement appears to correspond to the opposition of the two groups of instincts


Brecht and language which we have supposed to exist. Affirmation – as a substitute for uniting – belongs to Eros; negation – the successor to expulsion – belongs to the instinct of destruction. [. . .] But the performance of the function of judgement is not made possible until the creation of the symbol of negation has endowed thinking with a first measure of freedom from the consequences of repression and, with it, from the compulsion of the pleasure principle. (Freud 1925: 239)

Negation, then, is a key breaking of the compulsion to repeat and a means of negotiating subjective agency and judgement. Negation is also both affirmation and negation. In this respect, Lacan’s commentary upon the Verneinung is useful to keep in mind: verneinen is the manner in which what is simultaneously actualized and denied comes to be avowed. [. . .] Thus the Verneinung, far from being the pure and simple paradox of that which presents itself in the form of a ‘no,’ isn’t just any old ‘no.’ [. . .] [S]ince it is in that very form that the Verdrängt, which is the unconscious, essentially presents itself. (Lacan 1986: 64–5) With an ambivalence that is remarkably reminiscent of the Unheimlich, Verneinung is simultaneously an acknowledgement and a disavowal. Lacan provides an example of negation at the level of the sentence that is performed in French and has no literal equivalent in English. Sentences such as ‘Je crains qu’il ne vienne’ contain a negation which functions like a slight tripping in the sentence, a glimpse of negativity in an otherwise positive and hopeful statement. It is ‘like a particle oscillating between a coming and a fear of it. It has no raison d’être except for that of the subject itself’ (Lacan 1986: 305–6). To locate the subject here in speech is to not-locate the subject, or to locate the subject as the subject of the unconscious, as never present in speech but caught, at moments of negation, showing some shadow of itself, a ripple in language. Furthermore, the ‘ne’ exposes the space between the enunciation (speech) and enunciated (statement) in language. The ‘ne’ itself cannot be said to carry any ‘meaning’ at the level of the statement, since the sense is conveyed despite this meaningless negation which manifests itself. The ‘sense’ of the ‘ne’ lies at the level of speech itself, and only then if we understand its significance as the idea that the unconscious speaks itself through us at the level of discourse: The negative particle ‘ne’ only emerges at the moment when I really speak, and not at the moment when I am spoken, if I am on the level of the unconscious. And I think it is a good idea to interpret Freud in a similar way when he says that there is no negation at the level of the unconscious. Given that immediately afterwards, he shows us that there

Brecht and language 33 is indeed negation. That is to say, in the unconscious there are all kinds of ways of representing negation metaphorically. (Lacan 1986: 64) As with the Verfremdungseffekt, these momentary glimpses of the ‘something else’, in this case the unconscious, will pass unnoticed if not for the intervention of another, who estranges the negation and thus brings to light the manner in which the ‘something else’ speaks through our language, expressing itself in the gap between enunciation and enunciated made manifest in this ‘ne’. Thus for Lacan, ‘the Verneinung is the most solid beachhead of that which I would call the “intersaid” (entre dit) in the same way that we say “interview” ’ (65). It is the intersubjective interventionary element which gives the Verneinung its ambivalence. Through negation, the unconscious, the discourse of the Other and thus the trace of the social, speaks through the individual. Speech is an action with no less palpable effects than physical gestures, yet this fact seems to have been lost on some contemporary theatre theory, which privileges a valorization of the actor’s body as an unmediated immanence. In a recent essay, Patrice Pavis argues that Brechtian gestus constitutes a marginalization of the role of the actor and a mediation between actor and spectator that ‘runs the risk of suppressing the body’ (Pavis 1999: 179), because gestus is too formal a semiotic theory of signs, controlling and delimiting the signification of the body, and it represses the ‘libidinal body’ (180). Pavis proclaims that actors ‘are their body and are determined to overcome the dualism in which all society would like to keep them’ (180). It is as a corrective to such recent ‘post-Brechtian’ theories that I present a consideration of the linguistic theories fundamental to Brecht’s work. Brecht’s early theatrical techniques are quite clearly set against uncritical valorizations of performance and performativity over textuality such as Pavis’s. For example, Brecht’s notes to the Threepenny Opera were published as ‘The Literarization of the Theatre’, because ‘[t]oday we see the theatre being given absolute priority over the actual plays’ (Brecht 1964: 43). The playtext is at a loss in the theatre, because the theatre resists the modification of its function, and transforms any play staged within it, ‘changing it so that it no longer represents a foreign body within the apparatus’ (43). Reading is the trope that Brecht adopts as the model for the spectator’s actions, because reading is potentially critical, distanced in its engagement with a text. Theatre controls its spectators, allowing them no freedom of thought, homogenizing their perceptions and reactions. In response, ‘footnotes, and the habit of turning back in order to check a point, need to be introduced into playwriting too’ (44). This critically engaged reading, full of footnotes and turnings back upon the text, is what Brecht calls ‘complex seeing’ (44). The attempt to literarize the theatre is an endeavour to modify its form for political ends. But how does one introduce footnotes into the theatrical performance? The form of the footnote, as Jameson points out in Marxism and Form


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(1971), is highly political. The form of the footnote creates a meaning, demonstrating the insufficiency of systematic thought, the dialectical exceeding by thought of its own boundaries, through the moment ‘in which living thought, squeezed out from between [systematic philosophizing and the study of the concrete], pursues its fitful existence in the small print at the bottom of the page’ (Jameson 1971: 9). Naturally, Jameson states this in a footnote. Gestus and the ‘Not . . . But’ may be understood as such formal innovations, as theatrical footnotes, as moments where the overall structure of the work gives way to a spontaneous alternative response. There are further comments scattered through Brecht’s theory that indicate how the epic theatre should endeavour to mobilize a reading spectator. For example, the actor’s performance in the epic theatre is meant to generate an understanding in the spectator akin to the re-reading of the drama, since, ‘unlike the spectator, [the actor] has read the play right through and is better placed to judge the sentence in accordance with the ending’ (Brecht 1964: 138). In the study of Coriolanus, Brecht emphasizes that the initial scene of the play can only be dramaturgically developed once the entire play has been read (253). Thus each moment of enunciation should reflect in some manner the entirety of the play, as when a reader, having completed a text, turns back to the beginning and finds insight in the first sentence that initially could not have been noticed. This is not, however, a model for understanding drama through a well-made play paradigm, as some well-knitted and homogeneous well-wrought urn. ‘The story then unreels in a contradictory manner; the individual scenes retain their meaning; they yield (and stimulate) a wealth of ideas; and their sum, the story, unfolds authentically without any cheap allpervading idealization (one word leading to another) or directing of subordinate, purely functional component parts to an ending in which everything is resolved’ (279). Thus while we are, as spectators in Brecht’s theatre, always coming to a drama as a reread text, it is never a text which, through that rereading, is ever resolved or enclosed within a reading. The performance announces itself as always already an interpretation, but there is no ‘whole’ to be achieved. Ultimately, I think Brecht’s rhetoric of the literarization of the theatre is most effectively understood through a Derridean lens (which does not necessarily disqualify the Benjaminian, Jamesonian, Lacanian and Barthian readings that I will also pursue). By emphasizing the textuality of performed theatre, Brecht, like Artaud, constructs a performative text in his theoretical essays. Like Antony Tatlow, I see Brecht’s theatre as a theatre of inscription that emphasizes the textuality of the speech act and the performativity of the text. The formal techniques of the epic theatre, the hybridity of a theatre where one is meant to read, performs, alternately, the concreteness of language and also the signifying nature of the concrete. Just as Derrida deconstructs the binarism between speech and writing, Brecht’s theatre performs textuality and textualizes performance, giving priority to neither. What Brecht’s formal innovations introduce for us are not just techniques for the

Brecht and language 35 innovation of the self-contained work of art. Rather, and perhaps more importantly, Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt, gestus and the ‘Not . . . But’ are just as much tools for new techniques of ‘seeing’, which we must again consider for its rhetorical force: ‘seeing’ here means estranging the act of seeing itself, understanding that seeing in some unmediated sense does not exist. Witnessing and reading, for example, are inextricably intertwined praxes. On the topic of praxis, the Brechtian formal innovation is again groundbreaking: performativity is praxis, as is the complex seeing which arises from the literarization of the theatre.

Marxism and science Like Marxism, Brecht’s rhetoric makes a claim to scientific status. In this, Brecht is not far from either Freudian or Lacanian psychoanalysis. A hopeful faith in the possibilities of learning, science and technology characterizes Brecht’s work from beginning to end. Jameson remarks that, for Brecht, ‘science’ is far less a matter of knowledge and epistemology than it is of sheer experiment and of practical, well-nigh manual activity. [. . .] [It is] the means of annulling the separation between physical and mental activity and the fundamental division of labour. [. . .] The spirit of realism designates an active, curious, experimental, subversive – in a word, scientific – attitude towards social institutions and the material world. (Jameson 1977: 205) While there is no question that this is true, most notably in Brecht’s characterization of Galileo, at the same time, the importance of the figure of the Galilean scientist in Brecht’s oeuvre opens the Brechtian definition of science to a slightly different perspective. For, if it is true, as Jameson observes, that Brecht’s definition of science describes, at times, a kind of ‘popular mechanics’ paradigm of tinkering and manual experimentation, this does not exclude from consideration the importance of the Galilean scientist as a radical decentrer of the human subject’s position in the cosmos. I want to suggest here that Brecht’s theory aims to provoke a perpetually renewed decentring, akin not only to the Copernican revolution, but also to the Freudian one. At stake is not only whether what Brecht does can be considered ‘scientific’, but also whether psychoanalysis can be deserving of the description. Consider the following remarks by Brecht’s Philosopher on the then-recent discoveries of physicists: The physicists say that they have suddenly come to suspect, in the course of their observations of the very smallest particles of matter, that the process of observation has altered what is being observed. The motions which they observe through the microscope are complicated by


Brecht and language motions which the microscope causes. At the same time the instruments are being altered, apparently by the objects they are focusing on. If that’s happening when instruments do the observing, what happens when men do? (Brecht 1965: 50)

What is lost to the scientist in this realization is the vision of the universe that accords with Teresa Brennan’s ‘ego’s era’, which places the ego at the centre of reality, as an active, self-present agent, surrounded by, and master of, an inert, unchanging, dehistoricized and objectified cosmos on all sides (Brennan 1993: 26–75). Instead of the vision of the ‘ego’s era’, the findings of quantum mechanics decentre the confidence of the ego, since the cosmos is no longer a series of fixed points that serve only to mirror the ego’s sense of fullness back at itself. Quanta, then, become a stain in that mirror of sameness, an indeterminate smear at the heart of reality, a darkness that refuses to reflect back at science the image of itself that it seeks. The wilder speculations of the quantum physicists seem not so wild at all when related to Brecht’s Marxist science. While the decentring provoked by quantum mechanics is hardly uniformly accepted as the profound shift in scientific thinking that many take it to be, neither have the findings of quantum mechanics been successfully ‘recentred’. The key, unresolved problem is whether or not the actions of quanta have analogous actions at the macroscopic level, or whether the mechanics of these particles truly operate in contradiction to the accepted laws of relativity. Lacan’s comments concerning the difference between two types of scientific discourse, centred and decentred, further connect Brecht and psychoanalysis. In Seminar XX, Lacan describes how ‘scientific discourse has engendered all sorts of instruments that we must, from our vantage point here, qualify as gadgets. You are now, infinitely more than you think, subjects of instruments that, from the microscope right down to the radiotelevision, are becoming the elements of your existence’ (Lacan 1975b: 82). This version of science is one deeply implicated in the ego’s era, as Brennan points out (Brennan 1993: 68). It is, in other words, the science of an ideology. Yet there is also what Lacan calls a ‘subversion of knowledge (connaissance)’ (Lacan 1975b: 82). This subversion of connaissance is the undermining of the imaginary self-awareness of the ego’s knowledge, a connaissance that employs the universe of commodities as a way of assuring its own centring, its mastery of nature and the reduction of the world to an objectified status. Lacan relates this subversion or decentring to the ‘Galilean turning point’ (81), a different science, which works not to centre humans and objectify nature in the service of the ego, but rather decentres the position of the human. Brecht’s interest in Galileo is focused precisely on that decentring, which emphasizes the changeability of the world and of the human, rather than the objectification of the world for the sake of a dehistoricized, static image of the ego.

Brecht and language 37 This centred, ideological knowledge, this ego connaissance, is defined by Lacan as the space of the imaginary register, the image of the self that is fundamentally narcissistic and delusional. And in this, the Lacanian decentring presents a troubling but productive problem for theatre studies, steeped as theatre is in the register of the image. The drive of the eye belongs to the ego, to ideological fantasy, identification and mimesis, and to the ideology of the ego’s era. Action and human historicity reside in the register of the symbolic order, and, while the imaginary only exists to the degree that it is structured by the symbolic order, the dialectic between imaginary and symbolic registers ultimately gives primacy to the symbolic. Language is the condition of freedom, while the register of the imaginary is a narcissistic, static trap, except in as much as it can be considered to be mapped by the structure of language. Ideology, as we have seen so far, is lived, embodied in stances and attitudes, performed in actions, and I want to suggest that a consideration of Lacan’s theory of the imaginary and the symbolic, and the relation of visual aesthetics to these orders, demonstrates that Brecht’s attempts to import the activity of language into the space of the theatre are analogous to the interventions of a Lacanian psychoanalysis. Action, that which allows the subject to break with the repetition of the ego and of ideology, is what both Brecht and psychoanalysis seek to generate. For Lacan, the structure of the symbolic order derails repetition, introducing agency while undermining the imaginary ‘freedom’ of the ego. Yet psychoanalytic action, hostile to the ego, is thus terrifying to our understanding. Lacan describes psychoanalytic action in relation to the findings of quantum mechanics: It is clear that it’s in relation to language that something funny happens. That is what Heisenberg’s principle comes down to. When one is in a position to determine one of the properties of the system, one cannot formulate the others. When one speaks of the location of electrons, when one tells them to stay put somewhere, to remain always in the same place, one loses all sense of what is commonly called their velocity. (Lacan 1978: 240) Here Lacan describes the symbolic order, the introduction of language, and the production of the unconscious, as the introduction of a radical contingency into subjectivity, akin to the actions of subatomic particles. For Lacan, real action is not about freedom, in the sense of the free actions of the liberal, conscious individual. Authentic, non-repetitive action is not located in consciousness, but stems from the unconscious, which means that it is, and it is not, a matter of the subject. The unconscious is, and is not, the self. Furthermore, in this seminar Lacan suggests through analogy to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle that authentic action must always be terrifying to us because of its radical indeterminacy, an indeterminacy predicated upon


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the fact that the tools of analysis we use to comprehend action, the tools of symbolic language, fail to account for real action. Thus, while there is undeniably real action, within a psychoanalytic paradigm this action is always that which eludes our understanding of it, always that which is just beyond the grasp of conscious thought. Finally, Lacan raises the question of electrons and atoms ‘speaking’, as an analogy to the fact that in psychoanalysis, speech is a form of action, although the only authentic or true action will be the speech through which the unconscious manifests itself, which, again, can only be a speech action that frightens us. The signifying chain exercises a freedom and a movement which is an indeterminacy from the perspective of those who are its subjects. The unconscious speaks its truth through us, at the level of speech, the register which Lacan also calls the invocatory drive.

Lacanian gestus Our concern here is not speech alone, but speech in the theatre, language in the field of the visible, and how Brecht’s aesthetic suggests possibilities for structuralist interventions in this field. It is daunting to conceive of an authentic action in psychoanalytic terms in this visible field. An alternate response to the question of action in a Lacanian sense comes from Seminar XI, in which Lacan briefly opposes gesture to act. The human being is subject to a dialectic between two orders or registers. The imaginary is primarily the register of the ego, which is narcissistic and specular. The mechanism of the ego seeks to make of the world a speculum for itself: the ego wants only to find itself reflected back at itself from the exterior world. The symbolic order, the register of language, law, prohibition, relations of difference without positive terms, and exchange, confounds the imaginary ego with the harsh intervention of traumatic separation. The intervention of language into human reality is the disruption of a mythic phase in subject formation and the insertion of the human being into history through the introduction of the irreconcilable sense of loss which language engenders. This does not mean, however, that language can be conflated with the symbolic order. As Dylan Evans remarks, language inhabits both the imaginary and the symbolic orders: ‘Whereas the signifier is the foundation of the symbolic order, the signified and signification are part of the imaginary order’ (Evans 1996: 83). The imaginary order has no consistency in and of itself; it has always already been conditioned and structured in relation to the symbolic order, and the two exist in a dialectical relationship. Lacanian psychoanalysis seeks to employ language as a tool for manipulating the symbolic order, which will serve as a lever or wedge for intervening into the misguided narcissism of the imaginary ego and dislodging the ego’s hold over the subject. The ego, which in its very substance is aggressivity and alienation from anything it cannot recognize as itself, has no relationship to the truth of the unconscious that psychoanalysis seeks to liberate, in order to free human beings from repetition and allow them to act. As Brennan remarks, the ‘ego is

Brecht and language 39 opposed to any historical understanding, including if not especially the understanding of its own course. It is also opposed to the history of anything different from itself’ (Brennan 1993: 37), while the symbolic order’s ‘attributes of temporality, rewriting history and making consistent connections are counterposed in [her] argument to the totalizing, objectifying trends of the ego’ (38). The dialectic between imaginary and symbolic, then, may be understood as a dialectic between sameness and difference, between stasis and change, the mythic eternal and the historical temporal. For our purposes, the consequences of this dialectic must be considered in the realm of aesthetics. In the section of Seminar XI called ‘What is a picture?’, Lacan describes the dialectic between imaginary and symbolic orders and how it is discernible within the work of art, which makes his discussion particularly important for us. Lacan specifically discusses painting, because he wishes to theorize the intrusion of desire and lack within the field of the imaginary, through what he calls the scopic drive, a concept which characterizes the action of unconscious desire at work even in the field of the visible. While the invocatory drive is the partial drive ‘which is the closest to the experience of the unconscious’ (Lacan 1973: 104), because its medium is speech, the scopic drive too is muddled in the field of desire, although more so within the imaginary register than is the invocatory drive, which is closer to the symbolic order. The final difference between the invocatory and the scopic as partial drives is sharply delineated by Lacan: ‘What I wish to emphasize is the total distinction between the scopic register and the invocatory, vocatory, vocational field. In the scopic field, the subject is not essentially indeterminate. The subject is, strictly speaking, determined by the very separation that determines the break of the a, that is to say, the fascinatory element introduced by the gaze’ (118). Whereas the subject in speech is fundamentally indeterminate, the subject in the field of the scopic is rigidly determined by a distanced relationship to the objet petit a, the symbol of castration and lack within the field of the imaginary. What Lacan wishes to emphasize is that within the scopic field proper there is no agency available to the subject. Agency is made available at the cost of subjection to the symbolic order, which alone produces the unconscious, the locus of freedom and agency for the subject. The scopic field is bound to the imaginary order, which is also the register of the narcissistic ego, which Lacan insists is merely a delusional phantasm of freedom, the site of ideology. Paintings, it seems, speak particularly to the imaginary order, and thus to the narcissistic ego. Thus in responding to the question that he himself poses, ‘What is a picture?’, Lacan begins with a traditional Freudian response: it is a sublimation of unconscious drive into a socially acceptable and thus profitable channel. ‘Broadly speaking, one can say that the work calms people, comforts them, by showing them that at least some of them can live from the exploitation of their desire. [. . .] It elevates the mind, as one says, that is to say, it encourages renunciation’ (Lacan 1973: 111). Thus the picture functions much as Althusser described theatre’s typical function:


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as a field where the public can go to recognize itself, and find its ideology reflected back at it. Generally speaking, the function of painting according to Lacan is ‘a certain dompte-regard, a taming of the gaze, that is to say, that he who looks is always led by the painting to lay down his gaze’ (109). As with Althusser’s description of the theatre, while one might, on an unconscious level, seek out the aesthetic because of an ontological doubt of the self, this doubt itself is placated by the ideological, aesthetic object. ‘This is the pacifying, Apollonian effect of painting. Something is given not so much to the gaze as to the eye, something that involves the abandonment, the laying down, of the gaze,’ Lacan states (Lacan 1973: 101). The word gaze here describes the intimation or feeling one experiences of being seen by a look which is outside of one’s perceptions, of being watched without being able to determine from where one is watched. While the objet a symbolizes ‘the central lack of desire’, at the same time, ‘[t]he objet a in the field of the visible is the gaze’ (105). The gaze is the discomfiting reminder of one’s symbolic castration in the scopic register, not in fact a look at all but the frustrating mental sensation that one cannot be satisfied, a frustration experienced in the field of the visible, embodied by an unlocatable gaze which you cannot reciprocate. According to Lacan, the function of painting is typically to tame or subdue the gaze while satisfying the eye. This satisfaction is a satisfaction, within the register of the imaginary, of the narcissistic ego. Following Lacan’s formulation, paintings typically provide a form of pleasure by serving as mirrors to the ego, reflecting back at it an image of its own satisfied fullness and completion, while at the same time concealing or screening from the ego the lack or objet a of the gaze. Yet Lacan immediately suggests that there is a whole movement in painting which does not do this at all. ‘Expressionist painting, and this is its distinguishing feature, provides something by way of a certain satisfaction [. . .] of what is demanded by the gaze’ (Lacan 1973: 101). However, satisfying the gaze does not mean satisfying in any way the human eye, nor, I think, the scopic drive. Lacan opposes ‘a taming of the gaze’ (109) to expressionism’s ‘quite direct appeal to the gaze’ (109). In fact, satisfying the gaze means precisely frustrating the human eye, and thus the narcissism of the ego. While painting in general is just the human version of imaginary ‘mimicry’ (109) as practised by animals, humans are not animals, are not ‘entirely caught up in this imaginary capture’ (107), represented by rituals of mimicry and masquerade. Humans know ‘how to play with the mask as that beyond which there is the gaze’ (107). For Lacan, impressionistic and expressionistic painters are those who can play with the mask of mimicry in order to hint at the gaze. Their paintings can, in a sense, frustrate our narcissism. Lacan references painters such as ‘Munch, James Ensor, Kubin’ (109) as artists whose paintings make ‘a quite direct appeal to the gaze’ (109) and, it seems, whose work contains the potential to frustrate the ego’s hunger for a mirror of completeness to reflect back at itself, since the presence of the gaze as objet a in a painting is a reminder that there is always a look which sees the painting from another place where the narcissistic ego is not.

Brecht and language 41 Impressionists and expressionists build into their paintings a sense that the artwork is directed towards a gaze which is not that of the observer. The sense that a work of art is directed towards a gaze which is not yours can only frustrate the ego. Impressionism does this by including a sense of the gestures of the artist in the paintings themselves, through the revelation or laying bare of the brushstrokes on the canvas. It is in Lacan’s observations about the gesture and impressionism that I think he makes observations which should be related to Brecht’s innovations. As modernist art forms that are formal innovations attempting to respond to modernity not only through an examination of how human beings perceive the world, but also through integration of new technology and how it changes human perceptions, impressionism and expressionism attempt to implicate the act of seeing into the art work itself. This is an attempt to fuse the representation of reality with the perception of reality. In part, inspiration for these innovations arises from how new media such as photography captured images of the world in radically new and unexpected ways. Lacan describes a fascinating image of the dialectical relationship between impressionism and technology: a film of Matisse painting. When the film is slowed down, it gives to the random speed of Matisse’s brushstrokes an altered temporality that creates the illusion of ‘the most perfect deliberation in each of these brush strokes’ (Lacan 1973: 114). Ironically, film is used to give to impressionist brushstrokes an intentionality that is entirely foreign to the impressionistic movement. It is ‘not choice, but something else’ (114) which occurs in these strokes, says Lacan, and this ‘something else’ can be approached by considering that impressionism is the representation of what Lacan calls ‘the gesture’. Gesture is the element of painting which, once the brushstroke is frozen in place upon the canvas, gives the sense of an intention or conscious motive for the stroke when, as in the film of Matisse, there is no conscious deliberation, but only one manufactured within the arrested temporality of the ‘gesture’. The ‘painter’s brushstroke is something in which a movement is terminated. We are faced here [. . .] with the element of motive in the sense of response, in so far as it produces, behind it, its own stimulus’ (114). In other words, the gesture is a kind of visual rhetoric of the image. In the ‘scopic dimension’, the ‘temporality in which the relation to the other is situated as distinct’, becomes fixed, frozen, arrested in ‘the terminal moment’ (114). Lacan here carefully opposes the temporality of the invocatory drive, spawned by difference and the metonymy of the unconscious, the ‘dialectic of the signifier and the spoken’ (Lacan 1973: 114), to the ‘moment of seeing’ (117), which is trapped in the imaginary and bears some relation to the arrested gesture found in impressionism: ‘It is through this dimension that we are in scopic creation – the gesture as displayed movement’ (117). The gesture as displayed movement has an unorthodox relationship to temporality, and, I suspect, to historicity. Moreover, the gesture as Lacan defines it is inherently theatrical, even when frozen in a painting:


Brecht and language What is a gesture? [. . .] It is not a blow that is interrupted. It is certainly something that is done in order to be arrested and suspended. [. . .] It is this very special temporality, which I have defined by the term arrest and which creates its signification behind it, that makes the distinction between the gesture and the act. What is very remarkable in the Peking Opera – I don’t know whether you saw them on their recent visit – is the way fighting is depicted. One fights as one has always fought since time immemorial, much more with gestures than with blows. Of course, the spectacle itself is content with an absolute dominance of gestures. (Lacan 1973: 116–17)

Thus what impressionist painting presents is a theatricality of the image, a freezing of displayed movement, which, in theatrically displaying the gesture, simultaneously emphasizes the incompleteness of the painting, the sense that there is something else hidden by the image or outside of the image, the frustrating absence which Lacan calls the gaze. The strange temporality of impressionism, which puts on display the essential arrestedness or incompleteness of the gesture, the freezing of action and thus the frustration of closure, combined with the intimation that there is another perspective towards which this artwork is oriented (and it is not that of the viewer), makes present the gaze as objet a in the field of the visible. It is a showing ‘of a sort of desire on the part of the Other’ (115), yet it provokes what Lacan calls the ‘evil eye’, which he uses to describe the eye in general. There is, it seems, no such thing as a beneficent eye, because the eye is ruled by the scopic drive, hopelessly mired in the realm of the imaginary and the narcissistic ego, and when the ego’s narcissism is refused, as happens when the gaze is satisfied instead of the eye, then the ego responds with the aggressivity which is its inherent substance. Lacan uses the example of St. Augustine’s envy when witnessing his infant brother nursing at his mother’s breast as an example of the force of the evil eye: ‘the envy that makes the subject pale before the image of a completeness closed upon itself, before the idea that the petit a, the separated a from which he is hanging, may be for another the possession that gives satisfaction [. . .]. It is to this register of the eye as made desperate by the gaze that we must go’ (116). For Lacan, there is something important to be sought out in the frustration of the eye by the gaze, something desirable for psychoanalytic praxis. Lacan’s theory of the gesture in the realm of the visible serves as a crucial bridge between this discussion and the subject of my next chapter: Brecht, Benjamin and dialectical images. Brecht’s theories of the innovation of theatrical form, such as the concept of gestus and the Verfremdungseffekt, are, I think, fruitfully related to Lacan’s psychoanalytic theorization of libidinal investment in the realm of the visual. What Lacan describes for us in his theory of the gesture is an arrested temporality that seems to yearn for a dialectical movement between imaginary and symbolic orders, between

Brecht and language 43 sameness and difference, within the field of a static image, a movement which frustrates the self-contained closure of the imaginary ego and the bourgeois subject: This terminal time of the gaze, which completes the gesture, I place strictly in relation to what I later say about the evil eye. The gaze in itself not only terminates the movement, it freezes it. [. . .] The moment of seeing can intervene here only as a suture, a conjunction of the imaginary and the symbolic, and it is taken up again in a dialectic, that sort of temporal progress that is called haste, thrust, forward movement, which is concluded in the fascinum. (Lacan 1973: 117–18) The gesture, for Lacan, is death, a frozen stance in which a negativity manifests itself, the emergence of the gaze. The power of the gaze is specifically that it opens a space of radical negativity, of ‘evil’, which mortifies the subject through the momentary stasis of the terminal gesture. It is only through a dialectic of sameness and difference, of imaginary and symbolic, that, it seems, temporality is experienced. The temporality of the image will be pertinent in my discussion of Benjamin’s dialectical images and their relation to Brecht’s theatre. In its refusal to satisfy the eye, its frustration of the ego’s will to narcissistic completion, impressionistic art begins to bear some resemblance to the position of the analyst in the Lacanian psychoanalytic session, whose silence and refusal to provide a satisfying interpretation have as a goal the frustration of the analysand’s ego. However, what is made manifest in the gaze is not, I think, the unconscious, which Lacan reserves as the property of the symbolic order; instead the gaze as objet a appears to be an avatar in the imaginary of the radical indeterminacy of the unconscious in the symbolic, and, as such, Lacan’s discussion of impressionism describes an aborted dialectic, a frustration of the ego which is a component in a psychoanalytic process of the revelation of the subject’s truth. Lacan describes the theatricality possible within painting, but finally sees no true historical agency within painting. However, by implication, within theatricality itself there is a possibility for agency. Darko Suvin observes, ‘Theatre arts are not painting. [. . .] The history of homo sapiens in the last five or ten thousand years indicates that the significance and meaningfulness – the power to express human relationships – of theatre arts has been wedded to the growing sophistication of their verbal signs’ level’ (Suvin 1984: 264). In other words, from a Brechtian perspective it is language that gives theatre the agency to be political and historical. Language provides theatre with the possibility of a ‘complex seeing’. For Lacan, the dramatic form which has the closest analogue to the Lacanian psychoanalytic session is tragedy, and in particular the tragedy of Sophocles’s Antigone. Tragedy for Lacan is an anamorphosis, an image of negation


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that engenders a catharsis in us, a purification of consciousness of the delusions of the imaginary order and an engendering of a tragic recognition of our beings-for-death (Lacan 1986: 248). Antigone is an intermediary between the imaginary and the symbolic orders, the latter being the register of consciousness that allows abstract, conceptual thinking. Tragedy is the triumph of a being-for-death that is also seen in Oedipus’s final words, a negation or a no that is the entrance of the subject supported by the signifier (313). Through the experience of tragedy, we are given a glimpse of the truth of the unconscious, as the mark of death, the ‘Second Death’, that delimits consciousness and allows us to escape the trap of the specular ego, which is represented by Creon, representative of a common good. The tragedy of Antigone demonstrates to us that the ‘good cannot reign over all without an excess emerging whose fatal consequences are revealed to us in tragedy’ (259). The good cannot account for desire, and thus cannot account for the human as a being. The good is primarily an endorsement of human power without limits. In contrast, the political import of tragic consciousness, which insists on the interminability of unconscious desire, is described by Lacan in explicit terms: What is Alexander’s proclamation when he arrived in Persepolis or Hitler’s when he arrived in Paris? The preamble isn’t important: ‘I have come to liberate you from this or that.’ The essential point is ‘Carry on working. Work must go on.’ Which, of course, means: ‘Let it be clear to everyone that this is on no account the moment to express the least surge of desire.’ The morality of power, of the service of goods, is as follows: ‘As far as desires are concerned, come back later. Make them wait.’ (Lacan 1986: 315) Creon’s service of the good is the language of fascism, and Antigone’s refusal to obey this good is resistance to this ideology in the name of the unconscious. The implication, then, of my argument is that Brecht’s concept of gestus, due to its dialectical emphasis on negation, is fundamentally tragic in structure, and this is why gestus is an effective anti-fascist aesthetic. Brecht famously distanced his theatrical practice from tragedy, while also staging canonical tragedies with the Berliner Ensemble. In later chapters, I shall return to the relationship of Brecht’s aesthetic to the dramatic form from which he seemed most anxious to distance himself.


Dialectical images

Dialectic at a standstill In this chapter I will examine the critical activity of Brecht’s first major commentator, Walter Benjamin, in relation to Brecht’s theatre. In Benjamin’s theory of the ‘dialectical image’ we find a crucial interpretative tool for understanding Brecht’s theory and aesthetic practice. The theory of the dialectical image responds directly to the interpretative contradictions that were raised in the last chapter. Brecht’s goal, to bring the activity of language to the theatre, obviously means more than to bring speech to the theatre. Brecht sought to introduce the structures and rhetoric of language to the visual action of the stage, because the structures of language are, as psychoanalysis makes apparent, essential to non-ideological human action. Brecht sought to transform theatrical performance into a structural activity, because it is the activity of language that introduces history and makes possible the politicization of social life. This introduction of the structures of language into the space of the visual is a Verfremdungseffekt, and the theory of the dialectical image is productively connected to Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt and gestus. The activity of Verfremdung in the field of the image is most clearly demonstrated by Brecht in the essay ‘Verfremdungseffekte in the Narrative Pictures of the Elder Brueghel’ (Brecht 1964: 157–9). Here, Brecht provides a number of brief interpretations of Brueghel’s paintings, focusing upon the contradictions visible in the images. The title of the essay itself highlights for us a crucial element of Verfremdung: it is connected to narrative, and the very idea of a ‘narrative picture’ introduces a productive contradiction, one that Brecht himself seeks to exploit in his theatre. The Verfremdungseffekt arises from the presence of contradictions in the paintings, contradictions that are, importantly, unreconciled: In The Fall of Icarus the catastrophe breaks into the idyll in such a way that it is clearly set apart from it and valuable insights into the idyll can be gained. He doesn’t allow the catastrophe to alter the idyll; the latter remains unaltered and survives undestroyed, merely disturbed. (Brecht 1964: 157)


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The element of narrative itself is what introduces into the painting the productive contradictions, as if the distinct and separate factors in the image constitute minimal, self-contained narratives that intrude upon one another without being sublated or reconciled by their opposites. Verfremdung arises from the contradictory formal elements of Brueghel’s paintings. While they are clearly static images, at the same time there is a tension between that stasis and the activity of narrative and contradiction. We must make a leap here to the consideration of the painting’s phenomenological effect as constituting its ultimate significance: a shimmering tension between seeing and ‘reading’ which we can grasp through Brecht’s concept of ‘complex seeing’. So, in Dulle Griet, ‘[e]ven though Brueghel manages to balance his contrasts he never merges them into one another, nor does he practise the separation of comic and tragic; his tragedy contains a comic element and his comedy a tragic one’ (Brecht 1964: 157). Brecht’s interest in the theatrical use of images also extends to the photograph and the motion picture image, which he, like other Marxists, found a highly productive tool for dialectical thinking. In his journals, for example, Brecht evinces a fascination with photographic images, and in particular photographs of Hitler, especially a sequence of images taken from a German newsreel of June 1940, where Hitler, hearing news of the imminent surrender of France, displays such excitement that he performs ‘a brief Lindy Hop of victory’ (Brecht 1973: 62). In transforming the motion picture into a sequence of still images, the gestures of the fascist become usefully reified in a series of frozen moments, demonstrating movement in stasis. Like Lacan’s description of the film of impressionist painting, the images introduce a whole new form of complex seeing. The fixed image is given a rhetorical, narrative inflection. Brecht’s own employment of the photographic image is most in evidence in the modelbooks of his late productions, such as Mother Courage and her Children, The Caucasian Chalk Circle and Antigone. These books provide a detailed photographic record of Brecht’s own stagings of his plays, and he intended them to be used by later productions as guides in theatrical production. They have been viewed generally as oppressive canonizations of Brecht’s productions, the fixing of them for tradition, and thus they are construed as profoundly ‘unBrechtian’. To this criticism, Brecht himself responds, ‘Give me an intelligent model of King Lear, and I will find it fun to carry out. What does it matter whether you find that the text says Courage handed the money for Kattrin’s burial to the peasants before leaving, or turn to the model and discover that she counted it in her hand and then put one coin back in her purse?’ (Brecht 1964: 224). The modelbooks stage the essential paradox of the dialectical image, and in themselves are remarkable Verfremdungseffekte, aimed not at an audience, but rather at theatre workers, estranging them from their given thinking about their activity, and asking them to focus now not upon the (always fictive) originality of their theatre productions, but upon the element of process, of fun embodied in theatrical activity. Moreover, the modelbooks are a singular

Dialectical images 47 and notable estrangement of the theatrical commonplace that a dramatic text anticipates or predates its performance. These books stage for us the element of textual performativity that Brecht sought to bring to the stage through complex seeing. After Brecht himself, Walter Benjamin is the first major theoretician of Brecht’s theatre. Throughout his writings, Benjamin develops the sometimes elusive theory of the ‘dialectical image’, and the essays in which he relates the dialectical image not only to Brecht’s theatre, but also to analogous dramatic forms, provide us with insightful theorizations of the dialecticizing of the aesthetics of the stage. As we have already seen in Chapter 1, the paradigm or the figure of the dialectic itself is a necessarily contentious matter. In the essentially psychoanalytic, post-Hegelian dialectic that I sketched in the last chapter, the dialectical overcoming of contradictions is both provoked by and ultimately fails before a trace or kernel of trauma that will not be sublated. Nägele calls this modernism’s ‘caesura’, while Lacanian theory hints at it with the concept of the real, or ‘what resists symbolisation absolutely’ (Lacan 1975a: 66). This Marxist–psychoanalytic dialectic, of which Theodor Adorno’s negative dialectic is a strong representative, figures the activity of the dialectic as structured around an elementary failure or negativity, a negativity whose source is in the activity of language, and which is the engine of the dialectic itself. This stands in sharp contrast to the ‘vulgar’ concept of the Hegelian dialectic, in which dialectical activity is driven by a separation from, and a process of return to, a totality or ‘absolute spirit’. Adorno’s description of this Idealist dialectic both complicates a received understanding of Hegel, relating Hegel to Adorno’s own ‘negative dialectic’, and also relates Hegel to Benjamin’s vision of the dialectic. While Hegel’s dialectic is overtly synthetic and Idealist, it is covertly negative. The Introduction to the Phenomenology of Mind is an invocation to analyse a concept until it ceases to be a static concept and becomes dynamically activated: until it becomes unidentical with itself by virtue of its own meaning – in other words, of its identity. [. . .] As Hegel applied it, it was already what Benjamin would later call ‘dialectics at a standstill,’ far advanced beyond whatever would appear as phenomenology a hundred years later. [. . .] As a sense of nonidentity through identity, dialectics is not only an advancing process but a retrograde one at the same time. (Adorno 1966: 156–7) The negative dialectic is the secret mechanism that can be glimpsed at work within Hegel’s apparent work of synthesis, which is not synthesis at all but critical analysis, manifesting the tension in isolated concepts, a tension between the stasis of the concept itself and its dynamic, unconceptualizable element. There is, in this vision of the dialectic, a constant tension between unity and dissolution, between identity and the non-identical. In all


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seeming synthesis there is a productive decomposition. The contrast between an Idealist synthetic thinking, and the Freudian schema in which all attempts at reconciliation are marked by the traumatic caesura, is given special attention by Adorno, who observes that the concept of synthesis has found its most ‘repulsive expression’ in ‘the invention of an alleged “psychosynthesis” against the Freudian psychoanalysis’ (156). Thus psychoanalysis too is comparable to the negative dialectic and Benjamin’s own dialectical vision. Benjamin’s key formulation of the dialectic as a ‘dialectic at a standstill’ is clearly crucial to Adorno’s vision of a negative dialectic. Benjamin’s vision of dialectical activity constitutes a challenge to the received paradigm of the dialectic as an inevitable process of progressive change. Instead, we have in the dialectic at a standstill the tension between stasis and dynamism, between identity and conceptualization and the disruptive force of the negative non-identical. As I will demonstrate, it is this tension that is staged in the ‘dialectical image’. Benjamin finds a figure of this dialectic at a standstill in Brecht’s aesthetic. In the first draft of the essay, ‘What is Epic Theatre?’, Benjamin specifically emphasizes the aestheticized artifice, the formalism, of gestures in the epic theatre (here the 1931 production of Man Equals Man directed by Brecht), and the dialectical activity that this produces. In the epic theatre [t]he gesture is its raw material and its task is the rational utilization of this material. [. . .] [U]nlike people’s actions and endeavours, [the gesture] has a definable beginning and a definable end. Indeed, this strict, frame-like, enclosed nature of each moment of an attitude which, after all, is as a whole in a state of living flux, is one of the basic dialectical characteristics of the gesture. (Benjamin 1966c: 3) The gesture brings to a halt the rushing movement of human reality, which is arrested in order to affect one’s perception. Gestures are produced by interruptions, and so for Benjamin the interruption of action is an integral activity in Brecht’s theatre. Action here means not only the actions of others, the actions on the stage, ‘but also the action of one’s own’ (4). In this definition of the gestural, Benjamin fashions an articulation of his seminal notion of the dialectic at a standstill. The epic theatre is an experimental crucible wherein conditions are tested upon human beings, yet this takes place in a manner that is distinct from naturalistic theatre’s representative strategies. As a dialectical, complex seeing, epic theatre is a form of production, a labouring upon a raw material, not a ‘view’ of the world at all, but a Haltung or stance, a performativity that is a concrete aesthetic labouring upon the world that alters the world, and that involves the spectator in a reconstruction of the world. Resembling the ‘general educational approach of Marxism’ (11), the epic theatre’s Haltung stages a ‘constant dialectic between the action which is shown on the stage and the attitude of showing an action

Dialectical images 49 on the stage’ (11). Isolable, ‘quotable’ gestures make possible this dialectical disassemblage and reconstruction: The thing that is revealed as though by lightning in the ‘condition’ represented on the stage – as a copy of human gestures, actions and words – is an immanently dialectical attitude. The conditions which epic theatre reveals is the dialectic at a standstill. For just as, in Hegel, the sequence of time is not the mother of the dialectic but only the medium in which the dialectic manifests itself, so in epic theatre the dialectic is not born of the contradiction between successive statements or ways of behaving, but of the gesture itself. (Benjamin 1966c: 12) It is a mistake, Benjamin suggests (and this corrective seems to have been taken to heart by Adorno) to think of the dialectic as a process or a succession of events. The dialectic is a contradiction between stasis and dynamism that is phenomenologically manifested in the arrested gesture of the epic theatre. The gestures of the epic theatre stage the contradiction of the dialectic at a standstill. The concept of the dialectic at a standstill is Benjamin’s unorthodox corrective intervention in dialectical, historicized thinking, and this essay on Brecht’s theatre concludes with a characteristic Benjaminian gesture: a description of the activity of the dialectic that, in its rhetoric, yearns to stage the dialectic for us itself. It thus produces, in this ‘narrative picture’ of the dialectic at a standstill, a Benjaminian ‘dialectical image’: The damming of the stream of real life, the moment when its flow comes to a standstill, makes itself felt as a reflux: this reflux is astonishment. The dialectic at a standstill is its real object. It is the rock from which we gaze down into that stream of things which, in the city of Jehoo ‘that’s always full and where nobody stays’, they have a song about: Rest not on the wave which breaks against your foot, So long as it stands in the water, new waves will break against it. But if the stream of things breaks against this rock of astonishment, then there is no difference between a human life and a word. In epic theatre both are only the crest of the wave. Epic theatre makes life spurt up high from the bed of time and, for an instant, hover iridescent in empty space. Then it puts it back to bed. (Benjamin 1966c: 13) The gesture of the epic theatre is a timeless moment in which the stream of life crests and hangs frozen in space: in Brecht’s aesthetic, the human life


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becomes this crest, this dialectical break of astonishment in which temporality is arrested in a seemingly mystic instant. Here Benjamin’s particular vision of historical consciousness is not only described for us, it is rhetorically performed. Truly historicized perception only takes place upon this rock of trauma in the midst of the rushing stream of human existence; historicization can happen only when a stoppage or a blockage takes place, when there is a shocking interruption or intervention in the flow of existence, an arrest that must necessarily fall back down to earth in the same instant, demonstrating that this dialectic is, like that described by Adorno, one that falls backwards just as it leaps towards transcendence. Finally, and most importantly, in Brecht’s theatre, the human Haltung or gesture functions, dialectically, as a word. Brecht’s gestural theatre transfigures the human through the activity of the signifier into a dialectical image. Jetztzeit Benjamin would like us to understand the Verfremdungseffekt as a ‘dialectic at a standstill’, a lightning blast of astonishment that brings human thought to a screeching halt, however temporarily. The dialectic at a standstill, because it is distinguished from the illusory idea that the dialectic is a temporal phenomenon, has also been described by Benjamin as the phenomenon of the ‘dialectic image’. This opposition, between temporality, the stream of human life, and the dialectic at a standstill, activator of historical consciousness, is clarified through a consideration of another Benjaminian concept, the Jetztzeit (alternately translated as the ‘presence of the now’ or the ‘Nowtime’). Jetztzeit is a concept that resonates visibly with Benjamin’s description of the Brechtian gesture. History, Benjamin states in thesis fourteen of ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’1, is not just time per se, not ‘homogeneous, empty time’ (Benjamin 1950: 261). Instead history is time filled by the Jetztzeit. In these theses, Benjamin makes a careful distinction between historicism and materialist historiography. Historicism merely ‘musters a mass of data to fill the homogeneous, empty time’ (262), while historiographic thinking ‘involves not only the flow of thoughts, but their arrest as well’ (262). History proper erupts in moments of standstill, which in their arrest manifest a structure of tensions and alert consciousness to a revolutionary moment. By implication, the aesthetic object too can be manifested as such a ‘monad’, ‘the sign of a Messianic cessation of happening, or, put differently, a revolutionary chance in the fight for the oppressed past’ (263). The historiographer parts from a historicist narrative of history that sees history as a narrative, a cause and effect chain of events. Instead the historiographer ‘grasps the constellation which his own era has formed with a definite earlier one’ (263). In an analogy with the work of the historiographer, I suggest, the aesthetic object too can be fashioned as a ‘constellation’, another peculiar Benjaminian image that resonates with the Marxist concept of Darstellung, meaning both presentation and representation. As Althusser

Dialectical images 51 points out in Reading Capital (Althusser et al. 1968: 192–3), Darstellung is a Marxist figure for society assembled theatrically out of a montage of elements without overarching or determining cause, in the sense of a totalizing mode of production. Darstellung, in Althusser’s terms, is a figure for society as ‘an authorless theatre’ (193), and for Althusser Darstellung performs the structural causal model of society and history. In Benjamin’s thought, the concept of Darstellung becomes closely connected with the figure of the constellation. History, as a constellation, becomes an analogous authorless theatre. In Benjamin’s definition, materialist historiography perceives history as a dialectical relationship between the past and the present. History is not a ‘sequence of events like the beads of a rosary’ (Benjamin 1950: 263). Historical events become historical posthumously, through the lens of the present, and when the materialist historian constructs a monadic constellation she ‘establishes a conception of the present as the “time of the now” [Jetztzeit] which is shot through with chips of Messianic time’ (263). Messianic time, Benjamin makes clear, posits a dialectical relationship between the instant of the present and History, seen as a constellation. It appears that, if History is a constellation, any moment of the present may be grasped, itself, as a constellatory arrangement that serves as a metonym for this non-totality. If we can relate this image to the idea of the monad, the instant of the Jetztzeit is a crystal through which all of human history may be perceived. Yet, lest this seem like an endorsement of an Idealist, Hegelian view of an expressive causal totality of History, Benjamin concludes with the observation that Jewish mystics were forbidden to look to or attempt to divine the future, and instead focused exclusively upon the past. ‘This stripped the future of its magic, to which all those succumb who turn to the soothsayers for enlightenment’ (264). Thus, for these mystics, the future, while being the avenue through which the Messiah might, at any point, arrive, was never the place which they could defer towards or stake their hopes upon. Benjamin’s theses on history refuse the notion of the future as the point of the necessary redemption of human history, and Benjamin’s historiographer resists a dialectical perspective that engages in a naive hopefulness in the future. Dialectical images, like historiographic constellations, generate contradictions, the tensions of which are vacuums of negativity that generate the potential for political action. Even in its very concept and terminology, Benjamin’s ‘dialectical image’ seems to generate a contradiction. Pierre Missac comments that the notions of the image and the dialectic ‘are both fundamental for Benjamin. One cannot repeat too often that the image is one of the first and original sources of Benjamin’s mode of thought, and the dialectic, which comes later on, underlies many aspects of his mode of proceeding’ (Missac 1987: 110). Missac also observes that in both the ‘dialectical image’ and the ‘dialectic at a standstill’ ‘we are dealing here with oxymorons, a forced and almost artificial coupling of two antagonistic and even incompatible terms’ (109–10). The dialectical image is intimately linked to Benjamin’s formulation of politicized life in modernity, because it is


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through the shock of the dialectical image and the standstill of the Jetztzeit that an alternate temporality is invoked, where, as Peter Osborne observes, ‘truth (metaphysics) meets history (materialism) as “political” experience’ (Osborne 1994: 68). The dialectical image is a provocation to politicized existence through a formal shock. The Jetztzeit is a glimpse of a dialectical, historical consciousness. In this it is like Brecht’s ‘complex seeing’, and, as a politicized consciousness, it is necessarily a product of modernity itself. It is historical and is thus a product of historical change and finds its possibilities in capitalism. Much like Brecht, Benjamin held to the liberatory possibilities of technology and modernization, nowhere more than in his essays, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ and ‘Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century’. The effect of capitalism’s industrial development is the eradication of what Benjamin calls ‘aura’. In the realm of the aesthetic, aura describes ‘that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction’ (Benjamin 1936: 221). Aura describes the authenticity and authority of a work of art, its value as a unique object. Aura is also bound to a reactionary, mythic, ritualistic element in human consciousness, and is quickly replaced by the fetishization of the commodity. Even as the new technology of film serves to wither aura and authenticity, those who control this new means of production, the film studios, move to correct the activity of this new, potentially revolutionary technology. The ‘phony spell of a commodity’ (231) is a replacement for the loss of aura, but a weak substitute, lacking the authenticity of aura. However the ahistorical temporality of the commodity form itself is both the cause behind the homogeneous empty time of historicism and the potential for the generation of the revolutionary moment of the Jetztzeit.

