Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Brecht's Last Jest?: The Influence of the Personal in the Objective Epic

In seeking to explore a possible contradiction of the Epic Theatre's aim, this week I have chose to turn an eye to the personal influences which contributed to some of Brecht's most well known works. In particular, the focus of this will be on the enduring roles of motherhood and warfare in “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” and “Mother Courage.” The reason for my interest in this particular subject is the apparent juxtaposition of the Aristotelian objective on focusing on the plight of the individual, versus the Epic's groundbreaking concentration on the larger social and political issue. The major question of this curiosity being: If the inspiration of the Epic's characters is based on personal experience, does this not place the playwright as a contradictory representation of his own work?

The simplest answer to this question would be “no.” This is because the muse for any work can not be the sole blame, or basis for the work's intent. However, it seems quite interesting to consider this from a different perspective, so let's indulge it and answer “yes” instead. From this perspective we can consider some of the biographical factors that provided the characteristic human building blocks for the two aforementioned plays.

Firstly, the similarities between that of Brecht's upbringing and the struggles of the Chalk Circle. Brecht was a child of mixed religious persuasions. His father a Catholic, and his mother a Protestant, offer a considerably obvious influence on his original story (discussed in the first blog) “The Augsburg Chalk Circle”--not to mention the fact that Brecht himself was born in that very town. In addition to facts like this, the religious differences at home, the subsequent fascination with the Thirty Years War, and the personal impact of the first and second world wars, it becomes more evident where the playwright's interests lie. Though, back to the initial question; can a writer objectively write on moral, social, and political themes by drawing from his own past?

As we have seen, this can indeed be done; successfully even. Perhaps Brecht was not a Epic Theatre man, rather, a man who—through research, and keen concern for the human condition—found a way to write 'from the heart'. Funny enough, there is a clear opposition to the notion of human's having hearts in these works. Here we are shown murderous soldiers, callous parents who live off of war, and noble figures who make sport of their subjects' suffering. These caricatures, as they are to be somewhat portrayed, almost appear as if Brecht was not only striving to provide audiences with a starting point for forming their own opinions, but also perhaps shielding his own history from the public eye via fantastically removed spectacles.

My earlier questions could be considered Freudian, I suppose. But then again, maybe this is just another posthumous trick Brecht set up for later generations to begin an 'epic' conversation about art and the human mind...I'd like to think of it as just one of those considerations that was missed at the time, but left on the table for later consideration. Can we only write from what we know? Even if the story is not for or about us? Or does the imagination exceed the confines of experience?

Whenever we seemed
To have found the answer to a question
One of us united the string of the old rolled-up
Chinese scroll on the wall, so that it fell down and
Revealed to us the man on the bench who
Doubted so much.

On with doubt.

1 comment:

  1. Epic characters, the epic's characters... I am slightly confused. Are you talking about the characters of the play (the drama)? This is not an epic.

    What is Brecht's position on war?

    This would be indeed a never-ending-story. Dialectic too!

    Interesting blog