Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956)

  • Hans Reiss


Brecht’s attitude to art differs radically from that of the writers so far discussed. Born in 1898, his formative years did not belong to the pre-1914 period, but rather to the First World War and its immediate aftermath. Outward reality may have made too immediate, too disturbing demands on the sensitive youth, demands which he could neither ignore nor evade by abandoning himself to cultivating his inner life. Nietzsche does not seem to have profoundly inspired him either. Later in life Marx was the lodestar of his thought. At the very beginning of his creative career, from his brief obituary of Frank Wedekind in the Augsburger Neuesten Nachrichten (12 March 1918)1 and, even more strikingly, from his first theatre reviews in another Augsburg newspaper, Der Volkswille (from October/November 1919 onward),2 he declared war on any purely intellectual, let alone spiritual approach to the world; for sensuous, material reality appeared far too real and overpowering to him. Of course, by valuing undifferentiated life above mind he is closer to Nietzsche than he may have surmised, though, of course, like Nietzsche, too, he never ceased to question all phenomena of experience with an acutely searching mind. But it was the outside world and not his inner soul which, despite all sensitivity, mattered to him first and foremost.


Aesthetic Experience Expressionist Writer Historical Situation Aesthetic Theory Evil Person 
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  1. 10.
    There were at least four versions (1918–26). Cf. Dieter E. Schmidt, Baal und der junge Brecht. Eine textkritische Untersuchung zur Entwicklung des Frühwerks, Stuttgart, 1960.Google Scholar
  2. 11.
    For a perceptive analysis of this play cf. Konrad Feilchenfeldt, Bertolt Brecht, Trommeln in der Nacht’; Materialien, Abbildungen, Kommentar, Munich and Vienna, 1976.Google Scholar
  3. 14.
    Cf. Wolfdietrich Rasch, ‘Brechts Marxistischer Lehrer. Zum ungedruckten Briefwechsel zwischen Bertold Brecht und Karl Korsch’, Zur deutschen Literatur der Jahrhundertwende Gesammelte Aufsätze, Stuttgart, 1967, pp. 243–73.Google Scholar
  4. 21.
    Cf. Paul Kussmaul, Bertolt Brecht und das Englische Drama der Renaissance, Berne and Frankfurt/Main, 1974.Google Scholar
  5. 22.
    Cf. Peter Michelsen, ‘Der Kritiker des Details. Lessing in den Briefen die Neueste Literatur betreffend’, Wolffenbütteler Studien zur Aufklärung ed. Günter Schulz, II, Wolffenbüttef 1975, pp. 151 ff., who demonstrates this aspect clearly without in any way detracting from Lessing’s greatness.Google Scholar
  6. 22.
    Cf. also, for a comparison between Brecht and Lessing, Paolo Chiarini, ‘Lessing und Brecht’, Sinn und Form, Zweites Sonderheft, 1955, pp. 188–203;Google Scholar
  7. 22.
    H. J. Schrimpf, Lessing und Brecht. Von der Aufklärung auf dem Theater, Pfullingen, 1965;Google Scholar
  8. 22.
    also Reinhold Grimm, ‘Lessing - ein Vorläufer Brechts I’, Lessing Year Book1, 1974, pp. 36–59.Google Scholar
  9. 23.
    The literature on Aristotle’s Poetics is of course so enormous as to daunt any scholar, let alone a creative writer. For instance, the pioneering work by Jacob Bernays, Die Grundzüge der verlorenen Abhandlung des Aristoteles über Wirkung der Tragödie Breslau, 1858, gave rise to more than seventy articles and books alone.Google Scholar
  10. 23.
    Cf. Jacob Bernays. Ein Lebensbild, in Briefen, ed. Michael Fränkel, Breslau, 1932, p.11.Google Scholar
  11. 28.
    Cf. for instance the remarks recorded in Bertolt Brecht-Archiv Mappe 40, 3, quoted by Käthe Rülicke-Weiler, Die Dramaturgie Brechts. Theater als Veränderung Berlin, 1968, p. 8, who discusses this aspect.Google Scholar
  12. 33.
    Marx/Engels, Werke II, Berlin 1962, p. 353. Brecht unmistakably alludes to this sentence in Vergnügungstheater order Lehrtheater? B, xv, p. 262; cf. also ‘Episches Theater’, Katzgraben-.Notate (1953) B, xvt, p. 815. Cf. also Albercht Schöne, ‘Bertolt Brecht, Theater theorie und dramatische Dichtung’, Euphorion LII, 1958, pp. 273 f., who makes the same point.Google Scholar
  13. 39.
    Cf. Sokel; Arnold (cf. Chapter 2, note 4); and also Walter E. Riedel, Der neue Mensch. Mythos und Wirklichkkeit Bonn, 1970, all of whom explore this question.Google Scholar
  14. 41.
    Aristotle, ‘On the Art of Poetry’ [Poetics] trs. T. S. Dorsch, Classical Literary Criticism (Penguin edition), ed. T. S. Dorsch, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1965, pp. 38 f.Google Scholar
  15. 44.
    Cf. Helmut Flashar, ‘Aristoteles und Brecht’, Poetica VI, 1974, who makes this point. The term appears in Aristotle, rtupi rzolryrlKi, 11 p. 1458b Dorsch translates $evIK6v by ‘unfamiliar usage’ (p. 63).Google Scholar
  16. 58.
    This point is made by Martin Esslin, Brecht. A Choice of Evils. A Critical Study of the Man, his Work and his Opinions London, 1959, an excellent book to which I am much indebted. Cf. particularly pp. 201–36.Google Scholar
  17. 61.
    Cf. Julius Petersen, Das Deutsche.Nationaltheater, Leipzig, 1919;Google Scholar
  18. 61.
    Hans Kindermann, Theatergeschichte der Goethezeit Vienna, 1948;Google Scholar
  19. 61.
    W. H. Bruford, Theatre, Drama, Audience in Goethe’s Germany, London, 1949;Google Scholar
  20. 61.
    Willi Fleming, Goethes Gestaltung des klassischen Theaters Cologne, 1949, for accounts of this important part of German cultural history.Google Scholar
  21. 62.
    Lessing, Werke, ed. Kurt Wölfel, II, Frankfurt/Main, 1967, p. 525.Google Scholar

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© Hans Reiss 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hans Reiss
    • 1
  1. 1.BristolUK

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