Dialectical images The activity of commodification, the reification of human reality into a universe of goods, is explicitly tied by Benjamin to the theory of the dialectical image. The fetish of the commodity, for Benjamin, holds some potential for the inducing of a dialectical glimpse of history in the utterly dehistoricized form of the commodity. Under capitalism, human relationships are transformed, reified, and this activity of reification, which we may think of as the effacement of aura in human consciousness itself, Benjamin describes as an ‘ambiguity’ (Benjamin 1955: 157). This ambiguity allows Benjamin to make a broad connection between his analysis of the commodity form and the theory of the dialectical image: Ambiguity is the pictorial image of dialectics, the law of dialectics seen at a standstill. This standstill is utopia and the dialectic image therefore a dream image. Such an image is presented by the pure commodity: as fetish. Such an image are the arcades, which are both house and stars. Such an image is the prostitute, who is saleswoman and wares in one. (Benjamin 1955: 157)

Dialectical images 53 The relation between the dialectical image and the phantasmagoric form of the commodity is an intimate one, and is entwined with a libidinal investment akin to the Freudian fetish, even to the point of the fetishizing of the body of the woman into the form of a commodity. Key to the form of the dialectical image and the commodity in the nineteenth century is the quality of novelty, ‘the quintessence of false consciousness, whose indefatigable agent is fashion. The illusion of novelty is reflected, like one mirror in another, in the illusion of perpetual sameness’ (158). Perhaps ironically, the ‘non-conformist’ response to the rise of the market is to attempt to protect art from the market, giving rise to the banner of ‘art for art’s sake’. This celebratory cry itself, an attempt to protect art from technological changes, is in fact ‘the corollary to the frivolity that glorifies the commodity. Both abstract from the social existence of man’ (158). Both art for art’s sake and the commodity form are slaves to the timeless repetition of ‘novelty’, a radically dehistoricizing force, yet at the same time, ‘[a]s in the seventeenth century the canon of dialectical imagery came to be allegory, in the nineteenth it is novelty’ (158). In the alienation of capitalism and the reification of commodity fetishism is to be found the potential for a revolutionary glimpse of an historical consciousness. For Benjamin, this is the action of the dialectic at work. The Parisian Arcades are a dream world made real: The realization of dream elements in waking is the textbook example of dialectical thinking. For this reason dialectical thinking is the organ of historical awakening. Each epoch not only dreams the next, but also, in dreaming, strives towards the moment of waking. It bears its end in itself and unfolds it – as Hegel already saw – with ruse. In the convulsions of the commodity economy we begin to recognize the monuments of the bourgeoisie as ruins even before they have crumbled. (Benjamin 1955: 162) To perceive history dialectically is to see the seeds of positive change as latent in the moment of negativity. A dialectical, ‘complex seeing’ perceives possible liberation as latent within the ruins of the present. In relating novelty, the empty time of the commodity, to baroque allegory in the seventeenth century, Benjamin prepares us for the consideration of the dialectical image as figured in his The Origin of German Tragic Drama, to which I shall turn later in this chapter. ‘Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century’ is a small foreshadowing of Benjamin’s monumental, incomplete Passagen-Werk, or the Arcades Project. Susan Buck-Morss’s The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (1989) constitutes an extended, remarkable extrapolation from the Passagen-Werk and the theory of the dialectical image, drawing heavily upon the logic of The Origin of German Tragic Drama. Her conclusions are worth dwelling upon for the manner in which they embellish not only the theory


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of the dialectical image, but also, by implication, Brecht’s ‘complex seeing’. For Buck-Morss, the dialectical image ‘refers to the use of archaic images to identify what is historically new about the “nature” of commodities. The principle of construction is that of montage, whereby the image’s ideational elements remain unreconciled, rather than fusing into one “harmonizing perspective” ’ (Buck-Morss 1989: 67). It is just such a theory of the contradictions of a ‘narrative picture’ that Brecht delineates in his study of Brueghel. Buck-Morss states that, for Benjamin, the technique of montage is not only hinged upon interruption, rupture and destruction, but also has a ‘constructive dimension’ (77) which is key to his philosophical project. As Buck-Morss imagines it, the dialectical image resides at the ‘null point’ of the axis of two ‘contradictory terms’ (210), but the dialectical image is not the synthesis or the resolution of the opposing terms, but the point where their axes, however fleetingly, intersect. Buck-Morss suggests two ‘familiar Hegelian polarities’ to map on the axes, ‘reality’ and ‘consciousness’ (210). At the nullpoint of these two axes, Buck-Morss finds ‘the commodity’ (211), the central object of study in the Passagen-Werk. Buck-Morss argues that the key to unlocking the historical truth of the commodity as wish image is the factor of decay, the introduction of transitoriness into the seemingly eternal mythic form. Thus the ruin ‘is the form in which the wish images of the past century appear, as rubble, in the present. But it refers also to the loosened building blocks (both semantic and material) out of which a new order can be constructed’ (Buck-Morss 1989: 212). In The Origin of German Tragic Drama the ruin finds its particular rhetorical figuration in allegory, and it is upon the political viability of allegory that much ultimately hinges in Benjamin’s work. In their origins, commodities were signifiers of the utopian, liberatory possibilities of human endeavour and modern industrialism, but, Buck-Morss writes (159), ‘in the process of commodification, wish image congeals into fetish; the mythic lays claim to eternity’. The petrification of this second nature into the alwaysnew of fashion is, ultimately, transitory, and this ‘nature’ is subject to decay, which mortifies the commodity and makes room for the revelation of the utopian truth nestled within it. Buck-Morss argues (159), ‘Precisely the fact that their original aura has disintegrated makes them invaluable didactically’. The manifest historical gap that is introduced by the mortification of the work is the space of allegory, and thus allegory, as ruin, is the potential ‘antidote’ (164) to the eternal stasis of myth. Central to the activity of a dialectical image, as we saw with Benjamin’s image of the cresting wave of epic theatre’s gestures, is that this is a dialectic that succeeds when it fails, that falls back from the transcendence it reaches towards. In this, the dialectical image embodies the paradoxical ‘profane illumination’ or ‘metaphysical materialism’ that is so central to Benjamin’s dialectic, yet which seems at any moment to risk an Idealism. This selfdefeating gesture is found in the figure of allegory. The allegorical image is only one face of the dialectical image, yet it provides the crucial discontinu-

Dialectical images 55 ity which renders the image dialectical. This discontinuity is the dialectical materialist historian’s discontinuity between the past and the present. In the dialectical image, the historical object is seized roughly from its historical context, removed from the historicist’s historical continuum. Buck-Morss writes, ‘The presentation of the historical object within a charged force field of past and present, which produces political electricity in a “lightning flash” of truth, is the “dialectical image” ’ (1989: 219). This is not an historical method interested in an antiquarian, positivist, historicist attempt to excavate and reveal history as it actually was. The past is to be interpreted for its revelatory powers concerning the present, and the possibilities for the future. There is, then, no nostalgia whatsoever in Benjamin’s historiography. As Buck-Morss puts it, Benjamin ‘believed that the elements of archaic myth have no true meaning in themselves, but only as “actual”, as keys for deciphering what is absolutely new about modernity, that is, its real potential for a classless society’ (249). In the dialectical image, elements of the past are historicized in the present to illuminate the contradictions of the present, as a means of ultimately glimpsing the possibilities of the future. The contradictions of the dialectical image find theatrical representation in Brecht’s theatrical forms, which draw upon the contradictions between myth and history in Brueghel’s paintings. Willett comments that ‘Brueghel’s peasant scenes [. . .] were no doubt in Brecht’s mind when he was writing The Caucasian Chalk Circle in the winter of 1943–4’ (Willett, in Brecht 1964: 159), and in his notes to the play, Brecht comments that ‘Any actress who plays Grusha needs to study the beauty of Brueghel’s “Dulle Griet” ’ (Brecht 1970–2003, vol. 7: 299). Brecht comments that the inspiration behind Dulle Griet, for example, isn’t ‘war’s atmosphere of terror’ but rather a terror of ‘something deeper’ (Brecht 1964: 157). In the jarring, anachronistic juxtapositions of Alpine and Flemish landscapes, of antique and modern costumes, ‘the one denounces the other and sets off its oddness’ (157). Contradictions emerge in the image and do not resolve themselves. The element of contradiction staged in the painting represents the dialectical tension between stasis and change, between myth and history, and between image and narrative, which Benjamin characterizes as the phenomenon of the dialectical image. This is also a productive attitude to take towards the Verfremdungseffekt, understood not as an isolated moment in a dramatic presentation, but as a description of the activity of Brecht’s theatre in general. Similarly, Brecht’s plays can be seen to function as dialectical images, which are themselves comprehensible as Verfremdungseffekte. The Caucasian Chalk Circle demonstrates the action of the dialectical image. The play’s prologue, set during the post-Second World War reconstruction of Russia, and sometimes left out of productions, was, however, considered integral by Brecht to the play as a whole. It serves as a frame for the parable of the chalk circle, a piece of ancient cultural wisdom which is updated, adapted and transmitted by the character of the singer/storyteller. The allegorical relationship between the


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tale of the chalk circle and the dilemma faced by the Russian villagers of the prologue is evident. The villagers must decide whether a section of land should be tended by the goatherds who have inhabited and worked the land traditionally, or whether the land should be modernized and irrigated by another village bent on agricultural innovation. They decide on the latter, and the tale of the chalk circle serves to ratify the decision to modernize and innovate. In the tale of the chalk circle, Grusha is given the child because she had proven that she will best care for it, like the village of agriculturists who wish to transform the land. Brecht himself, however, takes a dialectical attitude to the function of the work of art, cautioning us against presuming that the function of the work is to communicate a didactic message. Instead, the Verfremdungseffekt of the aesthetic object as a whole is remarkably akin to a dialectical image. Brecht explains that the function of The Caucasian Chalk Circle cannot be located in the moral or the message of Grusha’s tale. Rather, the dialectical relationship between the prologue and the parable must be explored for the content of its form, for the significance in the activity of juxtaposing the modern situation to the proverbial wisdom: The ‘Caucasian Chalk Circle’ is not a parable. Possibly the prologue may create confusion on this point, since it looks superficially as if the whole story is being told in order to clear up the argument about who owns the valley. On closer inspection however the story is seen to be a true narrative which of itself proves nothing but merely displays a particular kind of wisdom, a potentially model attitude for the argument in question. Seen this way, the prologue becomes a background which situates the practicability and also the evolution of such wisdom in an historic setting. (Brecht 1970–2003, vol. 7: 300) The most important thing to draw from Brecht’s play, then, is the attitude that it displays, which Brecht also calls a kind of wisdom that is performed or staged for us. It seems important here to distinguish between the form of wisdom, and the content of wisdom. Brecht, for his part, is concerned only with the former, the posture of wisdom, wisdom as an action. The form of this wisdom is dialectical and historical. As the storyteller himself says, ‘It may be mistaken to mix different wines, but old and new wisdom mix very well’ (148). The message of The Caucasian Chalk Circle is found in the ‘mixing’ of old and new wisdom, and what matters is not the moral of Grusha’s tale, but that we perceive the dialectical relationship between past wisdom – the traditional Chinese tale and its biblical counterpart – and present wisdom, namely Marxist reconstruction and innovation. As a dialectical, eminently Benjaminian storyteller, the singer is the emblem of the play itself, for he produces something new through his transmission of the old. Past wisdom, decayed and historicized, is produced in the present in the form of a new

Dialectical images 57 historical attitude. The meaning of the tale of the chalk circle, as transmitted by the storyteller, takes an important position within this dialectical image, since paradoxically, the ‘meaning’ of the parable is resolutely opposed to tradition, and thus, by implication, opposed to slavery to the past, to ‘established wisdom’, and thus to the form of the parable itself. His story is a parable which asks us not to accept as given the truth of parables, but rather asks us to produce our own truths. This reflects the tale’s rejection of the ‘given’ idea that a biological mother of a child is, in fact, its ‘mother’. This is a parable which tells us not to be nostalgic but to welcome change and innovation, yet this ‘message’ only emerges through the dialectical juxtaposition of prologue and parable, and does not ‘reside’ in the parable itself. Rather it emerges through the manner in which the parable and the prologue, the past and the present, work upon each other and produce one another, provoking us to rethink our attitude not only to the present, but also to the past. The theory of the dialectical image thus provides us with a tool for thinking about the dialectical activity staged in Brecht’s theatre. As the nullpoint of contradictory axes, the dialectical image is perhaps most importantly the intersection between history and myth, between transitoriness and the eternal, because the goal that Benjamin’s project aspires to manifests itself in a fundamentally contradictory form. Buck-Morss explains that the dialectical image is an embodiment of the contradiction between materialism and Idealism, a contradiction that I suggest can be understood to characterize the dialectic itself: Without theology (the axis of transcendence) Marxism falls into positivism; without Marxism (the axis of empirical history) theology falls into magic. Dialectical images indeed emerge at the ‘crossroads between magic and positivism,’ but at this nullpoint, both ‘roads’ are negated – and at the same time dialectically overcome. (Buck-Morss 1989: 249) While dialectical images ultimately aim to awaken humanity from the phantasmagoric dreams in which it is entwined, the paradox of the dialectical image is that dreaming is one axis of its structure. While the Benjaminian historian is a form of materialist dream interpreter (261), transforming ‘unconscious’ mythical dream images into conscious, awakened, historical knowledge, the dialectical image which is the device of this historical awakening is itself half-dream. In Buck-Morss’s description, the dialectical image is fundamentally incomplete. In the contradictions that it stages, a vacuum is formed, a force drawing the spectator into the activity of producing the ‘sense’ or ‘meaning’ of the image. This aspect of the dialectical image is also reflected in Brecht’s analysis, not only of Brueghel’s paintings, in which their quality as ‘narrative pictures’ is clearly dependent on the manner in which they place the spectator in a position of narrator, but also in Brecht’s


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modelbooks, the functions of which are to generate new productions, starting, but not ending, with Brecht’s fixed images. The dialectical image appears to be a response to the potential Marxian dilemma of how one produces an historical, revolutionary consciousness without lapsing into the nostalgia for the past that would precisely defuse the future-oriented impulse towards change. As a response to this problem, the dialectical image constitutes a paradigm for historical perception or experience that neither brooks the positive existence of historical events as such nor does it relieve the spectator of agency in the production of the image itself. The dialectical image is a productive intersection or moment of collision between the historical past and the moment of the present, in which both work upon and produce each other in a dialectic. In this dialectic, neither the past nor the present can be given precedence as ground or base that expresses the other term. The dialectical image works against such a positivist paradigm. Neither history nor the present moment are a given here (and in this way Benjamin’s historian’s actions are sharply distinguished from those of the historicist, for whom history is a fact to be found and retrieved). Benjamin describes the phenomenological, dialectical effect of photography on a viewer in his essay, ‘A Short History of Photography’. Here, his description of the power of the photographic image is especially useful for how we can relate it to the activity of photographing stage production, itself a distinct aesthetic practice. Benjamin remarks that, no matter how still and posed the subject of a photograph may be, the spectator feels an irresistible compulsion to look for the tiny spark of chance, of the here and now, with which reality has, as it were, seared the character in the picture; to find that imperceptible point at which, in the immediacy of that long-past moment, the future so persuasively inserts itself that, looking back, we may discover it. (Benjamin 1931: 7) This dialectical shock, where the future asserts itself in the present, is, Benjamin argues, not available to the human mind without the perceptions made possible by technology. Still photography can describe activities the human mind itself cannot, thus introducing a new form of human consciousness, the ‘optical unconscious’ (7). Benjamin suggests that, while it is possible for the human mind to describe the action of walking, it is ‘impossible to say anything about that fraction of a second when a person starts to walk. Photography with its various aids (lenses, enlargements) can reveal this moment’ (7). The transition between stasis and change, between inactivity and movement, is the space which the dialectical image performs. The possibility produced here is not, however, the revelation of some hitherto unglimpsed aspect of human reality. The force of the photograph is not in the reproduction of reality, but rather in the construction of a new, historical form of

Dialectical images 59 human experience. This argument is directly inspired by Brecht’s criticism of mimetic realism as functionally useless for real understanding of a social situation: For, says Brecht, the situation, is ‘complicated by the fact that less than at any time does a simple reproduction of reality tell us anything about reality. A photograph of the Krupp works or GEC yields almost nothing about these institutions. Reality proper has slipped into the functional. The reification of human relationships, the factory, let’s say, no longer reveals these relationships. Therefore something has actually to be constructed, something artificial, something set up.’ (Benjamin 1931: 24) Human relationships, reified, cannot be reproduced in aesthetic forms. Instead, the aesthetic must take those reified elements of human social life and assemble them into a new form. I want to suggest that the performative, constructive force of the still image is most evident in the activity of still photography of theatrical production. It is a commonplace that theatre performance, when filmed or videotaped, is rendered lifeless. Alternately, the photographing of stage performance constructs out of that activity a new representation of life. Far from reducing theatre as does filming of it, still photography makes theatre something more than it was before. Photography works a distinctive effect upon theatrical production, manufacturing frozen moments, tense with stasis and activity. Photography makes theatre into something that it never was.

Modelbooks The modelbooks are also incitements to creativity designed for employment within a specific historical situation dominated by ruins, during a period of catastrophe and collapse. Human reality has been shattered, reified, so to speak, and out of this fragmentation new human relations must be constructed. Unfortunately, ‘mere catastrophe is a bad teacher’ (Brecht 1964: 209) and destruction does not necessarily instigate change. Some shift or shock is needed in order to provoke progress rather than regression: ‘The difficulty about ruins is that the house has gone, but the site isn’t there either. And the architects’ plans, it seems, never get lost. This means that reconstruction brings back the old dens of iniquity and centres of disease’ (209). The modelbooks are a response to the need for ‘progressive art in the period of reconstruction’ (210). Brecht began the project of creating modelbooks with a production of Antigone: this suggests the dialectical relationship between past and present that he hoped to perform not only in the content of his productions, but in the form of their staging as well. The modelbooks turn the concept of creativity and originality on its head: ‘The idea of making use of models is a clear challenge to the artists of a period that


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applauds nothing but what is “original”, “incomparable”, “never been seen before”, and encourages all that is “unique”. They may realize quite well that a model is not a blueprint, and yet find that their way of going to work gives them no help in the use of models’ (211). Brecht takes pains to emphasize that even the creators of the ‘first’ modelbooks were, in a sense, imitators: ‘[Caspar] Neher’s sketches served as the basis for the grouping and the masks, so that the inventors of the model were themselves already, as it were, working to pattern’ (211). The modelbooks encourage a paradigm of creativity uniquely suited to the scene of modernity. They are a response to the vicissitudes that industrialization, technologization and war impose upon social relations, and which the artist must respond to in a positive manner, drawing from modernity its most affirmatory aspects: ‘The act of creation has become a collective creative process, a continuum of a dialectical sort in which the original invention, taken on its own, has lost much of its importance. The initial invention of a model truly need not count for all that much, for the actor who uses it immediately makes his own personal contribution’ (211). These models ‘must be regarded as by definition incomplete’ (212), which is intrinsic to their effect, since ‘the model is not set up in order to fix the style of performance; quite the contrary. The emphasis is on development: changes are to be provoked and to be made perceptible’ (212). Like Benjamin’s dialectical image, they are instigators of creative production. Models, Brecht remarks, are a dialectical response to the historical experience of modernity, where human reality is in ruins. The very ruined aspect of the post-war environment is its particular newness, its space of possibility. The models are deliberately transitory structures, to be erected only so that they might be put aside. They are new forms of creativity responding directly to what is new about the world: They at once run into strong resistance from all supporters of the old ways, of the routine that masquerades as experience and the conventionality that calls itself creative freedom. [. . .] Meant to simplify matters, they are not simple to handle. They are intended not to render thought unnecessary but to provoke it: not as a substitute for artistic creation but as its stimulus. (Brecht 1964: 215–16) The modelbooks are misunderstood if they are taken as an attack on creativity and originality because the modelbooks are themselves attacks on an uninterrogated, bourgeois, undialectical theory of creativity. Moreover, while the modelbooks seem to serve some heuristic or pedagogic function, Brecht specifically dismisses the idea that they contain some transparent, didactic content. Rather, the lesson to be learned, or the wisdom to be imparted by the modelbooks seems to reside precisely in the difference between the modelbooks and the theatrical production that employs them:

Dialectical images 61 ‘The use of models is a particular kind of art, and just so much can be learnt from it. The aim must be neither to copy the pattern exactly nor to break away from it at once’ (216). Far from foreclosing upon creative freedom, Brecht’s modelbooks seek instead to liberate a proper concept of freedom, one which is dialectical: ‘Extraordinarily little is lost by sacrificing complete freedom of “artistic creation”. [. . .] Freedom comes with the principle of contradiction, which is continually active and vocal in us all’ (218). This principle of contradiction, if contradiction can be said to be a principle at all, while not ‘embodied’ in the modelbooks, is perhaps the most important thing that is staged in them. The ‘proper sphere of the model’, Brecht notes, is that of attitudes and groupings. Generally speaking it is the grouping to which most care has been devoted. Economy in the moves of the groups and figures was intended to ensure that these movements had meaning. The separate constellations, even the distances between them, have a dramatic significance, and at certain moments a single movement of one of the actors’ hands may be able to transform a situation. (Brecht 1964: 214) Like Benjamin’s dialectical image, Brecht’s modelbooks present constellation after constellation, moments of relational grouping, the meaning of which resides in the space between figures. The modelbooks are moments of originality that are ‘by definition incomplete’. The method staged by these structurally incomplete modelbooks teaches us about teaching itself: ‘The choreographic figures (positions, movements, groupings, etc.) can be treated either slavishly or masterfully; that is, masterfully in so far as reality penetrates them freely. If the variations are undertaken in the right way they too take on the qualities of a model: the learner becomes the teacher and the model itself changes’ (211–12). Overall, the modelbooks are examples of the dialectical Haltung of Brechtian theatre. At the moment when they froze and isolated moments from Brecht’s seminal productions of his plays, the modelbooks certainly constituted a petrification and fetishization of his productions, what would be a commodification of them, were the function of these images the same as that which photographic images of theatrical productions commonly are, when they are used in the mass media as advertising and promotion. Yet as a photographic record, the modelbooks are oriented towards posterity, not the present moment of their creation. They are, doubtless, a petrified, naturalized history, a mythification of the transitory nature of the productions. The modelbooks cannot themselves be understood as dialectical images, yet they can be understood in this way when they are put to use. They are reified images of Brecht’s own productions. In the very shock that they engender in theatre practitioners, a provocation to de-reification takes place, accompanied by an estranged distance from the process of theatrical production. An


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inherent incompleteness is emphasized by these images, resembling the fragmented, montage form of the gestus. What the modelbooks foreground is the concrete materiality of the theatrical production.

Kafka’s gestus Benjamin’s ‘metaphysical materialism’, his strategy of dialectical, ‘profane illumination’, brings unique strategies to the analysis of works of art. Benjamin’s analysis of profane illumination in Kafka’s work reveals unexpected conjunctions with Benjamin’s writings on Brecht. Benjamin’s ‘Conversations with Brecht’ demonstrate that Kafka was a recurring topic for both Brecht and Benjamin. At points, Brecht makes observations about Kafka that seem to reflect Benjamin’s; at others, Brecht condemns Benjamin’s essay on Kafka as replicating, mimicking even, the obscurantism of Kafka’s writing. What value there is in Kafka must be brought out clearly and simply, Brecht insists. The mystification of Kafka’s parables is a particular bone of contention for Brecht: it is what prevents Kafka from being what Brecht calls a ‘serious’ writer. ‘In Kafka, therefore, parable is in conflict with vision’, since the visionary is the one who is serious (Benjamin 1966a: 205). Yet Brecht does not discount altogether Kafka’s seriousness: ‘But as a visionary, Brecht says, Kafka saw what was to come without seeing what is’ (205). Thus Kafka is both serious and not serious; a visionary who undermines his own visions. This matter of ‘seriousness’ is raised at a moment when Brecht has begun to doubt ‘the effectiveness of his [own] procedure’ (204). Most importantly, the entire discussion of Kafka is raised in reference to Brecht’s admission that he often feels he is before a tribunal, being judged, and found wanting in seriousness: ‘After all I think too much about artistic matters, about what would go well on the stage, to be quite serious’ (204). This dialectical tension in Brecht himself, reflected in the paradoxes of Kafka’s art, is highly productive. Brecht’s own internal conflict performs the contradictions between an investment in reason and Marxist science, and a conflicting commitment to aesthetic production, which can only ever have a contentious attitude towards instrumental reason. For Brecht, his art is what ultimately prevents him from achieving the effectiveness he holds as a benchmark. In this, he clearly identifies with Kafka. Benjamin observes how Brecht finds himself drawn to the use of parables in order to ‘legitimize art in relation to reason’ (211), although Kafka’s use of the parable, ‘which is responsible to reason’, therefore ‘cannot be entirely serious’ (205). Thus by inference, Brecht’s minimization of the artistic in his art, through the precise and clear use of parables, seems to defeat his own goal of becoming serious, becoming effective. Brecht, like Kafka, seems to be engaged in a self-defeating action, precisely because he aims to use art, which he knows is never entirely serious, for political purposes. This is what he identifies with in Kafka, and this why he describes Kafka as seeing what was to come without seeing what is. By implication, Brecht seems to attribute to himself a similar lack of perception.

Dialectical images 63 Benjamin’s critical situating of Brecht in proximity to Kafka opens new, provocative avenues for considering Brecht’s art. Benjamin compares Kafka’s K. with the Good Soldier Schweik, the character from Jaroslav Hasˇek’s 1921 novel The Good Soldier: Schweik. Brecht worked upon Erwin Piscator’s 1928 stage production of Hasˇek’s book, and was inspired to write his own sequel, Schweyk in the Second World War. Benjamin finds a similarity between a character who is astonished by everything (K.) and a character astonished by nothing (Schweyk) (Benjamin 1934: 137). Both denote the total alienation of the individual in contemporary society. Brecht calls Schweyk in the Second World War ‘a counter-play’ to Mother Courage (Brecht 1973: 280), and Benjamin’s comparison now illuminates the Kafkaesque elements in many of Brecht’s characters: for Brecht, Schweyk, in his happy indestructibility and his resilience throughout his trials, is an admirable figure merely for his ability to survive. Similarly, Mother Courage demonstrates such total alienation. Like Galy Gay in Man Equals Man, Schweyk seems a kind of unmensch, a hollow man who in his hollowness tears a form of freedom from his surroundings. Like Kafka’s characters, these Brechtian figures are not so much characters at all, but empty, formal positionings, pure exteriorities, a series of poses or postures without a centre, a disjointed arrangement of gests. And this, for Brecht, is what makes them useful and strong. Schweyk’s encounter with the godlike, oversized figure of Hitler in the conclusion of Schweyk in the Second World War resonates with Brecht’s other allegorical figures for authority (the inquisition in Life of Galileo, the gods in The Good Person of Szechwan), who are always, despite their constant religious connotations, figures of secular authority in allegorical form. In this they are reminiscent of Kafka’s figures of law, before which come Kafka’s hollow characters. In these parable-like encounters between nobody anti-heroes and the ur-forms of authority, the strength of figures like Schweyk, Galy Gay, and Garga in In the Jungle of Cities, arises precisely from their infinite adaptability, their rubbery indestructibility. Their very status as reified human beings is what allows them to survive under capitalism. Benjamin employs the theory of gestus in an analysis of Kafka, and in this study Benjamin indicates that gestus is a form of action whose force is drawn from the activity of language. Benjamin invokes Brecht’s concept of the gestus to describe Kafka’s perception of modernity, a perception that, paradoxically, Kafka himself was unable to perceive: ‘What Kafka could see least of all was the gestus. Each gesture is an event – one might even say, a drama – in itself. The stage on which this drama takes place is the World Theater which opens up toward heaven’ (Benjamin 1934: 121). For Benjamin, there is a theatricality inherent to events in Kafka’s fictions which gives to the gestures in Kafka’s world an uncanny artificiality. The slightest gesture in Kafka is transformed into something at once mundane and open to a great horizon of meaning. ‘Like El Greco, Kafka tears open the sky behind every gesture; but as with El Greco [. . .] the gesture remains the decisive thing, the center of the event’ (121). Benjamin draws attention to the fact that, in


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The Trial, Joseph K. completes actions without understanding the purpose of his own activities, aware only that the actions must be performed. Thus K. becomes a performer in his own life. In the world as represented by Kafka, life assumes a character that resembles the goals sought by both the surrealists and Brecht: ‘Kafka’s world is a world theater. For him, man is on the stage from the beginning’ (124). Clearly, there is a double-edged consequence to this theatricality. On the one hand, there is the constant hand of judgement hanging over the action, impressing the characters with the importance of their actions, while on the other hand, there is an unparalleled freedom in potentia. Thus in Amerika, the utopian, salvational endpoint of the novel, the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma, is a theatre in which ‘everyone is accepted [. . .]. Dramatic talent, the most obvious criterion, seems to be of no importance. But this can be expressed in another way: all that is expected of the applicants is the ability to play themselves. It is no longer within the realm of possibility that they could, if necessary, be what they claim to be’ (Benjamin 1934: 124–5). An utterly theatricalized existence, without essence or interiority, is a life endowed with a twin result: if there is an emancipatory freedom, it cannot be separated from an overarching burden of consequence. In isolating and estranging mundane actions, Kafka endows them with a gesturality which evokes for Benjamin the structure of the parable, indicating the essentially linguistic function of Kafka’s gesturality. Kafka’s parables exist as contradictions, as Benjamin formulates them. A parable serves an allegorical function, demonstrating the existence of a law or a rule, embodying a lesson. Yet Kafka’s parables do not contain any such law. Thus, while there is a law that Kafka’s work points towards, a judgement that his work anticipates, it is not something that Kafka either knows or describes. Kafka was engaged in a self-defeating praxis, and this accounts for Kafka’s disregarded order to destroy his writings after his death. Kafka’s work is a work of failure, and this is precisely what makes it valuable to Benjamin: ‘Kafka could understand things only in the form of a gestus, and this gestus which he did not understand constitutes the cloudy part of the parables. [. . .] He did fail in his grandiose attempt to convert poetry into doctrine’ (Benjamin 1934: 129). Kafka’s work embodies a performative struggle with its own intention to establish itself as truth under conditions where truth is placed under erasure. This dialectical tension is the fundamental activity of language itself, which both gestures to a referent beyond itself and simultaneously insists upon its own materiality. Benjamin’s now well-known letter to Gershom Scholem dated June 12, 1938, is considered to be a follow-up statement, clarifying the thesis of the essay on Kafka. In this letter, Benjamin delineates what he considers to be the ‘Kafkaesque gestus’ (Benjamin 1980: 224), referring not to a passage from Kafka’s work, but to the physicist Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington’s The Nature of the Physical World (1929). Benjamin’s gesture here brings his conception of Kafka one step closer to Brecht. The passage from Eddington is

Dialectical images 65 reminiscent of a formalist defamiliarization effect. It describes the factors that modern physics alerts us to when a person wants to walk into a room. The quoted passage renders the mundane and simple remarkable, by drawing attention to the pressure of air pushing against us, the movement of the earth around the sun, the movement of the solar system through space, and the vast amounts of space between molecules in the planks constituting the floor. It becomes altogether incredible that one might even manage to take a step successfully in all this instability and movement. Reality itself is estranged by the modern physicist’s perceptions, and formerly assumed events are filled with a radically unsettling contingency. Benjamin opposes this aspect of Kafka’s perceptions, the ‘scientific’ experience of the world, to Kafka’s mystical experience of tradition. Yet simply to set these two perceptual positions against one another, the ‘mystical experience’ as opposed to that of ‘modern citydwellers’, namely the ‘contemporary of today’s physicist’ (223), is not enough for Benjamin. While these two experiences of the world, the traditional and the modern, appear to be opposed, in Kafka they are an opposition which is also a generative tension: If I were to say, as I just did, that there was a tremendous tension between those of Kafka’s experiences that correspond to present-day physics and his mystical ones, this would only amount to a half-truth. What is actually and in a very precise sense folly in Kafka is that this, the most recent of experiential worlds, was conveyed to him precisely by the mystical tradition. (Benjamin 1980: 224) Benjamin delineates here the contradictory, dialectical collision between old wisdom and new wisdom in Kafka’s work. Benjamin goes on to articulate the operation of this tension. It is a profound paradox that Kafka’s illumination of the profane, material world comes about through metaphysical, mystical doctrine. In Kafka’s literary creations Benjamin finds a world that is ‘an exact complement of his epoch, an epoch that is preparing itself to annihilate the inhabitants of this planet on a massive scale’ (224). The terrifying world of the twentieth century, dominated by mass industry’s relentless mechanization, too easily warped to the ends of warfare, provokes from Kafka a gestus of estrangement and terror, embodied in the physicist’s defamiliarized position in relation to reality. Kafka’s response to this terror is found in a kind of retreat into tradition in his work, through the use of the form of the parable, the traditional form for the transmission of age-old wisdom and metaphysical truths. In Kafka’s work, truth decays and becomes a Benjaminian ruin. Kafka’s parables are anti-parables, or parables that refuse to be just parables, questioning the very form of the metaphysical truths they are meant to convey. They are ruins: allegories in decay. They are parables of law that attack the structure of law itself. Understanding the beauty of the ‘figure of Kafka’ (226) means appreciating that this figure ‘is


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the figure of a failure’ (226), a performative figure, the dialectical image of a failure. This failure is a specific response to the crisis of the individual in modernity, who needs truth and wisdom to face the nightmare of the modern world, while knowing that it is precisely these elements of tradition that have been destroyed by modernity. Trauerspiel In the introduction to Understanding Brecht, Stanley Mitchell suggests that in ‘The Author as Producer’, Benjamin wants to see in Brecht a response to Plato’s critical expulsion of poets from the ideal Republic: ‘In his disquisitions on Brecht, Benjamin seeks to rescue the artist in Plato, whom Plato himself feared’ (Mitchell 1973: xv). Benjamin’s interpretation of the Platonic dialogues as a form of drama is most evident in Benjamin’s early, large work, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, which, while it is not an overtly Marxist work, was written by Benjamin during his encounter with Georg Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness (1922). Introducing The Origin of German Tragic Drama, George Steiner notes that Benjamin felt validated by his realization ‘that Lukács, operating from wholly political premises, should have reached epistemological conclusions very similar to those he himself was now expounding’ (Steiner 1977: 10). Presumably, the similar conclusions are in reference to the relationship between truth and method. Lukács declares that Marxism is essentially a method. The implication of this is that Marxism’s truth is not a conclusion or resolution resulting from Marxist activity. Truth is instead historical and material, and it is embodied in the Marxist methodology itself. Benjamin opens his discussion of Trauerspiel with a similar analysis, arguing that philosophy, since it exists in and cannot be separated from language, does not capture or discover truth but rather produces truth through language. Similarly, for Lukács, the working class will not discover its meaning or redemption as an outside truth to be captured through revolutionary activity, but will rather produce its truth, its identity as the identical subject-object of history, from its own practical consciousness. This class will be the meaning of history itself. Benjamin situates Plato’s drama as a crucial turning point in the history of Western theatre. The Platonic dialogues come as a response to Greek tragedy and as an historical precursor not only to the drama of modernity but also of modernism. Most crucially for the Trauerspiel book, the Platonic dialogues set the stage for the dramatic form of Trauerspiel itself, specifically through the use of what Benjamin calls the Platonic dialogues’ ‘pure dramatic language, unfragmented by its dialectic of tragic and comic. This purely dramatic quality restores the mystery which had gradually become secularized in the forms of Greek drama: its language, the language of the new drama, is, in particular, the language of the Trauerspiel’ (Benjamin 1928: 118). In his essay on epic theatre, Benjamin himself makes the connection explicit in a long dramatic genealogy, finding an oblique affinity

Dialectical images 67 between baroque Trauerspiel and Brecht’s work. In defining a number of playwrights and dramatic forms that deviate from Greek tragedy, Benjamin connects medieval dramas to Gryphius and Calderón, Shakespeare, Lenz, Grabbe, Strindberg, Goethe and, finally, Brecht. This ‘badly marked road’ (Benjamin 1939: 17) is not so much a tradition as a ‘stalking-path’ (18) along which these writers, in the search for ‘the untragic hero’ (17) have deviated from the Aristotelian mean. The world as represented in Trauerspiel is profoundly secular, representing a human being as mortal and historical. Benjamin goes so far as to suggest that ‘the word Trauerspiel was applied in the seventeenth century to dramas and to historical events alike’ (Benjamin 1928: 63), and in this secular, historical boundedness of the Trauerspiel, the dramatic form is to be sharply delineated from Greek tragedy. Moreover, the nature of character in this theatre rubs against the grain of dramatic aesthetics, since characters in Trauerspiele were considered ‘deficient in inner conflict and tragic guilt’ (75). Indeed, character motives in the Trauerspiel were so devalued in importance by the baroque dramatists themselves that they were ‘relegated to the notes’ (75). Characters behave like figures from humours or passion plays, without explaining motivation or displaying psychological development. In this manner, Trauerspiel seems to foreclose upon the idea of interiority in characters. All of this is deeply entwined with Trauerspiel’s representation of an entirely and absolutely forsaken human continuum, ‘a reversion to a bare state of creation, consolation for the renunciation of a state of grace’ (81). In the renouncing or extinguishing of interiority in the world of Trauerspiel, perhaps no more important gesture takes place than the mortification of nature itself. If we understand guilt to be, in its given form, the inner mortification of the self, the awareness of one’s own mortality and the inevitability of decay and finally death, then the Trauerspiel, which infuses the natural universe itself with death, in effect transforming nature into one giant corpse, allegorically exteriorizes the innermost interiority: guilt. ‘Guilt is not confined to the allegorical observer [. . .] but it also attaches to the object of his contemplation. This view [is] rooted in the doctrine of the fall of the creature, which brought down nature with it’ (224). In a world so thoroughly saturated with mortality and guilt, reality itself becomes a figure for evil. Yet Trauerspiel remains for Benjamin a dramatic form that is uniquely suited to the representation of history, and the representation of history takes place through images and figures, such as figures of ruins: ‘In the ruin history has physically merged into the setting. And in this guise history does not assume the form of the process of an eternal life so much as that of irresistible decay. Allegory thereby declares itself to be beyond beauty. Allegories are, in the realm of thoughts, what ruins are in the realm of things’ (Benjamin 1928: 177–8). For Benjamin, the exemplary rhetorical figure for the representation of history is allegory: ‘in allegory the observer is confronted with the facies hippocratica of history as a petrified, primordial


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landscape. Everything about history that, from the very beginning, has been untimely, sorrowful, unsuccessful, is expressed in a face – or rather in a death’s head’ (166). Trauerspiel represents a vision of history as a process of decay and destruction. What the baroque stage aimed at was a ‘teleology’ resolutely opposed to that of the Enlightenment. ‘Devoted neither to the earthly nor to the moral happiness of creatures’, this teleology’s ‘exclusive aim is their mysterious instruction’ (170). This is an instruction in mystery itself, in the form of obscurity, in the impenetrability of reality, rather than a didactic, illuminating lesson. The strange key to the Trauerspiel’s representation of the obscure hopelessness of human life is the compression of time into space, namely the space of the stage. This is a linchpin of baroque representation: the German Trauerspiel is taken up entirely with the hopelessness of the earthly condition. Such redemption as it knows resides in the depths of this destiny itself rather than in the fulfilment of a divine plan of salvation. [. . .] But if the secular drama must stop short on the borders of transcendence, it seeks, nevertheless, to assure itself of this indirectly, in play. (Benjamin 1928: 81) In the baroque period, the signification of the concept of a play, ‘is concerned predominantly with the product’ (82) of play of life as a game, and thus the work of art too becomes a figure of human existence as a game. In Trauerspiel, the play’s the thing, and Trauerspiel deliberately emphasizes the artificiality of the representation itself. The baroque dramatist ‘drags the essence of what is depicted out before the image, in writing, as a caption, such as, in the emblem-books, forms an intimate part of what is depicted’ (185). Like Brecht’s literarized theatre, Trauerspiel ‘is, in its form, a drama for the reader. [. . .] [T]he chosen spectator of such examples of the Trauerspiel concentrated on them with at least the same thought and attentiveness as the reader; [. . .] the situations did not change very frequently, but [. . .] when they did, they did so in a flash, like the appearance of the print when a page is turned’ (185). From such descriptions, we can immediately see why Benjamin would find some connection between baroque drama of the seventeenth century and Brecht’s theatre, at least on a formal level. Both import the rhetorical form of language itself into dramatic form, figuring human existence through the fallen materiality of the word, the profane, structural activity of the signifier, and refuse the interiority of the bourgeois subject. As a Benjaminian constellation presents history not as a temporal chain of events but as a spatial arrangement, challenging the historicism of causeand-effect narrative, so too in the baroque drama history finds itself manifested or figured not temporally but arranged spatially. History saturates the material reality of the Trauerspiel, appearing everywhere except as temporality: ‘For the decisive factor in the escapism of the baroque is not the antithe-

Dialectical images 69 sis of history and nature but the comprehensive secularization of the historical in the state of creation. [. . .] History merges into the setting’ (Benjamin 1928: 92). This saturation of space with temporality and transience infuses the Trauerspiel with its radical hopelessness, since the presence of death, mortality and decay become detectable not only in the human figures on the stage, but more importantly in inanimate objects as well, in the backdrop of the set, and in the natural settings. In this manner, nature becomes a figure for history and the whole of Trauerspiel becomes a dialectical image, vacillating ceaselessly between stasis and decay. In this strange universe where time has become space, the Royal Court is the representative setting, and within that setting, typical characters exist reduced to the level of their environment. In this environment stripped of all hope, the exemplary figures are courtiers who behave both coldly and scrupulously, demonstrating an ‘icy disillusion’ that ‘awakens a mood of mourning [Trauer] in the creature stripped of all naive impulses’ (98). A completely forsaken and demystified environment, soaked through with mortality, spawns a like perception in its inhabitants, giving rise to the mourning of the Trauerspiel. This essential mournfulness of Trauerspiel can be understood today as an instigator of political, historical consciousness, although it is not figured as such in Benjamin’s book. Trauerspiel describes the dialectical image at work in dramatic form itself, and thus Trauerspiel is an invaluable model for the consideration of the dialectics of contemporary drama. Benjamin portrays the mourning attitude of the melancholic as a dialectical attitude, embodying the same contradictions as does the Greek god Saturn, who is both slothful and stupid, and intelligent and contemplative (Benjamin 1928: 149). On the one hand, mourning is mechanized, a ‘motorial reaction’, which while called a ‘feeling’ is better understood for its ‘astounding tenacity of intention, which, among the feelings is matched perhaps only by love’ (139). We are, then, close to some form of psychical investment, all the more Freudian for its paradoxical vacillations. The pensiveness of mourning is a ‘vision of the misery of mankind in its creaturely state’ (146), and the ‘wisdom of the melancholic is subject to the nether world; it is secured by immersion in the life of creaturely things, and it hears nothing of the voice of revelation’ (152). Mourning, then, is a total faithfulness in ‘the world of things’ (157), a ‘loyalty’ that constitutes the ‘law’ of things. This loyalty to the world of things is a faith in faithlessness, and thus the melancholic’s dialectic is a kind of ironic inversion of the Platonic dialectic, since melancholic ‘[f]aithfulness is the rhythm of the emanatively descending levels of intention which reflect the appropriately transformed ascending ones of neo-Platonic theosophy’ (157). The truth that the melancholic seeks is not found in the realm of the Idea, but in the mortal world of things. In this fallen world portrayed by Trauerspiel, completely bereft of transcendence, which Benjamin calls a ‘profane world’ (Benjamin 1928: 175), ‘the object becomes allegorical under the gaze of melancholy’, and ‘melancholy causes life to flow out of it and it remains behind dead’ (183). The


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mortifying power of the melancholic’s gaze means that the central rhetorical figure in Trauerspiel is allegory. Allegory stages a demonstrable distance between its own status as material hieroglyph, and its apparent referent, but this allegorical signifier does not disperse into meaninglessness or incomprehensibility because the distance between signifier and signified is governed by a dialectic. This is neither a ludic free play nor the irony of a formalist criticism: ‘The dialectic quality of this form of expression is misunderstood, and mistrusted as ambiguity’ (176–7). The dialectic staged by Trauerspiel is a relaxed, disordered dialectic, the dialectic of the constellation and the dialectical image. The ‘court’ at the centre of Trauerspiel ‘is subject to the law of “dispersal” and “collectedness”. Things are assembled according to their significance; indifference to their existence allowed them to be dispersed again’ (188). Benjamin describes the phenomenological activity of Trauerspiel’s highly artificial, formal language as a yearning for the materiality of the signifier bereft of content, a staging of pure dramatic language. ‘Pure dramatic language’ bears some relationship to performativity, and it is in this that the resemblance to Brecht’s theatre begins to emerge most forcibly: For these are not so much plays which cause mourning, as plays through which mournfulness finds satisfaction: plays for the mournful. A certain ostentation is characteristic of these people. These images are displayed in order to be seen, arranged in the way they want them to be seen. (Benjamin 1928: 119) Language in Trauerspiel, full of bombast and display, reaches for a pure performativity. Benjamin demonstrates that in the word Trauer itself there is a linguistic linkage to theatricality. Mourning and ostentation are connected in the theatre of the baroque. The term Trauerspiel testifies to the performativity that is inherent in acts of mourning. The links between mourning and ostentation arise from the witnessing or inhabiting of ‘an empty world’ (Benjamin 1928: 139), a completely profane existence bereft of hope. Mourning is the ambiguously hopeful response to a perception of the world as entirely hollow and bereft of authenticity, a response that admires this inauthenticity for its own sake. ‘Mourning is the state of mind in which feeling revives the empty world in the form of a mask, and derives an enigmatic satisfaction in contemplating it’ (139). The mourning gaze beholds the world as a hollow masquerade, and the melancholic, mournful look transforms the universe into a performativity, a text, an allegory: ‘The world knows no greater book than itself,’ writes a baroque scholar, to which Benjamin remarks, ‘The “Book of nature” and the “Book of the times” are objects of baroque meditation’ (141). That the central figure here is a book is, of course, essential to note. Mourning sees the world as literarized, a word-like mask, and it transforms the terror of mortality into the satisfied contemplation of the melancholic. The essentially book-like vision of the

Dialectical images 71 world found in Trauerspiel further suggests that the mourner’s contemplative gaze is a form of reading of the world, akin to Brecht’s ‘complex seeing’.

