Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Stop your crying and do something: Brecht and the Humanities

The 1980 United States Rockefeller Commission on the Humanities described the humanities [as such] in its report, The Humanities in American Life:

"Through the humanities we reflect on the fundamental question: What does it mean to be human? The humanities offer clues but never a complete answer. They reveal how people have tried to make moral, spiritual, and intellectual sense of a world in which irrationality, despair, loneliness, and death are as conspicuous as birth, friendship, hope, and reason."

It's becoming more and more clear that the objective of the Epic Theatre is to stimulate conversation and instigate action. I once had a teacher define “the humanities”--in regard to artistic discipline—as having the same intent. By offering audiences an open-ended conclusion, such as with the endings of of Ionesco's “Rhinoceros” in which the anti-hero Beringer exclaims that he “will not capitulate!” as well as Brecht's “Caucasian Chalk Circle,” viewers are given less of an cathartic release, and instead, provided with a poignant prompt for discussion. These very discussions are the same kinds which encourage human beings to really ponder the problems facing the human condition.

In “On Theatre,” Brecht demonstrates his own explorations into the concept of the Epic Theatre and, moreover, its emphasis on stimulating the audience—not simply entertaining. In one passage (to paraphrase) he makes light of the Epic's intention to examine social and cultural facets, as opposed to the Aristotelian emphasis on human folly. While some may see this intention as being widely adverse to the theme of the humanities (all which is humane), Brecht's aim of providing human beings with the intellectual tools necessary for thriving is in all aspects quite humane. Here he has told, and demonstrated to, us that we need not simply experience what it is like to, say, lose a child—but that we should consider the circumstances which allowed the child to be lost in the first place. With this understanding we can learn how to save the lives of future children, be they our own or a neighbors.

Such exercises as reviewing Brecht's texts through conversation with others who have recently read them is proving to be an insightful, and at points frustrating, task. Though, its stimulative aspects should be lauded in that participants are forced to suss out and make decisions about the core concepts they are discussing. To make a point to someone else does, or course, require a finite amount of effort; yet, so does accomplishing anything worthwhile. This regimen has also answered a few questions I previously had regarding Brecht's implementation of acting theory; the question itself being: How did he train his actors to carry out the ideologies that bolstered his work? To answer this question, recent experiences have been helpful in making sense of prior observations.

While taking a tour of Brecht's home in Berlin, perhaps the most curious and inspiring room was the one in which he worked. Adorned with countless volumes, and multiple desks and ash trays, it was a room which the guide told us served as the 'command center.' It has now become apparent through seminar exercises, reading, and deduction that the free flow of communication is both vital for the successful construction and understanding of Epic Theatre. It is as is if Brecht is reminding us from the grave that we are not alone, and we're going to need to get along with others (as well as argue like mad!) in order to make any sense of our time and its myriad problems and glories. How else are we supposed to highlight what's important in the world than through putting something together and artistically channeling ideas?

It would seem that what Brecht is trying to relate to us through his critical essays on the Epic is: the study of humanity from the individual standpoint is selfishly vulgar. This set of examinations should favor objective presentation, subjective rumination, and subsequent objective relations.

On that note, my mind may slightly explore...I meant explode...

This tangent is once again a 'can of worms' that can, and will, be explored further. Since I'm not out to provide answers, I here wish to continue on doubting. Off to find some questions and make some changes.

1 comment:

  1. Dylan.

    Interesting observations. Did you also see his summer house a little outside of Berlin? They have the original wagon of Mutter Courage.

    We will miss your ideas in class today