Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Failure of Reason, more Brecht, OSS, FBI, etc.

Over the past couple days my impulse to read Brecht has compelled me to look a bit further into German Exilliteratur/reception in the U.S./investigation and/or collaboration with government agencies, including, but not limited to, the State department, the OSS, and the FBI. Ironically, more sources for this particular topic are available in the U.S. even though I came to Germany because of sources, but the library here has tons of Brecht's writings that I can look at in conjunction with whatever documents I might find on the internet. And, I'm reading the literature as I go along because history, literature, theater, etc. are all, of course, interconnected (this assertion may or may not be why DAAD gave me money, so I'm going to go with it).

So, I started reading Leben des Galilei as my next play, because it is one of Brecht's plays from exile (written in Denmark) and it was performed in California as one of the first Brecht plays in the United States. Plus, there is an interesting dimension to that production, which is that the United States used atomic bomb while the Brecht and Charles Laughton were working on adapting the play for American audiences. As Brecht wrote of the event in a notebook, which was published later, "Das >>atomarische Zeitalter<< machte sein Debüt in der Mitte unserer Arbeit. Von heute auf morgen las sich die Biographie des Begründers der neuen Physik anders. Der infernalische Effekt der Großen Bombe stellte den Konflikt des Galilei mit der Obrigkeit seiner Zeit in ein neues, schärferes Licht."

Wowza. This brings immediately to mind the Dürrenmatt play Die Physiker, which I love. I haven't finished reading Galilei yet, so I'm unprepared to make any statements about the message, etc. (I also haven't read the American adaptation, which might be even more interesting), but I think that Brecht's statement about the atomic bomb is good to think about while reading, and reminds me of some assertions I have heard from a certain professor about the failure of the Enlightenment. At what point is the pursuit of reason futile because of the inevitable misuse of science by politicians and military strategists? How do you fight the "Obrigkeit" of traditional society without discovering things that humankind can't even deal with?

In scene four of Galilei, Galilei speaks of his telescope. Remember, this is from the orginial German version, written in 1938/9: "Die Wahrheit ist das Kind der Zeit, nicht der Autorität. Unsere Unwissenheit ist unendlich, tragen wir einen Kubikmillimeter ab! Wozu jetzt noch so klug sein wollen, wenn wir endlich ein klein wenig weniger dumm sein können! Ich habe das unvorstellbare Glück gehabt, ein neues Instrument in die Hand zu bekommen, mit dem man ein Zipfelchen des Universums etwas, nicht viel, näher besehen kann. Benützen Sie es. [!!]"

Wowza again! I'm dying to know how they ended up translating this/performing in a post-war American production! Brecht wrote more on this text in his notebooks, and I will revisit as soon as I finish reading the play.

I have also been perusing various sources pertaining to the OSS, FBI and German writers. The OSS (Office of Strategic Services), the precursor to the FBI, worked extensively with anti-Hitler Germans to develop strategies of "psychological warfare" in addition to on the ground spying, etc. Part of what the OSS did was work with German exiles to form societies for the freedom of Germany among prominent German exiles. In the few OSS documents I read today, I found repeated reference to Thomas Mann as an invaluable influence on "all Germans" even though he and his family were also closely investigated by the FBI for Communist activities. Go figure. I have yet to figure out if he actually did cooperate with the OSS or not, and to what extent. I also need to figure out what Brecht's involvement with these pseudo-organic (i.e. grassroots) organizations was, but I might need to submit a Freedom of Information request to get the full scoop on the OSS communications with various German exiles.

An interesting tidbit from one memorandum that I was able to read (one OSS officer to another) was their take on "The German" and how "he" must be influenced. This comes from a memo on the need for organizations of prominent exiles: "Any attempt to influence the German people requires a special kind of approach in view of the methodical and orderliness of the German Mind [yes, in caps]. The German is always "German." His history has disciplined him to do as he is told and, consequently, he is an unusually good citizen. He is sentimental, but not emotional, and any attempt to influence him must proceed on highly logical lines." This analysis is actually pretty valid, maybe, but I find the wording super weird, not to mention sexist, and the precedent this kind of "warfare" set for the Cold War is a whole other problem (cf. Iran coup, Guatemala coup, Bay of Pigs, etc.).

Anyway, the FBI was a whole different aspect of the Exile/US Gov relationship, and Brecht's FBI file is available online! Yay! It is hundreds of pages long, but from what I skimmed through, it is almost humorously repetitive and focused on the meaning of texts. The investigation looks more like a German Studies notebook that an FBI investigation. I knew that during the Cold War the Feds were preoccupied with hidden meanings and cultural infiltration, but it looks really weird on paper to have a translation and then one sentence with something like "example of revolutionary writing; will get back to you when I have more." (I made that up, but it's not too far off.) I also found it hilarious that Brecht split the country the day after his HUAC hearing in October, and acknowledgement of that fact doesn't show up in the file until mid-January. The file keeps going after that because they still thought he would come back.

I also went to the Pergamon Museum yesterday, for fun. It was cool, I guess (I liked the cuneiform tablets, of course), but I couldn't help wondering the whole time: What the heck is all of this stuff doing in Germany!? Colonialist/Archeological/"Ethnological" claim of other people's ancient treasures, anyone? P.S. I also find it somewhat unsettling that "Ethnologie" is still a subject in Germany. What exactly is this, and what does it mean?

More on all of this to come.

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