Brechtian Trauerspiel Brecht’s epic theatre constitutes a form analogous to the Trauerspiel in its performative iteration of tragedy, saturated with mortality and history instead of transcendence. Brueghel’s Dulle Griet (1562) presents a contradictory dispersal of imagery illustrating the convergence of Brecht’s theory of epic theatre and Benjamin’s theory of Trauerspiel. The painting stages a contradictory ‘variety of atmospheres’ (Brecht 1964: 157). What makes Dulle Griet relevant to a discussion of Trauerspiel and Brecht is the confusion represented by the image. While hell literally infuses the landscape of the earth with its uncanny populace, this is not a conciliation of life with death, of earth with hell, but rather a contradictory confrontation between them. In Dulle Griet, as in Trauerspiel, mortality, the death represented by hell, saturates the natural landscape in a figurative image of a completely forsaken human continuum, but the contradictions embodied in this merging of history with nature (death with life) maintain their contradictoriness through the war against hell that Dulle Griet herself instigates. It is, as Brecht puts it, the ‘world at the end of its tether’ (Brecht 1964: 158), yet this frozen moment of despair is broken by the peasant woman about to enter the mouth of hell in order to defend ‘her pathetic household goods’ (158). As an allegory for a politicized consciousness, it is most notable that this moment of resistance and hopefulness is not directed upwards, but downwards, into the depths of the earth itself, and the ‘Fury’ who leads the charge does so for the most elemental and material of reasons. The play by Brecht that resonates most tangibly with Benjamin’s Trauerspiel is the ballet The Seven Deadly Sins of the Petty Bourgeoisie (1933), a series of neo-baroque allegories that dramatize the commodification of the human being under capitalism. As a performance of reification, the ballet is an allegorical journey depicting the action of capitalist allegorization itself. The commodity, one aspect of the dialectical image, is also the hollowing out or ruination of the human being under capitalism, the compression of individual human history into the empty space of the commodity. Benjamin himself finds a rough homology between Trauerspiel and ballet, drawing upon the suggestion that a ballet is essentially an allegorical picture, whose importance and meaning lies in the ostentation of its visual display (Benjamin 1928: 195). In Brecht’s ballet, the allegory is announced in the title itself. Moreover, like a character from a Trauerspiel, the central figure of The Seven Deadly Sins is ‘haunted’ by herself, split into two figures on stage, who are sisters, albeit with the same name. They are really, we are told, the same person: ‘You may think that you can see two people / But in fact you see only one / And both of us are Annie’ (Brecht 1970–2003, vol. 2iii: 70). Annie I is the seller, Annie II is the object sold; in prostituting herself,


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Annie depicts the paradigmatic action of commodification, such as Benjamin saw in the dialectical image of the prostitute, who is simultaneously the labourer and the alienated product of labour. The figure of Annie as commodity becomes an allegory for herself, performing, for us, a manifest gap or distance within being. Benjamin remarks that, in Trauerspiel, Ghosts, like the profoundly significant allegories, are manifestations from the realm of mourning [. . .]. The explanation for the strange appearance of the spirits of the living is not quite so clear. [. . .] This is not, of course, the ‘utter nonsense’ which Kerckhoffs says it is; it is rather a remarkable testimony to the fanaticism with which even the absolutely singular, the individual character, is multiplied in the allegorical. (Benjamin 1928: 193) As in other plays by Brecht such as The Good Person of Szechwan, The Seven Deadly Sins demonstrates how the individual cannot be an self-identical, cannot be ‘honest’, in the modern world. ‘Sin’ is endemic to the world itself, and Annie’s guilt or evil is exteriorized into a phantom-like figure of herself that suffers the mortification inflicted upon her by the world. In its staging of discrete encounters with the seven deadly sins, Brecht’s ballet emphasizes its status as a parodic repetition of the baroque. The sins that are performed in the ballet are ironic inversions of sinful actions. Virtues, here, are sins, because social circumstances of capitalism make them so: morality is portrayed as determined by environment. In a typical Brechtian reversal, ‘sloth’ is performed when one of the sisters dozes instead of helping to rob a woman. It is acts of goodness which are crimes within this play, and Annie must learn to purge herself of goodness in order to be virtuous. Thus ‘pride’ is manifested in a situation where one sister refuses to dance in a vulgar, promiscuous manner in order to make money. As elsewhere in Brecht, good deeds are self-destructive liabilities in a capitalist society. The final scene, staging ‘Envy’, sees Annie surrounded now by a multiplicity of ‘Annies’ who mirror her. Ironically, these Annies engage in the ‘sins’ that Annie has had to exorcise from herself in order to succeed in her self-prostitution. Annie’s final ‘sin’ here is an envy for ‘sin’, as she grows jealous of those who commit the good deeds, the ‘sins’ that she has committed in the past, but has since avoided in order to succeed: ‘Those too proud to be bought – / Of those whose wrath is kindled by injustice’ provoke her envy (Brecht 1970–2003, vol. 2iii: 81). In this allegory, ‘sin’ is demonstrated in the actions of people who have not compromised themselves for money and success, who refuse to allegorize themselves, who ‘sinfully’ refuse to subdue ‘all Self’ (82). Figuratively crushing these other, ‘sinful’ Annies in a dance that represents her pride in her ‘virtue’, Annie ‘fights the Good Fight and all Self subdues / Wins the Palm, gains the Crown’ (82), and returns to her family in Louisiana, having achieved financial, and thus

Dialectical images 73 moral, success. While each scene allegorically shows us ‘how the seven deadly sins can be avoided’ (69), the didacticism of the drama is undermined by the mise en abyme into which it plunges us, a mise en abyme that is, ultimately, the infinite reflectivity of allegorization under capitalism itself. In this manner, The Seven Deadly Sins of the Petty Bourgeoisie stages, in its concrete textuality, the empty skull of allegory in its very form. In examining Benjamin’s assimilation of the epic theatre’s techniques to the distinctly Benjaminian theory of history, one may sense that the grain of Brecht’s work, or of a certain seam running through Brecht’s work, is being rubbed against in the present writing. Despite their friendship, seemingly fundamental incompatibilities have been observed between Brecht and Benjamin, differences I may be accused of glossing over in my endeavour to bring them in dialogue together. Yet that there was an elective affinity between these two dissimilar personalities is undeniable. In Theater, Theory, Speculation (1991), Rainer Nägele points out the productive contradictions that their two clashing personalities generated. Alternately, Andreas Huyssen emphasizes an important disparity in their thinking. He remarks that Brecht’s dramatic technique of Verfremdungseffekt relies substantially on the emancipatory power of reason and on rational ideology critique [. . .] . Benjamin, on the other hand, never trusted the emancipatory power of reason and the Verfremdungseffekt as exclusively as Brecht did. Brecht also never shared Benjamin’s messianism or his notion of history as an object of construction. But it was especially Benjamin’s emphatic notion of experience (Erfahrung) and profane illumination that separated him from Brecht’s enlightened trust in ideology critique. (Huyssen 1980: 13–14) Huyssen’s distinction speaks directly to the subject of this chapter, and his criticism of Verfremdung resembles Elizabeth Wright’s critique. Huyssen feels that ‘[i]n an age saturated with information, including critical information, the Verfremdungseffekt has lost its demystifying power’ (15). Yet the argument that we are in a post-ideological age is, I have already argued, itself ideological. In the next chapter, in a discussion of Roland Barthes, I will criticize the dated assumption that the Verfremdungseffekt is primarily an activity of demystification. Slavoj Zˇizˇek, reading Peter Sloterdijk’s Critique of Cynical Reason, suggests that we cannot call ideological thinking today ‘false consciousness’ in the traditional sense because adherence to an ideology today is precisely cynical in its structure. You don’t have to naively believe in an ideology in order to effectively adhere to it: ‘The cynical subject is quite aware of the distance between the ideological mask and the social reality, but he none the less still insists upon the mask’ (Zˇizˇek 1989: 29). Tellingly, Zˇizˇek presents a key example of cynical reason from Brecht’s Threepenny Opera: ‘confronted with illegal enrichment, with robbery, the cynical


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reaction consists in saying that legal enrichment is a lot more effective and, moreover, protected by the law. As Bertolt Brecht puts it [. . .] “what is the robbery of a bank compared to the founding of a new bank?” ’ (30). Cynical reason, considered as ideology, is no longer understandable as ‘a lie experienced as a truth’ (30). Its truth value is irrelevant to its ideological power. Zˇizˇek intervenes in the traditional Marxist notion of reification, the occluding of the real relations between people in favour of the mystified relations between fetishized commodities, and reconfigures it. Reification is no longer a delusory experience: So, on an everyday level, the individuals know very well that there are relations between people behind the relations between things. The problem is that in their social activity itself, in what they are doing, they are acting as if money, in its material reality, is the immediate embodiment of wealth as such. They are [commodity] fetishists in practice, not in theory. (Zˇizˇek 1989: 31) What Zˇizˇek calls the ideological fantasy is quite specifically ‘not on the side of knowledge, it is already on the side of reality itself, of what the people are doing’ (32). Ideological consciousness, considered today through the rubric of lived, cynical action, can be worked upon by estrangement that seeks not to demystify ideology as false consciousness, to be replaced by true consciousness, but considers it instead as a structural materiality to be estranged, distanced and distended. Verfremdung can be considered to warp and shape ideological thinking in order to reshape it as historical consciousness, which does not predate or anticipate ideological thinking but is a potential residing within ideological consciousness itself. This different figure of Verfremdung draws upon Benjamin’s idea of the dialectic at a standstill, the crest of the wave of human consciousness. It is perhaps contradictory to connect the work of Brecht, who frequently described his theatre as anti-metaphysical, to Benjamin’s metaphysical materialism, or to the project of ‘profane illumination’. This contradiction, however, is precisely the point that needs to be articulated, for we might argue that the contradiction is already present in Brecht’s own work. We might, following Benjamin, suggest that there is something inherently contradictory about a politicized artwork which claims to be anti-metaphysical. We might suggest that Derrida’s location, in Specters of Marx, of literature and theatre in the realm of spectrality, a space that refuses the binarisms of the ideal and the material, must be invoked when Brecht describes his theatre as anti-metaphysical. Obviously, the point of Brecht’s position is that his is an historical art form, an art form that historicizes human experience, and thus refutes eternal or universal truths of any kind. While Brecht makes sweeping gestures that distance him from metaphysics, there are points in his art and theory where he strays towards what he would call

Dialectical images 75 ‘idealism’. If there is a single play which displays a most overt posture towards ‘metaphysical materialism’, it is In the Jungle of Cities, a play about struggle itself. Brecht wrestled with this play at the same time (1922–7) as Benjamin was composing The Origin of German Tragic Drama (finished 1925). In the Jungle of Cities was conceived as a play embodying the pure essence of sport, the motiveless ‘fight for fighting’s sake’ (Brecht 1970–2003, vol. 1: 338), that Brecht idealized in boxing, envisioned as an antidote to a bourgeois theatre obsessed with petty materialist motivations in stage characters. Boxing was envisaged ‘as one of the “great mythical diversions of the great cities on the other side of the herring pond” ’ (437–8), and as mythic conflict sport stood free of the trappings of mere material existence, free of any motive, a ‘fight with no origin’ (438). Thus the conflict between Shlink and Garga springs up spontaneously and defies psychological understanding. ‘I’m getting thinner and thinner. I’m getting metaphysical’ (148), utters George Garga after Shlink has ruined his life, metaphorically skinning Garga alive ‘for the fun of it’ (128), and provoking him into a contest of wills. Yet the pleasure that would apparently arise from the destruction of a man in the play of pure sport is rendered impossible by the circumstances in which they spar; the detritus of material reality itself ruins their game: ‘It’s so hard to harm a man, to destroy him is utterly impossible. The world is too poor. We wear ourselves out cluttering it with things to fight about’ (158), Garga observes. ‘Man is too durable. That’s his main fault. He can do too much to himself. He’s too hard to destroy’ (168), remarks a Preacher. The pure, unburdened fight that Shlink seeks is ultimately impossible within their circumstances. ‘I wanted a fight. Not of the flesh but of the spirit,’ Shlink says, to which Garga retorts, ‘And the spirit, you see, is nothing. The important thing is not to be stronger, but to come off alive’ (175). They are ‘comrades in a metaphysical conflict’ (171), Shlink explains to Garga, but the ‘enmity’ that he was seeking with Garga is made ‘an unattainable goal’ by ‘man’s infinite isolation’ (172). The reification and fragmentation of human social reality makes even the connectedness of a metaphysical conflict impossible: ‘Yes, so great is man’s isolation that not even a fight is possible’ (172). The play is deeply invested in the possibility of pure fun, of play and its impossibility in capitalist society, and thus the drama charts the process of a failure, a failure that Brecht claims is a reflection of his own failure to achieve his goal in writing the play: ‘My play was meant to deal with this pure enjoyment of fighting. Even while working on the first draft I noticed how singularly difficult it was to bring about a meaningful fight. [. . .] Gradually it turned into a play about the difficulty of bringing such a fight about’ (Brecht 1970–2003, vol. 1: 438). The attempt to represent an ideal form of conflict was tripped up by concrete circumstances: ‘A vague realization emerged: that under advanced capitalism fighting for fighting’s sake is only a wild distortion of competition for competition’s sake. The play’s dialectic is of a purely idealistic kind’ (438). Brecht’s comments reveal that


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In the Jungle of Cities is concerned with the form of the dialectic itself, with the play of contradictions, and the drama concludes that this pure movement of consciousness is enmeshed in the material. Thus, while the drama portrays a world ‘where the philosopher can pick his way better than the psychologist’ (435), what the drama seems to enact is the bogging down of metaphysical truths in concrete stakes, which hints at Brecht’s own growing class-consciousness. Fun and play, it seems, will not be located in the realm of the ideal.

Mourning as a socially symbolic act While In the Jungle of Cities is an early, failed play exploring the context of its own failure, there is a late, theoretical Brecht who speaks to Benjamin’s ‘metaphysical materialist’, to Trauerspiel, and also, as we shall see, to Derrida’s concept of spectrality. In The Messingkauf Dialogues, Brecht’s Philosopher-surrogate comments on the social activity of mourning: If we observe sorrow on the stage and at the same time identify ourselves with it, then this simultaneous observing is a part of our observation. We are sorrowful, but at the same time we are people observing a sorrow – our own – almost as if it were detached from us, in other words like people who aren’t sorrowful, because nobody else could observe it so detachedly. In this way we aren’t wholly dissolved in sorrow; something solid still remains in us. Sorrow is hostile to thought; it stifles it; and thought is hostile to sorrow. THE ACTRESS: It can be a pleasure to cry. THE PHILOSOPHER: Crying doesn’t express sorrow so much as relief. But lamenting by means of sounds, or better still words, is a vast liberation, because it means that the sufferer is beginning to produce something. He’s already mixing his sorrow with an account of the blows he has received; he’s already making something out of the utterly devastating. Observation has set in. (Brecht 1965: 47) This brief exchange between Brecht’s characters questions orthodox notions of human production, and what can or should be classified as a form of work or labour. In a remarkable moment of Brechtian thought, the Philosopher envisions human mourning as a form of production; moreover, it is a form of storytelling, a narrativization that shapes and redeems experience, giving rise to change and hope. Mourning finally is action. In its profundity, this insight testifies to Brecht’s unorthodox yet dedicated Marxism, which draws from the realm of aesthetics its own particular take on the dialectic. Mourning may be understood, from Brecht’s comments above, as a ‘socially symbolic act,’ as Kenneth Burke would put it. It is potentially political and liberating. If the concept of mourning alone carries for some

Dialectical images 77 readers connotations too negative to constitute a useful figure for action, then perhaps the concept of Trauerspiel, or mourning play, will sufficiently amend the connotations of the word mourning. I would suggest that we approach the theory of Trauerspiel with its contradictory nature firmly in view, and consider Trauerspiel is a play of mourning, a heterogeneous collision of two decidedly unorthodox forms of work, described in a book ‘completed during a period when Benjamin seriously questioned whether he should join the German Communist party’ (Scholem 1981: 123). In Derrida’s recent Specters of Marx I want to locate a contemporary figure of Trauerspiel that relates the work of mourning to Marxism itself. Derrida, for his part, is consistent in his suspicions of Benjamin, whom he repeatedly characterizes as ‘too Heideggerian, too messianico-Marxist or archeo-eschatological’ (Derrida 1990: 1045). Despite Derrida’s own reservations about Benjamin, I would nevertheless like to draw some connections between Benjamin and Derrida. Marx must be deconstructed, Derrida claims in Specters of Marx. Just as Derrida suspects the totalitarian political consequences of Benjamin’s supposed teleology, so too does he make the same criticism of Marx. The revolutionary Marx must be separated from the metaphysical Marx, the Marx invested in nostalgia for pre-existing grounds, origins or givens. Derrida reverses Marx’s own reversal of Hegel. While Hegel wrongly privileged spirit over material needs in a hierarchization that Marx’s materialism set out to correct, Derrida’s intervention demonstrates that Marx’s privileging of the concrete materiality of a certain concept of labour, and the valorization of use-value as the ‘material’ ground of the commodity, are themselves forms of ‘metaphysical’ thinking, in which the maintenance of a binarism privileges a theory of full, complete presence that resides in an origin to be recovered. This deconstruction of Marx’s nostalgic investment in the idea of an unsullied, pure origin is not, Derrida argues, anti-Marxist. While deconstruction is not, Derrida insists, dialectical, it owes an unpayable debt to Marx: ‘Deconstruction has never had any sense or interest, in my view at least, except as a radicalization, which is to say also in the tradition of a certain Marxism, in a certain spirit of Marxism. [. . .] But a radicalization is always indebted to the very thing it radicalizes’ (Derrida 1993: 92). Derrida’s work is an attempt to be faithful to the most revolutionary element of Marx’s work, which necessarily means being unfaithful to the element of Marxism which demands faithfulness: This dimension of performative interpretation, that is, of an interpretation that transforms the very thing it interprets, [. . .] is a definition of the performative as unorthodox with regard to speech act theory as it is with regard to the 11th Thesis on Feuerbach (‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it’). (Derrida 1993: 51)


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This definition of deconstruction’s activity demonstrates how Derrida is most faithful to the spirit of Marx precisely by deconstructing the binary oppositions (here interpretation and change) that impede Marx’s work. One could just as easily read this as a deconstructive gesture of faithfulness/unfaithfulness towards Brecht, for whom the eleventh thesis remained the fundamental description of his work. Specters of Marx also finds some conjunction with the Trauerspiel book on the subject of mourning. ‘First of all, mourning,’ states Derrida, ‘[w]e will be speaking of nothing else. It consists always in attempting to ontologize remains, to make them present, in the first place by identifying the bodily remains and by localizing the dead (all ontologization, all semanticization – philosophical, hermeneutical, or psychoanalytical – finds itself caught up in this work of mourning but, as such, it does not yet think it [. . .])’ (Derrida 1993: 9). This definition of mourning questions how we define work in the moment of late capitalism. Performativity, in the Derridean sense of a textuality that is transformative, is an offshoot of the work of mourning. Derrida deploys his theory of mourning as a means of figuring work within nontraditional paradigms of labour: I have tried to show elsewhere that the work of mourning is not one kind of work among others. It is work itself, work in general, the trait by means of which one ought perhaps to reconsider the very concept of production – in what links it to trauma, to mourning, to the idealizing iterability of exappropriation, thus to the spectral spiritualization that is at work in any tekhne¯. (Derrida 1993: 97) Derrida’s troubling analysis of human production invests in labour an essential ambivalence: in its future orientation, work is, it seems, deeply nostalgic and invested in terminally lost objects. Hamlet Mourning thus figures as a central drive of activity both in Derrida’s logic and Benjamin’s Trauerspiel book. Mourning transgresses the barrier between the material and the metaphysical and inhabits a ‘space’ of ‘spectrality’ (Derrida’s term), presenting a challenge to the received notion of what work is. ‘A traditional scholar,’ Derrida states, ‘does not believe in ghosts – nor in all that could be called the virtual space of spectrality’ (Derrida 1993: 11). For Derrida, traditional scholars are those who think in and endorse strict binarisms between the actual and the inactual, the living and the nonliving, ‘the opposition between what is present and what is not [. . .]. Beyond this opposition, there is, for the scholar, only the hypothesis of a school of thought, theatrical fiction, literature, and speculation’ (11). Fiction destroys the opposition between the actual and the inactual, and so Derrida

Dialectical images 79 will draw tools for the analysis of Marx from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In their mutual emphasis upon the idea of performativity or play as a form of work, Benjamin and Derrida are further conjoined. Throughout Specters of Marx, Derrida’s work is the performative transformation of the term scholar from the one described above to the ‘deconstructive’ scholar, the scholar who, while trapped within the binarisms of metaphysical thinking, nevertheless performatively resists that entrapment. This refigured scholar, the Derridean scholar who seeks to escape metaphysical thinking, while knowing that this is not ‘possible’, is wilfully perverse, performing acts of fetishism as a means of radicalizing what political action can be; he is engaged in the activity that Derrida calls the perverformative. Horatio appears to be Derrida’s paradigm for the scholar who is transformed: at the beginning of Hamlet, Horatio is the sceptic, the educated man whose vision is limited to that which can be understood by his philosophical training, while by the end of the play he becomes the figure who will be the storyteller, the transmitter of Hamlet’s tale. For both Benjamin and Derrida, Hamlet is a crucial text because, while it is concerned with mourning and futurity, it is a play that avoids the trap of metaphysics and teleological thinking. For Derrida, Hamlet provides the key text that sustains his discussion, and Specters of Marx is as much an analysis of Hamlet as it is a reading of Marx’s ghosts. Meanwhile, for Benjamin, Hamlet is what the German Trauerspiel aspired to be but never was, specifically because Hamlet never succumbs to the yearning for transcendence that the Trauerspiel yielded to in its radiation towards the allegory of allegories: Golgotha. Derrida’s analysis of the political content of Hamlet draws upon the orientation towards futurity that is innervated by that irredeemable trace of death. Hamlet’s temporality is ‘out of joint’, lacking, in Derrida’s estimation, self-presence, stained by the presence of the ghost of King Hamlet. This is not a ‘dialectical disjunction, but a time without certain joining or determinable conjunction. [. . .] [T]ime is disarticulated’ (Derrida 1993: 18). It is, in other words, a performance of différance as a saturation of the present with the non-present. What never arrives in Hamlet is the dike¯ so central to the resolution of Greek tragedy. Instead, dike¯ is a promised justice that is always yet to arrive. Hamlet may be read as a play performing the impossible yet unavoidable necessity of finding some truly just, ethical relation to the other, a relation beyond all concept of relationality. The ‘instant of the just decision [. . .] must rend time and defy dialectics’ (Derrida 1990: 967) because, in Derrida’s terminology, dialectics appears to be wedded to a teleology that is inseparable from a temporal experience. But we can perhaps salvage a connection between Derridean dike¯ and dialectics through the figure of the dialectical image, which, as we have seen, Benjamin describes as an arrest of temporality. In fact, the dialectic at a standstill, the fixed moment of the arrested gesture of the epic theatre, seems very much to predate Derrida’s moment of the experience of the absence of justice in the space of a decision. The just decision, the rending of time, describes the


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lightning flash of the dialectic at a standstill, the moment of the gestus and the Verfremdung.

‘Marx – das Unheimliche’ Hamlet’s ‘out of joint’ time is a disjunction within temporality itself, a disruption or violence to which the temporal has been subjected. The relevance of this ‘out of joint’ temporality for us today lies in the effects of industrialization upon the human experience of time and temporality, and the new possibilities for politicization that this out-of-jointedness provides for us, as Benjamin demonstrates in the Passagen-Werk. Derrida relates out-of-jointedness to the Freudian experience of the Unheimliche, arguing that the concept of spectrality is a universalizing of the Unheimliche. ‘The subtitle of this address could thus have been: “Marx – das Unheimliche” ’ (Derrida 1993: 174). New technologies, it seems, have made human social reality a strange texture of the Unheimliche, and yet Derrida’s intervention demonstrates that this universalizing of uncanniness means as little now as it did in Freud’s formulation (or, for that matter, in Brecht’s). Needed is the intervention of an other, who unheimlichs the Unheimliche for those who experience it, who distances us however momentarily from the experience of distance in which we are enmeshed. In the previous chapter, I argued for the conjunction of Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt with Freud’s theory of the Unheimliche. Thus Specters of Marx may, I suggest, be understood as a single Verfremdungseffekt, working upon both the figure of Marx, and upon the political landscape of late capitalist technology, to demonstrate the inherent theatrical performativity of social life. Derrida describes a modern world in which the market is a space of performance. The central play is the commodity, which ‘plays actor and character at the same time’ (Derrida 1993: 150). It is a figure without ground. In the Passagen-Werk Benjamin places special emphasis on the mutant temporality of the commodity, and the unheimliche spectrality of the commodity fetish is another point of conjunction between Benjamin and Derrida. For Derrida, Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism constitutes the deconstructive strain in Marx’s thought, one that struggles to escape from Marx’s metaphysical thinking. Both Derrida and Benjamin see an emancipatory promise embodied in the form of the commodity. For Derrida, the fetish is a paradoxical ‘sensuous non-sensuous’ (146), a performativity akin to a promise or perlocutionary speech act. As reification, the commodity mirrors back at men not themselves, or their real relations, but rather ghostimages of themselves: the commodity is a spectre, both real and not real, future-oriented, containing a messianic kernel. As a result, Derrida claims, man is ‘the most “unheimlich” of all ghosts [. . .] . The most familiar becomes the most disquieting’ (144). In Derrida’s reading, the ground or pre-existing use-value of a commodity is an ontologically inflected myth, and there is no political usefulness in nostalgia for the commodity’s non-

Dialectical images 81 existing origin or ground. Instead, the ideological fabric of reification, the realm of the commodity-as-promise, bears some relationship to the medium of media communications, a medium itself ‘neither living nor dead, present nor absent: it spectralizes. It does not belong to ontology, to the discourse on the Being of beings, or to the essence of life or death. It requires, then, what we call, to save time and space rather than just to make up a word, hauntology’ (51). One of the crucial and potentially invaluable effects of this hauntological space of spectrality is that, as a space that takes the form of a promise, it is also, in Derrida’s terms, the form of an act. In Specters of Marx, the form of the act finds special resonance in the concept of the conjuration. Where Derrida perhaps comes closest to a Benjaminian analysis in Specters of Marx is in his allusions to the current state of media technology as a possible (non)space for rethinking the structure of work and the ontological status of events themselves in terms that are deconstructive. At stake is the deployment of tekhne¯, of techno-science or tele-technology. It obliges us more than ever to think the virtualization of space and time, the possibility of virtual events whose movement and speed prohibit us more than ever [. . .] from opposing presence to its representation, ‘real time’ to ‘deferred time,’ effectively to its simulacrum, the living to the nonliving, in short, the living to the living-dead of its ghosts. It obliges us to think, from there, another space for democracy. (Derrida 1993: 169) Technology manifests the possibility for the escape from metaphysics into history. Like the tension in the dialectic at a standstill, late capitalism’s hyperspeed technological advances have manufactured a mythic space that is the potential location for the production of an historical consciousness. Technology may open new avenues for political intervention, but these avenues do not appear by themselves. Derrida performs a conjuration to his audience to think deconstructively about technological changes, and how new technology can be put to productive ends. ‘The very concept of the event’ (79) is transformed in the spectral deployment of technologies and power that also ‘conditions and endangers any democracy’ (54). That Derrida specifically addresses the hopeful possibilities that he sees lying latent in technologies of communication serving, at present, the most globallyhomogenizing of hegemonic market forces, makes of his conjuration a major challenge. And yet Derrida also demonstrates, I think, that nostalgia in the face of tele-technology, a longing for the effacement of these industrial innovations, is a metaphysical investment in a lost object which was never ours to lose in the first place. What Derrida’s book requires of us is that we see the messianic kernel nestled at the heart of the order of capitalism itself, without succumbing to the ideological delusion that capitalism per se as it exists now constitutes democracy in any way. Derrida thus enacts a gesture of faith in the


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possibilities of mass culture and technology. Derrida’s invocation is a most painful conjuration to respond to, a shocking Verfremdungseffekt, and yet it is also most ‘faithful’ (if such a word can truly be applied to any of Derrida’s faithful/unfaithful acts of interpretative violence) to the spectre of Marx that Derrida makes manifest for us. This particular ghost of Marx, the one who aims to locate the seed of affirmative change in the possibilities deployed by industrialization, is also made manifest in Benjamin’s Passagen-Werk, and in Brecht’s epic theatre, which finds the fuel for its innovation of form in the technology of new media, in film, photography, montage, the assembly line and mechanical reproduction. In his endorsing of a performativity, a theatricality that resists metaphysical thinking and that draws its inspiration from innovative mass-media technology, Derrida is at his most Brechtian.


Brecht and myth

The structuralist activity The shift in Roland Barthes’s thought from a science of literary criticism to an erotics of literature is well-known and well-documented. Jean-Michel Rabaté has characterized the change in Barthes’s attitude as a move from a demystifier and systematic structuralist to an advocate of personal ecstasies, in other words from a ‘political and psychoanalytic’ policeman to a ‘radical hedonist’ (Rabaté 1997: 4). In this chapter I illustrate how Barthes manages to redeem Brecht throughout this transformation in Barthes’s thought. What concerns us here is the manner in which Brecht survives this shift in Barthes’s thinking, and what this survival means for our consideration of the contemporary usefulness of Brecht. In what follows I will pursue two main strategies for revitalizing or redeeming Brecht through a Barthean lens. One means will be through a consideration of the ‘poststructuralist’ Brecht that emerges both from Barthes’s work on Brecht in the 1970s, and from scattered references to Brecht in other essays by Barthes of the period. The other strategy I will follow will be to consider the ‘demystificatory’ Brecht in Barthes’s early work, and relate this body of thought to the work of Walter Benjamin on myth as a component of the dialectical image, as we examined in Chapter 2. While, at first glance, the early Barthes appears to be much more critical of myth than Benjamin and much more invested in an orthodox Enlightenment rationality, I will suggest that Barthes’s own ‘demystifying’ strategies are comparable to Benjamin’s work on mass culture of the nineteenth century, specifically through the unspoken but rhetorically prevalent libidinal investment in bourgeois myth that provokes Barthes’s demystifying essays. By annexing Barthes to Benjamin in this manner, I am endorsing the idea that Benjamin’s work is more palatable to the current critical scene than is early Barthes, and that some revitalization of Barthes is possible if he is considered through a Benjaminian lens. Finally, the question that this analysis begs is: does the transformed Brecht in Barthes’s late thought constitute a fundamentally different figure, or can we understand this Brecht to have been there all along? If Brecht, for Barthes, is one who works upon bourgeois language from within it, using its own terms, so to


Brecht and myth

speak, against it, to what degree is this Brechtian ‘seismology’ also a description of Barthes’s own work, even in the early Mythologies? The Brechtian seismology, I will suggest, is Barthes’s interpretation of the Verfremdungseffekt not as a demystifying tool of rational ideology critique, but an amorous manipulation of bourgeois signifiers from within, a manipulation and production of historical consciousness out of mythic thinking. The central essay ‘The Structuralist Activity’, coming in 1963, after Barthes’s ‘mythological’ period proper, situates Brecht in relation to Barthes’s overall approach, loosely deemed as ‘structuralist’. What is singular about this essay in its approach to structuralism is the term activity. The concept of ‘structure’ is, Barthes argues, already an overused and shopworn word, too easily employed by any number of discourses for varying ends and, as a result, the word means largely what one wants it to mean. Barthes stresses here that structuralism is not a school, but rather an activity (Barthes 1963b: 214), and moreover, it is an activity that is as open to artists as to critics. The structuralist activity is the creation of a simulacrum of an object, which renders a previously unintelligible aspect of the object apparent. Structuralism is a form of mimesis from this perspective, but a mimesis based on criteria of functionality, ‘on the analogy of functions (what Lévi-Strauss calls homology)’ (215). Something is added in this process, something generated through the application of technique, and thus the active process is specifically highlighted by Barthes as the essence of structuralism itself: ‘it is, so to speak, the way that makes the work’ (216). This application of human reason in the construction of a simulacrum indicates that, while Barthes is not here characterizing structuralism as a demystifying activity in a reductive sense, he nevertheless sees the structuralist activity as revelatory. Revelation here does not mean an unveiling, but a production of truth out of activity. The structuralist activity begins by taking objects of study and dissecting them down into the smallest possible units one can manage, which can be determined at the point when these units are seen to hold no meaning intrinsic to themselves but to exist only in relations of difference with other units, as with Saussure’s phonemes. The structuralist activity then articulates associations, similarities and differences, between these minimal units. At all times, this approach is focused not upon what its object of study means, but rather with how it means. Structuralist activity’s emphasis is purely functional; ‘it highlights the strictly human process by which men give meaning to things’ (Barthes 1963b: 218). The structuralist perception of human society is a resolutely modern one: nothing human is ‘natural’ in the sense of being a given, or of being self-evident. Everything signifies, in the structuralist universe: ‘nature has changed, has become social [. . .]. But confronted with this social nature, which is quite simply culture, structural man [. . .] listens for the natural in culture, and constantly perceives in it not so much stable, finite, “true” meanings as the shudder of an enormous machine which is humanity tirelessly undertaking to create meaning,

Brecht and myth 85 without which it would no longer be human’ (218–19). The structuralist activity is thus an action of estrangement (what is translated in Barthes as distancing) which is also an open questioning of the world. Barthes is careful to emphasize that the structuralist activity above all avoids making positive statements of its own. Structuralist literature ‘is both intelligible and interrogating, speaking and silent, engaged in the world by the course of the meaning which it remakes with the world, but disengaged from the contingent meanings which the world elaborates’ (219). Thus the form of the structuralist estrangement is, I would suggest, a reshaping of the forms of the world such that they are opened to reveal an incompleteness in their shapes, which manifests itself to us as a questioning. The most cogent criticism that has been levelled at structuralism is formalism and ahistoricism, of being detached from the world. It is in response to this condemnation that Barthes invokes Brecht, and it is for this reason that I think we should see this entire essay as a description of Brecht’s work, as Barthes perceives it. There is no doubt that the structuralist activity is concerned with forms, but Barthes rejects the idea that this is a depoliticizing activity: ‘Was it really his Marxism that was revolutionary in Brecht? Was it not rather the decision to link to Marxism, in the theater, the placing of a spotlight or the deliberate fraying of a costume? Structuralism does not withdraw history from the world: it seeks to link to history not only certain contents (this has been done a thousand times) but also certain forms, not only the material but also the intelligible, not only the ideological but also the esthetic’ (Barthes 1963b: 219). The world, because it is a social world, is not shapeless, but contains forms, the ‘structures’ that critics of structuralism have often condemned as ahistorical. This is a central Brechtian thought, in as much as it is reflective of the theory of gestus.

The ruins of costume Barthes’s strategic reference to Brecht at the end of the above essay not only highlights the political credence he wants to retain for structuralism (a credence structuralism seemed doomed to lose in the wake of, on the one hand, Derrida, and on the other, May ’68); it also draws our attention to the 1955 essay, ‘The Diseases of Costume’, wherein Brecht’s ‘deliberate fraying of costume’ is given a more concentrated analysis in an essay that Barthes designates as an attempt at an ‘ethic of costume’ (Barthes 1955a: 41). This ethic is to be judged according to the historicity that resides in every work of art: Every dramatic work can and must reduce itself to what Brecht calls its social gestus, the external, material expression of the social conflicts to which it bears witness. It is obviously up to the director to discover and to manifest this gestus, this particular historical scheme which is at the core of every spectacle: at his disposal, in order to do so, he has the


Brecht and myth ensemble of theatrical techniques: the actor’s performance, movement, and location, the setting, lighting, and, specifically, costume. (Barthes 1955a: 41)

In Brechtian theatre, costumes function as a writing: they are intelligible, they signify. Moreover, it appears that what they primarily signify is ‘history’. We can relate this analysis to certain of Brecht’s own observations, such as the Brechtian method for the staging of the classics. Barthes’s comments on costume seem to echo Brecht’s thoughts directly. Barthes stresses that costumes must neither be an archaeology, a slavishly accurate historical recreation, nor a form of illustration or dramatic painting. The point of this specification is that the costume, like all aspects of the mise en scène, must have a sense of the materiality of its own substance. We are reminded of Brecht’s own observations that, in his productions, props must always be rigorously realistic and concrete: ‘These small objects which [stage designer Caspar Neher] puts in the actors’ hands – weapons, instruments, purses, cutlery, etc. – are always authentic and will pass the closest inspection’ (Brecht 1964: 231). Barthes suggests that they must not seem to signify towards or gesture towards something other than their own materiality. Yet we seem here to have a paradox in the making, because on the one hand the elements of the Brechtian mise en scène must function in a manner that is intelligible, while on the other they appear to be subject to a radical mimesis. How are we to reconcile the fact that, as Barthes puts it, costume must ‘be an argument’, the ‘cognitive cell’ of which ‘is the sign’, while at the same time ‘nothing must be hidden’ (Barthes 1955a: 46). Key here must be a consideration of how Barthes wants the sign to signify. History is discernible in substances, Barthes says, and it is as a substance that the costume must signify. As an argument, costume must have ‘a powerful semantic value’, being not only there to be seen, but ‘to be read’ (Barthes 1955a: 46). Costume is a form of communication, and this status ‘excludes naturalism’ (48). The subtle but crucial difference is explained with reference to the signification of poverty on stage. It is not enough to simply put on stage a threadbare piece of clothing. This will signify nothing. ‘To manifest itself, the frayed condition must be raised to a higher power (this is the very definition of what in the cinema is called the photogenic), provided with a kind of epic dimension: the good sign must always be the fruit of a choice and an accentuation’ (48). Brechtian costume, then, walks a very fine line, embodying a powerful form of realism, although ‘realism’ here has been given a Brechtian inflection. ‘In short, the good costume must be material enough to signify and transparent enough not to turn its signs into parasites. The costume is a kind of writing and has the ambiguity of writing, which is an instrument in the service of a purpose which transcends it’ (49). ‘It must be both material and transparent: we must see it but not look at it’ (50). Barthes is unapologetic here for his desire to have his cake and eat it too, and hints in the conclusion of the essay

Brecht and myth 87 that it is ‘in the very accentuation of its materiality’ (50) that Brechtian theatre seems to overcome this ‘apparent paradox’ (50). Brechtian costume comes to signify a meaning that is inseparable from its materiality. One of Barthes’s untranslated essays on Brecht’s theatre further illuminates the discourse of costume and substances with which we have engaged. In an remarkable analysis of photographs taken of the Berliner Ensemble’s Paris production of Mother Courage and her Children, Barthes emphasizes that the use of colour in Brecht is not symbolic but substantial. In fact, in Brecht’s plays, ‘it is difficult to name the colour’ (translation mine, Barthes 1960a: 892) and thus colour is used to draw attention to substantiality. Yet once more, this materiality must not be mistaken for a mimesis. The Brechtian mise en scène signifies and must be seen to signify: The clothing of the Brechtian character is not a literal wear, and neither is it a symbol of wear; it is like the language that wear speaks to man, the memories, the miseries and the struggles that it reminds him of; fully idea and nevertheless fully material, the Brechtian substance is truly dialectical; it consents to exist only as named, not by human speech, but by the human act; it signifies that man makes the world and that the world resists him. (translation mine, Barthes 1960a: 892) Wear, as it is signified on Brecht’s stage, is neither literal nor symbolic. The wear signified by Brechtian clothing is an analogy of the language which wear speaks to the human, a language the meaning of which is embodied in its materiality. It is a language not so much of speech as act, since it signifies the produced, created nature of the human world. Thus its meaning is history. It is by emphasizing a dialectical quality for this substance that Barthes seems to resolve the paradox of his articulations. As a language, Brechtian clothing can enjoy the double status of being both altogether idea and absolutely material, like history itself. Yet this paradoxical status must not be separated from what is, ostensibly, being signified here, and in fact Barthes’s argument is clearly that the Brechtian sign seems to unite the signifier and the signified in a utopian plenitude. Wear and degradation are the ‘argument’ communicated by Brechtian clothing: ‘erosion, defined as a substance, has the effect of an argument and a history: Mother Courage is a chronicle, that is to say a term of duration; war wears down, deforms, cold and misery diminish humans’ (translation mine, Barthes 1960a: 893). The clothing both signifies, and is, this substance, which is at the same time an intelligible argument. Barthes’s rhetoric seems to gesture towards an overall sense of decay as the tangible substance of Brechtian theatre. Nevertheless, Barthes amends this generalization with the playful suggestion that there is something seemingly ‘behind’ this substance, ‘a figure’ (893) that peeks out from behind the clothing, the occasional glimpse of fragile human flesh: ‘This figure, which


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is the real Brechtian figure, is the vulnerability of the human body. [. . .] The most offered meaning becomes the most hidden meaning: man is kind’ (893–4). Brecht’s theatre is thus a theatre of human mortality and decay, signified through the very self-reflexive theatricality of this theatre, which, in presenting itself as a theatre of signification, seems to highlight the homology between signification itself and decay or mortality. Language itself, I think, is meant to be understood here as decay, or alternately as a figure of mortification, and mortality as the Brechtian substance par excellence, a tangibility that trespasses the borderline between the intelligible and the sensible, the figurative and the literal. Some comparison of the status of the Brechtian costume to the figures of ruin and allegory in Benjamin’s Trauerspiel is helpful here. We can, perhaps, understand Barthes’s observations as a figuring of Brecht’s theatre into a face of allegory itself. If the costumes are not symbols, and Barthes insists they are not, then it is perhaps better to attribute to them the status of allegory. The similarities between Barthes and Benjamin become most apparent in Barthes’s essay, ‘Kafka’s Answer’, in which Kafka’s work, as interpreted by Marthe Robert, stands as a paradigm for literature itself as a political activity. Kafka’s work bridges the gap between ‘political realism and art-forart’s-sake, between an ethic of commitment and an esthetic purism’ (Barthes 1960b: 133), not through its content, but through its technique. The ‘truth’ of Kafka’s work is not found in its ‘meaning’, in its ‘concealed signified’ (135), but instead in its ‘significations’. The matter of Kafka’s significations are not symbols, not determined meanings, but, instead, allusions. Allusion holds a special function because of its openness, its indeterminacy: ‘It refers the fictive event to something besides itself, but to what? Allusion is a defective force, it undoes the analogy as soon as it has posited it’ (136). Barthes, after Marthe Robert, here echoes Benjamin’s description of Kafka’s parables as failed allegories. For Barthes, Kafka’s failed allusions are a form of committed literature. These allusions are, simultaneously, an accommodation to and resistance to the world, ‘an agreement with the world, a submission to ordinary language, but immediately afterwards, a reservation, a doubt’ (136). Literature, following the paradigm of Kafka, is a mimesis of the world, which is also not a mimesis, because it is, as allusion, structurally incomplete. That it can be a mimesis is because the world itself is also incomplete: ‘It is because the world is not finished that literature is possible’ (137). Thus, to create committed literature is to create a failed commitment, to produce an artwork that is, in its technique itself, a ruin, what in Benjamin we have seen figured as a rhetorical object of decay, as something mortal.

Brechtian photography Barthes’s discussion of decay emerges from a discussion of the photographic image and its relation to Brecht’s theatre work. This emphasis on the power

Brecht and myth 89 and importance of the image will situate work on Brecht in the space of Barthes’s larger oeuvre, which is deeply invested in the power of photography. It is clear that Barthes sees an intimate relationship between Brecht’s theatre and the technique of photography; they are so much of a kind that photography, it seems, realizes in its form elements of Brecht’s theatre which, while present on stage, are perhaps not perceptible without the aid of the photograph. Paradoxically, there are thus aspects of Brecht’s theatre that appear to reside not so much on stage but in photographs of stage production. For Barthes, they are no less vital aspects of Brecht’s theatre. The Mother Courage photos are the rendering intelligible of details and thus the photographs too are a form of critical argument: ‘that is to say they make one see details which while they do not necessarily appear in the movement of the performance nevertheless contribute to its truth, and it’s in this that they are truly crucial: they do not illustrate, they help in discovering the deep intention of the work’ (translation mine, Barthes 1960a: 889). The photography freezes and reveals relations between characters; ‘they liberate the atoms of the performance’, in the process ‘releasing in the performance an infinity of individual performances’ (889). Photographing Brecht’s productions serves, ironically, as a structuralist activity worked upon an artform that is itself a structuralist activity. We see spectacles within spectacles within spectacles, with the overall purpose of demonstrating the profoundly discontinuous form of Brecht’s theatre. If Brecht’s theatre is a mimesis of human functions and relations, then the photographs emphasize critically those fragmented significations, freezing gestic moments when those relations are encapsulated on stage. Barthes’s reading of the Brechtian stage picture posits that the Brechtian image speaks, and that it speaks the fundamentally manufactured status of human reality, which is for Barthes analogous to stating that human reality is a fundamentally signifying reality. This analogy is crucial for understanding how Barthes sublates Brecht’s work under the structuralist activity. When some aspect of reality is seen to signify, it can no longer be taken as a given, as natural. The Brechtian stage picture communicates the idea that human beings are artificially human, in as much as they are created, and moreover created out of a nothingness. In his analysis of Pic’s photographs of the Paris production of Mother Courage, Barthes draws particular attention to the function of the background of the stage, which, in all the images, is a darkness against which the characters and the stage properties stand out in startling contrast. Barthes calls this background ‘le fond insignifiant’ (Barthes 1960a: 891). Brecht, as a realist, uses the ‘unsignifying background’ for a fundamentally different purpose than we might find in a symbolic or aestheticized theatre. Once more Brecht’s dramaturgy is expressible only through an apparent contradiction: If one thinks of painting, one finds there no contradiction: the background is the canvas of the painting; it is the image of nothingness from


Brecht and myth which will surge the real: the background must render visible this birth, and it is for this reason that it must signify nothing by itself; it is nothing but a visible departure assigned to the significations. (translation mine, Barthes 1960a: 891)

The background of the stage is, in Brecht, an emptiness, a non-signifying space that gives birth to signification. Still we are in the space of a paradox: a birth here seems to be estranged from its commonplace signification. Birth here is a space of nothing out of which surges reality. This is for Barthes a realism, because it realizes dramaturgically the createdness of the Brechtian universe: ‘the Brechtian population becomes fully, that is to say artificially, human, because it is not drawn from any simulacrum of nature [. . .]. [M]en, the objects they create and use, the dialectic that unites them together, this is the only creation; never from nature, never from a pre-existing horizon within which man would be but an inhabitant: Brechtian man is born from nothing, and this birth must be visible’ (891). This, Barthes emphasizes, is the difference between naturalism and realism: naturalism shows objects embedded in their environment, while Brechtian realism shows things as created and as visibly detached from their anterior nothingness. Of particular note is the manner in which Barthes has estranged birth itself: it is now no longer natural but social, no longer a question of the maternal but of the symbolic, of the signifier. This estranging of the maternal will return throughout this chapter, since it is a pressing matter for Barthes in his consideration of Brecht. I think we can translate Barthes’s observations about the imagery of birth and nothingness into the rhetoric of signification that he also employs. That it is a ‘fond insignifiant’ strikes me as the most crucial element of Barthes’s argument here. Brecht’s dramaturgy, staging as it does a creation ex nihilo as the ‘background’ of signification, bears some consideration from the Lacanian perspective on the signifier as such. In a discussion, in Seminar VII, of sublimation, artistic creation and the relation of these to the mythic body of the mother (which Lacan characterizes as the primordial Thing or das Ding, ‘that which in the real, the primordial real, I will say, suffers from the signifier’ [Lacan 1986: 118]), Lacan lingers over the relationship of signifiers to nothingness. Lacan is very interested in the materiality of signifiers: ‘the signifier as such is constituted of oppositional structures whose emergence profoundly modifies the human world. It is furthermore the case that those signifiers in their individuality are fashioned by man, and probably more by his hands than by his spirit’ (119). In illustration of this, Lacan employs Heidegger’s example of the vase, because ‘it is perhaps the most primordial feature of human industry’ (119). The vase signifies, and as the first of such signifiers fashioned by human hand, it is in its signifying essence a signifier of nothing other than of signifying as such or, in other words, of no particular signified. [. . .] This nothing in particular

Brecht and myth 91 that characterizes it in its signifying function is that which in its incarnated form characterizes the vase as such. It creates the void and thereby introduces the possibility of filling it. Emptiness and fullness are introduced into a world that by itself knows not of them. It is on the basis of this fabricated signifier, this vase, that emptiness and fullness as such enter the world, neither more nor less, and with the same sense. (Lacan 1986: 120) Signification as such introduces the very possibility of nothingness into the world. Thus a vase ‘is an object made to represent the existence of the emptiness at the center of the real that is called the Thing, this emptiness as represented in the representation presents itself as a nihil, as nothing’ (121). Here Lacan, in an approach resembling that of Barthes above, weaves a discourse around the paradoxical means by which signification as such manages to signify nothingness, and in so doing emphasizes its own status as created materiality. In a further revealing parallel with Barthes, Lacan employs the example of the vase ‘to point to the fallacious opposition between what is called concrete and what is called figurative’ (120). The vase demonstrates that it is both at the same time. For Lacan, there is no fundamental difference between the vase as signifier and language as signification. For psychoanalysis, this materiality of language is of primary importance, since the matter of speech is the elementary psychoanalytic substance.

Brecht and myth It is through the techniques of estrangement that Brecht’s theatre performs for us the human world as a signifying world and an historical world. In the 1963 interview, ‘Literature and Signification’, Barthes further clarifies his vision of Brecht’s work: this theater signifies so powerfully and preaches so little; the role of the system here is not to transmit a positive message (this is not a theater of the signified) but to show that the world is an object to be deciphered (this is a theater of the signifier). Brecht thus elaborates the tautological status of all literature, which is a message of the signification of things and not of their meaning (by signification I refer to the process which produces the meaning and not this meaning itself). (Barthes 1963a: 263) There is a message conveyed by the form of all literature, the message that is signification. What sets Brecht’s work apart is that he suspends a final signified as an arrested gesture, maintaining the time of the not-yet. It is through these subtle methods of demystification that Brecht breaks down and destroys myth, guiding us away from the metaphysical and towards the materiality of the detail: ‘There is with Brecht a morality of the detail; it is a


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defense against the metaphysical, a subversion of the myth of the infinite and the ineffable, that is to say the unsignifying’ (translation mine, Barthes 1960a: 899). At the same time and in an analogous manner, the essay on Pic’s photos demonstrates the potential power of the photographic image to demystify reality, and this incidental observation in the context of Mother Courage connects the analysis of Brecht’s play to Barthes’s work in the earlier Mythologies. It is certainly relevant that the only indication Barthes gives of having read Walter Benjamin’s work on Brecht comes in the very essay on Mother Courage under discussion: ‘Walter Benjamin has well analyzed the range of the citational gesture in the Epic theatre’ (899). Barthes here borrows Benjamin’s reading of epic theatre and the dialectic at a standstill. While I am interested in the direct influence some of Benjamin’s ideas have had on Barthes here, specifically the idea that the Brechtian gestus (and by extension the tableau) ‘is constructed to rupture coherence, an annoyance, to shock, to distance’ (899), I want to take a slightly less direct tack and compare the Benjaminian and the Barthean theories of myth for their analogous Brechtian strategies. At the heart of this analysis is the problem of how Barthes envisions myth, which at times appears to be little more than the signifying network of bourgeois false consciousness, and therefore not much more than a lie to be demystified through the revelation of the ‘truth’. Yet Barthes will himself counter this understanding of ideological thinking or ‘myth’: ‘Myth hides nothing and flaunts nothing: it distorts; myth is neither a lie nor a confession: it is an inflexion’ (Barthes 1957d: 140). The activity of demythologization nevertheless always risks replacing one myth with another. Alternately, I think there are some useful tools in the Benjaminian concept of myth that may be employed in a redemption of Barthes’s technique. If Benjamin’s interpretation of mass culture is largely restricted to the nineteenth-century mode of capitalist production, his logical successor in the analysis of twentieth-century capitalism may well be Roland Barthes. Myth and image are linked both in Benjamin’s thought and in Barthes’s. Barthes’s strategy of demystification is to take myth-images and to work upon them with an operation of reason and logic, yet this reasoned operation, this unravelling of the knots of mythic thought, is executed through the use of a distinctly aesthetic form. Barthes himself states that the structuralist approach adds something to the object under analysis. In Mythologies, Barthes, I believe, adds history to myth. This addition, while it at times appears to be a demystification, may instead be interpreted as a transformative production of myth. In other words, Barthes’s approach, overtly or not, is complicit with his object of study. His anecdotal form plays an active part in this action of historicization. I would even go so far as to suggest that these small, self-contained essays function as allegories. An analysis of a mythology in which Brecht plays a strategic role will illustrate my point. One of the mythologies in which Brecht is directly referenced and upon which he asserts an influence is, appropriately, directly concerned with the

Brecht and myth 93 power of photography. This essay, ‘Photos-chocs’, follows a logic of the image that is intimately related to the analysis of Pic’s Mother Courage photos. ‘Photos-chocs’ begins and ends with reference to Brecht and photography, although the overt topic of the essay is a display of photographs of atrocities, such as the bodies of executed communists. Barthes insists from the beginning of the essay that no such photo will shock or horrify us in and of itself. It will be our position as witnesses to the image that generates a response that is not purely intellectualized but also visceral. Interestingly, Barthes hints that this visceral shock is essential to an intellectual action of judgement. In this manner Barthes broaches the topic of the Brechtian positioning of the audience to judge the representation. Of great note here is the seeming definition of judgement as an action residing in a space between emotional shock and intellectual cognition. That Barthes sees this as Brechtian reveals that he does not succumb to the derisive stereotyping of Brecht’s theatre as a cold, uninvolved form of art. This visceral act of judgement will only be made possible by a total absence of judgement from the representation itself. These shock-photos fail when they include within their frames some signification of horror, typically in the form of a spectator to the terrible event. ‘We are in each case dispossessed of our judgment: someone has shuddered for us, reflected for us, judged for us; the photographer has left us nothing – except a simple right of intellectual acquiescence’ (Barthes 1957c: 71). These failed shock-photos reside in a neither–nor space. They are artificial in their composition without being artful, somewhere between either a blunt literalness of the image and an artfully figurative or rhetorical image. Barthes here is employing literality in a subtle and canny way; it relates to the analysis of costume in Brechtian theatre. News Agency photos manage to shock when they present us with a stubborn literality, such as the blunt fact of murdered revolutionaries or a raised police truncheon: these images astonish because at first glance they seem alien, almost calm, inferior to their legend: they are visually diminished, dispossessed of that numen which the painters would not have failed to add to them (and rightly, since they were making paintings). Deprived both of its song and its explanation, the naturalness of these images compels the spectator to a violent interrogation, commits him to a judgment which he must elaborate himself without being encumbered by the demiurgic presence of the photographer. Here we are indeed concerned with that critical catharsis Brecht demands, and no longer, as in the case of painting, with an emotive purgation: thus perhaps we can rediscover the two categories of the epic and the tragic. The literal photograph introduces us to the scandal of horror, not to horror itself. (Barthes 1957c: 73) This paradoxical operation of provocation is key to Barthes’s interpretation of Brechtian theatre. That the literal photo, the bare, blunt, unembellished,


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concretely material image of the human body in decay, introduces something new, precisely the scandal of horror – the idea that horror is to be reviled and stopped – must be understood as a double action. There is something missing from the photograph, an absence, which our judgement leaps to fill, yet at the same time there is something there, in the photo, which we are being offered. There is, I think, something of the form of allegory being attributed to these ‘literal’ photos, in the same manner that Benjamin attributes a materiality, a mortality, to allegory, as a ‘ruined’ figure. The human body is a ruin, we should recall, the figure of mortality, the form of allegory, asserting a concrete materiality at the same time as it gestures towards an absence. It must not be considered a coincidence that the subject of these shock photos tends to be human corpses. The ‘scandal of horror’ is generated dialectically out of the relation of spectator to image, and thus cannot be said to ‘reside’ either in the photograph or in the viewer, but in the relation between them. The locus of freedom is intersubjective. However, to contextualize how a seemingly unadorned and ‘calm’ image manages to generate a shock and provocation to critical catharsis, to activity and praxis, this ‘literal’ photograph should be considered in relation to the concept of the numen to which Barthes refers.

