Monday, January 31, 2011


After I went to the Volksbühne, I got an overwhelming desire to change direction (again). I still love typography and I'm not over the street sign idea at all, but it's a complicated topic that I'm having trouble figuring out how to deal with. I also can't decide if this is something that I actually want to do research on. So, instead of forcing myself into discovering a brilliant research topic, I decided to just read some literature.

After seeing SCHMEISS DEIN EGO WEG! I started feel guilty about how much I pretend to love Brecht without having read very many of his works. So, I read Die Dreigroschenoper today. When I finished after only getting up to use the rest facilities once, I felt extremely confused and also couldn't really feel my feet. I admit that I went straight home to look up a synopsis to try to decipher what I had missed. Turns out, plot-wise, I didn't miss anything. So, three cheers for my German reading and zero cheers for my play/opera-understanding. But, here are my thoughts:

1. I'm extremely disappointed that there are no productions of this show happening in Berlin in the next two weeks. If I had to pick out one major point that I got out of our Woyzeck class last year, it is the importance of production. The Dreigroschenoper, even more than a standard play, is so different in on stage than in writing. As a student of literature it is sometimes tempting to read plays like novels. We've being doing since middle school with our requisite one Shakespeare play per year of high school. Reading the text is also important; close-reading and a really excellent understanding of the play is the goal, but not really the purpose. We read it to analyze it, but Brecht wrote it for production. All of this seems extremely obvious, but it goes back to the original issue of typography (ho ho!) and perception--my experience of reading the Threepenny Opera in 12 pt. Garamond in a cafe in Berlin removes the removal of the vierte Wand and, perhaps more importantly, the music. The argument that reading a drama is not the same as watching a drama is pretty basic, but it is nevertheless necessary to point out.

2. Women!?! I don't quite know how to start discussing this aspect of this text. I actually would much rather be dealing with this in a class than on a blog, but this is not an option right now. Again, an analysis of the female roles would be a lot more interesting with an Inszenierung to work with. In any case, I find the role of prostitution extremely interesting. The men in the play are beggars; the women are prostitutes, of one sort or another. Mac, at the beginning, seems to effortlessly dodge the law, get what he wants (in an absurdly easy fashion), etc, but he is first brought down by his new wife (ish)'s family, then "verraten von den Huren" and given away by women at various moments. Women constantly are his weakness, even though they seem to innocently grovel before him. I don't really know how to read these relationships. Any commentary would be helpful. Also, I thought it was interesting how often the characters used the expression "gnädige Frau." The inappropriateness of this term in the context of prostitutes and beggars might be part of Brecht's alienation.

3. I love how Brecht makes it confusing who the protagonist/antagonist is. This (I think) is one of his most important theatrical devices, and it works so well to make the reader/viewer question what is happening in a critical way. I want to go back and read some secondary sources on Brecht again before I go into this stuff too much, because I don't want to misread.

I will come back to this opera a bit more after I read some criticism, but I also want to read a couple more plays (suggestions, please!) and see a few more. As to the history research, fear not, this does lead somewhere, and somewhere I really like:

Part of what made me want to read Brecht was because of something I read early this morning in a book called "Brecht in der USA," which I sort of randomly decided to look at. The book had translations into German of various reviews and interviews from the period that Brecht lived in the U.S. Threepenny was one of only three or four Brecht plays that was performed in the U.S. at the time. I am somewhat considering looking into Brecht/other German "exiles" in the U.S. during the Second World War and the Cold War, so I thought going back to the texts was important. Anyway, the point I wanted to make had to do with a tidbit in this book about the OSS (the Office of Strategic Services), which was a precursor to the CIA. Get this: even though Brecht was under serious watch from both HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) and the FBI, the OSS thought seriously about using Brecht as part of their secret propaganda programs! According to the document I read today, they decided not to ask him because they didn't think he had enough influence among the "common man" because his audience was mostly the intelligentsia. I find this so incredibly ironic and fascinating on so many levels. I would love to know if the OSS ever contacted him, and if so, how that went over. The thought of Bertolt Brecht, of all people, writing propaganda for the U.S. seems truly incredible to me.

As I do more reading, I'm going to investigate more on Brecht's interactions with Americans and his reception in the U.S. I find this intriguing. I'll also be able to do more of this back the the U.S. where I'll have more access to American sources. Who knows, I might pursue this further, though I'm changing my mind daily at this point.

Apologies that this all took such a sudden turn. Hopefully I come out of this trip actually having achieved something somewhat specific-ish.

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