BRECHT: A Biography by Klaus VÖlker

BRECHT: A Biography

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Is it possible to write a life of poet-dramatist Bertolt Brecht that doesn't bog down in the philosophical and political wrangles (chiefly Marxism in all its party and non-party variations) that obscure the man and the artist? Maybe not. This conscientious, well-researched biography does manage to find a workable, often illuminating counterpoint between theatrical developments and philosophical convictions; ""Brecht combined his efforts to find the big dramatic form with his fight for a new social order,"" and VÖlker makes solid stabs at analyzing the shifting role of Marxist-Leninist theory in stimulating Brecht's art, portraying him as a ""pedagogue"" (rather than a propagandist) whose famed ""epic theatre"" and ""alienation effect"" were necessary to create a truly dialectical Drama. (Fiercely attacking Georg Lukács, VÖlker views the less ""alienated"" late plays not as mature advances but as commercial compromises.) In the chronological course of these analyses, a number of the plays, including the barely known Round Heads and Pointed Heads, receive their own chapters. But, though VÖlker is himself a a stage director, the non-theoretical aspects of Brecht's stagecraft rarely come into focus. And surely there is a psychological drama in this overage balladeering rebel, this ""uncouth Don Juan"" who ""changed women with as little compunction as he changed his shirt,"" who lived half of his adult life in exile (Denmark, Hollywood, Switzerland) and then returned to something less than a hero's welcome in the mess of dividing postwar Berlin. But, while gathering most of the names and dates and spearing an occasional insight (""Stupidity and obtuseness made him passionately unjust""), VÖlker allows the issues to swamp the personalities: Brecht's longtime wife, actress Helene Weigel (a legendary Mother Courage), goes virtually uncharacterized till chapter 31 (out of 34), and Brecht's collaboration with Kurt Weill is barely sketched in. Still, while also limited by its undeclared, vaguely socialist bias, this dense and sometimes murky study will nonetheless be a valuable source until something more inspired comes along.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1978
Publisher: Seabury