Numen and punctum The numen is mentioned in the essay in relation to some failed shock photos that attempt to capture a frozen action, such as ‘the leap of a soccer player’ (Barthes 1957c: 72). These photos fail because they are too deliberate and obvious, too carefully crafted, to genuinely disturb or shock us. The photograph has tried too hard to affect us, is too direct in its intention and thus addresses us, speaks to us, ‘the product of an encumbering will to language’, and thus ‘reduced to the state of pure language, the photograph does not disorganize us’ (72). As an example of a frozen gesture that does disorganize us, Barthes describes examples of Empire painting in which Napoleon is captured in a frozen gesture on the battlefield. In such artworks painters have left movement the amplified sign of the unstable, what we might call the numen, the solemn shudder of a pose nonetheless impossible to fix in time; it is this motionless overvaluation of the ineffable – which will later, in the cinema, be called photogeny – which is the very site where art begins. (Barthes 1957c: 72–3) In this essay, Barthes states that the numen is a quality of painting, not photography. The impossibly frozen gesture, the rhetoricizing of the image, is part of the ‘truth of art’ that Barthes places at the other end of the spectrum from the ‘literal’ photograph that is so Brechtian. The problem with the feeble shock photos is that they are ‘too intentional for photography and

Brecht and myth 95 too exact for painting’ (73). If there is a dialectic between materiality and signification embodied in the Brechtian concrete image, there seems to be something comparable in the painting’s numen, in which temporality itself is (perhaps impossibly) figured in a frozen gesture. The numen seems especially Benjaminian, in its attempt to seize, like the dialectic at a standstill, the movement of history in a fixed form. This collision of diachrony and synchrony ‘disorganizes’ us and constitutes the shock that provokes us through a ‘disturbing challenge’. However, what seems finally to separate the numen from the Brechtian image is Barthes’s insightful separation of emotive purgation from critical catharsis (73). One is reminded here of the various means of translating katharsos – purgation, purification, clarification – as well as of the ambiguity inherent in Aristotle’s employment of the term, which never states clearly whether the katharsos is to take effect in the audience, or upon the stage. Barthes suggests, I think, that ‘critical catharsis’ encompasses a dialectical relationship between the spectator and the spectacle. If, in this essay, the numen is historicized and distanced from a Brechtian art form, in the mythology ‘At the Music Hall’ and in the essay on Pic’s photos for Mother Courage we encounter another numen, hinging upon modernization, which is more Brechtian. In the music hall, the gestures are presented as pure spectacle, disengaged ‘from any cause’, resembling ‘the hero’s caught gesture, what I have elsewhere called the numen’ (Barthes 1957c: 123), a suspension of duration. Objects and gestures are ‘cleansed of time (i.e., of both a pathos and a logos), gleam like pure artifices, which cannot fail to suggest the cold precision of Baudelaire’s visions of hashish, of a world absolutely purified of all spirituality because it has, precisely, renounced time’ (123). Reminiscent once more of Benjamin’s imagery, the gesture here is fashioned as a completely secularized form. Although Barthes actually separates, in this essay, this suspended gesture from epic ‘reconsideration’, the fact that Barthes then elaborates upon the music hall gesture as ‘almost always constituted by the confrontation of a gesture and a substance’ (124) should alert us to the similarities between this description and Barthes’s observations on Brecht and costume. The music hall is a space of substances, and this substantiality nevertheless signifies that which it is: ‘Now the gesture and its object are the natural raw materials of a value which has had access to the stage only in the music hall (and the circus), and this value is Work’ (124). Despite the affectionate tones with which Barthes describes the spectacle of the acrobats, and the overtly libidinal investment which the text displays for its object of study, the world of the music hall is a mythological space unique to the urban, industrial space of the city, a dream world where ‘work, especially when mythified, makes matter euphoric because it seems to think matter in a spectacular fashion’ (126). Myth that is wedded now not so much to bourgeois ideology as to industrialization and the mystical secret of the commodity form, the acrobat’s gestures are a form of labour embodying a spectrality. As matter that has been


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thought and spectacularized, violating the boundary between the material and the ideal, Barthes’s fashioning of mythified labour is vaguely analogous to Derrida’s in Specters of Marx. Here we have a vision of myth that is not demystifiable as a ‘lie’ or ‘deception’. Rather, myth is itself a vicissitude of human productivity and a product of industrialization. Like Brechtian costume (Barthes 1960a: 892), the acrobat’s gestures are both idea and material. One is also reminded of Brecht’s own comments upon the acting style in his theatre: ‘Whatever the actor offers in the way of gesture, verse structure, etc., must be finished and bear the hallmarks of something rehearsed and rounded-off. The impression to be given is one of ease, which is at the same time one of difficulties overcome. The actor must make it possible for the audience to take his own art, his mastery of technique, lightly too. [. . .] He does not conceal the fact that he has rehearsed it, any more than an acrobat conceals his training’ (Brecht 1964: 139). ‘At the Music Hall’, reminding us of ‘The World of Wrestling’, is perhaps the most Benjaminian of Barthes’s mythologies, because it seems to posit some utopian, redemptive potential in the mythic gestures of the acrobats. Moreover the tenor of the essay is not comparable to the vehemently anti-bourgeois ‘Poujadisme’ pieces, essays which are much more explicit in their efforts to demystify the paradoxes and hypocrisies of petty bourgeois ideology. The acrobats’ gestures are described in nearly the same terms as are Mother Courage’s when she is characterized as not being installed in metalanguage: Mother Courage is not equipped with what certain logicians have called meta-language, the language in which one speaks of a thing. Mother Courage talks in an objective language, her gestures are actions, uniquely destined to transform a situation, not to comment about it, to sing of it, or to justify it. Doubtless this object language becomes a meta-language when we produce it in a reproduced form (the theatre): here is the very centre of the Brechtian paradox. [. . .] Brecht, however, does not imitate passion, which is already theatricality in life, but action itself. (Barthes 1959: 52) This ‘reproduced form’ is no doubt to be related to the comment in ‘At the Music Hall’ that epic theatre is about the ‘reconsideration’ of gestures. While they always come to us mediated, in the form of a representation, Barthes insists that the gestures themselves (and here I think we must appreciate the playfulness of his comment, the irony inherent in his observation that the gestures ‘themselves’ are concrete and functional, as if they in fact have some independent existence anterior to the representation, as if action and character can be surgically severed from one another and held apart) are actions without theoretical superstructures or self-reflexivity. Finally, Brecht relates the numen directly to Mother Courage in one of the two essays analysing Pic’s photographs. This particular essay was published

Brecht and myth 97 in 1960, and thus its figuration of the numen may be taken as a revision of Barthes’s earlier thoughts in Mythologies. Following Benjamin, Barthes argues that the Brechtian tableau is not illustrative but narrative: as in narrative painting, it presents a suspended gesture, rendered virtually eternal in the most fragile and intense moment of signification (which one might call its numen, referring to the antique gesture through which the gods acquiesced or refused a destiny). (translation mine, Barthes 1960a: 899) The numen now comes to be associated with the distinctly Brechtian epic strategies of gestus and discontinuity, while at the same time retaining, through the very use of the term numen, the metaphysical connotations that Barthes indicates here. The numen is a strategic contribution to the Brechtian idea of the literarization of the theatrical image. The numen introduces temporality into the frozen image of the painting, and stasis and form into the temporal movement of theatre. The numen appears to be a collision of the mythic and the historical, the eternal and the secular, where the frozen image is saturated with intelligibility and signification. As the suspended gesture from antiquity through which deities either granted or refused a destiny, the numen also seems to be a frozen moment of possibility, perhaps of radical contingency where the future is open. From a Brechtian perspective, it is a moment when what the character does not do is contained and made present in what she does. Pic’s photos bring intelligibility to Brechtian details, and it is in these details that the numen is made intelligible. It is the detail that disrupts the continuity of the tableau, just as the tableau disrupts the continuity of the play as a whole. This momentary disruption of coherence functions to provoke or generate a broader signification that is all the more superficial for being triggered by visual details. Once more Barthes describes the paradoxes of the Brechtian signifying operation: The surface is not terse by comparison to a signified that remains at once very charged and very secret [. . .]. [A]ll the meanings are at the surface and the surfaces signify intensely: it’s the opposite of an allusive art. (translation mine, Barthes 1960a: 900) Brechtian signifying does not point us towards an absent signification. It does not partake of a rhetoric of absence or interiority or meaning ‘revealed’. The Brechtian substance radiates an intelligibility that overwhelmingly engages our intellect. Barthes’s separation here of Brechtian signification from a stereotypically psychoanalytic rhetoric of the unconscious as an offstage or ‘elsewhere’ space of truth is only apparently an anti-psychoanalytic reading of Brecht, one amended by the Lacanian commonplace that the unconscious is always located at the surface.


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Lacan’s discussion, in Seminar XI, of Hans Holbein’s 1533 painting, ‘The Ambassadors’, highlights a similar approach to visual signification, intelligibility, realism and the discontinuous intrusion of temporality into the frozen moment of stasis. ‘The Ambassadors’ presents us with the zenith of artistic mastery of geometrical reality, an artful ‘photographing’ of prosperity and accomplishment, and a rendering immortal of the two ambassadors who commissioned the portrait. In the proliferation of objects behind them, we see an accumulation of goods and items in an ostentatious display of vanitas, items whose use allows these two men to master the very globe itself, to map reality and to render it geometrically. The level of detail generates the absorbing, signifying surface that Barthes sees as a style distracting us from concerns with interiority. In ‘The Ambassadors’ we are given the impression that we ‘see it all’, that the surfaces appear to radiate intensely with signification in a fixed moment that is very much a poised tableau. Yet this realist representation is disrupted by the anamorphic image of the human skull smeared across the bottom of the painting. The use of anamorphosis and other optical effects (such as flies painted so realistically upon the surface of the painting that viewers are moved to swat them away) is Holbein’s characteristic trademark. However the skull is not only a ‘signature’ (Holbein meaning ‘hollow bone’), but an intervention into the visual rhetoric of mastery and immortality that dominates the painting. Like the numen, Holbein’s anamorphic skull is a confounding of the tableau’s stasis with the intrusion of temporality. For Lacan, the skull is undeniably phallic, painted to appear to jut out from the surface of the painting, an illusion encouraged by the shadow that the skull seems to cast across the canvas. While any picture is ‘a trap for the gaze’ (Lacan 1973: 89), what this painting adds through the inclusion of the smeared skull is ‘something symbolic of the function of the lack, of the appearance of the phallic ghost’ (88). We cannot perceive the skull for what it is while we stand directly in front of the painting, but only when we turn and begin to walk away, and then look back from an unaccustomed angle: ‘the secret of this picture is given at the moment when, moving slightly away, little by little, to the left, then turning around, we see what the magical floating object signifies. It reflects our own nothingness, in the figure of the death’s head. It is a use, therefore, of the geometral dimension of vision in order to capture the subject’ (92). The painting catches us in a trap, catches our desire, yet the skull frustrates that capture by reminding us of our own mortality, the intrusion of the secular, of decay and of the allegorical form of the skull into the smooth surface that is a trap for the imaginary, specular ego. As a figure of death, the skull is also a figure of the unconscious, of the ‘death drive’, here fashioned not as an elsewhere, an anteriority, or an underneath, but instead an extrusion from the surface. In a similar manner, the frozen moment of the numen may be understood to function as a making desperate of the eye by the gaze (discussed at the end of Chapter 1 in reference to expressionistic painting). However, having

Brecht and myth 99 introduced a formally psychoanalytic terminology, my analysis begs some consideration of the fetishization of the image in Barthes’s work. His emphasis upon details as disruptive focal points where meaning is knotted and from which the signification of the image as a whole emanates seems to ask us to see the numen, and by implication the strategies of epic theatre, as a form of tactical fetishization. The location of the fetish in the image is a specific strategy used by Barthes in Camera Lucida, a text from 1980 that helps us to bridge the work of the structuralist Barthes and the libidinal hedonist Barthes. In Camera Lucida Barthes defines two types of spectatorial investment in a visual image, and the opposition of these two forms of investment makes a tangible contribution to the discussion of the image we have pursued so far. Studium is the word Barthes uses to describe a general interest or enthusiasm, a taste for someone, a kind of general, enthusiastic commitment, of course, but without special acuity. [. . .] The second element will break (or punctuate) the studium. This time it is not I who seek it out (as I invest the field of the studium with my sovereign consciousness), it is this element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me. [. . .] This second element which will disturb the studium I shall therefore call punctum; for punctum is also: sting, speck, cut, little hole – and also a cast of the dice. (Barthes 1980: 26–7) The punctum is both an absence and a presence, a stain and a wound, and a throw of the dice, the intrusion of contingency. Liliane Weissberg relates the punctum to a fetishism: Like a fetish, this element – the shoe or dress of a person depicted – expresses and stands for the viewer’s desire and, metonymically, for his or her experience of the photograph itself. As a ‘wound’ (blessure), the punctum provides this experience through an injury that in itself can be fetishized – indeed, it resembles the prime object of a female fetishism. (Weissberg 1997: 109) Jean-Michel Rabaté suggests that the strategies of Camera Lucida are far from those in Barthes’s early analyses of photos: ‘Whereas in former essays on the image Barthes had emphasized the artificial nature of the medium and the ideological function it could serve’, in Camera Lucida photography ‘is defined as producing an image for a consciousness that essentially mourns an absent object or person rather than relishing its presence’ (Rabaté 1997: 3). However, Rabaté later acknowledges that the similarities between numen and the later punctum reveal that the distinction between early and later Barthes is more apparent than real (14). Moreover, Weissberg finds in the punctum a strategy that resonates with Benjamin’s readings of images in ‘A


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Short History of Photography’ (Weissberg 1997: 110). In fetishism in the field of the image we find a theory that not only bridges the gap between early and late Barthes, but also highlights the centrality of Brecht throughout Barthes’s oeuvre, while connecting Barthes’s strategies to those of Benjamin.

The maternal Camera Lucida is only ostensibly a book about photography; it is also Barthes’s confession of profound mother-love. The signification of the maternal is not only a pressing concern for Barthes, it is a repeated motif in his essays on Brecht, and is a thread running through all of the essays by Barthes we have considered so far. Barthes finds in Brecht’s thought the repeated strategy of the estrangement of the maternal. In both Barthes and Brecht (as in psychoanalysis in general), the position of the maternal is problematic. Freud famously and paradoxically places the body of the mother in the place of primordial death. Lacan renames this zone das Ding in a conflation of Freud and Heidegger, and associates the imaginary with the mother. A detachment from and renouncing of the maternal seems prescribed by (Freudian and Lacanian) psychoanalysis as necessary for the entry into social relations, and this patriarchal capitulation is oft-cited as a stumbling block for psychoanalysis. On the one hand, the demystification of ‘myth’ and the estrangement of the given or ‘natural’ may be taken as just such a renunciation, an exposure of privative thinking, and a politicization and socialization of attitudes, a politicization that bears the distinct mark of patriarchy. History itself (which Brennan argues is bound to the symbolic order) may bear the same stigma. Alternately, Barthes’s readings of Brecht may see the Brechtian estrangement of maternity not as a demystification and exposure of the maternal as a bourgeois ‘lie’ or ‘myth’. Instead, it may be fruitful to examine the estrangement of the maternal in Brecht as a form of performative production, or an estrangement of the maternal myth as a means of recuperating the maternal in the symbolic. In this manner, historicization can be understood as a redemption of ahistorical forms. In Brecht’s The Mother, for example, Barthes’s reading of the narrative is revelatory. The Mother is not a propaganda play ‘about’ Marxism. ‘Marxism is its object, not its subject; the subject of The Mother is, quite simply – as the title says – maternity’ (Barthes 1960c: 139). Moreover, The Mother manages to estrange our given understandings of both Marxism and motherhood. Pelagea Vlasova ‘does not preach Marxism, she does not launch into abstract tirades on man’s exploitation by man; on the other hand, she is not the expected figure of maternal instinct, she is not the essential mother: her being is not on the level of her womb’ (139). Nevertheless, The Mother is about birth, but about an estranged, social, symbolic birth: the birth of the individual as a politically conscious being. We have here then a new form of maternity: ‘it is the son

Brecht and myth 101 who gives birth, spiritually, to the mother. This reversal of nature is a great Brechtian theme: reversal and not destruction’ (141). This is an inversion of the bourgeois order that demonstrates the modernization of human relations, the fact that human relations are not given but can be disassembled and reassembled in new and more productive ways: ‘in The Mother, freedom circulates at the very heart of the most “natural” human relation, that of a mother and her son’ (141). The Caucasian Chalk Circle achieves the estrangement of the maternal in a different manner, through the juxtaposition of two mothers: ‘the mother according to nature, and the mother according to deeds’ (translation mine, Barthes 1955b: 514). The moral that emerges from this conflict is: ‘it is work, not right, which is the basis of ownership; the earth belongs to those who will best work it; nature must submit to the needs of men’ (515). Work and transformation have the ability to reconfigure even this most fundamental of human relations. Barthes will amend this interpretation from 1955 two years later. Now Grusha is not so much a mother at all, but a maternal figure. This shift comes from seeing a production of the play that transformed the narrative into ‘a kind of vibrant elegy, an optimistic ode to eternal, maternal nature’ (translation mine, Barthes 1957b: 732). The problem arose from the director’s maternalizing of the role of Grusha to the point where one forgot she was not the child’s natural mother. The result is a conflation of Grusha with ‘the Mother’, and the sense of the play is lost. As a maternal figure, Grusha must never be anything but an historical maternity, a symbolic maternal which places under erasure the concept of Nature. Finally, Mother Courage and her Children estranges the maternal in yet another fashion. The cantina-woman is a popular myth of femininity: ‘femininity in the bosom of war’ (Barthes 1959: 46). But Mother Courage is not a nurse or a sister of charity, not even in disguise, Barthes writes: ‘She is a tradesman’ (46). Thus, while there is a profound maternity to Mother Courage, ‘this motherliness can never be dissociated from the regular running of a business. When Mother Courage lose one of her children, her immediate reaction is businesslike: it is necessary to divide up the work anew [. . .]. The indissolubility of business and motherhood in Mother Courage is an essential fact’ (47). Most importantly, neither commerce nor maternity may be renounced here: they offset each other, commingle and coexist. Courage is neither a ‘Niobe’ figure who tragically loses her children through the exercise of her commerce, nor is she ‘an “unnatural” mother who sacrifices her family to her greed; rather, her canteen is like one of her children, and in moments of crisis she runs from the one to the others like a mother hen among her chicks’ (47–8). As a result of this reification of the maternal, her family too is eminently modern in its configurations: ‘The fathers are known but swapped around; one gave his name, another his character, the third his features. The children divide all this among them without troubling themselves about the laws of heredity – a ridiculous parody of the appropriation of fathers by their offspring’ (49). The result of


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this is a ‘functional family’, not a ‘nominal family’ (50). In Barthes’s reading, for Courage, a perfect world, a utopian world of happiness, would be a world in which all names, all signs, all theatricality, have been banished, leaving nothing but relations of functionality between human beings. Because Courage herself is not installed in meta-language, she does not behave in a manner that is analogous or metaphoric. Her existence is in no way rhetorical. When she defends her children, she does so purely functionally, accomplishing tasks, either maternal or commercial. She does not behave like a tigress defending its young; Brechtian humanity knows no attributes, because in Brechtian humanity ‘there are no essences’ (51). In representing the materiality of gestures in this manner, Brecht substitutes for ‘the Essential Mother, a functional mother. Ceasing to imitate the imitations, Brecht returns to the transitive contents of human action’ (52). Brecht’s theatre, then, represents a resolutely structural universe. There are, however, two mothers in Mother Courage, and this seems finally to trouble Barthes, or, if not trouble, then to assert a maternity that will not be functionalized or demystified. The maternal role gradually taken on by Catherine seems to assert some ongoing mythologization, in Barthes’s view. Through Catherine’s mute gestures of self-sacrifice we brush up against the heart of Brechtian theatre: Now there are two mothers in Mother Courage: the tigress-mother, the chief-mother, that of all the matriarchs (this is the canteen-woman herself), and the mythic mother of the great bosom, defined by the spontaneity of her caring (Catherine), perhaps a figure for the Earth, of nature itself, but of a Nature rendered mute by the sad and savage history of men. Now of these two mothers, the one that Brecht has engaged in a true deed, at once conscious and effective, is the second. (translation mine, Barthes 1960a: 904) Catherine’s gestures, we see from Pic’s photos, are childish and maternal at the same time. Her actions are spawned from an absolute intellectual attentiveness to the world around her, and her self-sacrifice is not a gesture of arbitrary glory, but rather the culmination and result of a profound presence in the world. Her action is, as a result, an ethical one, in Barthes’s opinion. Catherine seems to serve as a position of judgement then, and ethical model, in Brecht’s play, a sharp counterpoise to Courage herself, who learns nothing from her experiences and who maintains her fiction of individual privative profit in the midst of war. Why is this figure of Nature, of mythical maternity, granted this position of ethically correct, carefully judged action? Catherine here seems to occupy an intermediate space between Grusha and Pelagea Vlasova. Like Grusha, Catherine is a figure for the maternal without being a ‘natural’ mother. Like Pelagea Vlasova, Catherine’s maternal status is a politicized, ethical consciousness.

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Fetishism The politicized deployment of the maternal in the symbolic links the structuralist Barthes to the libidinal Barthes. Fetishism has its own connection to the maternal, as a disavowal of the mother’s castration. Fetishism is also, as we will see, central to Barthes’s vision of Brecht’s theatre as a space of ethical pedagogy. As Weissberg observes, the punctum has the characteristic of a fetish, embodying as it does the paradox, the functional contradiction, of the fetish. Emerging as it does in Camera Lucida, a text intimately linked with the attempt to (re)find the mother’s lost body, the punctum is a stain, a wound and a dice throw. It is, paradoxically, a presence both denying and embodying an absence, and an intrusion of contingency, of possibility, circumventing the law of the symbolic order. As we have seen, it is not entirely a new concept to Barthes’s thought, since the punctum corresponds closely to the decidedly Brechtian numen that Barthes describes in Mythologies and in the essay on Pic’s photos. The fetish is a metaphysical presence, and is one of the means by which the libidinal Barthes recuperates Brecht’s theatre in the 1970s. The essay, ‘Diderot, Brecht, Eisenstein’, from 1973, demonstrates to us the importance of a strategic fetishism as a component in Brecht’s theatre. It is here that we see Brecht’s structuralism as inhabited now by a ‘dialectic of desire’ (Barthes 1973b: 71). By explicitly linking Brecht to Diderot (Brecht at one point wanted to found a Diderot society, to have included Piscator, Renoir and Eisenstein [78]), Barthes is showing us a Brecht with an overt investment in Enlightenment reason and rationality. In this essay, however, Barthes seems eager to illuminate the displacement of reason, the circumventing of the law of the father, that inhabits Brecht’s structuralist theatre. This essay is thus crucial to consider in Barthes’s refashioning of Brecht not as a demystifier but as what might be called a ‘poststructuralist’. Fetishism is here figured as the essential component in what Barthes calls the ‘dioptic arts’ (Barthes 1973b: 70), by which he means representational, geometrical discourse. Any art form is dioptic if ‘it cuts out segments in order to depict them’ (70). The theatre is inherently geometrical and located in the space of visual observation, thus in the realm of representation. Representation is not directly mimetic, but fetishistic: ‘there will still be representation for so long as a subject (author, reader, spectator or voyeur) casts his gaze towards a horizon on which he cuts out the base of a triangle, his eye (or his mind) forming the apex’ (69). The primary element of this segmentation in the theatre is the tableau; ‘the tableau is intellectual, it has something to say (something moral, social) but it also says that it knows how this must be done’ (71). The Brechtian tableau, as well as the shot in Eisenstein, are examples of this reflexive representation, firmly cut out against a darkness, while ‘everything that surrounds it is banished into nothingness’ (70). These examples of découpage are self-reflexive, ‘erecting a meaning but manifesting the production of that meaning’ (71). This


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doubledness is further reflected in Barthes’s characterization of the tableau as a ‘fetish-object’ (71). The tableau is a fetish object, but is also not a fetishobject. I think, as we consider Barthes’s logic here, that we should think of the fetish itself as embodying this contradictory negativity, much like the Freudian theory of Verneinung itself. The tableau is a fetish-object ‘at the level of the ideal meaning (Good, Progress, the Cause, the triumph of the just History)’ (Barthes 1973b: 71), but it is not a fetish-object at the level of its composition. The meaning erected is fetishized, but the activity of producing that meaning disrupts the fetish that is produced, and this activity is manifest in the tableau itself. Thus the fetish-object, since it always embodies the fact that it is signification (it is not a mimesis), always cuts its own meaning out from under it. The tableau-fetish is never complete: ‘it is the very composition that allows the displacement of the point at which the fetish comes to a halt and thus the setting further back of the loving effect of the découpage’ (71). Thus in Brecht’s theatre ‘there is indeed an ideal meaning (given straight in every tableau), but there is no final meaning, nothing but a series of segmentations each of which possesses a sufficient demonstrative power’ (72). This is a theatre for the fetishist, ‘itself holding out to the fetishist, with dotted lines, the piece for him to cut out and take away to enjoy’ (72). Brecht’s theatre realizes, in its form, the political usefulness of perversity. To characterize the Brechtian tableau here, Barthes borrows from Lessing the phrase, ‘the pregnant moment’ (Barthes 1973b: 73), or in French ‘l’instant prégnant’ (Barthes 1973a: 1593). The pregnant moment is an instance of hyper-artifice, a glimpse of the dialectic at a standstill in which history itself bodies forth: ‘Necessarily total, this instant will be artificial (unreal; this is not a realist art), a hieroglyph in which can be read at a single glance (at one grasp, if we think in terms of theatre and cinema) the present, the past and the future’ (Barthes 1973b: 73). While the word pregnant does not necessarily carry maternal connotations, and can simply refer to a sense of vast significance underlying an innocuous gesture, within the context of Barthes’s general observations on Brecht the materiality of this signifier seems, to me, to carry an historically sedimented content. That the instant is prégnant with intimations of totality is a key to linking the Brechtian fetish to the symbolic maternal: when Mother Courage bites on the coin offered by the recruiting sergeant and, as a result of this brief interval of distrust, loses her son, she demonstrates at once her past as tradeswoman and the future that awaits her – all her children dead in consequence of her money-making blindness. [. . .] The pregnant moment is just this presence of all the absences (memories, lessons, promises) to whose rhythm History becomes both intelligible and desirable. (Barthes 1973b: 73)

Brecht and myth 105 This dialectical instant is pregnant with history. Alternately, we can rephrase the reading of this passage and say that History is pregnant with selfcontained instants. The pregnant instants are, it appears, particles that manifest themselves in History in a wave-form, as a ‘rhythm’, resembling Benjamin’s own description of the epic theatre as a staging of the dialectic at a standstill, the ‘crest of a wave’ (Benjamin 1966c: 13). The theory of gestus, of course, is entwined with this figure of the tableau, as Barthes makes clear, and so gestus is here also fashioned as a fetishization of meaning or signification. Barthes himself does not linger over his use of the word prégnant, but I would suggest that we see it is a telling intervention of the maternal into the Historical, the law of the Father. In the fetish-object as Barthes describes it here, we have, perhaps, a dialectic between the imaginary and the symbolic. Yet the maternal is present here only as an absence, and the conclusion of the essay constitutes a capitulation towards a traditional paradigm of the political as the Paternal. There is always a gaze that geometrically determines a representation: ‘things are always seen from somewhere’ (Barthes 1973b: 76), and this ‘point of meaning is always the Law: law of society, law of struggle, law of meaning’ (76–7). Thus in the end, ‘it is the Law of the Party which cuts out the epic scene, the filmic shot; it is this Law which looks, frames, focusses, enunciates’ (77). This fetishization is, then, in Barthes’s opinion, ultimately an agent of the symbolic order. His earlier observation that there is a displacement of the tableau is abandoned for the sake of concrete politics, because ‘all militant art cannot but be representational, legal’ (77). Brecht’s art, it appears, is still a ‘Work’ in the sense that Barthes describes in his opposition of ‘Work’ and ‘Text’, yet it is Work that at the same time gestures towards the possibility of a Text. Nothing else, it appears, is possible under existing conditions: ‘How could art, in a society that has not yet found peace, cease to be metaphysical? that is, significant, readable, representational? fetishist? When are we to have music, the Text?’ (77). Brecht’s is a fetishist art, then, but what has happened to the displacement of the fetish that occurs as a result of the reflexivity of the composition itself? Where is the sense of disruption, of escape, of activity in the tableau? At most Barthes offers that Brecht’s theatre is not fetishist itself, but rather creates an audience of fetishists, of metaphysicians, while his theatre endeavours towards a ‘physics of art’ (77). There is a glimpse, here, of a ‘writerly’ Brecht, but a full manifestation of the ‘poststructural’ Brecht lies elsewhere.

Peaceable speech The need for peace before the arrival of the ‘Text’, and Brecht’s relationship to this possibility, arises in an essay antedating the above piece by two years. ‘Writers, Intellectuals, Teachers’ (1971) is notable here for how Brecht emerges in its closing moments as the solution to the problem of how to make manifest a pedagogical space of peaceable speaking. The essay as a


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whole addresses, psychoanalytically, the fundamental tie between teaching and speech. Speech, Barthes insists, is always on the side of the Law, because human speech aims for intelligibility, for coherent communication. ‘[T]he teacher escapes neither the theatre of speech nor the Law played out on its stage: the Law appears not in what is said but in the very fact of speech’ (Barthes 1971b: 192). The act of speaking itself manifests the law: ‘Nothing to be done: language is always a matter of force, to speak is to exercise a will for power; in the realm of speech there is no innocence, no safety’ (192). The implication of this violence of rhetoric is that the space of the classroom is a psychoanalytic space, in which the teacher, who speaks, is the analysand, and the students, who listen with the silence of the analyst, are the Lacanian Other that punctures the teacher’s discourse: ‘the teaching relationship is nothing more than the transference it institutes’ (196). The problem, for Barthes, is how to speak without being complicit with the Law, moreover, how to establish a teaching space which is not a space of Law. A teaching space is a space of human relationships, and it is the matter of human relationships that introduces Brecht. Brecht’s art demonstrates how human relations can, in modernity, be disassembled and reassembled in new ways and new configurations. The possibility then enters of a new human relation that operates outside of the jurisdiction of the Law. To endeavour to speak without Law means first to attempt to use language to destroy stereotypes, for ‘to speak in stereotypes is to side with the power of language’, but also to attempt to speak in a non-political language, ‘for political language is itself made up of stereotypes’ (Barthes 1971b: 199). To speak outside of the Law would, in effect, be to speak without myth, to speak ‘as a critical task, one, that is, which aims to call language into crisis’, and destroys ‘ “natural” language (that is to say [. . .] language which feigns ignorance of the fact of its nature as language)’ (199). Barthes’s ideal is clearly an altogether demythified language, as the key to a different pedagogical space. This ‘destruction’ of stereotypes is a means of jolting the discourse of the Other (‘secouer le discours de l’Autre’ [Barthes 1971a: 1199]). Shock tactics, now, are not demystificatory strategies but rather physical disruptions of the Law, forms of proto-revolutionary violence. Discourse, it seems, only ‘moves [. . .] by clashes’ (Barthes 1971b: 200). The displacement of a previous doxa means the emergence of a new paradox. All of this can be translated into Barthes’s concept of ‘writing, space of dispersion of desire, where Law is dismissed’ (Barthes 1971b: 201). The Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt, as an unceasing estrangement of the given, or of the ideology of the origin, resembles the Barthean theory of ‘writing’. This persistent concept of ‘writing’ Barthes himself deems ‘the materialist field par excellence’ (213). As a displacement of the place of origin, writing attempts to make ‘of language something atopical, without place. It is this dispersion, this unsituation, which is materialist’ (213). This writing is also an antidote to Method, because ‘Method becomes a Law’ (201). However, since the

Brecht and myth 107 teaching space is a space of speech and not of writing, then writing itself is not an option. What is needed is a displacement of the teaching space: Just as psychoanalysis, with the work of Lacan, is in the process of extending the Freudian topic into a topology of the subject (the unconscious is never there in its place), so likewise we need to substitute for the magisterial space of the past – which was fundamentally a religious space (the word delivered by the master from the pulpit above with the audience below, the flock, the sheep, the herd) – a less upright, less Euclidean space where no one, neither teacher nor students, would ever be in his final place. (Barthes 1971b: 205) Yet this space must never be that of a complete rejection of meaning. Given the choice between two types of typographical errors, Barthes rejects the one that creates only meaninglessness. Instead, he favours the pun, the Freudian slip, wherein ‘meaning remains but pluralized, cheated, without law of content, message, truth’ (207). While the meaningless typographical error has thrown off the Law altogether, it supposes a utopian vision of freedom that is unhistorical and ‘falls back into subjectivity’ (208). Instead, Barthes advocates working upon language from within, through the sliding of the signifier and not the total foreclosure of the signified. The former is ‘more historically correct. In a society locked in the war of meanings and thereby under the compulsion of rules of communication which determine its effectiveness, the liquidation of the old criticism can only be carried forward in meaning’ (208). In the logic of this strategy, Barthes describes the activity of the Verfremdungseffekt as I have fashioned it so far, which works from within given meaning instead of rejecting meaning altogether. This war of meanings, which must be resolved before there can be another space of pedagogy, is also a class war as it is made manifest in discourse. It is here that Barthes invokes Brecht, and, moreover, it is here that Barthes explicitly addresses a problem which we initially addressed in Chapter 1, the relation of class relations and the unconscious, therefore of Marx to Freud, and more importantly here, of Brecht to psychoanalysis. Brecht suggests to Barthes, ‘that class division has its inevitable counterpart in a division of meanings and class struggle its equally inevitable counterpart in a war of meanings: so long as there is class struggle (national or international), the division of the axiomatic field will be inexpiable’ (Barthes 1971b: 210). As long as there are class differences, speech will always be rhetoric, always be a space of conflict and a form of violence, and this will overdetermine the possibility of another pedagogy. The classroom is not a space distinct from class struggle. ‘Thus every fact possesses several meanings (a plurality of “interpretations”) and amongst those meanings there is one which is proletarian’ (209). What Marxism, then, as a rhetoric, ultimately calls for, is ‘the undivision of meaning, concomitant on class undivision’ (212).


Brecht and myth

Remarkably, Brecht has a part to play in the solution of the following problem: ‘how can the two great epistemes of modernity, namely the material and the Freudian dialectics, be made to intersect, to unite in the production of a new human relations?’ (Barthes 1971b: 212). How, in other words, can we ‘change the economy of the relations of production’ and ‘change the economy of the subject?’ (212). The solution comes from language, since language is the displacement that relates ‘class determination and the unconscious’ (212). Discourse, ‘the Other – who speaks, who is all speech – is social’ (212). Therefore class discourses inhabit each other as the unconscious of their antagonistic class discourses. Here we find Barthes fashioning a theory of class relations that anticipates the figurations of Jameson and Zˇizˇek addressed in Chapter 1. Class, as constituted by language, is not selfpresent, because discourse is made up of relations of difference. Thus it is bourgeois language, ‘in its degraded petit-bourgeois form, which speaks unconsciously in the proletariat’s cultural discourse’ (212). Meanwhile the proletariat ‘speaks in the discourse of the intellectual, not as canonical founding voice but as unconscious’ (212). This particular position is the one from which Barthes speaks, and addressing it explicitly does not stop the proletariat from speaking through him, as negativity. Only the discourse of the bourgeoisie is ‘tautological’ – its unconscious is merely the Other in ‘another bourgeois discourse’ (213). It is this tautology that distinguishes bourgeois ideology: it forecloses upon negativity, eliminates contradiction and thus renders dialectical thinking impossible. In other words, bourgeois discourse hides the fact that it is ideological, that it is a class-based. It wants to figure itself as ‘proper’. Class, in Barthes’s analysis, is not ‘proper’. It is inhabited by the dialectical trace of what it is not, which also means that human subjects are marked by class contradiction through the defiles of the signifier in which our subjectivity is steeped.

The art of living Finally as a solution to or alternative to these conflicts of language, class and rhetoric, Barthes takes refuge in Brecht’s ‘Art of Living’ as a means of manifesting a space of ‘peaceable speech’, ‘a space of discourse divested of all sense of aggressiveness’ (Barthes 1971b: 213). Barthes is here searching for a teaching space free of neurosis, since the neurotic subject ‘comes together in the forms of conflict’ (214). Thus any defence of the importance of struggle as a means of allowing contradictions to emerge cannot escape being fuel for neurosis. While ‘we know that violence is always there (in language)’ (214), it is this very awareness that opens some possibility of closing out the signs of violence and therefore might allow us ‘to dispense with a rhetoric’ (214). What Barthes seeks is a kind of ‘mass gesture’ (213), a language of the community that abolishes ‘from its discourse all stichomythia, a certain dispropriation of speech (from then on close to writing)’ (214). This rendering of speech improper is analogized to a lightly stoned environment. Barthes

Brecht and myth 109 offers that when one is in the environs of those who are stoned, the feeling is contagious: ‘it is impossible to remain insensible to the general goodwill that pervades certain places abroad where cannabis is smoked’ (214–15). A stoned space is a space of dispropriation, of general relaxation, of ‘a certain generalization of the subject’ (214) which Barthes seeks, and that he feels is a suitable model for the space of a peaceable speech that might rejoin Brecht’s art of living. As a teaching space, this environment would be a kind of ‘pure form, that of [. . .] a floating which would not destroy anything but would be content simply to disorientate the Law’ (215). Thus all of the traditional, transferential elements of the pedagogical situation remain, in this floating, stoned, artful scenario, but they are disarranged. No one is in his or her place. On this note one is tempted to imagine, in practical terms which might not appeal to Barthes, just what it might be like to experience this disarranged space. In order to find some equivalent one searches one’s own experience. I would suggest that we think of theatre work itself here as a form of structuralist activity, and I would hazard that anyone who has worked in the theatre for some time knows that theatre has the power, over time, to disassemble you and reassemble you, through the force of repetition and rehearsal, adding supplements. For Barthes, the dispropriated, disarranged space, where relations are out of joint, is a benevolent, passively stoned space of goodwill. From this late Barthean perspective the ‘structuralist activity’ (and perhaps we should be abandoning the word ‘structuralist’ here, but the term seems to persist in discourse) is happy and affirmatory. Yet to import a textual strategy into the space of human relations is to attempt a form of criticism upon human functions, in order to modify those human relations. While there is no question in my mind that theatre work is indeed a structuralist activity with the ability to disjoint and disarrange human relations, this disarrangement can be, and often is, a terrifying experience, resembling a form of self-destruction. It is an important cliché of some forms of professional acting programmes that they seek to ‘take apart’ actors, remove quirks and idiosyncrasies, and then ‘reassemble’ them both physically and mentally. Thus I find myself somewhat sceptical about the possibilities for a disarranged space that is free of a resulting psychical violence. Criticism remains a form of force. ‘Writers, Intellectuals, Teachers’ suggests that for Barthes, the real space of Brechtian theatre is not on the stage but in a teaching space free of the tyranny of institutionalized language. In this vision of a narcotic space of community, clearly there is an ethic here being described, but it is an unethical ethic – an ethic without the violence of judgement. That Brecht’s pedagogy is primarily concerned with an ethics is visible even in an early Barthes essay, ‘The Tasks of Brechtian Criticism’ (1956). The central dilemma of Brecht’s theatre can be distilled into a single question: how to be good in a bad society? [. . .] [G]ranted that Marxism has had other more urgent tasks than to concern itself with problems of


Brecht and myth individual conduct; nonetheless capitalist society endures, and communism itself is being transformed: revolutionary action must increasingly cohabit, and in an almost institutional fashion, with the norms of bourgeois and petit-bourgeois morality: problems of conduct, and no longer of action, arise. Here is where Brecht can have a great cleansing power, a pedagogical power. (Barthes 1956: 75)

It is crucial to note here that while Brecht wants to raise questions of ethical, individual conduct, he resolutely wants to avoid providing answers to those questions. It is for this reason that characters like Mother Courage remain blind to the structures of their world. And it is also for this reason that, for Barthes, Brecht’s theatre is not what Barthes would call a ‘Marxist’ theatre. In the essay, ‘Brecht, Marx et l’Histoire’ (1957), Barthes argues that the Brechtian character has no sense of History in a Marxist sense, because History is only present in Brecht’s plays as a question, not as an answer. We do not see, for example, overt explanations of class conflicts. His characters ‘all belong to a determined class, but one cannot say that they represent this class like a chess piece or a sign in an algebra of history’ (translation mine, Barthes 1957a: 754). His theatre is not traditionally Marxist because it presents History as a problem rather than an articulated solution. History is present in Brecht’s theatre, but as a substance that must be detected in the interstices of the representation: ‘History is everywhere in Brecht, but as an underside, not as a subject’ (754). What Brecht’s theatre addresses is the superstructures, and it is this that perhaps must separate Brecht’s theatre from the historical theatre described by Georg Lukács. Whereas Lukács’s analysis of historical literature precisely emphasizes typical characters in a total context, Brecht does neither, but manages all the same to conjure an intimation of the historical as something lurking just around the corner, a looming foundation to the action which is nevertheless never present on stage. Barthes’s description of the Brechtian vision of History resonates with the Marxist concept of Darstellung, what Althusser describes as ‘the key epistemological concept of the whole Marxist theory of value, the concept whose object is precisely to designate the mode of presence of the structure in its effects, and therefore to designate structural causality itself’ (Althusser et al. 1968: 188). In Althusser’s approach to structural Marxism, Darstellung is appropriated as the most important of Marx’s various expressions for describing social reality and, moreover, for describing History in a manner that breaks from the Idealist tradition of the philosophy of History. Marx uses Darstellung ‘to designate at once both presence and absence, i.e., The existence of the structure in its effects,’ Althusser writes (188). The resemblance between an Althusserian and a Brechtian reading here is found in the refusal of all essences. Althusser observes that the ‘structure is not an essence outside the economic phenomena which comes and alters their aspect, forms and

Brecht and myth 111 relations and which is effective on them as an absent cause’ (188), but instead, ‘the structure is immanent in its effects’ (189). The concept of Darstellung is ultimately a theatrical vision of social structures, in Althusser’s reading. Darstellung allows Marx to shake his thinking free of previous economic theories and theories of History that partake of interiority and essentialism. In Darstellung we find an objective system governed in its most concrete determinations by the laws of its erection (montage) and machinery, by the specifications of its concept. Now we can recall that highly symptomatic term ‘Darstellung’, compare it with this ‘machinery’ and take it literally, as the very existence of this machinery in its effects: the mode of existence of the direction (mise en scène) of the theatre which is simultaneously its own stage, its own script, its own actors, the theatre whose spectators can, on occasion, be spectators only because they are first of all forced to be its actors, caught by the constraints of a script and parts whose authors they cannot be, since it is in its essence an authorless theatre. (Althusser et al. 1968: 193) Following the structuralist displacement, the different aspects of society are conceived of as existing in relations of difference towards one another. The object of study is functions, not substances. According to Barthes, while History has a real presence in Brecht’s work, it is also distanced (Barthes 1957a: 755). One manifestation of this distanced paradox of History is that so many of Brecht’s plays are set in the present, rather than in ‘historical’ epochs. This is, however, an historical present, and therefore one must not represent History as a simple kind of causality, here laid claim to by Marx, there conjured away under the cover of historical decoration. In reality, and especially with Brecht, History is a general category: it is everywhere, but in a diffuse rather than analytic fashion; it is spread out, pasted across human misery, cosubstantial with it, like the verso is to the recto of a sheet of paper. (Barthes 1957a: 755) What Brecht shows us is the upper surface of the paper, not the underside. That History is everywhere in a diffuse fashion seems a revision of the classic Marxian model of base and superstructure. History is analogized to Saussure’s description of the linguistic sign, whose signifier and signified are as two sides of a sheet of paper: arbitrary, yet inseparable, and neither the cause of the other (Saussure 1915: 113). Perhaps this is not so extreme a rethinking of the modes of production model of history as is Althusser’s, but that Barthes himself sees this as a paradigm distinct from a Marxist model begs some consideration of just what is so avant-garde about it. The metaphor of the sheet of paper may be the key here, since, if History is one side of a sheet


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of paper, and what Brecht shows us is the other side, then this metaphor alone must be radically distinguished from an orthodox ‘economic baseideological superstructures’ model. Most importantly, History is not represented as a simple type of causality, and it is this intervention that most distinguishes this Barthean vision of History from an Enlightenment Marxist concept of History. History, as diffuse, omnipresent, but only detectable in its effects, as the verso of the sheet of paper, can no longer be thought of as a determining force, as in the traditional, ‘Hegelian’ concept of expressive causality. In such a model of Historical causality, History stands in the position of ground, of the determining foundation, and thus of the metaphysical ‘cause’. For Barthes, what Brecht’s theatre most of all refuses is any alibi of the natural, even a vulgar Marxist alibi of the historical as the natural. Brecht will not make of History ‘an aim, even something tyrannical, but instead a general demand of thought’, so that his theatre might also refuse ‘to man all essence, deny to human nature all reality other than historical reality, and believe that there is no eternal evil, but only remediable evils; in brief, it is to hand over man’s destiny to man himself’ (755). It is for this reason that there are no great conflicts, no ‘great men’, no great sweeping spectacles, no destinies, in Brecht’s work, since it is a theatre founded on History alone, with none of the alibis, temptations or comforts of Nature. Thus I think it is fair to infer here that Barthes is suggesting that a vulgar Marxist, causal model of History itself is just such an alibi, just such a defeatist paradigm of ‘destiny’, and it must be avoided so that the changeability of human reality may be confronted without myth.

Seismology At best, then, Brecht must be considered as a Marxist of the individual, a Marxist of ethics and individual morality. Barthes comments in the 1958 essay, ‘Brecht et notre temps’, that ‘his theatre remains essentially a theatre of the individual’ (translation mine, Barthes 1958: 768). Brecht’s theatre is not ‘a theatre of history, it is a theatre of historical consciousness’ (769). Thus when Barthes refers, at the end of ‘Writers, Teachers, Intellectuals’, to Brecht’s ‘art of living’, it is no doubt because the concept of an art of living appeals to Barthes’s own intellectual Marxism, in which the individual remains at the centre stage. The Brechtian concept of the ‘art of living’ returns in yet another Barthes essay from the 1970s, wherein the difference between the demystificatory and libidinal Brechts is most fully visible. Moreover, this essay illustrates for us how Barthes’s own perception of his early structural period has changed. Published in 1975, ‘Brecht and Discourse: A Contribution to the Study of Discursivity’, gives us a Brecht who is now a full hedonist. Here we have a Brecht whose discourse fulfils what Barthes yearns for in ‘Writers, Teachers, Intellectuals’. In Brecht’s poetic language there is no ‘priestly discourse’ (Barthes 1975: 213), ‘no stereotype, no recourse to the vulgate’ (212). ‘[H]is language is not a coinage’ (213).

Brecht and myth 113 Brecht’s abiding employment of the fragment (the tableau, the gestus), in other words of the seemingly priestly, aphoristic form of the parable, is, according to Barthes, anything but what it might seem, namely the authoritative ‘maxim’ (217). ‘The maxim is not a fragment,’ Barthes points out. While the maxim ‘remains a bluff of “Nature” ’, what Brecht does to the maxim is to disrupt and break apart such gnomic truths through the use of the fragment, because the fragment ‘never generalizes – it is not “concise”, it does not “assemble”; it can be loose, relaxed, fed on contingencies’ (217). Thus Brecht is an artisan of discontinuity and rupture, the breaker of the maxim and ‘the stereotype’ (218) that infest discourse with the appearance of the ‘natural’. Brecht shatters these reified rhetorical forms open to history and the activity of the signifier. All this Brechtian displacement takes place through the Verfremdungseffekt, although it is not referred to as such here. Instead it is the ‘shock’ of ‘distancing’ and ‘discontinuity’, ‘which crackles the smooth surface, which fissures the crust of languages, loosens and dissolves the stickiness of the logosphere; it is an epic art: one which discontinues the textures of words, distances representation without annulling it’ (Barthes 1975: 213). The Verfremdungseffekt is no longer to be thought of as a hostile, demystificatory strategy. The shock of estrangement now is not to be separated from the pleasure of the text, since the Verfremdungseffekt is characterized here as nothing more or less than ‘a reading which detaches the sign from its effect’ (213). As a reading, the Verfremdungseffekt is always heavily invested in the very object from which it distances us. Indeed ‘the shock is a reproduction: not an imitation, but a production that has been disconnected, displaced: which makes noise’ (214). As a strategic distortion, the Verfremdungseffekt can be seen immediately to coincide with much of Barthes’s paradigm for criticism in ‘The Structuralist Activity’, but what is added here is the amorousness of the reading that, at the same time, distorts that which it reads. In the most selfreflexive of moves, Barthes himself highlights the transitional place which Brecht holds in Barthes’s own transformed thought: ‘better than a semiology, what Brecht leaves us with is a seismology’ (214). As a very ‘improper’ Marxist, as one who seeks to ‘undo the abusive Name’, Brecht is for Barthes admirably heretical. Since ‘religious discourse is indeed the model of all political discourse’ (Barthes 1975: 219), Brecht provides a hopeful possibility for seizing Marxism from the ‘dogmatism of Marxists’ (218). The fashioning of the Verfremdungseffekt as a seismology makes way for a pre-eminently deconstructive Brecht, it seems, in whose theatre what the audience is given to read is an always-already read text: ‘the reader’s gaze, not directly the object of his reading; for this object reaches us only by the act of intellection (an alienated act) of a first reader who is already on the stage’ (219). The Brechtian paradigm of the street scene is the figure par excellence of this always-already read theatre of life. The Brechtian shock is a seismological disruption of the seeming ‘ground’ beneath us, the ‘logosphere’, a term perhaps interchangeable with the Lacanian


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symbolic order, the Law. It is also, crucially, always a form of ‘reading’, and a reading of the ‘field buried under the smooth layer of the quotidian logosphere, [. . .] that of class relations’ (Barthes 1975: 214). Brecht ‘imprints a shock upon it, sticks in a bell-headed pin’ through the logosphere’s smooth surface, and ‘consequently offers it to be read (a relation can be read only retrospectively when somewhere, at some point, however remote or tenuous, this relation has altered)’ (214). The actual praxis that this Brechtian shockreading takes is the form of the rehearsal, which gestures towards the space of the rehearsal hall as the space of a Brechtian pedagogy. Since the Brechtian shock is a reading that is also a rehearsal, in this repetition what is provided is a supplement: ‘the critique does not diminish, does not suppress, it adds’ (215). The example that Barthes cites is a reading of a piece of Nazi speech-writing.1 The exposure of the ideology of the text takes place through a repetition of it, a rehearsal in a soft, gentle voice, supplemented with interspersed commentaries from Brecht in between the sentences of the original text. The Brechtian strategy comes to resemble closely that of deconstructive critics such as Derrida, and Irigaray in Speculum of the Other Woman (1974). While there is no question for Barthes that the choice of text dictates that the ultimate goal of the rehearsal is to, effectively, destroy the Nazi speech, ‘the destruction of monstrous discourse is here conducted according to an erotic technique: it mobilizes not the reductive weapons of demystification but rather the caresses, the amplifications’ (Barthes 1975: 216) that we are accustomed to associate with poststructuralist strategies. In a decidedly psychoanalytic gesture, Barthes redeems Brecht from the dismissive criticisms that condemn the epic theatre as a cold, alienated, intellectualized art form. While Brecht takes a critical attitude towards culinary enjoyments, the Brechtian reading practice takes pleasure in the activity of reading itself. Yet, tellingly, Barthes describes Brechtian enjoyment not as orgiastic or erotic, but ‘oral’, ‘eating well’ in the ‘rural, woodsman, Bavarian sense’ (Barthes 1975: 221). Noting the frequency with which food is served in Brecht’s plays, Barthes comments that ‘food is at the intersection of Need and Desire; hence it is, alternatively, a realistic theme and a utopian theme’ (221). What Brecht’s work demands, then, is a sense of pleasure as ‘sensualism’, which ‘does not stand in opposition to intellectualism’ (221). Instead ‘there is a kind of circulation from one to the other’, and this ‘dialectic is a kind of delight’ (221). Rather than valorizing the overly aesthetic or the beautiful as having praxis value, Brecht advocates the consideration of everyday objects of use, such as utensils, as ‘sites of beauty’ (221). ‘In other words, aesthetics is absorbed into an art of living’ (221). Sensual pleasure, as a kind of ludic play, is to have a place in this art of living. Art will be located in the object of use, which will be the site of an ambiguous flowering (half-functional, half ludic) of the signifier. The cigar is a capitalist emblem, so be it; but if it gives pleasure? Are

Brecht and myth 115 we no longer to smoke cigars, to enter into the metonymy of the social Fault, to refuse to compromise ourselves in the Sign? (Barthes 1975: 222) Such a refusal ‘would be hardly dialectical’ (222). Rather than refusing to engage with the cigar as an emblem and sign of capitalism, Barthes wants to engage in a seismology of the logosphere, ‘to pluralize the object, to separate pleasure from the sign; [. . .] give the sign a shock: let the sign fall, like a shed skin. This shock is the very fruit of dialectical freedom: the freedom which judges everything in terms of reality, and takes signs conjointly for operators of analysis and for games, never for laws’ (222). Dialectical thinking will be the ultimate goal of a Brechtian art of living, one which sees the liberating possibilities in capitalism’s mode of production, a thinking that finds pleasure in the rehearsal of the most heinous of fascist dialogues, since the discourse of the Nazi can become, through the Brechtian rehearsal, a passage to truth, and there is a justice in taking ‘pleasure in the truth’ (216). Freedom and truth become endpoints of a dialectical production, not a rejection, of bourgeois ideology and fascist bourgeois discourse, a self-reflexive and transformative repetition of and passage through the heinous discourse. Like Benjamin’s dialectical Passagen, Brecht’s art of living is produced out of the form of the very class discourse that it sets itself against. The critique of the bourgeois text is ‘formed by the reading techniques of a certain bourgeois past; and indeed where would the critique of bourgeois discourse come from if not from that discourse itself?’ (Barthes 1975: 216). The ‘art of living’ moves Brecht’s innovation from the space of the stage into the space of the audience, and, moreover, out the door of the theatre and into the street. Indeed, it is in the street scene that Brecht’s thought seems to matter most. The ‘art of living’ means the theatricalizing of life itself in order to change it. It does not, I would caution, mean that all the world’s a stage. What must remain paramount is that the theatricalizing of life does not mean the reverse holds true: the granting of the stage, of art, some form of ‘life’ is not the goal of Brecht’s thought. What Barthes concludes with, in this, his final piece of writing on Brecht, is the image of ordinary objects with use-value (utensils, cigars) being made the sites of beauty, not the granting of aesthetically beautiful objects with use-value. While aesthetics is ‘absorbed’ into an art of living, this does not mean that living is absorbed into aesthetics. We may relate this prioritization of politics over aesthetics to a similar assertion with which Benjamin concludes his essay, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’. The human race has, in the twentieth century, become so self-alienated ‘that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art’ (Benjamin 1936: 242). For Barthes, it seems this alone will be the fruit of ‘dialectical freedom’. The art of living, as a space free of Law, must also be free of the fascistic Law of aestheticization.


Brecht and narrative

An ethics of Marxism The concept of narrative has emerged several times already in this analysis of Brecht. Brueghel’s paintings, for example, were examined as narrative pictures, while the key innovation of the epic theatre itself is its status as a narrative or storytelling theatre (‘Episch, narrating. Episches Drama [. . .], a narrative drama about the state of society’ [Brecht 1964: 246]). The epic theatre’s acting is a rehearsed repetition, a form of reportage and description. The contradiction embodied in the dialectical image is the productive tension between the stasis of the image and the rupture of narrative, between myth and history, while, alternately, the dialectic at a standstill is a gestus that brings the temporal movement of narrative to a rhetorical standstill for a fleeting instant. At the heart of these representations is another productive contradiction: where, in rhetorical forms, is the dialectic itself detectable? The dialectic is not temporal, Benjamin insists through his theory of the dialectic at a standstill, yet clearly we, as temporal beings, cannot step outside of our temporality. The rhetorical figure of temporality is narrative, an aesthetic form that can only be understood to unfold in time, but the dialectical activity of narrative is to crest into moments that gesture towards something that narrative itself is not: History. In this paradox, we confront the problem of Marxist aesthetics that lies at the heart of Fredric Jameson’s work: while History is not a narrative, in Jameson’s estimation narrative ‘is the central function or instance of the human mind’ (Jameson 1981: 13), and it is through narrative form that History can be detected as ‘the experience of Necessity’, although ‘this History can be apprehended only through its effects’ (102). Narrative is the fabric of human consciousness that must be warped, manipulated and distended in order to provoke some legitimate historical perception. While it is apparent that narrative plays a central role in Brecht’s theory and practice, I want to argue here that the Brechtian attitude toward narrative form is appropriately ambivalent. In this chapter I will situate Jameson’s recent study of Brecht, Brecht and Method (1998), under the umbrella of Jameson’s overall Marxist project, relating his analysis of Brecht’s theatre to

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the theories of narrative and dialectics that inform Jameson’s own work. Finally, I will conclude this chapter with an analysis of Brecht’s only complete novel, the Threepenny Novel or Dreigroschenroman. This remarkable and underevaluated novel stages a politicization of narrative form that confronts the central problem of narrative within the rubric of Jameson’s Hegelian Marxism. In the Brechtian theory of Haltung, as we have already seen, Brecht is concerned with deciphering how the individual can find within Marxism an ethics. Thus Brecht’s stance towards class contradictions is revisionary, and does not demand that class-consciousness cancel out questions of individual action. Jameson’s Brecht and Method highlights the possibilities of this Brechtian ‘ethics of Marxism’, a gesture that, in turn, modifies how one attends to the position of the individual in Jameson’s earlier works. There is a dialectical relationship established between Brecht and Jameson. If, on the one hand, we find in Brecht and Method a Brecht who, surprisingly, accords with the Lukács and Frye-inflected valorization of allegory and narrative that Jameson demonstrates in The Political Unconscious, on the other hand we discover a Jameson who, following Brecht’s cue, has attended all along to the position of the individual in the totality. Jameson’s intention is to engage in some genuine form of dialectical activity, to make something of substance that has use in some practical way. Jameson’s approach to Brecht is dialectical: he begins and ends with a deliberate refusal of nostalgia or antiquarian interest in Brecht. Instead, the challenge Jameson sets himself is to find some use for Brecht in the present moment, and in the sphere of the North American academy, which Jameson sees as dominated, at least at the level of theory, by a ‘poststructural’ celebration of dissemination and ludic difference. Brecht is to provide some corrective to this depoliticized ‘postmodernism’, for, while Brecht is not a postmodernist, his is ‘the strong form, the only legitimate form, of modernist innovation as such’ (Jameson 1998: 127). As Jameson argues, Brecht was a major presence on the theoretical scene in France in the 1950s, from which emerged the currents of structuralism and its later avatars. What the postmodernists do not realize is that they have, without knowing it, been Brechtians all along, but fallen, lapsed Brechtians, who follow a distorted creed and do not know the spirit of the laws, of which a single word says all: activity. Activity here means Brechtian productivity, and praxis. Brecht, here, is Freudian, or at least amenable to a Freudian understanding; even Brecht’s plumpes Denken will be Freudian in Jameson’s analysis. Jameson argues that the central material of Brechtian theatre, ideology, is a materiality best comprehended through the Freudian logic of defence mechanisms. Ideological thought, then, from the Brechtian perspective, is actually a repression of thinking, which Jameson analogizes to the refusal to think performed by Freud’s patient, the Rat Man (Jameson 1998: 37). This deliberate refusal of thought applies equally to ‘bourgeois philosophy’ (37) and to ‘consumer society’ (37), both of which engage in the production of


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self-willed ignorance of the concrete. Like Freud, Brecht is concerned with avoiding the kind of ‘thinking’ (or ‘non-thinking’) which prevents human beings from acting. This emphasis upon acting in Brecht is evident, but Jameson explores an important nuance of Brecht’s work, which makes of it an unorthodox Marxism: Brecht stresses the acts and activity of individuals to such a great degree that Jameson is tempted to invoke the term ethics, while throwing aside what the concept traditionally means. ‘[T]he idea of a kind of ethics of production is an attractive one,’ he writes in defence of the idea that Brecht seeks to prepare the ground for a ‘revolutionary collective reconstruction’ (47). While Jameson is wisely wary of the pitfalls of leftist voluntarism, he holds onto some kind of loose ethic of freedom at a level which, if it is not quite individual, neither is it fully collective: ‘the notion of enablement is still not a bad one for the release of new energies we have in mind here,’ he remarks (29). At the same time, however, Jameson argues that Brecht, at least from the time of his tutelage with Karl Korsch, learned a deep mistrust of all systematicity of thinking as precisely the sort of ossified over-intellectualizing that holds people back from action and change. This was a scepticism that extended as equally to ‘Hegelian versions of Marxism’ as to any other ‘doctrine’ (Jameson 1998: 24). In Chapter 1, discussing class-consciousness from a structuralist perspective, we saw Jameson suggest that it was Korsch’s emphasis upon an ‘improper’ Marxism (in which the rigours of high Marxist theory were to be inflected by a blunt voluntarism) that Brecht adopted as his plumpes Denken, the rough or vulgar thinking that corrects the intellectualized Marxism of the Frankfurt School, whom Brecht classed among the Tuis.1 Yet the title of Jameson’s book signposts the importance of some kind of ‘method’ to Brecht’s thought, a rigid set of rules for behaviour or thinking that always bears the appearance of some bourgeois philosophical system of thought. The importance of method for Jameson evokes Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness (1922), which argues that Marxism is essentially a method. Jameson’s theory of Brecht’s non-systematic or non-methodological method, Brecht’s ‘doctrine’ or ‘message’ or ‘philosophy’, hinges upon narrative and the dialectic. In keeping with critics such as Rainer Nägele, Jameson characterizes Brecht’s thinking as the performance of a (mental) stance or Haltung, a ‘collective interrelationship or symbolic act’ (21), and ‘a characteristically Brechtian type of pragmatism’ (Jameson 1998: 24). This adheres closely to the paradigms of dialectical thinking Jameson has long espoused, in, for example, Marxism and Form (1971). Brecht’s dialectical (non)method always involves finding the solution to a problem within the terms of the problem itself. Rather than applying a pre-existing doctrine or method to a situation, the situation is, through a dialectical analysis, turned on its head, and the problem is found to embody its solution: the problem is the solution (Jameson 1998: 24). It is this form of thinking, Brecht’s ‘Method’, that Jameson calls the dialectic, Me-ti’s Great Method and Gramsci’s philosophy of praxis (29). This method has as its function nothing more or less than the

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maintenance of thinking as a lived process, rather than a fixed set of concepts or schemes, an embracing of crisis and the enablement of a sense of nonidentity. From Brecht’s narrative descriptions of the teaching of the ‘Great Method’, Jameson draws a method for an ethics of Marxism. Me-ti, or Das Buch der Wendungen (The Book of Turns or Changes), even strikes Jameson as Brecht’s response to ‘the relative paucity of ethical teachings in the (Marxian) classics themselves’ (111). In responding to this absence, Me-ti endeavours to describe a method whereby one might live dialectically. Jameson’s early Marxism and Form also posits a special relationship between literature and dialectical thinking. In works of art, the activity of the dialectic is made visible in a unique way. The study of literature raises particular problems around the relationship between content and form, which find analogous problems at the level of the social: [L]iterature plays a central role in the dialectical process. [. . .] [T]he closed realm of literature, the experimental or laboratory situation which it constitutes, with its characteristic problems of form and content and of the relationship of superstructure to infrastructure, offers a privileged microcosm in which to observe dialectical thinking at work. (Jameson 1971: xi) It is the relationship between content and form that makes the study of literature so central to dialectical thinking, since the form/content distinction ‘is essentially aesthetic in origin’, and what the cultural realm shows us in a ‘relatively transparent’ manner, ‘namely that change is essentially a function of content seeking its adequate expression in form, is precisely what is unclear in the reified world of political, social, and economic realities’ (328). The historical, process-oriented movement upwards from content to form that is visible in the historicized study of artworks, serves as a guide to the understanding of more obscure and intangible social mechanisms. ‘History is a product of human labor just like the work of art itself, and obeys analogous dynamics: such is the force of this metaphorical transfer, which at the same time goes a long way toward accounting for that profound affinity between literary criticism and dialectical thinking in general’ (328). Following such an analogy, Brecht’s theatre takes on a new importance in a larger Marxist project. In dialectical thought, form is not a pre-existing ground or foundation out of which works of art emerge and take shape. In a Hegelian manner, Jameson maintains that the analysis of the work of art’s form must proceed through the analysis of the logic or contradictions inherent in the individual work’s content. While there is no doubt that artworks bear some relationship to form, it is a relationship that grants to the individual work an unarguable degree of autonomy. I say ‘unarguable’ because the existence of literary works per se demonstrates that they cannot be dissolved back into a

120 Brecht and narrative background of historical events surrounding them at the moment of their emergence: [T]he unity of the literary work itself [. . .] resists assimilation to the totality of the historical here and now [. . .] just as stubbornly as it refuses dissolution in some supraindividual history of forms. And no doubt our first loyalty as critics is to the wholeness of the work itself, provided it is realized that that autonomy is itself a dialectical phenomenon. For the Russian Formalists showed us that every work of art is perceived against a generic background [. . .]: it is read as work in a given form, or against a given form. (Jameson 1971: 313) Form, then, is fundamentally analogous to History itself. History, which may appear to be an antecedent ground that anticipates and so produces us, is no such thing. It would be as much a mistake to grant to the idea of ‘the social’ some foundational status predating the arrival or presence of human beings. While such a foundational logic appears to be a common-sense understanding of the production of literature, it lacks a dialectical sense of productivity: dialectical thought may in this respect be seen as a reversal of the formdominated, artisanally derived model developed by Aristotle; here form is regarded not as the initial pattern or mold, as that from which we start, but rather as that with which we end up, as but the final articulation of the deeper logic of the content itself. (Jameson 1971: 328–9) As Jameson concludes, ‘form is itself but the working out of content in the realm of the superstructure’ (329). Form is content at the level of the social, and so form is a projected foundation which at all times is produced and resonated outwards by the work of art. Thus form is always a projected or implied model of the social and historical, against which the work of art is comparing itself; a larger, rougher shape, more general, less distinctive, which the work itself manifests as an outside ground or historical antecedent. This emphasis upon the social life of literature, a collectivity that the individual work of art generates out of itself and projects outwards, goes so far as to disregard the role of the individual author in the creation of the individual work of art. Instead, the work of art creates itself through the medium of the author: [the] words of Hegel on the history of philosophy are no less valid for art itself, and may serve to underscore the profound impersonality of the logic of artistic content, for which the artist is himself merely an instrument, and which works itself out through him, using the accidents of

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his personal life as the very element of its own formal research, developing through him, as through his predecessors and successors, according to its own intrinsic laws. (Jameson 1971: 329) Therefore a dialectical criticism’s activities are ‘ultimately social and historical in character’ (329).

The political unconscious The ‘profound impersonality’ of Jameson’s approach to literary criticism is driven by the impetus to situate in a political sphere literary works that, at the level of their manifest content, appear to resist overt politicization. In this way, Jameson avoids the strategy of Lukács, whose study of literature as ‘historical’ begins and ends with narratives overtly concerned with recognizably historical, factual events, however fictional may be the central characters of, say, Sir Walter Scott’s novels. Instead, in The Political Unconscious (which I see as Jameson’s attempt to put into practice the model for criticism he expounds in Marxism and Form) he examines the content of ‘non-political’ novels by Honoré de Balzac, Joseph Conrad and George Gissing, for internal, logical contradictions that can then be projected beyond the novel and into the realm of the social and historical, where those contradictions can be examined for their implicit transcoding of overt social contradictions that dominated the historical period of the novel in question. In Conrad’s Lord Jim, a central contradiction is located in the heterogeneity of the story itself: the break in the novel’s action, at which point the story becomes a ‘romance’ narrative, signifies Conrad’s straddling of the divide between modernism and mass culture. It is ‘not merely a shift between two narrative paradigms [. . .] but a shift between two distinct cultural spaces’ (Jameson 1981: 207). Out of such contradictions Jameson hears a ‘political unconscious’ speaking that cannot be reduced to authorial intention, but rather is generated by the collective social life of human beings. On the one hand, the ideology embodied in literature will resolve contradictory disparities through imagined wish-fulfilment resolutions of what are in fact concrete, irreconcilable social contradictions. On the other hand, the ‘political unconscious’ will explode such ideological resolutions at the level of form, representing real social antagonisms without possible resolution in the reality of the historical moment. Narrative is privileged in Jameson’s theory of the aesthetic as the form that tends towards its own utopian transcendence, something that Jameson acknowledges is, strictly speaking, an impossible task. In The Political Unconscious, he deems narrative the primary instance of the human mind and suggests that narrative may be reformulated in terms of the traditional dialectical code as the study of Darstellung: that untranslatable designation in which the


Brecht and narrative current problems of representation productively intersect with the quite different ones of presentation, or of the essentially narrative and rhetorical movement of language and writing through time. (Jameson 1981: 13)

Narrative is always an inherently temporal process, and can never be apprehended outside of diachrony. This is of central importance in Jameson’s work, since, as a rhetorical strategy, narrative then embodies a thinking process that is never static but always in diachronic movement. Like Benjamin’s theory of the dialectical image, there is something deliberately contradictory about the role Jameson assigns to narrative: it both resolves social contradictions in an ideological manner and threatens to escape the ideological into a more utopian promise. In Marxism and Form, we see the effect of Ernst Bloch’s utopian thinking on the formation of Jameson’s later thought on narrative. Bloch fulfils Paul Ricoeur’s critical mandate for both a positive and a negative hermeneutic approach, which Jameson also endeavours to provide in The Political Unconscious. This critical strategy is both a ‘hermeneutic as demystification, as the destruction of illusions, and a hermeneutic which offers renewed access to some essential source of life’ (Jameson 1971: 119). While the first pole, of a negative, demystifying hermeneutic, is all too easy to locate in contemporary philosophy, it is the elusive second attitude that is much more difficult to grasp, and much more important for a Marxian analysis oriented towards futurity. Jameson explains that, for Bloch, an openness to the future is experienced through the shock of ‘the novum, the utterly and unexpectedly new, the new which astonishes by its absolute and intrinsic unpredictability’ (Jameson 1971: 126). Jameson states that the experience of Hope comes to us as a moment of ‘astonishment’, which is ‘one of the most concrete possible modes of our being-inthe-world’, and resides ‘in lived experience itself and in its smallest details, in the body and its sensations’ (122). In these moments of astonishment, real thinking renews itself with the shock of the concrete. While Bloch’s astonishment resembles a form of epiphany, it is far from metaphysical, and is instead bound inherently to a temporal, narrative and dramatic unfolding that is structurally incomplete, ‘[f]or insofar as astonishment constitutes an implicit or explicit perception of the future concealed within that which exists, it already carries within itself a story line, the trajectory of the not-yet finished, the struggle of the incomplete to free itself from the as-yetformlessness of the present’ (124). Storytelling, then, as a form, is driven by the trace of astonishment that is an openness to futurity, without imposition or expectation of what is yet to come. There are traces of Bloch’s utopian impulse in Jameson’s analysis of Brecht in, for example, Jameson’s reading of the word ‘almost’ in The Caucasian Chalk Circle: ‘beinah’ (Jameson 1998: 161–2). For Jameson, such a signifier conveys the trace of a utopianism for which the substance of narrative is the only possible vehicle: ‘of such an opening onto being, now conceived as a social and historical substance, it is

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narration which is both the formal sign and the concrete expression’ (Jameson 1971: 205). Narrative, and not just literature in some general sense is, in Jameson’s estimation, dialectical, both provoked by and provocative of the activity of dialectical thought. At all times a dialectical thought is a thought in process. Moreover, a Marxian dialectical thinking is one that always moves away from abstraction and towards the concrete. This concrete is understood as an identity of the general and the particular, from whence comes dialectical thought’s impetus and grist. There is an overarching question in Brecht and Method: how does dialectical thinking lead to actions that might be deemed dialectical? How might one’s life, one’s praxis, proceed dialectically? Ideally, dialectical thinking is thinking that leads to actions with productive changes as their result. The contrary of dialectical thinking is ideology, yet, as we have seen throughout this study, ideology is also the raw material of dialectics. Thus, perhaps with some irony, we find that in Jameson’s understanding, what Brecht has called plumpes Denken has always been dialectical thinking, while the ideological is fashioned not in the effects of ideology but in the altogether ineffective and inconsequential (Jameson 1998: 159). I am reminded of how, in Benjamin’s ‘Conversations with Brecht’, Brecht feared that he was not a ‘serious’ writer (Benjamin 1966a: 205), too interested in artistic matters to be truly effective. Jameson suggests that for Brecht the ideological, then, is folgenlos, ineffective, and we might interpret Brecht’s fears about his own activity as a fear that they were ineffective, and thus ideological. The Brechtian approach to Marxism posits a unity of theory and practice, and flatly refuses to conceive of anything that separates them: that which is without consequences is beneath Brecht’s notice, and thus a ‘wholly negative or privative phenomenon’ (Jameson 1998: 159). When some object we might think of situating in the ‘superstructure’ of ‘culture’ and ‘intellectual issues’ is seen to have consequences, it can no longer be thought of as ‘thought’ or ‘art’, for it is then ‘part and parcel of praxis itself’ (159) and is perhaps best described through Brecht’s notion of ‘ “conceptual intervention” ’ (159). It has become concrete. When thinking, art or culture leads to praxis, it is now no longer thinking, art or culture at all but praxis itself. This defence of art’s potential practical consequences for society as a whole is not only a defence of the Marxist artist (Brecht) against the criticisms of ‘orthodox’ Marxism, but also a defence of the Marxist critic (Jameson) against the same orthodoxy. The most notorious instance of this orthodoxy is the base–superstructure model, in which the economic base, or dominant mode of production, is given a totalitarian primacy and determinative power over the elements of the superstructure, which are then mere ideology and can have no substantial effect upon society as a whole. In Jameson’s characterization, Brecht rejects such a model. Jameson himself has rejected such a model in a similar fashion. In The Political Unconscious, he adapts Althusser’s model of structural causality as a corrective to the orthodox Marxist base–superstructure model.


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Althusser, Jameson argues, recasts the concept of mode of production as a description of society as a whole, now ‘the structure’, as long as we conceive of structure not in a positive sense, but as ‘an absent cause, [. . .] the entire system of relationships among those levels’ (Jameson 1981: 36). In this paradigm of the mode of production, there is nothing technically ‘ideological’ in the traditional sense, since every aspect of society has, potentially, some substantive effect upon the whole, which also means that any given ‘level’ of society (cultural, religious, etc.) maintains some ‘semi-autonomy’ (38) from the whole. In such a paradigm of society, political intervention can come from quarters far beyond those posited by traditional Marxist analysis. Jameson argues that there is a downside to the Althusserian model: too much independence of social spheres leads, potentially, not to freedom and autonomy, but to complete privatization and the depoliticization of social life on every front through a totalizing reification, a compartmentalization of human life and a dissolution of the social in any proper sense. Autonomy between levels or instances of society endorses the fragmentation of society and forecloses upon the possibility of collectivity. Instead structural causality endorses a potentially bourgeois reification and specialization of social situations. The problem is worth reviewing here, because what is rehearsed in The Political Unconscious is acted out once more in Brecht and Method, albeit on Brecht’s terms. Jameson insists on some articulation between levels, some connection between the semi-autonomous or fragmented elements of society. He defines this through the idea of mediation, ‘the classical dialectical term for the establishment of relationships between, say, the formal analysis of a work of art and its social ground, or between the internal dynamics of the political state and its economic base’ (Jameson 1981: 39). Althusser, Jameson notes, dismisses mediation as an establishment of identity between levels of society and the effacement of autonomy. Jameson holds to a more traditional Marxism here, although he also makes a structuralist intervention. He asks that we think of mediation across social levels ‘as a process of transcoding: as the invention of a set of terms, the strategic choice of a particular code or language, such that the same terminology can be used to analyze and articulate two quite distinct types of objects or “texts,” or two very different structural levels of reality’ (40). Thus, while Jameson finds much that is important in Althusser’s theory, he suggests that Althusser leans too much upon the separation and differentiation of elements within a society, and in so doing sacrifices some sense of overall coherence or totality, of the social. We are left with reification and nothing but. Ultimately Jameson’s criticism of Althusser falls to matters of logic: the very idea of distance or differences implies some relationship, which, while not immediate identity, must be some kind of mediation. ‘Difference is then here understood as a relational concept, rather than as the mere inert inventory of unrelated diversity’ (41). Mediation is a form of articulation between levels, but it does not collapse them into each other.

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Contradiction Brecht overcomes this fragmentation, this separation, in his own dialectical, plumpes Denken manner, by focusing upon what use things have. At the conclusion of the last chapter, we saw Roland Barthes respond to this plumpes Denken dialectic. In Brecht’s dialectic, the assertion of use-value is the concrete means of negating the ideological, of negating the reifying power of exchange-value through the elementary assertion of concrete use. Brecht’s theatre, as we have seen, is essentially divisive: the Brechtian actor does not treat the audience ‘as an undifferentiated mass. He doesn’t boil it down to a shapeless dumpling in the stockpot of the emotions. He does not address himself to everybody alike; he allows the existing divisions within the audience to continue, in fact he widens them’ (Brecht 1964: 143). While Brecht is very concerned with differences and distinctions, with presenting an audience with a theatrical model that maintains the separate parts of the drama as separate, he does so only with a dialectical activity in mind. Jameson asks us to see that Brecht’s aesthetic, which divides the theatrical audience, and also segments and separates the elements of dramatic form and of theatrical production, operates in this manner in accordance with a dialectical sense of the overall significance of division. Differences are ‘rewritten [. . .], unveiled and disclosed as contradiction itself; [. . .] acted out in the form of sheer contradiction as such’ (Jameson 1998: 76). Contradiction here is also identifiable as ‘sheer change’ (76), and as that which reveals ‘the historical situation itself from which the New will emerge’ (83), the new or novum being one of the linchpins on which Brecht’s thought turns. The activity of dialectical thinking stands or falls on its ability to negate the given, the ideological, and to open thinking to the new. Significantly, the central operation of the Brechtian Method, the mutation of differences into contradictions, is a moment of synchronicity that at the same time is inhabited by, or seems to be the ground for, a violent diachrony. The activity of this method resonates with the contradictory tension that I described at the beginning of this chapter, embodied in such figures as the narrative or dialectical image, and the dialectic at a standstill. In this synchronicity, which, I will hint here, may be understood as a structure, we find a predicate to the novum as a tenuous relation of differences. Jameson figures this crucial dialectical moment in a description which itself seems to embody a Benjaminian dialectical image in both its content and its form. When ‘two differences have come to be related to each other – or, in other words, [when] we have been obliged to construct some relationship between them’, then we have ‘the emergence of Opposition’ (Jameson 1998: 82). What follows is described by Jameson in the most apocalyptic tone possible. Out of the oppositional force of class conflict emerges the contradiction of revolution itself, figured rhetorically by Jameson as a surging of a river that bursts its dam and is carried away, but also as a moment of cosmic synchronicity, a Day of Judgement:


Brecht and narrative all the planets line up in a single row, the random and distinct oppositions that have emerged from a host of differences of all kinds are now, for one long moment, explosively synchronous, and in an ominous ‘unanimity’ which, far from being the old-fashioned kind of Identity, is the immediate prelude to the end of a whole world and the explosive emergence of a new one upon its fragments and ruins. (Jameson 1998: 82)

Jameson’s writing here reveals its own investment in a rhetoricity that can only bring us to a halt and force us to linger on the figures evoked. It is at moments like this that the allegorical nature of Jameson’s own discourse announces itself to us, as we ask ourselves in some slight befuddlement what the literal meaning of the above passage is, and in so asking attempt to bridge the metaphoric gap through an act of our own cognition. It is thus that our own thinking is provoked into action, into involvement with Jameson’s performative discourse, as we attempt to complete the inherent ruin that is his allegory for dialectical thinking. In this remarkable description of planets aligning in some strange, apocalyptic, fleeting constellation, we can read something of Benjamin’s moment of the Jetztzeit, the lightning flash of the dialectic at a standstill, the moment when myth and history collide productively. Indeed, I would suggest that the passage above performs for us the idea of Darstellung itself, the rhetoricity of rhetoric and the necessarily mediated nature of all dialectical understanding. The manifest distance between the image and its always-absent referent is what provokes us into an attempt to close that distance, to complete Jameson’s thinking. Yet the image insists upon an opacity that frustrates and ruins closure, refuses to allow thinking to conclude, and so maintains it as a process. In his effort to articulate the relationship between this dialectical thought process and a form of lived, concrete action, Jameson decides upon the mediating term narrative as the vehicle that carries us from thinking dialectically to acting and living dialectically. He argues, through an analysis of Brecht, that action has an indivisible connection to narrative, and that narrative is perhaps the fundamental, minimal unit of human thought. ‘[E]mbodied storytelling, the acting out’, which appears to be the central pedagogical technique of Brecht’s theory, works from the understanding that narrativization is the means by which the human ‘processing of reality and daily life’ (Jameson 1998: 27) is carried out. Borrowing Kenneth Burke’s terminology, Jameson claims that narrative is a ‘socially symbolic act’ (Jameson 1981: 80–2). On the one hand, narrative is a reflection of concrete reality, a symbolization of it, but on the other hand, it is not just that, it is also ‘a genuine act, albeit on the symbolic level’ (81). It does not leave the world untouched, but ‘is a way of doing something to the world, to that degree what we are calling “world” must inhere within it, as the content it has to take up into itself in order to submit it to the transformations of form’ (81). Narrative is neither an altogether passive reflection of the world, nor altogether an

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autonomously disconnected act of pure imagination. The interesting valence that this definition of narrative is given in Brecht and Method, the specific lever by which narrative steps from the instance of reflection to the instance of action (if they can even be deemed separate instances – they are perhaps better thought of as two faces of the same process), comes with the addition to narrative of the element of judgement. For we find in Brecht’s dramaturgical theories and his dramas an exemplification of what André Jolles calls a casus. Jameson credits this connection of Brecht and Jolles to Darko Suvin (Jameson 1998: 28); Jameson himself extrapolates upon it. In The Messingkauf Dialogues, when the Philosopher speculates that it is useful to behave in life as if one is being observed by an audience (Brecht 1965: 47), he conjures potentially nightmarish images for the postFoucauldian academic, so aware now of the power generated by panoptic surveillance. Yet what the Philosopher describes is not so much panopticism, as the possibility of living in the third-person, living with a manifest split or self-conscious gap between one’s thoughts and actions, a self-consciousness that Brecht and Method sees as an attempt to live dialectically.2 It is in fact only by living in the third-person that one can estrange oneself from habitual behaviour (Jameson 1998: 58). Jameson implies here through his invocation of a ‘Lacanian mirror-stage’ (53) that Brecht’s theatre bears a resemblance to a stage in the psychoanalytic session. Brechtian estrangement is thus simply an acknowledgement of the alienation at the heart of identity, the lack of a unified sense of self. Indeed, I would argue that the estrangement effected by third-person acting is precisely what is described by Lacan when he explains that silence on the part of the analyst is the best way of estranging the analysand from his or her self-narration in the analytic session (Lacan 1966: 8–29). The refusal of the analyst to respond when the analysand’s narration demands it leads to a frustration of the ego, which demands recognition. The refusal to provide this recognition will, ideally, estrange the analysand from the aggressivity of the imaginary ego, thus separating, however tenuously, ego from self, as in Jameson’s above description of Brecht’s theatre. Episches or third-person narration of one’s own actions is a means of estranging oneself from what one does and has done, and of levering a space for change and alternatives into those actions. This involves an autonomization of our own actions, in the manner in which we see Brecht segmenting and autonomizing literary narratives. Jameson argues that this process of segmenting and separating narrative only functions at all because of the intrinsic quality of narrative itself as infinitely segmentable. Brecht’s theory of gestus suggests an understanding of narrative through socially typified actions, into which a dramatic text can be sliced up. Roland Barthes’s concept of the proairetic code, adapted in S/Z from Aristotle’s prohairesis, is also a means of analysing narrative by breaking it down into minimal units of action or gestures. The proairetic code is a ‘prescription for estrangement which takes us deep into the structures of the act itself,’ Jameson remarks (1998: 49). The actual word prohairesis technically means ‘choice or decision’


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(51), and thus what the proairetic code constantly implies is the sense of choosing built into the most minute of human actions. Thus there is a ‘thinking about’ embedded in every action – every gesture is on some level a potentially self-conscious, self-reflective, dialectical gesture. Yet choosing, the making of a decision, immediately opens itself into the realm of ethics and judgement, some larger code or norm against which the gesture is weighed, as if this larger formal quality is always already generated by the individual action, meaning that there is no such thing as an unmediated, uncollective gesture. Comparing this to the Freudian ‘talking cure’, Jameson describes it as a bringing of ‘an uncanny strangeness to the subjective moment of decision and action itself’ (Jameson 1998: 52). I would relate this to Freud’s essay, ‘Negation’ (discussed in Chapter 1), in which Freud describes the mechanism of judgement as the prerequisite mental action necessary before there can be any concrete action. The moment of strangeness introduces differences and contradictions, moments of possibility in which the new can emerge. It is judgement that is needed in order to break apart habitual behaviour and automated thinking, and it is judgement that psychoanalysis seeks to engender in order to counteract repetition. This paradigm for critical action lends itself to definitions of ‘selfreflexivity’; tellingly, Jameson chooses to veer clear of this terminology. His is, I think, an attempt to emulate plumpes Denken, the dialectical thinking that leads not into the abstract, but into the concrete. For there seem to be two ways one can choose to carry forward the discussion of action (which is appropriate, since Brechtian choosing always seems to operate on binary lines, a yes or no, a this or that, as Jameson illustrates [Jameson 1998: 59–62]). If we go one way, we valorize the most intellectualized and abstract of thinking as, in fact, actions, as ‘socially symbolic acts’, claiming that literary criticism is a form of creative praxis (83). Theory thus valorizes itself as never being ‘just theory’. This may bring us close to Derrida’s own situation of his theoretical work as mourning work, and the universalizing of mourning work as co-extensive with all work. Yet there is another direction in which we can choose to go, and this is the one Jameson decides upon, refusing the easy apologia for and valorization of theory as a form of praxis. He claims we must start not with the level of abstract thinking and theorizing but, instead, in the Brechtian manner, at the level of the commonplace, pursuing the theatricality of everyday actions, our self-narrations on a moment-to-moment basis in all our smallest interactions. Jameson refrains from calling this ‘self-reflexivity’, preferring ‘to suggest that all acts are not so much reflexive and self-conscious as they are already proto-dramatic’ (Jameson 1998: 83). By foregrounding the element of the ‘proto-dramatic’ over the self-reflexive, Jameson deliberately refuses the idea that intellectual activity bears some automatic relationship to everyday life. Instead, following Brecht, he builds from the other direction, arguing that concrete actions are, as minimal units of narrativity, inherently performative, and thus dialectical and proto-theoretical. The Brechtian

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Method, then, rather than elevating theory to the level of praxis, valorizes the simplest of gestures and interactions as containing a kernel of the theoretical. All this talk of deciding, choosing and judging seems remarkably terminal for a paradigm of thinking that claims to be dialectical and open-ended. Furthermore, the entire concept of human actions as so typical and typifiable that they can be readily broken down into smaller and smaller autonomous segments that, nevertheless, retain some recognizability, some stereotypical aspect to them, reminds us of the charges of ahistoricism levelled at structuralism, and which tend to date it today, in an academic marketplace slavering for theoretical currency. Jameson himself observes that the consequences of gestus may be that ‘either people always do things like this, or, hidden away in the collective unconscious, are a few primal acts and a few primordial stories’ (Jameson 1998: 102). How, then, do we historicize these Brechtian structures? How do we relate the seemingly static, fixed form of the gestus to a dialectical process? Jameson’s response is that the process which gestus generates out of itself is a process of allegorization. While allegory bears, through the very act of different narratives commenting upon each other from a distance, a relation to judgement, it is a judgement that avoids being final, and instead remains dialectically open-ended. The aforementioned concept of casus responds to this apparent problem, since casus is specifically a judgement-form in which judgement is suspended (Jameson 1998: 121). Casus is related to Jameson’s understanding of allegory, as always involving ‘judgement, [. . .] the reaching of some ethical or political decision’ (103). A casus presents an anecdotal narrative in which a certain ethical undecidability is the result of events; this creates a conflict or tension not normally apparent within the space of judgement (120). However, Jameson explains that what is important is not simply that we have a conflict between two rights, such as the substance of family and state in Antigone, but that in casus any final judgement must be suspended or deferred in order for a judgement about judgement to be passed by the narrative (121). As a suspended judgement, the casus will be a parable about judgement itself. The attempt to pry apart ‘simple empirical narratives’ in which judgements take place, from narratives about judgement, which judge judgement without themselves actually being judgements in the everyday sense, is worthy of attention because it represents a Jamesonian tactic for countering the academic au courant ‘distaste for all kinds of judgements, let alone punishment itself’, a revulsion which he stresses is ‘a class and political question’ (Jameson 1998: 118). One of the popular accusations levelled against Brecht, the easiest way to dismiss his work, is his apparent didacticism: Brecht tells us what to do. Jameson’s analysis of Brecht’s anecdotal form aims to demonstrate, through the concept of casus, just the opposite. Are we being shown a situation and asked to form our own moral, or are we only being asked to criticize the judgement represented? The answer is actually


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neither of these choices, but a third term, a dialectical allegorization of the judicial conflict itself, and through that allegorization, the elevation and transformation of the problem into its own solution. While no one would argue that Brecht’s narratives, even or especially those considered among his masterpieces, are not intensely invested in judgement, ‘the Brechtian revolutionary casus does not reaffirm the norm or Law but, rather, challenges it; in which the Brechtian dramatization of contradiction calls for a judgment which is not a choosing between two alternatives but, rather, their supersession in the light of a new and utopian one’ (121). The key here is that the allegorization is the allegorization of judgement, which is itself always in some way an action of allegorization.

Allegory’s violence: Life of Galileo In his analysis of the dialectic at work in the rhetorical figure of allegory, Jameson draws upon a long traditional of literary criticism. Benjamin, for example, illustrated for us the experience of temporality embodied in the allegory of Baroque Trauerspiel. The dialectical overturning of the terms of a problem – what Jameson calls the transformation of the terms of a problem into their own solution – is bound to the action of allegorization, a social judgement upon a work which is at all times a completion of the work at a wider horizon of social meaning. While Jameson stresses that allegory is not a simplification of a work of art, a reduction of its specificity, but rather is a further social development of the logic of its specific content, Jameson also notes that allegory nevertheless figures itself in consciousness as a breach. Texts ‘become’ allegorical when we notice ‘gaps, enigmatic emblems’, or ‘a small wedge or window alongside a representation’, which gives rise to the looming suspicion that the text is not self-sufficient but is imitating and thus represents ‘something else’ (Jameson 1998: 122). It is then that an ‘allegorical distance, ever so slight, is opened up within the work: a breach into which meanings of all kinds can cumulatively seep. Allegory is thus a reverse wound, a wound in the text; it can be staunched or controlled (particularly by a vigilantly realistic aesthetics), but never quite extinguished as a possibility’ (122). I should note here that this figuration of allegory implies an autonomous force to allegory which we know quite well is not there; allegorization is a critical intervention, and the allegorical distance is a sign of the dialectical relationship between audience and representation. Allegory is not, really, a wound in the text. Perhaps it would be better to say that there is no such thing as allegory proper, there is only allegorization as an active process. I think this restores to the subject the dialectical, diachronic quality that Jameson would like to give it. To claim that allegory is a wound is to conceal the ongoing violence of criticism itself, and moreover, the violence of allegorization, which it is not difficult for us to see as entwined with the inevitable ethical violence involved in any action of judgement.

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If, however, we accept that allegorization is the ongoing exacerbation of a wounding, a wounding without origin, then we must also acknowledge that texts may have self-defence mechanisms that engage and attempt to protect them from the critic’s violence. If we accept the terms of Jameson’s discussion, then it seems fair to argue that no text wants to be allegorical, because allegorization, to adapt Benjamin’s coinage, means the mortification of the works. We need not cast our thoughts too far to see that socialization has always signified, from the individual’s perspective, the murder of a small part of the individual, no matter how we might like to characterize the collective as the full realization of the individual, or the Deleuzian Dividual as the collective ‘in which individuality is not effaced but completed by collectivity’ (Jameson 1998: 10). Freud’s death drive and Lacan’s symbolic order are two examples of how some larger social order mortifies the bounded life of the individual subject as the price of collectivity. A Marxian criticism, as an action of ‘socializing’ texts that endeavour to remain individual and private, is thus subjecting them to the violence of an only seemingly outside order. For the sake of doing justice to the argument as a whole, we must ultimately see that reading itself is finally just another form of this violence. Each time we bring language itself, the symbolic order at large, to bear upon an individual text, we replay this form of ethical violence. From this perspective, there is judgement in the very act of seemingly transparent reading. All of this violence is complicated by texts that are ‘about’ reading, which seem to implicate themselves actively in what we do to them. Alternately, if any allegorical intervention necessarily becomes a forceful judging, this intervention is modified by texts that represent or allude to judgement. This is what appeals to Jameson about the casus, and it is at the forefront of his examination of Brecht’s Life of Galileo, an exercise in allegorization in which ‘attention will be turned to the way in which controls are placed on the text to limit those meanings, to restrict their sheer number, to direct the pervasive and omnipresent interpretive activity; to make of the allegorical a specific signal that comes into play only when it is desirable’ (Jameson 1998: 123). Jameson’s initial comments about the allegorical implications of Life of Galileo should remind us of his analogy between historical referent and form in Marxism and Form, and should serve to indicate that the question of form is always tied in some way to the matter of allegory: The historical play is peculiarly allegorical and anti-allegorical all at once, for it certainly posits a reality and a historical referent outside itself of which it claims, with greater or milder insistence, to be an enlightening and thereby interpretive representation: at the same time the sheer fact of historical existence seems to [. . .] close off the process, by suggesting [. . .] then that is all it means, and nothing more is to be added in the way of supplementary interpretations. (Jameson 1998: 123)


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Yet the allegorist can ask other questions of the text. The apparent ‘gratuitousness of any historical representation’ (123) encourages us to find some relation of the representation to its contemporary historical moment. Galileo capitulating to the Church then becomes Oppenheimer betraying humanity through the creation of the atomic bomb. Or Bukharin agreeing to Stalin’s show-trials and to his own execution. What is useful and Brechtian for Jameson about allegorization is that it allows us to escape judging Galileo ourselves (124). This is the suspension of judgement. The critic’s intervention consists only in observing that the play’s narrative demands that we allegorize Galileo’s capitulation as a betrayal of the idea of change, in other words, as the allegory of the refusal of allegory. That Galileo refuses to sacrifice his life and his love of the corporeal means that something else gets sacrificed, and this sacrifice of something else appears to be, ironically, the sacrifice of sacrifice, the sacrifice of allegory. As Jameson notes, ‘[w]hat the play makes plain [. . .] is that Galileo’s fundamental abnegation consists in a sin against the New itself, against the Novum’ (Jameson 1998: 125). We can understand the play’s investment in the importance of the Novum on at least two allegorical levels: ‘One is the emergence of new human relations, and thereby a whole new society itself: this is clearly the level of social revolution as such’ (126). This given, the events in the play then strictly limit the extent of this allegorical horizon, since ‘the story of Galileo also illustrates a counter-revolutionary moment’ (126–7), which suddenly transforms the play into an allegory of ‘the supersession of Leninism [. . .] by the reimposition of Stalinist discipline and order, the closing off of innovation’ (127). Or even of the stifling during the Cold War of the ‘rich impulses developed by the Western [. . .] Left during the 1930s’ (127). So, to embellish Jameson’s observations slightly, let me add that since Galileo refuses to give himself up for some larger purpose or collective goal, then some larger collective goal must be given up for him. I think that this should give us pause, since we are talking here about the narrative or form of sacrifice, and how it seems to reassert itself even when it is refused. The fundamental allegorical form, the form of allegorical form, so to speak, which Jameson uses here, is a four-fold biblical one.3 The apotheosis of Christ, the transcendence of the mortal and the completion of the human at the level of the spiritual, or the salvation of the human race on Judgement Day, are not merely the basic content that Jameson works from. In fact, apotheosis is the shape or form of allegory as such, and it provides the basic form of dialectical thinking. I think then that we can say that the apotheosis of Christ is, at the same time, the narrativization of Christ, the positioning of Christ within a larger, encompassing narrative. This action is also, then, the allegorization of Christ, the becoming-allegorical of Christ. If, as we have seen, there is a violence to allegory, and if dialectical thinking itself becomes fashioned as a kind of cosmic reckoning or momentary glimpse of some terrifying order, it is due to the apocalyptic form on which it is based, a form with which narrative is fundamentally associated.

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Thus, when Jameson says that Life of Galileo is concerned with the Novum, he is saying it is concerned with maintaining dialectical thinking as a lived process, the movement of history towards its completion through apotheosis. At the same time, the play’s investment in the Novum manifests an interest in change and narrativization through time, in the temporal historicization and allegorization of everything and everyone, Galileo included. What Jameson seems only to hint at here is that Galileo’s sin against the Novum, his capitulation, is also a refusal to be allegorized. He refuses to become the central figure in a Christian narrative of sacrifice for some higher cause. However, in refusing to be the central player in a Christian allegory, he also refuses the form of allegory as such. We might rephrase this and state that to some degree Galileo refuses to take the place which awaits him in the narrative of History, and thus Life of Galileo is about the momentary failure of History, of the Novum, of apotheosis, of allegorization, and of judgement itself. Galileo is, then, ‘the modern, Brechtian person [who] is no longer in any mood to swallow the value of “sacrifice” ’ (Jameson 1998: 124). If this is so, and it certainly seems so, then the play is about the refusal of self-sacrifice as the refusal to submit to allegorization. Here, it seems, is the element of the play that refuses our attempts to allegorize it, through a coding of allegory itself as a social judgement to which, however necessary it may be, Galileo will not submit. However, things are still more complicated than this, since in refusing to be allegorically sacrificed through his historical allegorization, Galileo causes the Novum itself, the full form of allegory, ‘to be sacrificed’ (125). Since Galileo, who believes so strongly in change and the Novum, will not give himself up for it, it itself is inevitably given up instead. Since Galileo will not become transfigured as an apotheosized figure, the power of transfiguration itself will be transfigured. We are left, then, with the ruined figure of allegory: the allegory of allegory. The betrayal of narrative becomes narrativized as narrative, and Life of Galileo begins to radiate a message about aesthetic form, gradually discarding the content of the drama. It strikes me that at a certain point in the action of allegorization it becomes impossible to tell whether the allegorically inflated text refers to itself or to the world; somehow it seems to do both simultaneously, because it has been abstracted to the point where it is almost a form without a content, or a form that resonates some content that cannot be extricated from the form. The loose shape of the text begins to take on a certain archetypal glow. Some observations from The Political Unconscious are helpful here in clarifying what the allegorizing critic does to the work of art. Jameson refers to the transcendent horizon of interpretation, where the work of art is understood to refer to some ultimate anagogical collective social horizon, as the point where the text as such is dissolved of its autonomy and is ‘restructured as a field of force in which the dynamics of sign systems of several distinct modes of production can be registered and apprehended’ (Jameson 1981: 98). Yet he also calls this dynamic ‘the ideology of form’ (98), or the


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point where ‘ “form” is apprehended as content’ (99). This analysis involves grasping ‘formal processes as sedimented content in their own right, as carrying ideological messages of their own, distinct from the ostensible or manifest content of the works’ (99). It might seem strange that, at this ultimate horizon of the politicization of artworks, we find ourselves suddenly engaged in formal analysis, as if we no longer care what the work of art has to say in its content, or we are no longer concerned with its immediate, transparent social message. Allegorization too, as a kind of formal or formalizing process, can appear to be a depoliticization of the work of art, a removal of the work of art from the sphere of the social and the placement of it in a hermetic aesthetic continuum. In response to this possibility, Jameson specifically points out that ‘the ideology of form is something other than a retreat from social and historical questions into the more narrowly formal’ (99). The escape from content into form is in fact the examination of the most political aspect of the work of art. Here we should be reminded of the observations in Marxism and Form that form is the social life of art, and bears some important analogous relation to the social existence of human beings. This is, presumably, because collective, politicized existence is for Marxism the completed form of human existence. In his analysis of Life of Galileo, Jameson never forgets the content of the form, and at the anagogical level the play emits a commentary about theatre. In support of this, Jameson introduces an allegory that is focused not upon the social life of humans but upon the social life of art. On some allegorical level, the artwork will always be about itself, while also being about the world. The Novum and Galileo’s innovations may then be understood as allegories of aesthetic modernism itself: ‘Galileo’s scientific–aesthetic innovations are here implicitly related to the Brechtian aesthetic itself ’ ( Jameson 1998: 127). Following Galileo’s betrayal of the New as the play’s central action, Brecht’s apparent moderations and compromises in his later plays and theory, such as in the ‘Short Organum’ and especially in Life of Galileo itself, find a potential parallel in Galileo’s capitulation. We can schematize the ascending levels of allegorization as a series of broadening horizons. In the case of Life of Galileo, the literal level of allegory is the historical ground (Galileo and his time), which the play manifests as an outside historical form. The basic level of allegory proper finds a correlation between the play and immediate contemporary figures like Oppenheimer, and provides the lever for the apprehension of the overarching allegorical code of the Novum, which corresponds to Galileo’s narrative. After the initial action of allegorization things become more complicated: Jameson indicates that we can either proceed from the work of art itself or from its political content. The allegorical code splits off into two other levels: the moral and the anagogical, or the psychological/ethical and the political/collective-proper. As an ‘allegorical artifact’ (Jameson 1998: 127), Life of Galileo can be viewed from the moral level as concerned with ‘aesthetic revolution’ (128), or, at the anagogical level the aesthetic dissolves

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into the collective proper, and the artefact resonates the message of ‘political revolution’ (127). Yet the allegory can be seen from an alternate perspective. The moral and the anagogical levels are always interrelated, ‘twin signifying levels’, as Jameson calls them (Jameson 1998: 128). If we approach Life of Galileo’s moral and anagogic levels starting not with the aesthetic but with the social (not with artistic form but with human history), then our emphasis is not on the Novum alone but on the betrayal of the Novum, and the moral level of allegory concerns the Cold War, Stalinism and the more general betrayal of the New in the post-war moment, ‘while at some anagogical or collective level, perhaps, remembering the identification of theatre with cultural revolution in general, [. . .] Galileo then offers a kind of commentary on itself, and a kind of sly autoreferentiality on its own style and compromises’ (128). Here, at the anagogic level, the ‘ideology of form’ shows its face. In this way the moral and anagogical levels can refer at any time to either the politics of aesthetic form, or to the (aesthetic) form of political life: both are projected at the same time by the work of art. Both yearn for a ‘form’ so broad and hazy in its outlines that it is only comprehensible as the complete or total form: collective human life, or an innovated, revolutionized, collective theatre.

Jameson, Frye, anagogy These twin allegories of the moral and the anagogical, alternately the individual facing moral/social judgement, and the collective facing a totalizing judgement, jockey for the prime position here. We can either say that the work of art’s form may take the place of the soul, and thus give way to humanity at the ultimate collective horizon, or the human can occupy the place of form, in the abstract position of the soul, and then give way to the politics of artistic form at the anagogical level. This is an important vacillation, which Jameson appears to inherit from Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism. In his interpretation of Life of Galileo, Jameson seems to know that neither position can, realistically, be given priority over the other in this four-fold schema. Instead there is a dialectical movement between them. The work of art never dissolves itself altogether into a social horizon, and neither does the level of human social or collective meaning altogether release the work of art to its own devices. I am not sure if this is a modification of Jameson’s own earlier employment of the biblical schema in The Political Unconscious, in which Jameson chastises Northrop Frye for placing human collective life at the level of moral or ethical judgement, and for elevating the liberally disinterested individual to the transcendent horizon. Frye thus characterizes the ultimate revelatory experience of literature as individual apocalypse, reminiscent of a Blakean cosmic body. As Jameson puts it, for Frye, ‘political and collective imagery is transformed into a mere relay in some ultimately privatizing celebration of the category of individual experience’ ( Jameson 1981:


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74). Yet this might be too harsh a criticism. When Jameson calls the moral and anagogical levels ‘twin’ (Jameson 1998: 128), he sounds much like Frye, who claims that ‘[a]nagogically, then, poetry unites total ritual, or unlimited social action, with total dream, or unlimited individual thought. Its universe is infinite and boundless hypothesis: it cannot be contained within any actual civilization or set of moral values’ (Frye 1957: 120). While one understands Jameson’s criticism of Frye, at the same time, Jameson’s praxis of allegorical interpretation seems reluctant to dissolve the work of art into the sphere of the social, if only because, as Jameson himself points out, works of art impose their own limits on how we allegorize them. Life of Galileo, for example, presents itself as a play about the failure of apotheosis, the failure of history, thus cleverly sabotaging critical attempts to dissolve it completely into some transcendent Christian allegory or collective Marxist narrative: it is in fact about the failure of such narratives. In turn, this narrative of failure becomes, productively, another narrative. While Jameson reverses Frye’s reversal in The Political Unconscious, in Brecht and Method Jameson seems inclined to respect the importance of individual apocalypse, even if it is the individuality of the work of art that retains its autonomy, by keeping open permanently any possibility of terminal judgement, of totalizing, allegorically, the work of art. We will not be able to decide whether Life of Galileo is the failure of allegory, or the allegory of failure. We will not be able to decide that Brecht’s play takes us somewhere close to the centre of the literary universe (Frye would probably think not), where ‘the poem appears as a microcosm of all literature, an individual manifestation of the total order of words’ (Frye 1957: 121), where, when art becomes apocalyptic and revelatory, ‘it reveals only on its own terms, and in its own forms: it does not describe or represent a separate content of revelation’ (125). Neither will we be able to decide that the work of art is altogether completed by a dissolution into social life, that it does not lose some crucial part of itself, some part it yearns to hold onto, when it is subjected to formal analysis. The problem that persists concerning the ‘twin signifying levels’ of the moral and the anagogical, and which of them is to be given priority, may not be solved in The Political Unconscious, despite Jameson’s clear gesture towards ‘correcting’ Frye. That Jameson’s gesture cannot be definitive is indicated by the title of his book, which, when we estrange ourselves from it for a moment, bears a certain oxymoronic status. At the very least the idea of a ‘political unconscious’ seems somewhat paradoxical. The problem, as Jameson knows well, is where we locate desire. While Frye argues that the ‘form of desire [. . .] is liberated and made apparent by civilization’ (Frye 1957: 106), anagogy shows us that the outside limit of desire is not social but located in the form of an ‘infinite man [sic] [. . .]. This is not reality, but it is the conceivable or imaginative limit of desire, which is infinite, eternal, and hence apocalyptic’ (119). Jameson, it seems, wants to liberate desire from the individual and make it homologous with the collective, but the

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irresolvable paradoxes such an action entails may be analysed by considering the Lacanian terminology that inspires his title. History, the ultimate horizon of the social, is deemed by Jameson to be an ‘absent cause’ (Jameson 1981: 102), a term he relates to the Lacanian definition of the ‘real’, the unsymbolizable, traumatic, absent cause that is both the origin and the limit of subjectivity. Thus at all times Jameson’s method is a kind of psychoanalytic session imposed upon the work of art, and the politicization of artworks is also the analytic praxis of derepressing or liberating their unconscious materials. These unconscious materials, Jameson claims, are political. In this again he seems to draw inspiration from Lacan, whose axiom that the individual’s desire ‘is the desire of the Other’, implies that desire is always alienated into some social arena, some locus of the ambiguous ‘Other’, which seems to be Lacan’s term for the space beyond the boundary of the subject. At the same time, this dialectic of intersubjectivity cannot foreclose upon the fact that one’s desire is simultaneously one’s desire and the desire of the Other. This dialectical interaction between subject and Other is interminable, just as is psychoanalysis itself. There can be no full narrativization of unconscious materials; the unconscious is always present as an absence, it is always what is not, no more or less. It is an unsymbolizable negativity, which means that the human being cannot be fully socialized, cannot become a transparent vehicle for social life without individuality. If the social and political are the ‘unconscious’ of the bourgeois individual and the reified literary artwork, at the same time the reified individual (artwork) remains the undissolvable ‘unconscious’ material of the collective social being. The ‘political unconscious’ per se remains something undefinable and only negatively graspable, tenuously out of reach, and for good reason, since any belief in the possibility of making a ‘political unconscious’ immediately manifest would signal the end of dialectical thinking. Jameson’s concession that art controls how we socialize and allegorize it may not be a modification of his position in The Political Unconscious, but it does seem to me to be Jameson’s attempt to accommodate the violence of his allegorical interpretation to Brecht’s aesthetic, which endeavours to be political at an initial level when most works of art would be privative. The political work of art retains the privilege of commenting on the politics of its own form, since it has known from the start that its form is always already social. I think this also means that the political work of art, because it is political, already anticipates the action of allegorization, and so it can anticipate and manipulate to a greater degree the critic’s allegorizing interventions, can better check and delimit the violence of interpretation that is inflicted upon it by the critic. It is these actions of self-defence that are sometimes denigrated by commentators as didacticism. In the following discussion I will explain how this self-defence takes place, using as an example Brecht’s only complete novel, the Dreigroschenroman (1934).


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Menippean satire One of the most interesting characteristics of the Dreigroschenroman is how it not only shows us Brecht revisiting and revising his dramatic output in the 1920s, but how it also anticipates the great works such as Mother Courage and her Children. The novel is, in more ways than one, a hybrid text. Not only does it perform a texture of cobbled narrative techniques in its fabric, but it also cobbles together and reworks genres and narrative paradigms of the ‘Dickensian’ variety. Finally, it presents us, I think, with a rough vision of the ‘total Brecht’, looking backwards and forwards in his own career, somehow containing within itself all of his major themes and motifs without being reducible to any of these. Reading it, the critic receives the sensation that he is strolling through a city populated with all of Brecht’s characters, that in the crowds, on the streets and side alleys, can be caught glimpses of the entire cast of his complete oeuvre, giving us an impossibly synoptic view of his work as a whole. In keeping with this chapter on narrative and form, this encyclopaedic quality provokes the suggestion that the book be considered as a manifestation of the encyclopaedic form itself, the Menippean satire. This form bears a special importance in the Anatomy of Criticism because it is also described by Frye as an ‘anatomy’, a word he finds preferable to ‘Menippean satire’ because it is less antiquated. As Ian Balfour points out, it is here that Frye becomes self-referential to a significant degree: ‘Frye calls attention to the way his own anatomy is a fictional undertaking as well as a scientific one’ (Balfour 1988: 48). It is here that the Anatomy of Criticism is located within the terms of its own analysis: The Menippean satire deals less with people as such than with mental attitudes. Pedants, bigots, cranks, parvenus, virtuosi, enthusiasts, rapacious and incompetent professional men of all kinds, are handled in terms of their occupational approach to life as distinct from their social behaviour. The Menippean satire thus resembles the confession in its ability to handle abstract ideas and theories, and differs from the novel in its characterization, which is stylized rather than naturalistic, and presents people as mouthpieces of the ideas they represent. [. . .] A constant theme in the tradition is the ridicule of the philosophus gloriosus [. . .]. The novelist sees evil and folly as social diseases, but the Menippean satirist sees them as diseases of the intellect, as a kind of maddened pedantry which the philosophus gloriosus at once symbolizes and defines. (Frye 1957: 309) The distinctions Frye makes, between occupational approaches and social behaviour, between social diseases and diseases of the intellect, indicate something of the agenda of the satirist as opposed to that of the novelist. If the latter is concerned primarily with describing and understanding social

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life, the former wants also to show it as changeable, and this slight difference affects the characterization of human ‘evil and folly’. As ‘social diseases’, they are aspects of society that elude the possibility that they might be modified by intervention. As the ignorance of individuals, they are portrayed as much more malleable. Likewise, one’s ‘occupation’ is what one does, while one’s ‘social behaviour’ seems much closer to what one is. To emphasize the former is to focus primarily upon human reality as actions, as dynamic, rather than as static. Thus that this form is more concerned with ‘mental attitudes’ than with ‘people as such’ becomes an important distinction. Here we shift our emphasis from an interior to an exterior, from the static to the dynamic, emphasizing, I think, a showing of the human, or the human as a showing. As I hope to demonstrate, I think we are close here to the Brechtian idea of character as Haltung, as symbolic act or stance, and the relationship of this attitude or positioning, as a form, to the ‘role of the personal example’ in the transmission of ‘philosophical discourse’ as Jameson puts it (Jameson 1998: 36). Naturally, this all bears a close connection to satire as such, which is dominated by negative, critical interventions in the representation of human relationships. What remains to be seen is whether some positive element can be attributed to satire, whether it can affirmatively suggest or provoke some alternate course of events.

Dialogism and the dialectic Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism shows us one face of Menippean satire. There is another face of this literary species, and Mikhail M. Bakhtin delineates it for us. Bakhtin refutes Frye’s theory that the Menippean satire is dominated by a single monologic authorial voice. From a Bakhtinian perspective, Frye does a profound injustice to the Menippean satire, for it seems that in its very ‘anatomical’ yearnings, the Menippean satire will inevitably undo its author’s own singular voice with a range of other discourses that intrude and disrupt the monologism of the author. In Bakhtin’s Menippean satire, there is no unity of style, because style is not ‘a direct and unmediated expression of authorial individuality’ (Bakhtin 1975: 267). The very ideas of a ‘unitary language’ or even of ‘the individual speaking in this language’ (267) are the result of ideological forces at work in human discourse. Ideology works to unify, and thus ideological discourse posits language as essentially unifying and monological. A consideration of Bakhtin is thus central to our consideration of Brecht, because the theory of heteroglossia describes the forces that ‘pull apart’ language, that resist the ‘centripetal forces of the life of language’ (271), centripetal forces that are also the force of ideology. Ideology works across the class contradictions that divide a nation and seeks to unite humans, in discourse, across these concrete contradictions. Any analysis of Brecht’s theatre as an aesthetic form that seeks to estrange, distance, and transform ideology, must reckon at some point with Bakhtinian theory, which sees novelistic discourse engaged in an analogous activity. According


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to Bakhtin, the centripetal and centrifugal forces of language co-exist in ‘[e]very concrete utterance of a speaking subject’ (272). Thus, there is dialogism in the smallest utterance, and this is what insures language’s dynamism and its vitality. In a single word, there is a dialogism that is the already spoken, while, at the same time, there is another dialogism: ‘The word in living conversation is directly, blatantly, oriented toward a future answer-word’ (280). Thus, internal to discourse itself there is an essential impurity, an incompleteness that is nothing more or less than the discursive ‘outside’ of the word, that nevertheless inhabits the word as an ‘other’ and is its essential motor force. ‘The word lives, as it were, on the boundary between its own context and another, alien, context’ (284). This heterogeneous double-voicedness is a potential awaiting exploitation by literary forms. While the dialogic is not a Hegelian dialectic, I think that the dialogic may, in our discussion, be faithfully associated with the Benjaminianinspired dialectic at a standstill that draws inspiration from Brecht’s epic theatre and baroque Trauerspiel. The Bakhtinian carnivalesque is not an Idealist or theological action, but a dispersing dialectic arising instead from the concrete contradictions of the social.

Der Dreigroschenroman Frye’s theory of satire gives us a lens for understanding the Dreigroschenroman, yet this theory needs to be politicized by Bahktin’s theory of the dialogic. I want to argue for the status of Brecht’s book as a variant of Menippean satire, perhaps among the hybrids which Frye classifies among the ‘proletarian novels of the thirties’ (Frye 1957: 312), but one that demonstrates a remarkable insight into the politics of its own form. The book’s content can be read quite literally as a representation of the tyranny of supply and demand mercantilism. MacHeath’s central gambit in the book is to destroy the stock of merchandise with which he supplies his own chain of B-shops, forcing his own shopkeepers into dire straits as he creates an artificial shortage of goods in an attempt to wipe out the competition. The novel is by no means a work of realism, however, and if we take it as no more than a mimesis of the strategies of capitalists we overlook the importance of style and form in the narrative. One of the ‘problems’ that Martin Esslin identifies in Brecht’s oeuvre is whether or not Brecht’s own opinions can ever be equated with the opinions of his characters. Commenting on the unheroic soldier in Drums in the Night, Esslin comments, ‘[a]s so often with Brecht, it is left unclear whether the author shares his character’s view or not’ (Esslin 1984: 139). While this clearly troubles Esslin to no small degree throughout his book on Brecht, it provides us with a useful observation about the characters in the Dreigroschenroman. Keith A. Dickson aptly points out that the words uttered by the characters in this book bear a highly unorthodox relationship to the characters themselves. At one point in the novel, MacHeath

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articulates with complete lucidity a cynical world-view that affects to find the good old days of open banditry more human than the disguised exploitation practised by modern capitalism. It is clear that MacHeath himself could never have entertained such thoughts. They are ascribed to him by a narrator who has chosen this typically oblique method of social criticism. (Dickson 1978: 262) In a sense, Dickson reads the numerous moments of italicized dialogue in the Dreigroschenroman through a fascinating inversion of Esslin’s logic. Dickson overturns the traditional assumptions we bring to any work of art, assumptions which ask us to take as given that dialogue is an expression of a character’s thoughts. This is an almost unheard of abandonment of the most fundamental of literary conventions, and yet Dickson’s interpretation is well supported by the text. As Dickson points out, the frequent offsetting of dialogue with italics is not the only strategy used as a means of distancing numerous patches of speech from the body of the text. We are also given moments where the dialogue represents what a character would have been thinking, had he been thinking at all. One does not have to look far in this book for moments of dialogue that remind us of Brechtian aphorisms and catchphrases we have seen before. Yet the strategy, if in fact it functions as Dickson says it does, is fundamentally confused, for it begs the question of why Brechtian wisdom is being placed in the mouths of characters for whom Brecht’s narrative appears to have a deeply satiric contempt. What are we to make of bankers who speak of the importance of plumpes Denken? (Brecht 1934: 159), or speak of the perpetuation of personality through work and creative self-expression as the secret of truly living? (145), or who speak of cut-throat business competition as analogous to an Olympiad? (167, 172). We are, I think, in the realm of the satire of ideas, of the intellectual, Menippean satire, which does not hold even its own sedimented thinking in a position of respect. The book demonstrates a great amount of dialectical self-reflection. Its foremost dialogism is the highly self-conscious manner in which it appropriates and dialogizes Brecht’s own play, The Threepenny Opera. Brecht’s return to his earlier material is also a reworking and rewriting of it. Readers might, for example, be slightly perplexed by the repeated descriptions of MacHeath as a non-descript, balding man in his forties with a radish-shaped head, since there seems to be no sign here of the charismatic rake from The Threepenny Opera. However, Brecht’s notes to the original opera reveal that this description of MacHeath as the quintessential bourgeois business man is merely an attempt, in the novel, to restore to the narrative some of the strength found in Gay’s original play: There are English drawings of The Beggar’s Opera which show a short, stocky man of about forty with a head like a radish, a bit bald but not


Brecht and narrative lacking dignity. He is emphatically staid, is without the least sense of humour, while his solid qualities can be gauged from the fact that he thinks more of exploiting his employees than of robbing strangers. (Brecht 1970–2003, vol. 2ii: 92)

In the Dreigroschenroman such authorial notes have become fully integrated into the text, with the result that MacHeath is completely demythologized of the aura that no doubt makes of him such an attractive figure in the opera. In the novel he is now just a businessman and not a murderer at all. The crimes associated with the name of Mac the Knife are the actions of various disparate individuals in dire economic straits. Mac takes credit for them as a means of cultivating a legend about himself that will help him to his business ends, and much of his conflict involves attempts to maintain his mythologized past. Thus in the Dreigroschenroman Brecht appears to satirize his own work and thinking, especially when echoes of In the Jungle of Cities are heard. The ‘sporting spirit’, that Brecht was earlier so fascinated by for its modern, unnostalgic sense of conflict, seems now equated with capitalism itself, with the bourgeois valorization of business competition as an eternal, agonistic conflict. It is only the proletarian newspapers that lack ‘the sporting spirit’ (Brecht 1934: 242). The idea of sport itself, the motiveless drive so often associated with ‘the satisfaction of a creative desire, [. . .] or an inexplicable demoniacal urge’ (116), is exactly how ‘industrialists, authors, savants’, and ‘politicians’ like to hear their deeds described, as ‘not committed for any material profit’ (116). The ideal of sport is now reduced to the status of a public mask for profiteering activities. The irony here is that the theme of sport from In the Jungle of Cities is conflated with MacHeath’s narrative: ‘sport’ is how the newspapers describe the murderous rampage of the figure known as the Knife (117), which serves MacHeath well, since in taking credit under this persona for his gangmembers’ crimes, MacHeath manages to exploit and profit from their criminal labours. ‘Sport’ is now a keyword in the bourgeois mythologization of human actions. This satiric representation of the uses to which the ideology of sport can be directed leads us to question the degree to which any of the ideas and opinions presented in the book can be reduced to an expression of the author. It seems just as likely that by placing the rhetoric of ‘blunt thinking’ in the mouth of Hale, the Admiralty official (Brecht 1934: 159), Brecht is estranging aspects of what he would call ‘Brechtian thinking’, and asking us not to take them as a given, as morsels of congealed Brechtian wisdom to be lifted out of their context and carried away by the reader. While a satire positions its reader critically, asking for a distanced judgement upon the characters represented, I think that the strategies of the Dreigroschenroman seek to suspend the possibility of any easy judgement of the characters and their actions. What seems to be quite specifically missing here is any idea of a centre, of an implicit moral or ethical positioning from which we are being

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asked to view the narrative and the events. This is the Dreigroschenroman’s carnivalesque element, the theatricalizing of the novelistic space. For the reader seeking to import Brecht’s own outside opinions into the text as just such a ‘centre’, this moral allegorizing will be tripped up by the novel’s irreverently destructive attitude towards seemingly Brechtian ideas. Take, for example, the novel’s attitude towards the character Fewkoombey, the one-legged soldier who returns from the Boer War and finds himself almost immediately working for Peachum. While it is Fewkoombey who opens and closes the novel, his appearances throughout the book are marginal and intermittent. At points he seems to become an almost choral control figure, yet even this rhetorical position is undermined by the narrative, which refuses to grant Fewkoombey any opinions. Instead of reading what Fewkoombey thinks about a situation, we are instead told what he does not think, but might have thought had he been thinking. His ruminations on the subject of abortion are thoughts which his character is not capable of having, due to the character’s social and economic situation: ‘he did not think; he was trained to discipline’ (Brecht 1934: 67). They are thoughts that are not possible here, presumably because thinking is not possible here. I’m not entirely convinced, however, that we should then attribute these errant non-thoughts to Brecht instead, because the thoughts remain essentially satiric and rhetorical in their content, reminding one most of all of the tenor of Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’: The law forbids abortion and the unhappy girls would soon be happy if they were allowed to be aborted. So they fight against the law. But their wish may not be fulfilled. Of course not! That would be really too disgraceful. Hasn’t the church declared life sacred? So how can these women endanger life by refusing to bring children into this overfilled, stinking world, full of the cries of the starving? [. . .] They ought to take a gulp of whisky, clench their teeth, and simply give birth! [. . .] Of course blood is thicker than water and every mother thinks her own child too good for this world. Her child must be made the exception! It’s a good thing that abortion costs money. Otherwise there’d be no stopping . . . (Brecht 1934: 67) If satiric thought is the only possible response here, as an intervention into the untenable reality of this play, or as an alternative thinking which brings us closer to reality, nevertheless it cannot be thought of as a form of correct thinking, of opinion or even real knowledge. The content is less important here than the strange form it takes. It makes no difference if this reminds us of the pro-choice stance of the Brecht-Dudow film Kuhle Wampe (1932), or that we recognize in the above quotation a foreshadowing of the climactic scene of Mother Courage and her Children, and Brecht’s own intervention into Courage’s lullaby for the dead Kattrin (Her child must be made the exception!). What is terrible in Courage’s song to her child is the content of the words, which reveals that Courage has learned nothing at all: in war, a mother’s


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love is horrifying, because she is willing to save her own daughter at the expense of every other child. Yet this does not mean, I think, that Fewkoombey and Courage can be judged for their thoughts (or in the soldier’s case, non-thoughts). Here it is perhaps helpful to think of the good soldier Schweyk. Like Fewkoombey and Courage, Schweyk is characterized as a survivor (in fact, when we meet Fewkoombey, he is called ‘The Survivor’ [7]). If there is an essential human quality that does demand some respect from the ‘Brechtian narrator’, it is survival, some begrudging respect for the resiliency of the human, which forecloses upon our capacity to judge a character, no matter how critically we perceive her. The Brechtian attitude towards Brechtian characters, while it bears some oblique relationship to judgement, is a suspended judgement. The importance of this satiric thought instead seems to hinge upon the fact that we recognize that it is an interruption of the narrative, an intrusion in or rhetorical knotting of the text, the irruption of a heterogeneity that cannot be reduced to a block of transparent knowledge. Jameson reads Brecht’s use of the proverbial in this manner. The proverb ‘is somehow an object language beyond normal syntax,’ Jameson writes (Jameson 1998: 142). While it is apparent at a glance that Brecht autonomizes the Dreigroschenroman, using songs, moral tags, epigraphs and quotations from the Book of Job (Brecht 1934: 96) as a means of separating the narrative into a constellation of self-contained pieces, clichés easily recognizable and stereotypical in their overtones, the effectiveness or importance of these overtly reified and privatized parts is perhaps marginal. What Jameson calls a ‘poetics of reification’ (Jameson 1998: 133), a use of stereotypes in new and unstereotypical ways, a ‘homeopathic method, in which reification is used to dereify and to bring change and new momentum’ (133), can certainly be seen at work in the italicized sections of dialogue in the Dreigroschenroman, but I think that the strength of the novel does not lie in these local examples of rhetorical strategy, but rather in much larger rhetorical issues, which become visible only through an examination of the more subtle narrative strategies in the novel. A reader of the Dreigroschenroman’s style becomes aware almost immediately of a highly uncomfortable use of language, a reporterly style that aims at an indifference towards the events reported, for example conveying without affect how many days Fewkoombey has to live (Brecht 1934: 249). For a novel written by a playwright, the Dreigroschenroman is oddly short on dialogue. Instead, the narrative is dominated by a storytelling style that is almost painfully self-conscious. An ironic, distanced attitude towards the description of events predominates in the book, to the point where one grows more conscious of what has not been said than of what is being communicated. The novel’s language is so dominated by an aversion towards the direct presentation of dialogue, or a direct description of events, that it appears at points that the subject of the book itself is in fact this employment of language: ‘Peachum listened attentively and realized that the final

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winding up of the ship business between them would present no particular difficulties. He approved of Coax’s cautious expressions. The broker knew how to beat around the bush’ (106–7). Naturally, we have read Coax’s metaphoric expressions mediated through a third-person narration. It is a book, in short, engrossed, but also repelled, by its own storytelling, and in the end, the overt subject of the Dreigroschenroman turns to storytelling itself. Storytelling, as we shall see, becomes indicted as the greatest crime in human history. The novel is fundamentally allegorical: this much seems to announce itself to Dickson, who deftly situates it within an immediate political horizon: ‘Victorian England is a transparent metaphor for Weimar Germany. Its cash-value is particularly apparent at the point where Peachum visualizes the burning-down of Westminster Abbey by a cabinet minister, or when left-wing agitators are made the scapegoats for the sinking of a coffin-ship, or when the narrator stresses MacHeath’s abstemiousness, vegetarianism, and humble origins’ (Dickson 1978: 257). Allegory works by indirection and distance, and allegory seeks to perpetuate itself: what Dickson does not state here is the literal analogy he guides us towards. MacHeath is refashioned in the novel as Hitler, and the novel represents the rise to power of the Nazis in 1933, the year before the book was published. However, if MacHeath is a figure for the criminal business practices of Hitler, what this shows us is in fact merely that Hitler himself was no more or less than an allegory for the modern businessman. If this immediately allegorical level of the novel is readily apparent, it is not a horizon of closure. Here an allegorical element of The Threepenny Opera has been carried forward and expanded upon in this revised sequel. Esslin notes that the earlier incarnation of Mac the Knife is betrayed by a kiss on a Thursday evening (Esslin 1984: 107). Here I cannot help but note the similar rhetorical gestures taken by Esslin and Dickson in their respective revelations that MacHeath is an allegorical figure for, respectively, Jesus Christ and Hitler, since neither of these critics actually names the allegory, and instead replicates the rhetorical gesture. Brecht’s allegory takes on new resonance, as we come to terms with the presence of apotheosis in the narrative. It comes to be conflated with MacHeath’s self-fashioning: There was scarcely anyone who could honestly swear that he had always been called MacHeath; but there was also no one who could prove that he had such and such a name and had gone to such and such a school, that he had been a rowdy or a clerk, that he had lodged in such and such a house. But every day the rumour might be spreading that he was an ordinary respectable citizen, and then it would need an expensive and dangerous massacre to re-establish that convenient twilight in which a man can grow fat and prosperous. And he was now rather too corpulent for that; he was more fitted for mental labours. (Brecht 1934: 203)


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Now MacHeath’s self-mythologization as Mac the Knife can be understood as a form of self-allegorization, as an attempt to play narrator and allegorist to his own life. His goal, then, in his business dealings, is at the same time inseparable from the action of apotheosis, of the triumphant alchemical transmutation of himself into the hero of his own narrative. And indeed there is an essential romance narrative discernible within the Dreigroschenroman. MacHeath rises from the obscurity of the criminal underworld, gathers around him a gang of faithful cronies, and spreads his ‘new way’, what he calls the ‘B. shops’ system (Brecht 1934: 47). Yet the B. shop system faces opposition from moneylenders, from bankers and from Peachum and his beggar-business. When one of the B. shop owners, a woman named Mary Sawyer, dies under suspicious circumstances, MacHeath is the most likely suspect, and his enemies frame him. As his cronies gradually betray him and undermine his business efforts, MacHeath gradually consents to his own imprisonment (209–10). Subsequently, an archetypal, autumnal flavour enters the narrative. As ‘the leaves turn yellow’ (211) MacHeath descends into prison, where he prepares for his return and continues to manage his affairs, becoming, despite his imprisonment, the managing director of a bank. His trial and eventual acquittal then leads to a full apotheosis, as he unites under his control all the contending business and bank forces, meeting his father-in-law for the first time and gaining Peachum’s blessing for his marriage to Polly. MacHeath’s narrative readily lends itself to a romance paradigm analogous to Christ’s story: his betrayal, self-willed scapegoating, descent into the underworld, and rebirth in an apotheosis which culminates in a marriage with all humankind. Thus what seems satirized above all else here is the narrative paradigm of romance, which is itself tied closely to allegory as such. Such an interpretation seems especially reinforced by the novel’s penultimate scene, at St Paul’s Cathedral, where the exonerated MacHeath and his newly loyal entourage gather. They come to hear a funeral service for a group of soldiers whose troop transport ship has sunk in the English Channel. This disaster is the end result of an extended business scheme to defraud the government through the sale of rotting hulks to the army; Peachum and a number of coinvestors are the defrauders. At the Cathedral, a Bishop delivers an interpretation of the disaster through the parable of the talents. The Bishop explains to them the meaning of the sinking of the ship, and the parable of the talents provides the Bishop with what he calls the ‘background’ of the event: ‘The deep meaning of this parable is expressed in that astonishing sentence: ‘To every man according to his means.’ [. . .] Talents – that means two things: firstly, a large silver coin of ancient Greece, and secondly, a mental faculty. That seems to me a beautiful allegory. Faculties are money, accomplishment is wealth’ (Brecht 1934: 346). The Bishop’s sermon is an allegorization of the catastrophe. From the parable he draws the argument that God gives each person a basically equal capital with which to begin. As long as profit is made from the capital, God, the creditor, is happy. The amount of interest paid back, in the end, is irrele-

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vant, as long as there is some interest. Using this moral code as a guide, the Bishop explains that the soldiers on the ship have not died in vain. Then we realize that the ship which sank in the impenetrable fog was not unjustified in bearing the proud name of Optimist. For its optimism, my friends, consists in the supreme hope that its fate will be rightly interpreted by the nation. Then, even from this ship that was destined to sink, we have gained something: it has paid interest and compound interest, oh Lord! (Brecht 1934: 347) What might be easily missed here, and what is most crucial to note, is that the profit comes from the act of interpretation, from the allegorization itself, from the transformation of bare fact into narrative, into a parable. I suggest we see this as a form of commodification. This mocking satire of optimism echoes most directly Voltaire’s Candide. Pangloss’s philosophical dictum that ‘We live in the best of all possible worlds’ is here translated into the terms of capitalism. Using the Bishop’s interpretative code, there is nothing that cannot be narrativized and given meaning. There is nothing that cannot be profited from. Like Pangloss’s rationalization of the Lisbon earthquake, the Bishop’s allegorical technique is one which can argue for the essential necessity of anything. Peachum, MacHeath and their financial backers retire from the Cathedral to a restaurant, where they draw their own inferences from the parable of the talents: We have all just heard the wonderful words of the bishop when he spoke of the parable of the pound. We may be sure that our new board of directors, with Mr MacHeath at the helm, will extract from the pound which our world-wide organization represents, every penny that is humanly obtainable. (Brecht 1934: 348) The suggestion thus emerges that the parable describes most of all MacHeath himself, reinforcing the allegorical element of MacHeath’s apotheosis, in as much as the parable is one of Christ’s narratives, allegorizing the ascent of man into the kingdom of heaven. Like the parable of the sower, the parable of the talents is also a parable about itself, about the action of allegorization or apotheosis, which finds numerous parallels in the paradigm of dialectical thinking: ‘For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad’ (Luke 8:17). That the parable of the talents is not just an admonishment against being unprofitable is made clear in the book of Matthew, where it is overtly stated, ‘the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country’ (Matthew 25:14). Moreover, the parable of the sheep and the goats, describing the ascent of humankind into the Kingdom of God, follows directly


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from the parable of the talents. As Frye points out, the parable of the sheep and the goats ‘is an apocalypse’ (Frye 1957: 300). The overt apocalypticism of this latter parable only indicates that the parable of the talents is a less direct retelling of the same narrative of revelation. In Brecht’s Menippean satire, what is satirized is perhaps not so much philosophy and ideas, as the work of reification itself, and thus the content of the novel mediates the formal autonomizing of the narrative. Fewkoombey soon realizes that in Brecht’s London, begging is a form of salesmanship. Because he is a real cripple, Fewkoombey is unable to subsist on begging, while Peachum’s manufactured beggars succeed because they realize they have to make themselves into something fake. They have to make of themselves goods. What they sell is their poverty, which must be put on display: ‘in certain circles a suit of clothes without such flesh-revealing peepholes was regarded as equivalent to a shop-window which has paper pasted over it’ (Brecht 1934: 10). If there is one thing that all the novel’s characters have in common, and which Peachum’s beggars exemplify, it is that they transform themselves into objects, dehumanizing themselves as goods to be exchanged. We all, it seems, make commodities of ourselves. The conflict described by this narrative is the violence of a completely reified human reality, where the relations between the characters become completely interchangeable. The business competition between MacHeath and Peachum is constantly described as a ‘fight’, a competition of pure strength, and in ‘a fight one should never have a fixed rule as to who is the ally and who is the enemy’ (215). Thus throughout the book allegiances are dissolved and reformed between the competitors and their investors. There is nothing personal at stake in this conflict, no sense of right or wrong, or of values. Loyalty is immaterial. It is, I think, a whole new realm of human relations, mapped and reified by capitalism, transformed and autonomized in modernity, emptied of traditional meaning and thus left as empty of signification as ‘sport’. And because nothing has any meaning, all meaning is open to negotiation, and thus vulnerable to interpretations such as the Bishop’s sermon. When MacHeath triumphs over Peachum at the novel’s conclusion and the truth of MacHeath’s nefarious backstabbing practices is revealed to his creditors, there is nothing for them to do but admire him (340). As a Menippean or intellectual satire, the book is a satire of rationalization and its transformative power in the realm of human relations, its dehumanizing force, central to which is the fundamental concept of the eternal, dehistoricized nature of human reality, encapsulated so perfectly in the amnesiac commodity form. As Brecht points out in his notes to The Threepenny Opera, these characters don’t actually care about money. Peachum ‘has no regard for money. [. . .] His crime lies in his conception of the world. [. . .] In making a commodity of human misery he is merely following the trend of the time’ (Brecht 1970–2003, vol. 2ii: 91). It is thus appropriate that at the end of the Dreigroschenroman, Peachum suggests that MacHeath will become in the future a salesman of culture: ‘I mean books, cheap novels, things which do not

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portray life as a uniform grey but paint it in brighter colours; things which will show to the ordinary man a finer world’ (Brecht 1934: 349). MacHeath will sell narrative, culture, ideology and commodification: reification itself. MacHeath will become a culture merchant, a master of the parable form. In the novel’s epilogue, we bear witness to a dream of allegory. In Fewkoombey’s dream of the apocalypse, he is the Judge, the ultimate dispenser of allegory, and the first person he chooses to allegorize is Jesus Christ himself, the maker of parables, the storytelling allegorist par excellence. Fewkoombey’s dream is an amalgamation of his experiences throughout the novel. The dream is most directly inspired by the bishop’s sermon, for Fewkoombey listens to it while taking refuge from the cold. Yet the dream is also shaped by what Fewkoombey has witnessed through the narrative, as he stands at the edges of the great agonistic contest, catching only glimpses of the fight between MacHeath and Peachum. If there is any glimpse of hope in Brecht’s otherwise relentless satire, it is in the novel’s concluding dream, since a dream is a fulfilment of a wish, and in a dream ‘no one can stop a dreamer from getting what he wants’ (Brecht 1934: 354). Clearly, what Fewkoombey wants is some justice, because he seizes the privileged position of judge for himself over all the ‘madmen’ (354) fighting for it. His dream is a dream of apotheosis, of collective social transformation in which the masses throw off the yoke of bourgeois ideology and liberate themselves: The masses arose; shook off at last their tormentors; with a single ablution rid themselves of their comforters – perhaps the most terrible of their enemies; finally gave up all hope, and won the victory. Everything was changed. Vulgarity lost its glory, usefulness attained renown, stupidity lost its privileges, brutality was no longer the key to success. Not the first nor the second, but the third or the fourth, had been delaying the great Day of Judgement. (Brecht 1934: 354) Fewkoombey holds the trial in the yard where he spent most of his time tending Peachum’s dogs; the dogs serve as a jury of fourteen. Christ is chosen as the first to be judged, because in Fewkoombey’s opinion he has ‘misrepresented facts in his parable’ (355). By calling as witnesses all of Christ’s family and friends, Fewkoombey demonstrates that they succeeded in life not through the use of the single talent given to them by God, but as a result of a variety of other objects, inherited or received from others: a workshop, money for education, a grocer’s shop. Fewkoombey then calls forward the servants of Christ’s family and friends, none of whom have increased the value of the talent apparently bestowed upon them by God. Having demonstrated that Christ’s parable contains fallacious information, Fewkoombey is still not satisfied, but rather becomes more perplexed. As he looks from the defendant and his family, well-fed and prosperous, to the


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witnesses for the prosecution, starving and misshapen, his dilemma becomes clear. He must determine exactly what the talent of the fortunate is: ‘Of what does it consist?’ (361). Why do some, he wonders, prosper, while others do not? Throughout the novel Fewkoombey’s only pleasure is reading a battered and discarded encyclopaedia. The full Encyclopaedia Britannica now appears before him, twenty-four volumes personified and marching in an orderly row, and these volumes attempt to explain to him the concept of capital, of interest, of labour-power as a means of increasing value. None of these concepts satisfy the Judge. He confirms through the interrogation of the star Sirius that it is not a matter of chance; he rejects the witnesses’ grumbled suggestions that it is merely a matter of ‘vast inequality’ (Brecht 1934: 363). His realization, in the end, is that ‘We are the pound! Man is the pound of man! Whoever has no one to exploit, exploits himself!’ (364). His realization, his epiphany, appears to be Marx’s mystical secret of the commodity; that it is invested with surplus-value generated from the alienation of human labour as a commodity. It is through alienating one’s labour and selling it as a commodity that one exploits oneself. Thus it is not that humans are given a pound, a talent, it is that they are a pound, that they are, themselves, commodities. The secret which the trial of Christ reveals is reification itself, the occlusion of history and the transformation of the relations between human beings into the relations between commodities. Fewkoombey’s verdict is strict, and it demonstrates that we are mistaken if we fail to see that the parable of the talents is also a narrative about the profitability of parables: You are convicted! [. . .] Because you gave people this parable, which is also a pound! Out of which profit can be made! And all who pass it on, all who dare to relate such things, I condemn! To death! And I’ll go further: whoever listens to it and dares to refrain from taking immediate steps against it, him also I condemn! And since I, too, have listened to this parable and said nothing, I condemn myself to death! (Brecht 1934: 365) At this, the centre of judgement, the centre suddenly disappears. Following his dream, Fewkoombey is arrested for the murder of Mary Sawyer, and hanged before a great multitude of beggars. A certain vertigo seems to enter the narrative in this final moment, in which the judge is judged and executed in a mockery of judgement, in which human beings themselves are reduced to the form of parables, of allegories which are also commodities to be exchanged. The Kafkaesque overtones of this scene of judgement are worth noting. As commodities, we are all guilty, because, presumably, guilt or alienation is the form of the commodity itself. As a massive estrangement effect, a satire or ‘cognitive estrangement’ as Darko Suvin puts it (Suvin 1979: 4), the Dreigroschenroman serves to estrange

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us from the dehistoricized form of human existence under capitalism. As a satire of a form (for which we can find various rhetorical figures such as the parable or the allegory), the Dreigroschenroman is most slippery and troubling, for what seems to be satirized here is the essentially allegorical nature of narrative itself as a narrative of messianic transcendence. This mocks the idea that narrative leads us anywhere but to alienation. Under capitalism, Brecht seems to argue, narrative itself is an autonomization, and totality is a bourgeois myth. The only totalization possible is the total reification of reality. This may bring us back to the problem of Jameson versus Althusser, of relations versus differences, and it is in this way that the novel stages for us the Bakhtinian tension between monologism and dialogism. If the ‘given’ that this narrative estranges us from is the transhistorical narrative of transcendence, the paradigm of collective, messianic triumph, then the Dreigroschenroman may be a true satire, in as much as it can be understood to satirize totality itself, or a collective utopianism. The novel does not hint at ‘something else’, some ‘almost’, some ‘Not . . . But’. It seems to ridicule even the possible argument that narrative as such embodies a future-oriented realm of possibility outside of the present. Here futurity and redemption are degraded tools of a sly capitalism. The novel demonstrates a cynicism so critical and negative that it becomes unbearable, demanding another attitude through its very refusal of one. The book satirizes hope itself, and it is an intolerable provocation. It demonstrates a wholly damned universe, staging our distance from any collective totality, and in this it maintains its own status as allegory, like Life of Galileo, refusing to release us with a narrative of transcendence. It ceases to have any meaning at all, and instead rejects us, rejects a totalizing, idealist dialectic that leads away from reality, and instead pushes us back down to earth with a jarring shock. In this, Brecht’s novel refuses the Hegelian Idealist dialectic unifying subjectivity and the objective world. Instead, it replicates the alienation of the commodity under capitalism itself. What the conclusion of the novel performs is the destruction of the novel itself, its collapse into a ruin that stands as an allegory for the subject under capitalism. It renders tense and visible the essential contradiction of consciousness under capitalism, and stages its alienation hyperbolically, presenting its narrative to us through what I will suggest is a negative dialectic. The Dreigroschenroman ends with a Darstellung of the dialectic at a standstill.


Brecht and tragedy

Dialectics in the theatre Peter Szondi writes, apropos Hegel’s conception of the dialectic circa the Phenomenology of Spirit, that therein ‘the dialectic, which is also the tragic (and the overcoming of the tragic), goes beyond the limits posited’ in Hegel’s earlier Aesthetics (Szondi 1961: 21). Of importance to us here is Szondi’s surmise that, in Hegel’s mature thought, the dialectic and the tragic become identical, and that ‘the dialectic knows no realm that remains closed off to it’ (21). In other words, as Rodolphe Gasché extrapolates, ‘dialectic remains another name for the tragic and for its overcoming. Dialectic is structurally tragic, and tragedy correspondingly dialectic’ (Gasché 2000: 39). In this chapter I wish to reconcile the apparent contradiction this creates for Brecht’s vocal antagonism towards tragedy. Drawing primarily upon Theodor Adorno and Raymond Williams, I will argue that Brecht’s mature plays embody a post-Hegelian, dialectical, tragic vision that culminate in zweideutig moments, equivocal moments that are embodiments of Benjamin’s dialectic at a standstill, and also of Adorno’s negative dialectic. As in previous chapters, I wish to illuminate a facet of Brecht that may at first glance seem utterly contrary to the received understanding of Brecht. In particular, my goal of articulating points of concordance between Brecht and Adorno pushes against the grain of well-known criticisms made by Adorno in reference to Brecht’s political didacticism. Here, another Brecht will emerge, one deeply invested in the political importance of tragedy in the modern world. Again, this is an unexpected stance from Brecht. Brecht’s well-known critical distance from tragedy is based on a consistent understanding of the meaning that resonates within tragic form. Tragedy, as Brecht sees it, has ultimately been absorbed for conservative ideological ends in the modern world. In the ‘Short Organum for the Theatre’ Brecht observes: The theatre as we know it shows the structure of society (represented on the stage) as incapable of being influenced by society (in the auditorium). Oedipus, who offended against certain principles underlying the

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society of his time, is executed: the gods see to that; they are beyond criticism. [. . .] Human sacrifices all round! Barbaric delights! We know that the barbarians have their art. Let us create another. (Brecht 1964: 189) Tragedy today functions as little more than a conservative ritual of scapegoating, in which pride or hubris are justly punished, in which overreachers are appropriately yoked back. Despite Brecht’s vocal opposition to tragedy, his mature plays are all-too-easily located within tragic paradigms, so much so that Brecht famously insisted that Life of Galileo and Mother Courage and her Children were not tragedies, and modified the plays in order to prevent an audience’s identification with the protagonists as noble, tragic, longsuffering figures. The relationship between Brecht’s tragedies, and the vision of tragedy that Brecht condemns, is fruitfully illuminated by a passage from Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment: The unbroken surface of existence, in the duplication of which ideology consists solely today, appears all the more splendid, glorious, and imposing the more it is imbued with necessary suffering. It takes on the aspect of fate. Tragedy is leveled down to the threat to destroy anyone who does not conform, whereas its paradoxical meaning once lay in hopeless resistance to mythical threat. Tragic fate becomes the just punishment into which bourgeois aesthetics has always longed to transform it. (Horkheimer and Adorno 1944: 122) Brecht, I suggest, is in fundamental agreement with this thesis concerning tragedy. Tragedy has come to function as a degraded reflection of the ideological. Yet Brecht’s abiding interest in the staging of the classics such as Antigone and Faust and his important interpretation of Hamlet indicate that Brecht’s response to the problem of what to do with tragedy in the modern world was not to abandon it to the barbarians, as his comment above suggests. Instead, Brecht imagines tragedy as a site for a dialectical intervention. Yet this is not to attempt to restore to tragedy the status it contained within antiquity, as an assertion of the ideal through the hopeless gesture of the tragic protagonist. Rather, the dialectic of tragedy today must necessarily reject Hegelian Idealism in favour of something much closer to Adorno’s negative dialectic. Thus the thesis of this final chapter is the logical endpoint of the discussion so far, since in previous chapters I have argued that Brecht’s aesthetic stages an unorthodox, anti-idealist dialectic, presenting incitement and provocation instead of positive social models. There are various ways of describing such a post-Hegelian dialectic: Antony Tatlow calls it a ‘critical dialectic’, while Adorno figures a ‘negative dialectic’. As John Willett documents in Brecht on Theatre, it was only in the last year of his life that Brecht


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made overt gestures towards renovating his dominant dramaturgical terminology. Whereas the concept of the Episch once held a privileged position in Brecht’s theory, it was now the Dialektik that Brecht would seek to stage in the theatre: An effort is now being made to move on from the epic theatre to the dialectical theatre. In our view and according to our intention the epic theatre’s practice – and the whole idea – were by no means undialectical. Nor would a dialectical theatre succeed without the epic element. All the same we envisage a sizeable transformation. (Brecht 1964: 281) Brecht’s thought was informed by the dialectic at least since the early 1930s, and he even re-read his work of the 1920s, such as In the Jungle of Cities, through his later understanding of dialectics. But now some foregrounding of dialectical thinking was the next order of business. This change of attitude has been the subject of much speculation. In The Mask of Evil: Brecht’s Response to the Poetry, Theatre and Thought of China and Japan, Antony Tatlow presents an intriguing thesis concerning Brecht’s overt turn to ‘dialectics in the theatre’. Disappointed with his reception in the GDR, Brecht drew inspiration from Chinese art, and from the thought of Mao, which fed Brecht’s hunger for contradiction and dynamic change – precisely what he found lacking in the GDR. Tatlow writes, ‘We can interpret this sense of a Chinese presence in a rapidly changing world as a sign of his internationalist conscience [. . .]. This reminds us of his expectations of China’s development: socialism without the Stalinist distortions’ (Tatlow 1977: 509). From this perspective, Brecht was never comfortable within the project of a German national theatre, because it immediately began to stagnate, losing all sense of contradiction. Tatlow suggests that ‘Mao’s affirmation of perpetual change,’ inspired Brecht, whose drama aimed ‘to awaken and stimulate awareness of contradiction’ (523). Mao revitalized Brecht’s investment in the dialectic and ‘[o]ne consequence of this reconsideration was his decision to change the description of his theatre from “epic” to “dialectical” ’ (523). Tatlow’s analysis of this turn is significant. While noting Hans Mayer’s argument that ‘Brecht’s final position came embarrassingly close to that of the despised Tuis of the Frankfurt School’ (Tatlow 1977: 528), Tatlow argues that Brecht’s final sense of the dialectic cannot be understood as Adorno’s negative dialectic: It is not possible to subsume a subtle play like Der Kaukasische Kreidekreis, let alone Brecht’s own position, under the term ‘negative dialectics’. For one thing, his method of suggesting but withholding conclusions cannot be so described, since it is not based on any negative refusal to prescribe, but on the positive need to stimulate consciousness.

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Prescription ultimately stultifies. [. . .] The term ‘negative dialectics’ is inappropriate. The invitation of positive dialectics to imitate patterns of heroic behaviour must surely be ultimately counter-productive, when it ignores the realities of human behaviour. Might we not describe Brecht’s forward-looking, hopeful, yet cautious and realist position as ‘critical dialectics’? (Tatlow 1977: 535–6) Tatlow’s suggestion of critical dialectics is fair in reference to The Caucasian Chalk Circle, but I question its accuracy in relation to the other three mature plays, The Good Person of Szechwan, Mother Courage and her Children and Life of Galileo. Raymond Williams, as we shall see, finds a uniquely Marxist vision of tragedy in Brecht’s mature work, and, building on this sentiment, I wish to suggest that these latter three plays are, essentially, dialectical tragedies. I want to respond to Tatlow’s distinction, and suggest that Brecht’s ‘dialectics in the theatre’ is best understood as a negative dialectic, as long as the very concept of a negative dialectic is complicated and itself understood to contain and embody an unresolvable contradiction, from which it draws its dynamism. Brecht died with this work unfinished, leaving a provocative series of notes concerning a ‘dialectical theatre’. Some of them appear to supplement The Messingkauf Dialogues and its condensation, ‘A Short Organum for the Theatre’. In a provocative fragment of writing that is classed by Willett among the ‘Appendices to the Short Organum’, Brecht explicitly addresses dialectical thinking and how the artist, in this specific case the actor, may employ dialectical thinking in preparing for a role. The play in question is Goethe’s Faust, and Brecht’s approach should hold our attention for the manner in which it challenges traditional assumptions about the task of the reader. We shall find here the key to Brecht’s theory of the dialectic. ‘Certain questions are only asked by dialecticians,’ Brecht writes (1964: 279). The question that he asks here is, what would have happened had Faust married Gretchen? ‘This is a question that is not usually asked. It seems too low, vulgar, commonplace. Faust is a genius, a great soul striving after the infinite; how can anyone dream of asking a question like “Why doesn’t he get married?” But simple people do ask it’ (279–80). As Jameson demonstrated in the last chapter, for Brecht dialectical thinking is plumpes Denken. The question ‘Why doesn’t Faust get married?’ echoes Brecht’s famous theory of fixing the ‘not . . . but’, a technique for the actor that uses performance to communicate the negativity of the dialectical questioning: ‘Whatever he doesn’t do must be contained and conserved in what he does. In this way every sentence and every gesture signifies a decision; the character remains under observation and is tested’ (Brecht 1964: 137). For Brecht, dialectical thinking comes not from the posing of overly abstract questions, the domain of the Tui, but from the posing of questions arising from the concrete. To offer dialectical thinking to an audience means to suggest simple questions that nevertheless provoke dialectical answers.


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The answer to the simple question, ‘Why doesn’t Faust get married?’ is not simple at all. Asking this question leads Brecht’s imaginary actor to see the drama not as a series of causally-connected events, but as a series of contradictions which, when they are resolved, lead Faust out of determinacy and into dialectical freedom. The difference is between perceiving the drama through the paradigm of tragic fate, or as a drama in which contradictions are overcome as a means of achieving a reconciliation. When the question is asked, ‘What does Faust not do?’, Faust’s love affair with Gretchen is situated within larger contradictions in the drama, rather than being considered as one event in a linear chain. Faust’s central conflict is between spiritual and earthly desires. Considered in isolation and positively, both spiritual goals and the sensual sphere are traps: Gretchen represents the latter pole of the drama’s main contradiction. Faust lives this contradiction and must emerge from it, which he does eventually, although this means that he comes in to conflict with Gretchen, and this leads to her ‘utter destruction’ (Brecht 1964: 280). A critical attitude towards Gretchen’s destruction is of central importance to Brecht here: ‘The main contradiction is resolved at the end of the whole play; it is this that explains the lesser contradictions and puts them in their place. Faust can no longer behave like a mere consumer, a parasite. Spiritual and sensual activity are united in productive work for mankind; the production of life leads to satisfaction in life’ (280). It is crucial to note that Brecht’s analysis is not rationalizing the destruction of Gretchen because of the eventual productive, concrete outcome that her destruction allows. In fact Brecht argues an entirely contrary attitude to such doctrines of fatal necessity. When the negative possibility of marriage is proposed by the plumpes Denken question, it becomes evident that marriage ‘would in a relative sense have been better and more productive as being the conjuncture which would have let the woman he loved develop instead of being destroyed’ (280). This does not happen, but it has been registered as a negative presence in the drama. As a result, Faust has been critically refashioned as a drama of dialectical freedom rather than one of bourgeois fate. The dialectically-questioning actor will be able to make Faust’s non-marriage into a clearly-defined stage of his development, where otherwise, by following the usual approach, he merely helps to show that whoever wishes to rise higher on earth must inevitably create pain, that the need to pay for development and satisfaction is the unavoidable tragedy of life – i.e. the cruellest and most commonplace principle: that you can’t make omelettes without breaking eggs. (Brecht 1964: 280) Dialectical thinking has amended a narrative of tragic fate, without, strictly speaking, altering the facts of that narrative. Instead, a dialectical attitude has repeated, in performance, a highly bourgeois narrative, and in that repe-

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tition has demythologized the narrative’s meaning, introducing a sense of freedom in the place of determinism. This distinction remains fundamental in a dialectical criticism: dialectics is resolutely opposed to vulgar doctrines of fate, because dialectics is an openness to contingency and possibility. Brecht wants us to see the negative implied by every positive. We are to perceive the non-event as a stage in Faust’s development, as opposed to perceiving the event as a stage in his development. We may further cement the distinction by considering two descriptions of the same event, while also noting that these descriptions fundamentally alter the event. While they seem to describe the same event, in fact they cannot be said to be doing so, since the event includes one’s perception of it. Instead of suggesting that it is inevitable that Gretchen be destroyed so that Faust can achieve his triumph, Brecht asks that we think that Faust’s non-marriage to Gretchen resolves a contradiction in his development. The point here is that dialectical thinking allows one to take a drama that appears to espouse a heinous ideological perspective based upon the destruction of a woman, and to lever open its contradictions in order to rewrite it as a drama of freedom. Nevertheless, that somewhere along the way the woman’s life has been lost is telling. Brecht’s analysis should be useful to us, I think, for the ways in which he takes a drama broadly understood as a narrative of German Romantic Idealism and intervenes with a critical, Marxist dialectic: Faust’s triumph becomes an escape from bourgeois antagonisms of spirit and body, and he achieves productive usefulness for society. The Berliner Ensemble’s production of Urfaust, directed by Egon Monk, was not well received in the GDR in 1953. Willett notes that the play was publicly criticized as a ‘denial of the national cultural heritage’ (Brecht 1964: 273–4), and was interpreted as a sign of Brecht’s misleading influence on the Ensemble. The criticism provoked a response from Brecht, in which he argues against the canonizing of art and in favour of the constant rediscovery of the newness of the drama, the experimental elements that are the source of its liveliness: ‘We must bring out the ideas originally contained in it; we must grasp its national and at the same time its international significance’ (Brecht 1964: 272). For Brecht, the ideological horizon of national identity was never sufficient for the interpretation of a dramatic text. Examining the international significance of an aesthetic object means a dialecticizing of the work of art. Clearly this is the point of a Brechtian interpretation of drama: to shatter naturalized thinking about classical texts while also estranging nationalist ideology.

Negative dialectics Brecht leaves much unsaid in his work on dialectics in the theatre, often raising more questions than he answers. Not all narratives, for example, will present the conciliatory triumph staged in Goethe’s Faust. Certainly such triumphant conclusions are lacking in Brecht’s mature work. In this respect,


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we can find a useful supplement to Brecht’s dialectical thinking in the work of his ideological nemesis Theodor Adorno. Adorno found in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame (1957) an eminently dialectical drama, and this should indicate that my approach asks us to put aside our usual presuppositions concerning a Brechtian theatre. Yet Adorno’s paradoxical negative dialectic, despite the occasional difficulty in understanding Adorno’s dense, intellectualized writing, bears a close connection to Brecht’s dialectical plumpes Denken. This similarity is perhaps all that is needed to make a consideration of Adorno’s improper Marxism relevant to our analysis of Brecht. If Brecht’s negative is characterized by ‘vulgar, commonplace’ questions such as ‘Why doesn’t Faust get married?’ then this is perhaps not so far from Adorno’s negative, which, as the translator of Negative Dialectics puts it, is ‘the negativity of the concrete particular, of things as we see and experience them in our time’ (Ashton 1973: xi). The negative is, for Adorno, the persistent stumbling block of the real, against which thought always falters. ‘DIALECTICS IS NOT A STANDPOINT’ (Adorno 1966: 4), Adorno announces in the introduction to Negative Dialectics, a book designed to destroy the traditional view of dialectics, stemming from Plato, in which ‘dialectics meant to achieve something positive by means of negation’ (xix). A negative dialectic, it seems, has no such ‘affirmative traits’ (xix). Adorno characterizes the dialectic as an appreciation that reality, the object, never utterly or completely succumbs to human thought, never altogether gives itself over to conceptualization. There is, I think, something stubbornly utopian (perhaps I should simply say stubbornly hopeful) about the idea that the world will never be completely overwritten by the human mind or subsumed by human understanding: The name of dialectics says no more, to begin with, than that objects do not go into their concepts without leaving a remainder, that they come to contradict the traditional norm of adequacy. Contradiction is not what Hegel’s absolute idealism was bound to transfigure it into: it is not of the essence in a Heraclitean sense. It indicates the untruth of identity, the fact that the concept does not exhaust the thing conceived. (Adorno 1966: 5) Thinking, Adorno emphasizes, is bound by concepts and bound by identity: ‘the appearance of identity is inherent in thought itself, in its pure form. To think is to identify’ (5). Thus reason operates only according to a totalizing and oppressive form of mimesis, the discovery of sameness everywhere (resembling, perhaps, Freud’s narcissistic, judging ego from the essay ‘Negation’, recognizing only that which is similar to itself and refusing to avow the non-identical). That there is always a ‘remainder’ left behind by conceptualization constitutes the freedom deployable in the dialectic. That remainder, which will not yield to either the totalizing concept or to the mimesis of reason and logic, can only be apprehended as contradiction: ‘Since that

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totality is structured to accord with logic, however, whose core is the principle of the excluded middle, whatever will not fit this principle, whatever differs in quality, comes to be designated as a contradiction. Contradiction is nonidentity under the aspect of identity’ (Adorno 1966: 5). Since thought operates according to a law of similitude, differences are inevitably foreclosed by reason. Differentiation, when it is grasped by thought at all, is rationalized in the mind in the form of logical contradiction. Thinking therefore is a terrible failure, and if not for dialectics it would be nothing but a hallucination of reason. Within the strictures of identity, the mind is a hall of mirrors without presentiment of something beyond those mirrors. Dialectics is the intimation, provoked by this imperfect thinking, that there is something else besides the sameness of thought: ‘Dialectics is the consistent sense of nonidentity. It does not begin by taking a standpoint. My thought is driven to it by its own inevitable insufficiency, by my guilt of what I am thinking’ (Adorno 1966: 5). This sense of nonidentity is only graspable by thinking as contradiction, and thus contradiction is the non-identical, given to consciousness in a logical form, although the non-identical itself is resolutely opposed to logic. While nonidentity is a wild, contingent indeterminacy, and is not reducible to logic, contradiction on the other hand can appear to be oppressive and highly reductive of ‘difference’ or the radically negative. Yet Adorno defends contradiction as being something other than just a logical shackle used to reduce the non-identical to the whims of reason. The ‘inescapably and fatefully legal character’ (6) of contradictoriness is not a justification for objecting to dialectics; rather consciousness itself is to blame: ‘Identity and contradiction of thought are welded together. Total contradiction is nothing but the manifested untruth of total identification. Contradiction is nonidentity under the rule of a law that affects the nonidentical as well’ (6). Since thinking operates according to a law of identity and a mechanism of identification, the non-identical, the negative, appears in thought only under the auspices of this law, in the guise of contradiction. As Jameson argues in Late Marxism: Adorno, or, the Persistence of the Dialectic (1990), it is precisely the thinking of contradictions, the sensing of dialectical tensions, which late capitalism and its totalizing positivist ideology have suppressed from consciousness. The tenuous, dialectical tension between repetition and difference, between suffocating sameness and the terrifyingly new, a tension which is the dialectical structure of identity itself, has been lost under capitalism in favour of a single pole of the opposition: ‘namely repetition as such, the return of sameness over and over again, in all its psychological desolation and tedium: that is to say, neurosis’ ( Jameson 1990: 16). This neurotic ego of the modern world is, I think, the xenophobic psychic defence of Freud’s ‘Negation’. As Jameson describes it, this neurotic self moves through the world ‘carrying its sameness with it wherever it goes, so that it has the protection of feeling, whatever it might stretch out its hand to touch, that it never meets anything but what it knows already’


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(16). This is also, Jameson notes, the empty time of myth, and Adorno, in his commentary on The Odyssey, finds in epic storytelling strategies ‘the emergence of epic language and narrative from the ever-sameness of myth’ ( Jameson 1990: 18). In the epic style, so central to Brecht’s dialectical art, ‘mythic repetition and sameness’ (18), the temporality of the mythic world, are what the ‘epic seeks to cancel and transcend’ (19). Aesthetic form is, potentially, a critical negation, one dialectical response to the sameness of mythic thinking. Jameson’s insistence that Adorno’s dialectic is not only a Marxist dialectic, but also the dialectic most suitable for our late capitalist moment, highlights key moments in Negative Dialectics that connect Adorno’s dialectic to Brecht’s Marxism. Adorno addresses head-on the thorniest problems inherent in a dialectical thinking: namely, that it is totalitarian, in that it always presupposes a teleology, a totalizing identity, even when it claims to reject totalization, since dialectics appears to begin by universalizing the importance of contradiction. The very terminology ‘negative dialectics’ is meant to highlight the difficulty of a non-totalizing dialectic. The definition of dialectics that Adorno suggests makes him sceptical about the possibility of such thought: Such a concept of dialectics makes us doubt its possibility. However varied, the anticipation of moving in contradictions throughout seems to teach a mental totality – the very identity thesis we have just rendered inoperative. [. . .] [T]he truth which in idealist dialectics drives beyond every particular, as onesided and wrong, is the truth of the whole, and if that were not preconceived, the dialectical steps would lack motivation and direction. (Adorno 1966: 10) Adorno asks, how can one think dialectically without having a presupposed truth in sight? Adorno’s answer is Marxian. The antagonisms that the mind experiences, the ‘object’ of subjective thought, ‘is an antagonistic system itself – antagonistic in reality, not just in its conveyance to the knowing subject that rediscovers itself therein’ (10). This is society itself, the object, which is the negation of identity while at the same time being its determinant: ‘society, the objective determinant of the mind, is as much an epitome of subjects as it is their negation’ (10). Thus, while Hegel’s idealistic dialectic sought out the realm of spirit, the general, as the true, and rejected the particular, in a metaphysical utopianism that was totalizing in its assumptions, the negative dialectic does not see the utopian whole as the true. In the negative dialectic the totality is the antagonistic social totality, the object which is non-identity and difference, and which in its concreteness frustrates Hegelian terms of true or untrue, general or particular: The preceding generality is both true and untrue: true, because it forms that ‘ether’ which Hegel calls spirit; untrue, because its reason is no

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reason yet, because its universality is the product of particular interests. This is why a philosophical critique of identity transcends philosophy. But the ineffable part of the utopia is that what defies subsumption under identity – the ‘use value,’ in Marxist terminology – is necessary anyway if life is to go on at all, even under the prevailing circumstances of production. (Adorno 1966: 10–11) This particular passage leads Jameson to link non-identity to Marxian usevalue as ‘the radically new, the corporeal’ (Jameson 1990: 23). Capitalist exchange-value, as the erasure of use-value, is the economic system that gives rise to a mode of thinking in which the negative, the concrete new, is gradually made more and more impossible. As Adorno puts it, above, the persistence of the ineffable part of utopia is the non-identical; the particular concrete arising from the social totality that asserts itself against the sameness of capitalist exchange-value. With Adorno as with Brecht, there is an abiding interest in use-value, as the everyday utopian assertion of concreteness that has the ability to negate sameness and identity. Adorno’s own agenda is to attack positivist thinking through the assertion of the negative, the non-identical and unique, not in the name of any triumph of the particular over the universal, or even in the name of some reconciliation, but rather, as Jameson puts it, ‘in the name of intensifying the tensions between universal and particular, of bringing everything that is incommensurable between them to consciousness as a historical contradiction and a form of suffering for the mind’ ( Jameson 1990: 90).

Dialectical stereoscopy Jameson’s study of Adorno offers some crucial points of connection between Brecht and the negative dialectic, specifically in relation to the Verfremdungseffekt. Specifically, Jameson offers an understanding of estrangement as just this, rendering taut and visible the opposition between universal and particular. To render it tense and bring it into focus means dialectical thinking, and this is precisely the function of the aesthetic. Jameson characterizes this as a re-inserting of thought into ‘totality or system’ ( Jameson 1990: 26), always already meaning both philosophical system and capitalist system, in what appears to be a kind of Verfremdungseffekt exercised upon identity itself: Identity is [. . .] something like occluded system, totality forgotten or repressed, at the same time that it continues the more effectively to perform system’s work. This is the sense in which the conscious reintroduction of system or totality comes as a solution to the closure of identity; it cannot free us from the latter’s illusions and mirages, since no mere thinking can do that, but it suddenly makes these last visible and


Brecht and tragedy affords a glimpse of the great magic ‘spell’ [der Bann] in which modern life is seized and immobilized. ( Jameson 1990: 27–8)

Here we begin to approach an understanding of the importance of the work of art, of the aesthetic, in Adorno’s dialectical thinking. Dialectical thinking, if it is possible, means engendering some presentiment of that which we cannot think. Jameson figures it as a form of doubled perception, or split vision, ‘a new kind of stereoscopic thinking’ (28), a ‘dialectical stereoscopy or “double standard’’’ (35), an attempt to ‘think’ the outside of thought, which is also the outside of identity and of the mimesis of the concept. We can also think of the concept, the self-identical thought as ‘the strong form of ideology itself’ (21). A dialectical stereoscopy means that in the concept, ‘the isolated thought about anything [. . .] carries its untruth invisibly, within its very form’ (49). A dialectical stereoscopy now means the estrangement of ideological thinking as a means of mutating and transforming it into a dialectical perception. Stereoscopic thinking means imagining the system, that which ‘is very precisely that outer face of the concept, that outside forever inaccessible to us,’ Jameson explains (1990: 28). Our understanding of why works of art are crucial to stereoscopic thinking increases when Jameson suggests the ‘dialectic of form and content’ (28) as a convenient means of registering the relation of system and concept. The problem of form and content also addresses the difficulty of maintaining a dialectical stereoscopy. Thinking form and content simultaneously means that ‘[w]hat the concept cannot say must somehow, by its imperfection, be registered within it (just as the monadic work of art must somehow “include” its outside, its referent, under pain of lapsing into decorative frivolity): otherwise the powerful force of identity will reign through it unchecked’ (30). Since the outside, the form of modern thought, is system, and thus capitalism, this might well lead one to conclude that the point of Adorno’s dialectical interpretation of modern art is to demonstrate that the work of art is a symptom of capitalism, as the absent referent. Instead, Jameson argues that late capitalism, as the meaning or ‘interpretant’ (30) of the work of art, is not understandable as a meaning at all but as the failure of meaning, and ‘rather gestures towards an outside of thinking – whether system itself in the form of rationalization, or totality as a socioeconomic mechanism of domination and exploitation – which escapes representation by the individual thinker or the individual thought’ (30). I am reminded here of Brecht’s attempts to fathom the working of the Chicago Stock Exchange so that the operation of capitalism might be represented on stage, and his eventual, frustrated abandonment of this project with the conclusion that capitalism is perhaps unrepresentable. Alternately, we might relate this problem to Brecht’s well-known statement in the essay, ‘On Form and Subject-Matter’: ‘Petroleum resists the five-act form’ (Brecht 1964: 30). Producing some presentiment of this totality

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means attending to aesthetic form, what we have already examined through the Marxian concept of Darstellung, because it is the aesthetic form of Darstellung, as borrowed specifically from Benjamin’s The Origin of German Tragic Drama, and which Jameson also relates for us to Althusser’s theory of structural causality, that provides the key to stimulating some sense of the non-identical and thus the totality. Jameson describes Adorno’s Darstellung as a homeopathic mimesis, closely based on Benjamin’s constellations, which are fragmentary aphorisms in their form. Darstellung conjures up a vision of totality that is somehow really a mock- or pseudo-totality: the illusion of the total system is aroused and encouraged by the systematic links and cross-references established between a range of concepts, while the baleful spell of system itself is then abruptly exorcised by the realization that the order of presentation is non-binding, that it might have been arranged in an utterly different fashion. ( Jameson 1990: 50) Darstellung-constellations are relational structures that expose the relational structures in the system itself. Mimesis here serves not merely to replicate but to distance and disarrange, and thus to reveal the possibility that autonomized components may be articulated in some new constellation. As with Althusser’s rearticulation of society as a series of semi-autonomous spheres existing in relations of difference, Adorno’s philosophical aphorisms are a mimesis of society without base or superstructure, in which all is ideology: The latest doctrine in which enlightenment used causality as a decisive political weapon is the Marxist one of superstructure and infrastructure: almost innocuously, it lags behind a condition in which not only the machineries of production, distribution, and domination, but economic and social relations and ideologies are inextricably interwoven, and in which living people have become bits of ideology. Where ideology is no longer added to things as a vindication or complement – where it turns into the seeming inevitability and thus legitimacy of whatever is – a critique that operates with the unequivocal causal relation of superstructure and infrastructure is wide of the mark. (Adorno 1966: 267–8) What is lost in a society without base, without superstructure, where reification is total and totalizing, is any sense of causality and, in a complementary fashion, any possibility of freedom from causality. Adorno cautions us that ‘today’s disappearance of causality signals no realm of freedom’ (268), because ‘[c]ausality itself makes sense only in a horizon of freedom’ (268), and ‘[u]pon reflection, causality points to the idea of freedom as the possibility of nonidentity’ (269). In the ubiquitous realm of positivist ideology and


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identity, the suppression of the negative is thus the suppression of the possibility of freedom. In commenting upon this passage, Jameson observes that Adorno’s strategy for countering the ubiquity of this ideological, hegemonic reinforcement of the ‘naturalness’ of what is, namely Adorno’s strategic use of mimesis as criticism, resembles nothing so much as Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt: ‘Affinity’ is in this sense ‘determinate negation’ – that is to say, ‘critical theory’, ‘negative dialectics’ [. . .]. [Mimesis] thus oddly echoes the great Brechtian principle of estrangement, which sought, by demonstrating that what we took to be natural was in reality social and the result of human praxis, to reawaken the awareness that human praxis was equally capable of turning it into something else. ( Jameson 1990: 84) The Verfremdungseffekt may be understood to function as a form of critical mimesis, pilfering the alienation effect of capitalist reification away from the social and rendering it an aesthetic technique for defamiliarizing the very source from which it derives. The peculiar effect of late capitalism upon society has been to reify human thought and social spheres. A widespread autonomization and privatization leaves its mark on consciousness and renders us increasingly unable to conceive of affinities in the realm of the social. Mimesis, or the fashioning of elective affinities as critical theory, provides one means of distancing this reification and exposing its autonomized components. While thinking cannot but operate from within these constrictions, the dialectic is an attempt to think something that is literally rendered untrue: a sense of totality. Yet since reification has become universal, aesthetic production cannot position itself outside of this totally reified society, and nor should it seek to. Instead, in works of art, ‘reification is borrowed back from the social, in order to permit the aesthetic a continuing and ever more precarious existence in a wholly reified world’ ( Jameson 1990: 181). The mechanism of aesthetic reification is perfectly paradoxical: art is reified precisely in order to resist its commodification. In a dialectical relationship with a reified society, art survives through some mimetic mutation of the social structure of that society into something profoundly antisocial.

Adorno and Brecht Adorno is uncompromising in his stance on didacticism of any kind in art, condemning it as a betrayal of the function of the aesthetic. However, Adorno’s definition of politically-resistant art need not necessarily exclude Brecht as an artist of dialectical change. In the following well-known passage, Adorno condemns both didactically political art, and art that delib-

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erately turns away from society and towards a contemplation of its own status as aesthetic object: The notion of a ‘message’ in art, even when politically radical, already contains an accommodation to the world: the stance of the lecturer conceals a clandestine entente with the listeners, who could only be rescued from deception by refusing it. [. . .] But any literature which therefore concludes that it can be a law unto itself, and exist only for itself, degenerates into ideology no less. Art, which even in its opposition to society remains a part of it, must close its eyes and ears against it: it cannot escape the shadow of irrationality. But when it appeals to this unreason, making it a raison d’être, it converts its own malediction into a theodicy. Even in the most sublimated work of art there is a hidden ‘it should be otherwise’. When a work is merely itself and no other thing, as in a pure pseudo-scientific construction, it becomes bad art – literally pre-artistic. (Adorno 1965: 193–4) The essential problem political art raises is its stance or pose: this art seeks to help the spectator. In fact, it could help him ‘if only it did not strike a pose of helping him’ (193). The subtlety of Adorno’s admonition of art is in the logic of this stance: while art must have nothing to do with the world, neither must it self-indulgently turn into itself, proclaiming art as a selfjustified end. In both directions lies didacticism. It must be worldly without being worldly. It must contain a hidden ‘it should be otherwise’ without actually doing so. It must be utopian without prescribing outcomes. And, above all, it must not be ‘art for art’s sake’, for such art is the most pontificating of all, turning its own profane status into a religious statement. Adorno is saying that art must not ‘appeal to this unreason’ which it nevertheless cannot escape and which is its cause, for that is just another form of didacticism, and one which leads to the trap of pure aestheticism. Only by embodying a contradictory tension between commitment and autonomy can art retain some promise. Only then can it contain a hidden dialectical ‘it should be otherwise’. This last point indicates Adorno’s real criteria: art must contain a hopeful dialectical message without containing this message in its content, which would be a capitulation to the state of things as they are. Where can the message be located? In artistic forms, which as embodiments of creativity serve as signposts to what productive creativity, as human work, promises. Artistic form is a ‘crystallization’ which serves a utopian function, as an analogy of that other condition which should be. As eminently constructed and produced objects, works of art, including literary ones, point to a practice from which they abstain: the creation of a just life. This mediation is not a compromise between commitment and


Brecht and tragedy autonomy, nor a sort of mixture of advanced formal elements with an intellectual content inspired by genuinely or supposedly progressive politics. The content of works of art is never the amount of intellect pumped into them: if anything, it is the opposite. (Adorno 1965: 194)

At issue is the content of aesthetic form. Here, Adorno speaks to Jameson’s Marxist aesthetics. The form of the work of art is the key to its hopeful message, gesturing towards another condition which should be, and this form can only be achieved if the work avoids aestheticism and didacticism both, if it has as little as possible to do with the world (but, one presumes, no less than that). The content of the form of a true work of art is where a utopian ‘it should be otherwise’ may be found. Adorno, in the essay ‘Commitment’, does not look past what he perceives to be Brecht’s blunt endorsement of orthodox party politics, which Adorno feels poisons Brecht’s artistry. But neither does Adorno, in this particular essay, allow space for Brecht’s formal innovations, which, I shall argue, cannot be reduced to stylistic techniques and superficial innovations. If Brecht is an artist according to Adorno’s schema, it can only be through the form of the Brechtian drama that this is discerned. There are two final interrelated observations on Adorno that must be related to Brecht. First, there is Jameson’s overview of Adorno’s vision of criticism itself; of what criticism, but also aesthetic production, actually is. ‘[A]esthetic innovation is not to be seen as invention – let alone “creation” – but rather very precisely as discovery,’ Jameson writes (1990: 202). Thus artistic practice is contingent and exploratory, hinging on the discovery of ‘new and hitherto unsuspected features in the thing itself’ (202). If aesthetic innovation is not bound by concepts of individual, subjective creativity, or by concepts of the work of art as some sort of independent ‘invention’, then the activity of discovery actually obliges the critic to ‘reread or rewrite the text, and demand a kind of estrangement effect or ostranenia’ (1990: 202), a defamiliarization that is now inseparable from a recasting or reinscription. Thus a dialectical criticism may be understood as a transformative reading, concerned with the work of art’s discovery of the new. This, I will assume here, is to be achieved by the location of the non-identical in the work of art, or of the trace of the non-identical in the form of logical contradictions. I suggest that this is what is most importantly at work in Good Person, Mother Courage and Galileo. In the assertion of unresolvable contradictions, these plays serve as aesthetic estrangements of the positivism of contemporary ideology through the dialectical estrangement of what merely is, offering in the space of contradiction the unvoiced possibility of the new. Yet even this attitude towards the new is a positioning that cannot be taken by art unambiguously, as this passage from Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory indicates: The new is the longing for the new, not the new itself: That is what everything new suffers from. What takes itself to be utopia remains the

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negation of what exists and is obedient to it. At the center of contemporary antinomies is that art must be and wants to be utopia, and the more utopia is blocked by the real functional order, the more this is true; yet at the same time art may not be utopia in order not to betray it by providing semblance and consolation. If the utopia of art were fulfilled, it would be art’s temporal end. (Adorno 1970: 32) This antinomy, I feel, must remain central to any critical consideration of art, if only because it is tangibly operative in collective judgements of art. The aesthetic must necessarily remain in agonistic, antinomial tension with the utopian impulse embodied in artistic form, because it is only this tension which allows art to exist today. Art must remain torn between what is and what might be, vacillating unhappily between utopia and the functional order, unable to sit comfortably at either pole, because to do so would be to cease to exist. Art is a suffering for the new as an unrealized possibility, a mournful longing for utopia. Second, passages from Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory modify his view of Brecht’s work, and substantiate my intimation that Brecht’s aesthetic, at its most rigorous, is amenable to Adorno’s dialectic. On the one hand, Adorno stands by his condemnation of Brecht’s work for its self-willed didacticism: ‘Any artwork that supposes it is in possession of its content is plainly naïve in its rationalism; this may define the historically foreseeable limit of Brecht’s work’ (Adorno 1970: 27). Yet, on the other hand, Adorno now seems willing to look beyond the seeming commitment of Brecht’s art and attend to Brechtian form. In defending art from the demand that it be direct and didactic in its expressions, or that it contain an authentic message or statement, Adorno points out that contemporary art is antagonistic to this demand: The question so insistently posed by East German dramaturgy, ‘What does he mean?’ just barely suffices to frighten hectored authors but would be absurd if applied to any one of Brecht’s plays, whose program actually was to set thought processes in motion, not to communicate maxims; otherwise the idea of dialectical theater would have been meaningless from the start. [. . .] It is hard to determine just what the author of Galileo or The Good Woman of Setzuan himself meant, let alone broach the question of the objectivity of these works, which does not coincide with the subjective intention. [. . .] Just as art cannot be, and never was, a language of pure feeling, nor a language of affirmation of the soul, neither is it for art to pursue the results of ordinary knowledge, as for instance in the form of social documentaries that are to function as down payments on empirical research yet to be done. The space between discursive barbarism and poetic euphemism that remains to artworks is scarcely larger than the point of indifference into which Beckett burrowed. (Adorno 1970: 32)


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In this remarkable passage Brecht’s mature plays are re-evaluated favourably by Adorno, who elevates Good Person and Galileo to the dialectically ambivalent space between commitment and autonomy which Adorno reserves for the most utopian art. Neither lyrically subjective poetry nor objective documentary, Brecht’s work emerges as balanced between expressionism and social realism, torn between these two major poles of modern German drama, occupying neither space. Thus it is, finally, Brecht’s uniquely politicized formalism, his rejection of naturalism and social realism, that is the most valuable element of his art. Brecht’s is a language of signification itself, at times walking the fine line, privileged by Adorno for Beckett, between meaning and meaninglessness, commitment and autonomy.

Endgame In ‘Trying to Understand Endgame’ Adorno explores, at length, the antinomial relation between art and capitalist society. This antinomy dictates that the occlusion of utopia by capitalism is a repression art must respond to critically without itself succumbing to the representation of utopia, which, as the negative, the non-identical, the new, can never be represented. Art, then, asserts an autonomy only to announce the end of autonomy, and thus avoids succumbing to privatization or commodification. Adorno reads Endgame as a Benjaminian constellation, one that serves as an exemplar of how art as a constellation may negate bourgeois society through aesthetic form. I want to argue that Adorno reads Endgame as an example of Trauerspiel, although he does not specifically name it as such. Adorno hints at Trauerspiel when he writes that Endgame is ‘an allegory whose intention has evaporated’ and in which the ‘dialectic swings to a standstill’ (Adorno 1961: 345). Key to the aesthetic estrangement in Adorno’s analysis is what Endgame does with tragic form, and this will provide a point of connection with Brecht’s dialectical estrangement of tragedy. Endgame is Adorno’s example of art that borrows reification from the social in order to exercise a massive Verfremdungseffekt upon the social totality itself. In Endgame we are in a reified, post-philosophic zone where only the shells of ideas remain: ‘positive metaphysical meaning is no longer possible in such a substantive way (if indeed it ever was), such that dramatic form could have its law in such meaning and its epiphany’ (Adorno 1961: 321). In modernity, something has happened that has resulted in the ‘explosion of metaphysical meaning, which alone guaranteed the unity of an aesthetic structure of meaning’ (322). Endgame has been permeated by a senselessness emanating from the level of the social, which exerts a profound force on the drama, coming into collision and conflict with another powerful external force that seeks to overdetermine the ‘meaning’ of the drama, namely the canonical tradition of dramatic form. These two forms of ‘necessity’, of form and social context, of the dramatic canon and the ‘historical moment’, after ‘the Second War’, in which ‘everything is destroyed, even resurrected

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culture, without knowing it’ (323), engage in an agonistic conflict in the work of art. The ‘crumbling’ of meaning is made manifest on an immediate level in the absorption of philosophical ideas by the play’s language and the emptying of these statements of any meaning. The result is that ‘thought transforms itself into a kind of material of a second degree’ (322). This ‘materiality of thought’ reflects that ‘which mind itself has become, the reified residue of education’ (322). Endgame is, at the most local level of its individual utterances, a dramatization of the reification of human consciousness itself, a commodification that, in emptying thought of all use-value, also eliminates the non-identical from thought. This criticism of the reification of the world does not leave art itself exempt from attack: ‘the poetic process shows itself as worn out’ (322). Endgame is a mimesis of the complete alienation of contemporary reality through the reification wrought by human reason. Just as Brecht always imagined the Verfremdungseffekt’s ultimate estrangement would be to denaturalize all ‘natural’ or given thinking until we questioned the very idea of the natural or the given, Endgame gives a shape to the activity of estrangement: The condition presented in the play is nothing other than that in which ‘there’s no more nature.’ Indistinguishable is the phase of completed reification of the world, which leaves no remainder of what was not made by humans; it is permanent catastrophe, along with a catastrophic event caused by humans themselves, in which nature has been extinguished and nothing grows any longer. (Adorno 1961: 324) The strangeness of Endgame is a massive Verfremdungseffekt, a terminal denaturalization. The complete reification of the world, the hollowing of it out and the commodification of human thought, is figured as ‘corpsed’ by the drama (Beckett 1957: 30). ‘That all human beings are dead is covertly smuggled in,’ Adorno remarks (324). Yet this seemingly straightforward allegory has already become complicated by a certain ambiguity of ‘the referent’. On the one hand, the play seems to allegorize the catastrophe wrought by capitalism upon society, while on the other, the play is clearly located by Adorno in relation to the Second World War’s multiple humanmade catastrophes, including the Holocaust and the dropping of the atomic bomb. If human beings are undead creatures within the reification of late capitalism, then so too is art, and Endgame itself is an undead tragedy, tragedy continuing to be animated after its demise. Endgame absorbs canonical dramatic form and disarranges it into a constellation. On the one hand Adorno hints that Endgame plays with the same clichéd dramatic conventions as does Brecht: ‘At one point, the two anti-heroes [. . .] come up with a “trick,” an escape, “some kind of plan” à la Three Penny Opera’ (Adorno 1961: 335). Comic conventions are absorbed by Endgame only so that humour itself


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can be exposed as ‘foolish, ridiculous’ (335). The point of Beckett’s comic business, then, is to demonstrate the death of comedy, the impossibility of humour. The same absorption and destruction of tradition is exercised upon dramatic forms: ‘Dramatic categories as a whole are treated just like humor. All are parodied. But not ridiculed. Emphatically, parody entails the use of forms in the epoch of their impossibility. It demonstrates this impossibility and thereby changes the forms. The three Aristotelian unities are retained, but drama itself perishes’ (336). Adorno thus asks us to see Endgame in the tradition of a long dramatic canon, running back at least as far as Shakespeare and most likely to Attic tragedy. In Endgame, [d]ramatic components reappear after their demise. Exposition, complication, plot, peripeteia, and catastrophe return as decomposed elements in a post-mortem examination of dramaturgy: the news that there are no more painkillers depicts catastrophe. Those components have been toppled along with that meaning once discharged by drama; Endgame studies (as if in a test-tube) the drama of the age, the age that no longer tolerates what constitutes drama. (Adorno 1961: 337) Adorno employs the example of stichomythia, an aspect of the Greek tragic form that has become obsolete in the twentieth century, as a formal element which Beckett unearths and reanimates in a slack, lifeless dialectic between Hamm and Clov, gesturing towards silences instead of the liveliness of the Greek form. Like Hamlet, Benjamin’s pre-eminent example of Trauerspiel, Endgame broaches the problem of interiority and subjectivity, yet it does so in a manner that seems to disarrange and parody Shakespeare’s play. If, for Benjamin, Hamlet was a disarranged constellation of tragic form, then for Adorno, Endgame takes up and reconfigures that constellation into a new form: ‘Hamlet is revised: croak or croak, that is the question. The name of Shakespeare’s hero is grimly foreshortened by Beckett – the last, liquidated dramatic subject echoing the first’ (343). Thus while Hamlet inaugurated the end of interiority through the failure of subjectivity, the inability of selfreflection to bring complete consciousness to the subject, Endgame brings this process of decay to a close. Endgame posits that ‘this self is not a self but rather the aping imitation of something non-existent’ (343). Hamlet’s tragic failure, his inability to think himself into a complete self is repeated in a terminal parody: ‘What used to be the truth content of the subject – thinking – is only still preserved in its gestural shell. Both main figures act as if they were reflecting on something, but without thinking’ (344). The act of thinking has become a meaningless imitation of thinking. As the reified subjects of the modern world, Hamm and Clov have had their consciousnesses colonized by modernization. As the subjects of capitalism, they think only in dead snippets of ideology, shells of thought. They are subjects of false consciousness for whom no alternate ‘true’ consciousness is now pos-

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sible. They are incapable of thinking dialectically. In fact, theirs is a dead dialectic of master and slave: the ‘slave can no longer grasp the reins and abolish domination’ (345), and the possibility of change, the ‘tiny bit that is also everything’ (344), is placed under erasure. ‘This movement, or its absence, is the plot’ (344), Adorno writes, highlighting the impossibility of saying whether or not change is present in Endgame. According to Adorno, the terrible paradox of the modern world is that reason’s activities have led to the evacuation of meaning from reality. This is the absurdity that is the fabric of society after the Second World War: ‘The historical inevitability of this absurdity allows it to seem ontological; that is the veil of delusion produced by history itself. Beckett’s drama rips through this veil’ (Adorno 1961: 348). Absurdity is not the theme of the play, the play is absurd itself, without absurdity becoming the play’s meaning. Meaninglessness is not here a capitulation to hopelessness; instead meaninglessness is a shock effect exercised upon a reified thought under capitalism that will not brook the thinking of contradictions. It is the meaninglessness inherent in the drama that allows us to perceive the contradictions that it makes manifest, contradictions that then allow Endgame to break through the positivism of its historical moment and grasp some concrete negative, some non-identical, some determinate negation. The contradiction staged by the play is the logic of Dialectic of Enlightenment: the movement of rationality leads to the emptying of the world of the rational. ‘The immanent contradition [sic] of the absurd, reason terminating in senselessness, emphatically reveals the possibility of a truth which can no longer even be thought; it undermines the absolute claim exercised by what merely is’ (Adorno 1961: 348). Through the contradictions of its meaninglessness, Endgame achieves a negative dialectic, a negation of the given, ‘what merely is’. As Jameson argues above, Adorno’s negative dialectic, this shock delivered to the positivism of bourgeois thought and capitalist ideology, is not far from Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt. In fact, Adorno himself makes the connection between Brechtian estrangement and the negative dialectic explicit. He explains that ‘[d]eterminate negation becomes dramaturgical through consistent reversal’ (Adorno 1961: 348), and he gives examples of such reversals in the moments when, after declaring that there is no more nature, the characters qualify this totalizing statement with the ironic, ‘You exaggerate’ (Beckett 1957: 11). They become aware that their own thoughts are ‘crooked’ (Beckett 1957: 12), a figure that Adorno interprets as a presentiment of their own false consciousness. This awareness arises when, in their logical reversals, they come close to the truth of negation. This ‘technique of reversal’, which is woven through the entire play, is also a ‘Brechtian commentary’ (Adorno 1961: 349). These sadly comic, logical reversals transfigure ‘the empirical world into that world desultorily named already by the late Strindberg and in Expressionism’ (349). Corpsed, the universe has become totalized: ‘Absolute, the world becomes a hell; there is nothing else’ (349). Hamm and Clov are already in the afterlife, as their Brechtian


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reversals remind us. Their undead state is a conception in which ‘Benjamin’s notion of the “dialectic at a standstill” comes into its own’ (349). Yet as in Benjamin’s frozen dialectical moment, it is the desperate hopelessness of this standstill that in fact allows for some glimpse of the possibility of hope. In Adorno’s interpretation, Endgame, as a realization of contemporary Trauerspiel, presents a corpsed universe which, through the force of its meaninglessness and its contradictions, ultimately presents no difference ‘between absolute domination, the hell in which time is banished into space, in which nothing will change any more – and the messianic condition where everything would be in its proper place. The ultimate absurdity is that the repose of nothingness and that of reconciliation cannot be distinguished from each other’ (350). This absurdity, which is not evident in the content of the drama but only at the more abstract level of form, must then be understood as a crucial negation – the identity of damnation and salvation resonates with the dialectical axiom of the identity between identity and non-identity. Thus Endgame’s ultimate formal absurdity explodes all sense of meaning, opening, through this determinate negation, some utopian space of hope, some alternate thinking that will not be reduced to the mimetic structures of reason. The result is a certain stoic, cold hope, some meagre yet all the more valuable resistance: ‘Consciousness begins to look its own demise in the eye, as if it wanted to survive the demise, as these two want to survive the destruction of their world’ (350). The formal mimesis of alienation that Adorno admires in Endgame, in other words the staging of the antinomy between subject and object under capitalism, has been located just as fruitfully in the form of Brecht’s theatre. In his influential analysis of the dialectic between form and content in twentieth-century theatre, Theory of the Modern Drama (a book modelled, like Adorno’s analysis, on Benjamin’s The Origin of German Tragic Drama), Peter Szondi summarizes the content of form in Brecht’s theatre: Through these estrangement techniques, the subject–object opposition that is at the origin of epic theater (the self-alienation of the individual, whose own social being has become reified) is precipitated formally on all levels of the work and, thus, becomes its general formal principle. Dramatic form rests on the interpersonal relation; the thematic of the Drama is constituted by the conflicts generated by this relation. (Szondi 1956: 73) Thus in the content of its form, Brecht’s theatre presents a Darstellung for a reified social reality itself; the epic theatre is a critical mimesis of the distance between subject and object. It would be tempting to proceed from Adorno’s method and operate on the assumption that a dialectical reading process need only locate the irreconcilable contradictions in the artistic object in order to crack open its form and glimpse its determinate negativity. Yet what is clear from Adorno’s analysis is that those contradictions are

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not just contradictions in the aesthetic object, but contradictions in reality, ‘transcoded’, as Jameson puts it, into the work of art. Clearly, Endgame is read as a murky allegory for its social, economic and political horizon, a necessarily failing allegory because the referent, a social totality reified by late capitalism, is by definition unrepresentable, because it has no meaning. Thus a dialectical work of art today is, necessarily, a failure. In making manifest its own failure it renders as a constellation the failure of society to exist, while simultaneously, in the space of that failure, suggesting the possibility that things could be otherwise. Therefore, the dialectical method is not simply a transparent reading of the objective elements of a text, but closer to what Jameson characterizes as a ‘critical transformation’ ( Jameson 1990: 202) through an estranging reading practice. It is at this point, in the aesthetics of failure, that tragedy returns.

Modern tragedy The question then arises concerning the degree to which Brecht, in his politicized formalism, was self-consciously engaged in rewritings of dramatic genre. Here I should clarify my employment of the terms genre and form, since tragedy is certainly a genre, while form is a term I have used to describe the apprehension of more abstract, general shapes or structures within a work of art, outlines that necessarily lead us to grasp the material form of the art work, be it novel, poem or play. Yet the separation of genre from artistic form is constantly subject to a slippage: Jameson points out that Northrop Frye identifies ‘narrative in general with the particular narrative genre of romance’ (Jameson 1981: 105). At the same time, the study of genre is an ultimately futile exercise, much like trying to grasp smoke, since the recognition of genre at work within an aesthetic object is finally only phenomenologically verifiable: everyone knows it when they encounter it, but at the same time a genre seems ultimately defined by the work of art that explodes the genre by transgressing the generic law. This happens because genre does not ‘exist’ within any single work of art, but is rather the sedimented social life of art works. Genre is a positive construction out of differences. Thus, any single work of art may be tragic in its form, while the genre of tragedy transcends definition through any single work. Jameson comments that [t]he strategic value of generic concepts for Marxism clearly lies in the mediatory function of the notion of a genre, which allows the coordination of immanent formal analysis of the individual text with the twin diachronic perspective of the history of forms and the evolution of social life. ( Jameson 1981: 105) Thus if the study of genre is to have any use today, it will be in the consideration of how genre is always a mediation of social relations: ‘Genres


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are essentially literary institutions, or social contracts between a writer and a specific public, whose function is to specify the proper use of a particular cultural artifact,’ Jameson observes (106). As a result, genres always carry a certain sedimented ideological content at the level of abstract generic form. When Frye analyses genre as a ‘mode’, he studies it for its overarching worldview, the ‘meaning’ it confers on reality, while in a more Proppean, formal or structural analysis, genre will be studied as a model, for how it works. Separately, neither concept of genre seems to satisfy a generic analysis: both are necessary, but they are antithetical to one another. Like any other recognizable genre, tragedy today is an ideologeme, bearing the accumulated content of the dominant class interests throughout the industrial revolution and carried forth into the moment of late capitalism. Combining a Frygian and structuralist analysis, Jameson suggests that romance is an ideologeme, the functions or structures of which operate by ordering human reality along binary oppositions of hero and villain, good and evil. Thus the ‘meaning’ of the romance ideologeme is now not a matter of content but of formal relations of opposition, positions without positive content but onto which content can be mapped. The genre of romance is thus ‘a form without content which nonetheless ultimately confers signification on the various types of content (geographical, sexual, seasonal, social, perceptual, familial, zoological, physiological, and so on) which it organizes’ ( Jameson 1981: 113–14). The structural, ideological core of romance is ultimately ethical, and it is precisely the ethical oppositions of good and evil which, Jameson remarks, tragedy disrupts. In tragedy ‘the triumph of an inhuman destiny or fate generates a perspective which radically transcends the purely individual categories of good and evil’ (116). He confirms this with the observation that, when we encounter in a tragedy any moral and ethical judgements, we evaluate this drama as melodrama rather than tragedy. Yet Jameson also notes that readers today have a tendency to consider tragedy from just such a moral perspective, to evaluate figures from Shakespeare as ‘villains’ even though to do so ruins the aesthetic form’s tragic force. This moralizing urge ‘tells us much about the hold of ethical categories on our mental habits’ (116). We read tragedy from an ideological perspective within which we are immersed, yet tragic form proper is a disruption of the structure of an ideologeme. We view it as myth, when in fact tragedy is the refusal of the closure of mythic thought. Despite Brecht’s categorical claims that the epic theatre was ‘antiaristotelian’, the elements of tragedy are often observed in Brecht’s work, albeit in modified form. The assumption that his dramaturgy is utterly antithetical to the bourgeois theatre is a distortion, albeit one Brecht himself sometimes nurtured through his theoretical writings. Late in life Brecht clarified his position towards the extant theatre. Beginning from the eleventh thesis on Feuerbach, Brecht had suggested changes to the theatre: The changes, great or small, that ensued from this intention (which I myself only slowly came to admit) were all changes within the frame-

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work of the theatre, so that of course a whole mass of old rules remained wholly unaltered. It was in that little phrase ‘of course’ that my fault lay. I hardly ever got round to mentioning these still valid rules, and many who read my hints and explanations imagined that I worked to abolish them. (Brecht 1964: 248) Thus we are in a position to see Brecht’s theatre not so much as a rejection of tragedy, but as a dialectical rewriting of tragedy. Raymond Williams’s unique insight into Brecht hinges on the early Brechtian idea of ‘complex seeing’ (a term that predates and echoes Jameson’s ‘dialectical stereoscopy’). For Williams, ‘complex seeing’, a term Brecht coined in relation to the Threepenny Opera, was not realized by Brecht before the group of major plays c.1937–45: The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Mother Courage and her Children, Life of Galileo and The Good Person of Szechwan. Williams’s study of Brecht’s mature plays hinges upon the consideration of their tragic elements. As Williams points out, what Brecht calls ‘Aristotelian’ or ‘dramatic’ theatre in fact refers to ‘the dominant naturalism of the European drama after Ibsen’ (Williams 1968: 278). In Modern Tragedy (1966), Williams endeavours to redeem tragic form for the twentieth century, out of concern that under modernity, the loss of a sense of the tragic necessarily implies the loss of any sense of human agency. Williams’s goals are, I think, particularly Brechtian, in that he wants to rewrite the meaning of tragedy under late capitalism to include a sense of dialectical freedom. Williams asserts that in Attic tragedy, a sense of larger meaning or order, of ‘the tragic’, was not metaphysically distanced in the sense of the metaphysical that we employ today, because the spiritual and the material were inseparable in Greek beliefs. Moreover, necessity and human action are not separable in Greek tragedy, however they might be opposed within contemporary consciousness: It is commonplace, in the modern ‘Greek’ system, to abstract, for example, Necessity, and to place its laws above human wills. But the character of necessity, insofar as it can be generalised in this culture and these plays, is that its limits on human action are discovered in real actions, rather than known in advance or in general: the precise qualities that now characterise Necessity and are translated as determinism or fatalism. (Williams 1966: 17–18) Tragedy proper, then, is not a drama of fate, or capitulation to destiny, although that is how it is received today. Instead it was the discovery of real freedom and human action within the very fabric of necessity itself, not in spite of it. We should be reminded here of Benjamin’s Romantic observation that in tragedy, the silent acceptance by the protagonist of a blind and


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callous fate is in fact a judgement of this inhuman judgement, an assertion of humanity in the face of the inhuman, and a dialectical recreation of the human order out of disorder. Williams argues that under feudalism there came a significant shift, ‘from a culture in which the metaphysical and social categories were indistinguishable, to a culture in which they were, by the changed nature of the metaphysical, quite sharply opposed’ (23). Over time, the increasing alienation of the public from the private, the subjective from the objective, had consequences for tragic form: ‘What had been a whole lived order, connecting man and state and world, became, finally, a purely abstract order. Tragic significance was made to depend on an event’s relation to a supposed nature of things, yet without the specific connections which had once provided a particular relation and action of this kind,’ Williams writes (50). Within bourgeois society the separation of the human from the social was totalized. Alienation gave rise to an ideology of ‘nature’, of a given, inert ahistorical reality, separate from humanity. Thus, ‘increasingly, the idea of the permanent “nature of things” became separated from any action that could be felt as contemporary’ (51). A sense of metaphysical loss of meaning, of the demise of metanarratives and the projection of them into an antique past, has been manufactured by an increasingly alienated modern world. As a result, ‘significant suffering, and therefore tragedy, is pushed back in time to periods when fully connecting meanings were available, and contemporary tragedy is seen as impossible because there are now no such meanings’ (51). Under this abstract sense of order, projected into the past as an inert backdrop for the present, real, enabling meanings and connections evaporated, as did any human freedom. Williams sees tragedy proper as a dialectic between human action and tragic order, but the possibility of dialectical thinking has been lost under a bourgeois ideology that abstracts order and renders it always antecedent to action. When order becomes nothing but abstract beliefs, tragedy is lost, because ‘[o]rder, in tragedy, is the result of the action [. . .]. It is not so much that the order is illustrated as that it is recreated’ (52). Williams gives a remarkable account of the effacement of dialectical thinking about human suffering. Like Brecht, Williams is dedicated to the exposure of human beings as changing and changeable. Tragedy today is appropriated by ideologues to demonstrate absolute and transcendent givens about human nature, such as ‘Evil’ (Williams 1966: 59). For Williams this is a distortion of the meaning of tragedy, since ‘[t]ragedy, as such, teaches nothing about evil, because it teaches many things about many kinds of action’ (60). This ideological co-optation of the significance of tragedy has even affected the left. For Williams, tragedy arises in periods of profound social instability, when modes of production collide and overlap, such as in Elizabethan England, and thus tragedy may bear some relation to revolutionary social change. Yet much ‘explicitly social thinking’ by leftists rejects ‘tragedy as in itself defeatist. Against what they have known as the idea of tragedy, they have stressed man’s powers to change his condition and to end

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a major part of the suffering which the tragic ideology seems to ratify. The idea of tragedy, that is to say, has been explicitly opposed by the idea of revolution’ (63). For Williams, this leftist rejection of tragedy is in itself ideological thinking, a retrenchment of bourgeois ideology. It arose from how liberalism ‘inherited this separation between ultimate human values and the social system’ (68). Beginning from such a position of alienation, the growth of revolutionary ideas from liberalism was also a further reification of the idea of the tragic. Williams, however, will insist that the tragic is essential to understanding the social significance of human suffering today. Most of all, he urges an acknowledgement of the intimate relationship between tragedy and revolution, because revolutionary social change, while essential to human liberation, necessarily involves human suffering. However, revolutionary change also tends towards the dehumanization of suffering: At the point of this recognition, however, where the received ideology of revolution, its simple quality as liberation, seems most to fail, there is waiting the received ideology of tragedy, in either of its common forms: the old tragic lesson, that man cannot change his condition, but can only drown his world in blood in the vain attempt; or the contemporary reflex, that the taking of rational control over our social destiny is defeated or at best deeply stained by our inevitable irrationality, and by the violence and cruelty that are so quickly released when habitual forms break down. (Williams 1966: 74) Williams rejects the ideology that claims that the suffering which takes place in revolution is caused by revolution; rather, revolution is ‘the inevitable working through of a deep and tragic disorder’ (75), just as is tragedy proper. They are both full actions, and must be apprehended dialectically, because revolution’s violence, while liberating, is also obviously dehumanizing and alienating in new ways. A tragic perception of revolution would allow us ‘to attend to the whole action, and to see actual liberation as part of the same process as the terror which appals us. I do not mean that the liberation cancels the terror; I mean only that they are connected, and that this connection is tragic’ (82). Therefore the ‘tragic action, in its deepest sense, is not the confirmation of disorder, but its experience, its comprehension and its resolution. In our own time, this action is general, and its common name is revolution’ (83).

Brechtian tragedy Williams’s terminology quite usefully separates for us tragedy from the tragic ideology, an ideology that Brecht clearly set himself against, and one that he clearly felt was reflected in the general contemporary reception of


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Attic and Elizabethan tragedy. Brecht ostensibly rejected tragedy altogether, yet his own late observations about how he worked from within the bourgeois theatre belie that sweeping distanciation. When Williams comes to position Brecht within the context of his argument in Modern Tragedy, he titles the chapter, ‘A Rejection of Tragedy’ (Williams 1966: 190), because Brecht clearly ‘rejected the idea that suffering can ennoble us’, and thus rejected ‘sacrifice as a dramatic emotion’ (197). Naturally, we need look no further than Mother Courage and her Children to see that in Brecht’s most sustained examination of human suffering, the blows that Courage suffers are neither metaphysically inevitable, nor do they teach or transform her in any way. She learns nothing from her misery and is not elevated by the experience. Yet for Williams, this is not entirely a rejection of tragedy: In the end it is not only complex seeing. It is a very complex kind of feeling. Tragedy in some of its older senses is certainly rejected. There is nothing inevitable or ennobling about this kind of failure. It is a matter of human choice, and the choice is not once for all; it is a matter of continuing history. The major achievement of Brecht’s mature work is this recovery of history as a dimension for tragedy. (Williams 1966: 202) At every stage in Courage’s actions we see the decisions that, one by one, take her children from her. Yet the meaning of these crucial moments gains its significance not through a consideration of them in and of themselves, but rather through a consideration of what they are not. And what they are not emerges only when they are compared to the drama against which Brecht writes. From this perspective, then, the Brechtian maxim of fixing the ‘not . . . but’ is a dialectical relating of the particular drama to drama in general. The idea that what the character ‘doesn’t do must be contained and conserved in what he does’, and that ‘[i]n this way every sentence and every gesture signifies a decision’ (Brecht 1964: 137), now means that what the character does not do is what characters in other plays do do. Thus Mother Courage is, and is not, a tragedy. It is ‘not’ a tragedy but, by virtue of its dramatic form, what the drama is not is contained and conserved in what it is. It is most crucial to grasp how the meaning of Mother Courage and her Children does not reside in the drama alone, by which I mean that it is not locatable at the level of isolated content. Rather, the signification of Mother Courage and her Children is only apparent when one situates the play in the history of tragic form, as Williams does. The same can be said for Life of Galileo, the formal significations of which we considered in Chapter 4. It is in fact only through a consideration of the relationship between the form of Mother Courage and the form of tragedy in general that Mother Courage can be grasped for its dialectical elements. Its political meaning, then, resides not in the content but at the level of dramatic form, and even then, not in the form of the single play but in relation to the history of the form. It is only

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marginally as a comment upon contemporaneity that Mother Courage has political importance. Certainly, it is a comment upon war and dehumanization, and can be related to the breadth of the twentieth century on that count, but Mother Courage’s ultimate importance is found in how it relates to the tragic ideologeme, for it is in estranging the tragic ideology through a dialectical representation of human events that it intervenes most directly into social life. Williams attempts to put the play’s unique estrangement of the tragic ideologeme into words: In most modern drama, the best conclusion is: yes, this is how it was. Only an occasional play goes further, with the specific excitement of recognition: yes, this is how it is. Brecht, at his best, reaches out to and touches the necessary next stage: yes, this is how it is, for these reasons, but the action is continually being replayed, and it could be otherwise. (Williams 1966: 202) Like Adorno, Williams knows that this dialectical thinking always risks a deceptive suggestion that it is otherwise: ‘The trap, at this last moment, is the wrong kind of emphasis on the undoubted fact that it could indeed be otherwise. [. . .] We have to see not only that suffering is avoidable, but that it is not avoided’ (202–3). Complex seeing, what Jameson calls the ‘dialectical stereoscopy’, entails an apprehension of a dramatic form that engages critically its own aesthetic ‘social grounding’, namely the entire history of dramatic form, in order to intervene in that form, change it and thus affect human thinking. Therefore it is entirely fair to say that Brecht’s theatre is primarily about dramatic form, since Brecht’s mature work is most fully grasped as a containment and modification of tragic form and content. Within the self-reflexive form of Brecht’s theatre, a tragedy is nestled, in fact the entire history of tragic form is contained, and a dialectical theatre is an exercise in meta-theatrical commentary upon the meaning of tragedy itself. This is not necessarily an insight that applies only to Brecht’s late thought. If we look at the famous chart from the early essay, ‘The Modern Theatre is the Epic Theatre’, in which elements of the ‘Dramatic Theatre’ are apparently opposed by the elements of Brecht’s new ‘Epic Theatre’, we immediately notice that Brecht footnotes this chart with the comment, ‘This table does not show absolute antitheses but mere shifts of accent’ (Brecht 1964: 37). The idea of ‘man as a fixed point’ is not, then, radically opposed by Brecht’s idea of ‘man as a process’. The space between these two visions of the human is a mere change ‘of emphasis’ (37), and they cannot be, in practice, distinguished radically from one another.1 Following such surmises, I suggest that Brecht’s theatre was, in general, intended as an experiment in form which would allow a containment and dialectical transformation of tragic form and content. For Williams to suggest that Mother Courage and her Children is a play bearing a hopeful sign that things could be otherwise is problematic, in my


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estimation. While Brecht did not hesitate in public statements surrounding Mother Courage to assert that it was the proletariat that could bring an end to war, there is no sign of this positive prescription in the play. Moreover, Brecht repeatedly refused to present alternative possibilities in the drama. Courage learns nothing, and the audience is forced to do its thinking for itself. In his later (1979) afterword to a revised edition of Modern Tragedy, Williams specifically criticizes the pessimism of modernistic theatre that refuses to envision future possibilities and thus lapses into surrender and capitulation. Williams valorizes the hopefulness of Mother Courage in Modern Tragedy yet is later critical of the universalizing of the ‘forms of division and contradiction’, in which ‘what we want to become, rather than what we do not now want to be, remains a so largely unanswered question’ (Williams 1979: 104–5). However, this may be less a criticism of the negativity of Adorno’s dialectic than a rebuke of the apolitical valorization of stylistically nihilistic estrangement effects within the British academy. In his introduction to Williams’s The Politics of Modernism, Tony Pinkney notes that, throughout the late 1960s and the 1970s, Williams was concerned with how British critical discourse adopted Brechtian estrangement as an end in itself. Whereas Williams felt that Brecht’s ‘complex seeing’ is not ‘a mere set of presentational techniques of Verfremdung but [. . .] a dramatic “convention” embodied in the work’s own deep structure’ (Pinkney 1989: 20), the ‘burgeoning British cult’2 of Brecht’s work reduced Brechtian drama to ‘ “a new method of staging’’ and ‘‘the enthronement of the critical spectator” ’ (20). Pinkney suggests that, for Williams, there is a problem when such ‘formalist radicalism’, which is really ‘empty dynamism’, is conflated with a real ‘socialist radicalism’ (22). Williams’s intervention is compatible with our understanding of Brecht here: the Verfremdungseffekt is indeed depoliticized if it is reduced to nothing more than a ‘distanced’ style of acting or to special effects of the mise en scène. Instead the Verfremdungseffekt is to be located deep within the form and content of the play itself. In Adorno’s definition of the work of art as a ‘critical mimesis’ of our reified Western society we have an analogous definition of artistic estrangement, imitating the alienation of society in the deep structures of dramatic form and simultaneously rendering this alienation strange and visible. Where, then, do we find this ‘it could be otherwise but is not otherwise’, the basic tragic intimation of loss and missed possibility, in Brecht’s mature plays? My suggestion is that it is found in the unresolvable contradictions that tear the protagonists of these plays in two. Shen Te, Courage and Galileo, as protagonists, negotiate their way through a series of tragic deadlocks, which they can live through, but cannot resolve. Shen Te is a protagonist in a tragedy, the audience of which are the Gods, a trio of middle-class theatre-goers who feed off her suffering and her failure to resolve the contradictions of her situation. In this The Good Person of Szechwan resembles to a degree the meta-theatricality of Waiting for Godot, wherein Didi and Gogo serve as the reluctant audience to the liberal tragedy of Pozzo. Yet just as

Brecht and tragedy


Beckett parodies the idea that suffering ennobles or elevates Pozzo in some way, so too does Brecht render strange for us the tragic ideologeme. At each point in her drama Shen Te is caught in contradictions between equally demanding forces, pushed by her circumstances to make impossible choices between equally legitimate goods. Like Antigone caught between the demands of kinship and the state, Shen Te is riven by contradictions she cannot reconcile, the poles of which are found in the various goods she tries to serve. Given money by the gods, she opens a shop so that she can be more broadly philanthropic. This long-term goodness is immediately contradicted by the need to be generous and giving in the immediate present. When she succumbs to the invention of Shui Ta, it is only in an attempt to be good both in the present and in the future. Shen Te’s self-division is not the selfdivision of liberal conscience, exemplified by J. Pierpont Mauler in Saint Joan of the Stockyards, where inner suffering is in fact a form of pleasure. Shen Te’s suffering is real, grounded in the concrete, but for the gods it does remain a form of theatre, to be enjoyed and used as confirmation of the inevitability of the existing order. Unlike the gods, we cannot judge Shen Te, for we can see that she is caught in a series of tragic deadlocks, impossible contradictions without correct solutions. When Shen Te falls in love, this irresistible force comes in conflict with those in the community who need her goodness for their survival. When she finds she is pregnant, this new priority cancels out her love for Yang and her desire to do good for the community. What keeps the action of Good Person from freezing in place each time Shen Te is caught in a new contradiction is the immediate presence of one pole of the contradiction: when Yang Sun is present, Shen Te succumbs to his demand, but when confronted a moment later by the aged couple who have lent her money, Shen Te is drawn to the need to be good. In each case her decision is a compromise that resolves nothing. While the play is somewhat light-hearted in its sense of humour, her conflict is not. In its resonance, her tragedy is no different than Antigone’s struggle between civic duty and love of her dead brother. Why do the gods tolerate this? Wang asks. Why don’t they intervene and change things? The answer: ‘Suffering ennobles!’ (Brecht 1970–2003, vol. 6i: 70). They find tragic resonance in her struggle. Therefore her struggle is justified as something good in and of itself. It is good to suffer. They are happy with her the way she is, even if she is in torment. Shen Te will not accept that she needs Shui Ta, but the gods accept it, in moderation. They can contain her contradictions within their ideology, comforted by the knowledge of her ongoing struggle. In Shen Te’s final moments, she asserts the impossibility of her situation, crying for help, while the gods cheerfully depart, refreshed by her failure. The contradiction between Shen Te’s real suffering and the pleasure drawn from it by the gods is the space between dialectical tragedy proper and the tragic ideology. From this perspective, the Epilogue, added later by Brecht, is a problematic weakness of the play, crippling the tragedy, and when it is performed, it risks masking Shen Te’s suffering with a trite mask of altruistic


Brecht and tragedy

voluntarism. In performance, the Epilogue is most effective when the player who speaks it pushes against the cheerful, absolving veneer of the speech, its rhetorical questioning, and instead emphasizes the heartfelt demand for help that is the actual action of these words. The player who speaks this speech must become Shen Te, giving voice to her suffering, to her demand that she be relieved of the unbearable burden of needs that have ripped her in two, but now instead of directing the demand for relief to the Gods, she is directing it as us, the audience, forcing us to acknowledge our enjoyment of her suffering, while also insisting that this suffering must end. While Mother Courage and her Children does not suggest that war is inevitable, its central thesis is that, within the situation of war, the deaths of Courage’s children are inevitable. It is a dialectical, not a metaphysical, tragedy, because the doom Courage disingenuously pronounces for her children in the play’s opening scene is in fact the inevitable logical outcome of her own decision to bring them to the war. Courage profits from the war in order to nurture her children, but in order to protect her children from the war she must seek war profits. Each time Courage leaves a child alone in order to make money, she loses that child to the war, yet still she goes to the war in order to nurture the child she loses. Here is the play’s tragic contradiction: Courage destroys her children through the activity of saving them. Even Kattrin’s heroic act of self-sacrifice at the end of the play is deeply tragic in its contradictions. When Courage admonishes the peasants for having told Kattrin that there were children in the village, Courage knows that Kattrin has acted selflessly, against Courage’s wishes. Yet Kattrin’s sacrifice is, I believe, something she has learned from her own mother’s example. While Courage espouses a philosophy of pragmatic self-interest, of dedication to the cart, and of sheer survival, in her actions, rather than her words, she teaches her daughter a praxis dedicated towards the survival of children. As a result, by trying to protect Kattrin and bring her through the war, Courage destroys her own daughter, since in protecting her she has taught her to do likewise and to care for and protect the children Kattrin wishes were her own. This tragic ambivalence, in its sheer dialectical power, resonates equally with Oedipus’s attempt to escape his own destiny, an action that executes said destiny. It is this contradiction, unresolvable within the world represented in Brecht’s play, which in the force of its tense vacuum of negativity, demands some resolution, while the play itself remains forcefully, necessarily, silent on the matter. It is a pure instance of the tragic, of ‘the unity of salvation and annihilation’ (Szondi 1961: 59). Brecht’s objections to the consideration of Life of Galileo as a tragedy are to be located once more in what the tragic ideology does to a tragic action proper. To have seen Galileo as ennobled by the failures of his life is to miss the point of what Galileo himself learns over the course of the play, and so Brecht amended the drama in order to eliminate aspects of Galileo’s final scene which might allow one to see him as a man elevated by his suffering. Yet Galileo is also caught in a contradiction to which there is no solution,

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because it is a massive historical contradiction between the feudal aristocratic order and the emergent bourgeois order. By choosing the former over the latter, Galileo makes a decision, but does not resolve his problem. He cannot resolve this contradiction because it is not his, but all of Western civilization’s. In the Court at Florence, he is given the freedom to pursue his research, but cannot publish it, while in the Venetian Republic, the progressive demands of commerce and the university at Padua hamper his freedom to research what he likes, while protecting him from censorship. Yet it is not so simple as to now say that Galileo had no choice, and was subject to the contradictions of history. We have only to attend to what Galileo himself announces at the end of the play: ‘there is no scientific work that can only be written by one particular man’ (Brecht 1970–2003, vol. 5i: 107). This is not a play about one man, but a play about Western civilization. Galileo here explains his fundamental misinterpretation of his own position in the drama: he took himself for the protagonist of the play, a tragic hero whose individual actions would have final consequences for society. It is with this misunderstanding in his mind that Galileo renounced his theories under threat of torture. His hubris, then, was in believing he could be guilty of hubris. When he retorts to Andrea Sarti, ‘No. Unhappy the land where heroes are needed’ (98), he is both right and wrong. He is right in thinking that this need for heroes renders a society ‘unhappy’. He is wrong in thinking this is necessarily such a land. Galileo thinks a hero is needed. He refuses to be it, but in his very refusal he participates in the discourse of tragic heroism. Too late, he learns that he was much more powerful than he had imagined, because his importance was not as an individual ‘hero’ but as an element in the progressive historical force of the merchant class, the Venetian Republic of the Northern cities, who offer him their protection and which he foolishly scorns. Galileo’s real power actually lies in his insignificance. As he tells Andrea in Scene 14, he was never in any real danger, but this is because he did not really matter, in the grand scheme of things. To have refused to recant would in fact merely have been to recant his own importance, to assert that he was a part of the progressive historical force of the Northern cities. Like his followers, Galileo took himself to be a significant individual, a tragic protagonist whose sacrifice would be a social force unto itself. In fact his insignificance was his true power. The hero of the play is, as Walter Benjamin first pointed out, the people, and it is just this that Galileo realizes belatedly. This is not to say, however, that the play is not a tragedy. It shows us a significant moment of counter-enlightenment, of the failure of progress that nevertheless contributes to enlightenment and progress. It is, I would suggest, a tragedy of history, and in this it realizes perfectly Raymond Williams’s belief that the full, revolutionary movement of history is reflected through the prism of tragedy. Life of Galileo is a dramatic illustration of this thesis, that tragic failure and contradiction are the very engine out of which history emerges. This is Brecht’s most substantial intervention into modernity. Through the estrangement of the tragic ideologeme


Brecht and tragedy

he has taken alienation itself as his main subject matter and made it the site for a dialectical transformation. In his work, tragic loss becomes the raw material for production, not to be enjoyed for what it is, but transformed into something new. Brecht’s own inability to control these plays fully, the symptoms of which are found in his changes and paratextual materials, is the indication of their real dialectical strength. In each of them, he has thieved back from the social a key ideologeme, embodied in tragic form, the content of which is the sameness and repetition of ideology itself. The tragic ideology is reification. In appropriating reification, his art was forced to struggle with this ideological closure, and as a result, these plays engage in a dialectical stereoscopy: they are both ideological and dialectical, and these two aspects coexist uncomfortably, struggling against each other and cancelling each other’s presence. With this in mind we may read them as we like: as dramas fulfilling the tragic ideology, or as tragedies which present a dialectical attitude towards human suffering through the staging of contradictions. The responsibility is ours. If we take up the challenge of complex seeing, then what yields to our perception is Brecht’s rediscovery of the ongoing newness of an old dramatic form. What is always potentially new about tragedy is that within its dramatic action of failure may be located the logic of contradiction, and in that struggle of contradictions lurks the intimation of the asyet-unseen new.


Brecht’s aesthetic is a poetics of reification, borrowing alienation from the social and returning it in estranged form, as a Verfremdungseffekt. As such, Brecht’s aesthetic is fundamentally tragic, as long as we understand tragedy from a dialectical perspective, and it is as a politicized form of tragedy that Brecht’s theatre will be of most use to us in the present and future. In fact, Brecht’s aesthetic has only become more relevant as we have found ourselves dominated by the condition of postmodernity. As Jameson famously writes, ‘Postmodernism is what you have when the modernization process is complete and nature is gone for good’ (Jameson 1991: ix). The bluntness of the statement is bound to provoke malaise and nostalgia for the loss of nature, yet I think we must attend carefully to the end of Jameson’s sentence: what initially presents itself as a meaningless cliché, a linguistic turn to be read figuratively as meaning ‘nature is permanently gone’, instead is to be read literally. It is ‘good’ that nature is gone, because what this leaves us with is ‘a more fully human world than the older one, but one in which “culture” has become a veritable “second nature” ’ (ix). The question of naturalized thinking returns us to Brechtian estrangement, which seeks to render unfamiliar to us the thinking we take to be most natural, until finally thinking itself and ‘the natural’ seem permanently unnatural. The condition of postmodernity is just what Brecht’s Verfremdung wants to lead us to, and then through. Yet the elevation of culture to the position of second nature implies that within late capitalism we increasingly lose the ability to think dialectically: postmodernism occludes the human ability to grasp contradictory tensions. As a result, the negation of capitalism’s mythic universal becomes increasingly impossible, and we are divested of our ability to think historically. Postmodernity, as the end result of the process of reification, is both problem and solution. The suppression of contradiction is the suppression of difference; finally, it is the suppression of the non-identical altogether. Lacan will call this non-identical desire and locate it in the unconscious. The idea that we have ‘lost contact’ with our unconscious desire also means that we have lost contact with necessity and with history. We have, then, lost contact with loss itself, and this paradoxical situation appears to be the heart



of the problem. Brechtian dialectical thinking, figured as a ‘complex seeing’ or as what Jameson will call a ‘dialectical stereoscopy’, is a means of intervening into postmodernity with an historical consciousness. Each chapter in this book has ended with an avowal of the unavoidability of the aesthetics of failure, and the tragic seems to assert itself continually, whether it be in a Lacanian reading of gestus as tragic, an exploration of Brechtian Trauerspiel and the politics of mourning, a description of the ‘art of living’ as an amorous production of bourgeois discourse from within those heinous signifiers, a reading of the violence of allegory and the destruction of narrative, or an insistence on irreconcilable contradiction and the tragic identity of opposites in Brecht’s mature plays. It seems appropriate to give Brecht the final word. As Klaus Völker observes, a few days before he died Brecht told Manfred Wekwerth that, in his opinion, his play which most represented the theatre of the future was The Measures Taken (Völker 1976: 353). In its simplicity and directness, this notorious Lehrstück, for all its flaws, has at its heart a possibility which is still relevant: engendering a consciousness that is at once tragic and historical, through the apprehension of irreconcilable contradictions. Yet to grasp The Measures Taken as such we need to look past the harsh Leninism and apparent didacticism of this learning-play, and instead misread it as Hegel might. Describing the conflict at the heart of Sophocles’s Antigone, Hegel argues that it presents a reconciliation through the mutual destruction of the two main characters: This sort of development is most complete when the individuals who are at variance appear each of them in their concrete existence as a totality, so that in themselves they are in the power of what they are fighting, and therefore they violate what, if they were true to their own nature, they should be honoring. [. . .] So there is immanent in both Antigone and Creon something that in their own way they attack, so that they are gripped and shattered by something intrinsic to their own actual being. (Hegel 1835: 1217–18) Hegel points out that Antigone, as a member of the royal household, is at war with herself in violating a royal decree, while Creon ignores his own family ties in insisting on his edict. It is this quality to the conflict, that in attacking each other they are attacking themselves, that distinguishes Antigone as ‘the most magnificent and satisfying work of art of this kind’ (1218). In its demonstration of the simultaneous identity of irreconcilable opposites, Antigone is an exemplar of the dialectic of contradiction as fundamentally tragic. A similarly Hegelian reading of The Measures Taken refuses a reading that attends to the vulgar mechanical necessity of the Young Comrade’s death for the sake of Communism’s long-term goals. Such crude determinism, with its ends-justifies-means logic, would reduce the play to an instance of the

Conclusion 187 tragic ideology, but one ironically repulsive to a bourgeois consciousness because of the assertion that communism, rather than middle-class society, is the necessary end for which life must be sacrificed. Hegel would call such a play ‘social drama’, a play whose conflict is a problem, which is solved at the end. Instead, a dialectical intervention insists that the conflict is a conflict of identical opposites, each equally justified, each equally wrong in their individual pathos. That the Young Comrade, and those who shoot him and throw him in the lime pit, are identical is indicated at the level of form: the Young Comrade is not a character in the play, and the Three Agitators take turns playing this part. Thus if the Young Comrade is wrong in bowing to the immediate suffering of those directly before him, his companions are also wrong in refusing to assuage that suffering. They each serve goods, one short term, one long term. Both sides of the conflict are justified, but neither good can, finally, be taken as an end in itself. Both serve humanity but both betray humanity in serving humanity: this is the contradiction of History itself, that the activity of creating a more human world through the process of revolution demands a dehumanization in order to do so. Revolution is a tragic contradiction: through the apprehension of this identity of humanity and inhumanity, we grasp both the mechanism of History and its motor, this latter being the alienation, the inhumanity, which is both the problem and the solution to the problem of late capitalism. From this perspective only can we grasp human beings as a dialectical process, as History itself. History henceforth is two things. As Lukács writes, History is on the one hand, the product (albeit the unconscious one) of man’s own activity, on the other hand it is the succession of those processes in which the forms taken by this activity and the relations of man to himself (to nature, to other men) are overthrown. [. . .] [H]istory is the history of the unceasing overthrow of the objective forms that shape the life of man. (Lukács 1922: 186) Brecht calls this unceasing struggle between our humanity and our inhumanity, which are in fact identical with one another, the art of living. It also means the attempt to live historically, without metaphysical alibis or absolutes, by inhabiting our reification and letting that alone constitute our tragic truth. This tragic truth is embodied in the form of The Measures Taken, in the fact that the Three Agitators are the Young Comrade. They are the tragic identity of the human and the inhuman, of the identical and the non-identical, and as such they are History.


1 Brecht and language 1 The word thaëter may also bear some relation to the Greek term theoria, as employed by Plato, a word meaning theory, spectacle and speculation. 2 Dialectical images 1 It is worth noting that thesis seven is headed with an epigraph from Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera: ‘Consider the darkness and the great cold / In this vale which resounds with mystery’ (Benjamin 1950: 256). It is in this same thesis that Benjamin famously states, ‘There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. And just as such a document is not free of barbarism, barbarism taints also the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another’ (256). 3 Brecht and myth 1 Barthes finds this text in a French translation of Brecht’s political writings, Écrits sur la politique et la société (Brecht 1970: 148–53). It is collected in Tom Kuhn and Steve Giles (eds), Brecht on Arts and Politics under the title ‘On Restoring the Truth’ (Brecht 2003: 133–40). 4 Brecht and narrative 1 The Tuis are ‘an ill-defined but widely spread community of liberal thinkers, writers and other pundits who used to be seen as a political force in the 1930s and 1940s. With the word “Tui” (for “Tellect-Ual-In”) Brecht stood the concept on its head’ (Brecht 1973a: n.464). 2 Joan Copjec has articulated in an illuminating and useful manner the difference between a subject who lives as if panoptically surveilled, and a subject who engages in what she calls an ‘orthopsychicism’. The latter describes the process of keeping some aspect of oneself hidden, and the freedom this potentially entails. The difference is between Foucault and Lacan, between panopticism and a theory of the unconscious. See Copjec (1989). 3 In this biblical model for interpretation, based upon the analogy between the Israelites literal exodus out of Egypt and Christ’s allegorical resurrection, the moral level is abstracted from the idea of ‘the soul cleansing itself from sin in its conversion’, and the anagogical from ‘the human race facing its own collective resurrection in the Last Judgement’ (Jameson 1998: 128).

Notes 189 5 Brecht and tragedy 1 Thus it is not just for Janelle Reinelt to comment of this chart that ‘it leaves a lot to be desired as an adequate explanation of the differences, since it is structured on bipolar high contrasts that do not literally hold’ (Reinelt 1994: 9). Brecht has been advising us against such polarizations all along. 2 Pinkney lists as members of this cult, Stephen Heath’s and Colin MacCabe’s 1974 essays on Brecht for Screen, Terry Eagleton’s 1979 play Brecht and Company and Catherine Belsey’s Critical Practice (1980).


Adorno, Theodor W. (1961) ‘Trying to Understand Endgame’, Michael Jones (trans.), The Adorno Reader, Brian O’Connor (ed.), Oxford: Blackwell, 2000, pp. 319–52. —— (1965) ‘Commitment’, Francis McDonagh (trans.), Aesthetics and Politics, Ronald Taylor (ed.), London: Verso, 1977, pp. 177–95. —— (1966) Negative Dialectics, E.B. Ashton (trans.), New York: Seabury Press, 1973. —— (1970) Aesthetic Theory, Robert Hullot-Kentor (trans.), Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann (eds), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. Althusser, Louis (1968) ‘Sur Brecht et Marx’, Écrits philosophiques et politiques, François Matheron (ed.), Tome II, Paris: Stock/IMEC, 1995, pp. 541–58. Althusser, Louis and Étienne Balibar (1968) Reading Capital, Ben Brewster (trans.), London: Verso, 1997. Aristotle (c.335 BCE) Poetics, George Whalley (trans.), John Baxter and Patrick Atherton (eds), Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1997. Ashton, E.B. (1973) ‘Translator’s Note’, Negative Dialectics, Theodor W. Adorno, New York: Seabury Press 1973. ix–xv. Bakhtin, Mikhail Mikhailovich (1975) ‘Discourse in the Novel’, The Dialogic Imagination, Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (trans.), Michael Holquist (ed.), Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994, pp. 259–422. Balfour, Ian (1988) Northrop Frye, Boston: Twayne. Barthes, Roland (1955a) ‘The Diseases of Costume’, Richard Howard (trans.), Critical Essays, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1972, pp. 41–50. —— (1955b) ‘Le cercle de craie caucasien’, Œuvres Complètes, Tome I: 1942–1965, Éric Marty (ed.), Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1993, pp. 514–16. —— (1956) ‘The Tasks of Brechtian Criticism’, Richard Howard (trans.), Critical Essays, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1972, pp. 71–6. —— (1957a) ‘Brecht, Marx et l’Histoire’, Œuvres Complètes, Tome I: 1942–1965, Éric Marty (ed.), Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1993, pp. 753–6. —— (1957b) ‘Brecht “traduit” ’, Œuvres Complètes, Tome I: 1942–1965, Éric Marty (ed.), Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1993, pp. 730–4. —— (1957c) The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies, Richard Howard (trans.), New York: Hill and Wang, 1979. —— (1957d) Mythologies, Annette Lavers (trans.), London: Paladin, 1973. —— (1958) ‘Brecht et notre temps’, Œuvres Complètes, Tome I: 1942–1965, Éric Marty (ed.), Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1993, pp. 767–9.

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Adorno, Theodor W. 4, 47–8, 50, 152, 154, 158–72, 180; Aesthetic Theory 166–8; ‘Commitment’ 165–6; Negative Dialectics 47–8, 158–61; Dialectic of Enlightenment (with Horkheimer) 153, 171; ‘Trying to Understand Endgame’ 168–73 agency 7–8, 12, 26, 27, 32, 39, 175 alienation 7–8, 11, 15, 19–20, 38, 127, 151, 169, 172, 176, 184, 185, 187 allegory 4, 53–4, 67, 69–73, 88, 92, 94, 98, 117, 129–37, 145–7, 149–51, 168–9, 172, 186, 188n. 3 Althusser, Louis 23, 39, 50–1, 123–4, 151, 163; Reading Capital (with Balibar) 51, 110–11; ‘Sur Brecht et Marx’ 15–17 anagogy, anagogical 134–6, 188n. 3 anamorphosis 43, 98 apotheosis 4, 132–3, 149 Aristotle 120, 127, 170, 175; Poetics 21 Artaud, Antonin 14, 34 art of living 6–7, 25, 108, 112, 114–15, 186–7 Bakhtin, Mikhail Mikhailovich 139–40, 151 Balfour, Ian 138 Barthes, Roland 3, 27, 34, 73, 83–115, 125, 188n. 1; ‘Brecht and Discourse: A Contribution to the Study of Discursivity’ 112–15; ‘Brecht et notre temps’ 112; ‘Brecht, Marx et l’Histoire’ 110–12; ‘Brecht ‘traduit’’ 101; Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography 99–100; ‘Le cercle de craie caucasien’ 101; ‘Commentaire: Préface à Brecht, ‘Mère Courage et ses Enfants’ 87–90, 92, 96–7; ‘Diderot, Brecht, Eisenstein’ 103–5; ‘The

Diseases of Costume’ 85–7; Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies, The 93–6; ‘Kafka’s Answer’ 88; ‘Literature and Signification’ 91; Mythologies 84, 92, 96–7, 103; ‘On Brecht’s Mother’ 100–101; ‘Seven Photo Models of Mother Courage’ 96; ‘The Structuralist Activity’ 84–85, 113; S/Z 127; ‘The Tasks of Brechtian Criticism’ 109–10; ‘Writers, Intellectuals, Teachers’ 105–9, 112 Baudelaire, Charles 95 Beckett, Samuel 167–68; Endgame 168–73; Waiting for Godot 180–1 Belsey, Catherine; Critical Practice 189n. 2 Benjamin, Walter 2, 12, 28–9, 34, 42–3, 45, 47–82, 83, 88, 92, 94, 95, 99–100, 115, 116, 122, 125–6, 130–1, 140, 152, 163, 168, 170, 172, 175, 183, 188n. 1; Arcades Project (Passagen-Werk) 53–4, 80, 82; ‘The Author as Producer’ 66; ‘Conversations with Brecht’ 62, 123; Origin of German Tragic Drama 28, 53–4, 66–72, 75, 163, 172; ‘Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century’ 52–3; ‘A Short History of Photography’ 58–9, 99–100; ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ 50; ‘What is Epic Theatre? [First version]’ 48–9, 105; ‘What is Epic Theatre? [Second version]’ 67; ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ 52, 115 Bloch, Ernst 122 Brecht, Bertolt; Baal 13–14; Caucasian Chalk Circle 4, 46, 55–7, 101–2, 122, 154–5, 175; Dreigroschenroman (Threepenny Novel) 4, 117, 137–8,

Index 197 140–51; Drums in the Night 140; Good Person of Szechwan, The 4, 5, 72, 155, 166–8, 175, 180–2; In the Jungle of Cities 13, 63, 75–6, 142, 154; Kuhle Wampe (with Dudow) 143; Life of Galileo 4, 131–6, 151, 153, 155, 166–8, 175, 178, 182–3; Man Equals Man 48, 63; Measures Taken, The 186–7; Messingkauf Dialogues, The 3, 14, 23, 26, 76, 127, 155; Me-ti, or the Book of Turns 118–19; Mother Courage and Her Children 4, 46, 63, 87, 89, 92, 101–2, 104, 138, 143, 153, 155, 166, 175, 178–80, 182; Mother, The 100–2; Saint Joan of the Stockyards 181; Schweyk in the Second World War 63; Seven Deadly Sins of the Petty Bourgeoisie, The 71–3; ‘Short Organum for the Theatre’ 6, 134, 152–3, 155; Threepenny Opera, The 73, 141, 145, 148, 169, 175, 188n. 1 Brennan, Teresa 29, 36, 38–9, 100; History After Lacan 29 Brueghel, Pieter the Elder 3, 45–6, 54, 55, 57, 116; Dulle Griet 46, 55, 71; Landscape with the Fall of Icarus 45 Buck-Morss, Susan; Dialectics of Seeing 12–13, 53–5, 57 Bukharin, Nikolai Ivanovich 132 Burke, Kenneth 7, 31, 76, 126; A Rhetoric of Motives 10–11 Butler, Judith 8 capitalism 4–5, 7, 11, 52–3, 71–3, 75, 92, 114–15, 140, 142, 146–8, 150–1, 161–2, 164, 168–73, 185 casus 127, 129–31 catharsis 21, 44, 94–5 class 6, 11, 19, 23–7, 107–8, 110, 114, 118 ‘complex seeing’ 1, 4, 10, 27, 33, 35, 43, 46, 47, 48, 52–4, 71, 175, 178–80, 184, 186 Conrad, Joseph; Lord Jim 121 constellation 50–1, 61, 68, 70, 163, 168, 170, 173 contradiction 125–6, 130, 158–9, 184, 187 Copjec, Joan; ‘The Orthopsychic Subject’ 188n. 2 costume 85–8, 95–6 Darstellung 23, 30, 50–1, 110–11, 121–2, 126, 163, 172

death 43–4, 67–9, 71, 79, 81, 98, 100, 131, 169–70 deconstruction 5, 25, 28, 77–8, 113 Deleuze, Gilles 14, 131 Derrida, Jacques 5, 18, 25, 34, 77–82, 85, 114, 128; Specters of Marx 3, 25, 77–82 desire 44, 114, 136–7, 185 dialectic, dialectical 1–2, 6, 10, 11, 27, 39, 42–3, 47–50, 58, 69–70, 76, 79, 87, 90, 105, 108, 115–16, 118–30, 132–3, 135, 137, 140–1, 147, 151–62, 164–5, 167–8, 170–3, 175–6, 178–84, 185–7 dialectical images 3–4, 42–3, 45, 47–58, 60–1, 66, 69–71, 79, 83, 116, 122, 125 dialectic at a standstill 2, 4, 45, 47–52, 74, 79–80, 81, 92, 95, 104–5, 116, 125, 140, 151, 152, 168, 172 dialectical stereoscopy 161–2, 175, 179, 184, 186 dialogism 4, 139–41, 151 Dickson, Keith A. 140–1, 145 Diderot, Denis 103 différance 79 Eagleton, Terry 27–8, 189n. 2 Eddington, Sir Arthur Stanley; The Nature of the Physical World 64–5 Einstein, Albert 9, 26 Eisenstein, Sergei 103 epic theatre 4, 7, 28, 34, 48–9, 54, 66–7, 71, 73, 79, 82, 92, 96, 105, 114, 116, 140, 154, 172, 174 Esslin, Martin 140, 145 ethics 117–18 Evans, Dylan 38 exchange-value 125, 161 expressionism 40–1, 98, 168, 171 fascism 3, 44, 114–15 false consciousness 2, 170–1 fetishism 79, 99–100, 103–5 Feuerbach, Ludwig 10, 16, 77, 174 freedom 21, 37, 94, 115, 156–7, 163, 175–6 Freud, Sigmund 12, 17–24, 35, 100, 104, 107, 117–18, 128, 131; ‘A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis’ 19–20; ‘Negation’ 31–2, 128, 158–9; ‘New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis’ 23–4;



Freud, Sigmund – contd. ‘Psychopathic Characters on the Stage’ 21–2; ‘The Uncanny’ 17–18, 20 Frye, Northrop, 117, 173–4; Anatomy of Criticism 4, 135–6, 138–40, 148 Galileo 35–6 Gasché, Rodolphe 152 Gay, John 141 gaze 40–3, 98 gesture 41–3, 48, 94–6 gestus 2, 9, 12, 27, 29–31, 33–4, 35, 38, 42, 44–5, 62, 63–4, 80, 85, 92, 97, 105, 113, 127–9, 186 Giles, Steve 6 Gissing, George 121 Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 67; Faust 153, 155–7 Gramsci, Antonio 118 Guattari, Félix 14 guilt 67, 72, 159 Haltung 12, 25, 48, 50, 61, 117–18, 139 Hasˇek, Jaroslav; The Good Soldier: Schweik 63 Heath, Stephen 189n. 2 Hegel, Georg W.F. 2, 4, 47, 51, 53, 117, 119, 120, 140, 151–3, 158, 186–7 Heidegger, Martin 90, 100 history 12, 13, 51, 67–9, 81, 85–6, 92, 100, 104–5, 110–12, 116, 119, 133, 137, 178, 183, 185, 187 Hitler, Adolf 44, 46, 145 Holbein, Hans; The Ambassadors 98 Horkheimer, Max; Dialectic of Enlightenment (with Adorno) 153 Huyssen, Andreas 73 ideal, idealism 4, 47, 51, 54, 57, 74–5, 96, 110, 140, 151, 153, 157–8 identity 158–62, 172, 186–7 ideologeme 4–5, 11, 17, 19, 174, 179, 181, 183–4 ideology 1–3, 5, 9, 10, 13, 17, 19, 23–4, 26–7, 36–7, 39, 73–4, 84, 92, 95, 114, 117, 121, 123–5, 133–5, 139–40, 142, 149, 153, 157, 159, 162–3, 165–6, 170, 174, 176–7, 181, 184 imaginary register 8, 12, 36–40, 42–4, 100, 105, 127

impressionism 41–2, 46 individual 6–7, 26, 110, 112, 117, 131, 135–6 Irigaray, Luce; ‘Commodities Among Themselves’ 8; Speculum of the Other Woman 114; ‘Women on the Market’ 8 Jameson, Fredric 7, 10, 13–14, 25–6, 29, 34–5, 108, 116–37, 139, 144, 151–2, 171, 188n. 3; Brecht and Method 4, 116–18, 122–36, 139, 144, 188n. 3; Late Marxism 159–64, 166, 173; Marxism and Form 33–4, 118–23, 131, 134; Political Unconscious, The 116, 121–4, 126, 133–7, 173–4; Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism 13, 185 Jetztzeit 50–2, 126 Jesus Christ 132, 145, 149–50, 188n. 3 Jolles, André 127 judgement 31–2, 93–4, 102, 127–31, 144, 149–50, 176, 188n. 3 Kafka, Franz 62–6, 88, 150; Amerika 64; The Trial 64 Korsch, Karl 26, 118 Kuhn, Tom 6 Lacan, Jacques 2, 8, 11–12, 23, 29, 32–3, 34, 35–44, 46, 47, 90–1, 98, 100, 127, 131, 137, 185 late capitalism 8–10, 80–1, 159, 162, 175, 187 Lévi-Strauss, Claude 5, 84 Lukács, Georg 110, 117, 121; History and Class Consciousness 66, 118, 187 MacCabe, Colin 189n. 2 Marx, Karl 10, 23, 27, 77–82, 107, 110–11 Marxism 9–12, 23–5, 35–6, 48, 66, 76–82, 85, 100, 107, 110–13, 117–19, 123, 134, 155, 157, 160–1, 173 maternal 90, 100–2 Matisse, Henri 41 Mayer, Hans 154 mediation 124, 173 menippean satire 4, 138–42 method 55, 61, 66, 86, 106, 118–19, 125, 128–9, 137, 144, 154, 172–3, 180

Index 199 Missac, Pierre 51 Mitchell, Stanley 66 modelbooks 2, 46, 58–62 modernism 12–13, 28–9, 117, 134 Molière; Dom Juan 1 mourning 2, 8, 69–71, 76–9, 128, 186 myth 3, 54–5, 57, 75, 83, 91–2, 95–6, 100, 116, 160 Nägele, Rainer 12, 15, 28–9, 30, 47, 73, 118 narrative 4, 45–6, 49, 50, 54–7, 68, 97, 116–18, 121–3, 125–7, 129, 132–3, 136, 138, 146–9, 151, 160, 173 necessity 21, 24, 116, 168, 175, 185 negation 16, 31–3, 43–4, 104, 158–60, 171–2 negative dialectic 4, 47–8, 151, 152–5, 158–61, 171 Neher, Caspar 60 ‘Not … But’ 29, 31, 34–5, 151, 155, 178 Novum 122, 125, 132–5 numen 94–9, 103 objet a 39–40, 42–3 Oppenheimer, J. Robert 132, 134 Osborne, Peter 52 ostranenia (defamiliarization) 15, 166 parable of the talents 146–50 Pavis, Patrice 33 photography 2, 46, 58–62, 82, 88–9, 93–4, 99–100 Pinkney, Tony 180, 189n. 2 Piscator, Erwin 63, 103 Plato 66, 158, 188n.1 plumpes Denken 25–6, 117–18, 123, 125, 128, 141, 155–6 postmodernism 12–14, 28–9, 117, 185 postmodernity 9, 29, 185–6 poststructuralism 3, 6, 83, 103, 105, 114 punctum 99, 103 psychoanalysis 2, 11–12, 21–5, 27–8, 35–8, 100, 106–7, 137 Rabaté, Jean-Michel 83, 99 real 47, 90, 137 reification 3–4, 74, 80–1, 101, 124–5, 137, 144, 148–51, 163–4, 168–73, 177, 180, 184–5, 187 Reinelt, Janelle 189n. 1 Renoir, Jean 103

Ricoeur, Paul 122 Robert, Marthe 88 romance 146, 173–4 Saussure, Ferdinand de 24, 111 Scholem, Gershom 64, 77 Scott, Sir Walter 121 seismology 84, 113–15 semiology 113 Shakespeare, William 67, 174; Coriolanus 34; Hamlet 3, 22, 78–80, 153, 170 Shklovsky, Victor 15 Sloterdijk, Peter; Critique of Cynical Reason 73 Sophocles; Antigone 8, 43–4, 46, 59, 129, 153, 181, 186; Oedipus Rex 17, 30, 44, 182 spectrality 74, 76, 78, 81, 95 Stalin, Joseph 132 Steiner, George 66; After Babel 31 Strindberg, August 67, 171 structuralism 2, 6, 10, 24, 27, 84–5, 89, 103, 109, 111, 117–18, 129 subjectivity 5, 12, 26, 28, 137, 151, 170 Suvin, Darko 43, 127, 150 Swift, Jonathan 143 symbolic order 7–8, 26, 29, 37, 38–9, 42–4, 90, 100, 103, 105, 114, 131 Szondi, Peter 152, 182; Theory of the Modern Drama 172 Tatlow, Antony 5, 7, 34, 153; The Mask of Evil 154–5 totality 4, 47, 117, 124, 151, 160–4, 168, 186 tragedy, the tragic 4–5, 8, 21, 43–4, 66–7, 71, 152–3, 155–6, 168–70, 173–87 transcendence 4, 69, 71, 121, 151 Trauerspiel 3, 4, 66–73, 76–9, 88, 130, 140, 168, 170, 172, 186 Tuis 118, 154, 155, 188n. 1 unconscious 11, 20, 23–4, 32–3, 37–8, 44, 57, 58, 97–8, 107–8, 121, 136–7, 185, 187 Unheimlich 15, 17–20, 26, 32, 80 use-value 80, 114–15, 125, 161, 169 Verfremdungseffekt 2, 3, 5, 9, 12, 14–20, 22, 26–7, 31, 35, 42, 45, 50, 55–6, 73–4, 80–2, 106–7, 113, 161, 164, 168–9, 180, 185



Völker, Klaus 186 Volosˇinov, V.N.; Marxism and the Philosophy of Language 27 Wedekind, Frank 6 Weissberg, Liliane 99–100, 103 Wekwerth, Manfred 186

Williams, Raymond 152, 155, 183; Modern Tragedy 4, 175–80 Willett, John 15, 55, 153 Wright, Elizabeth 19, 73; Postmodern Brecht 13–15 Zˇizˇek, Slavoj 24–5, 73–4, 108