restricted access Brecht's Tradition by Max Spalter (review)
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1968 BOOK REVIEWS 437 different and seemingly arbitrary headings is disconcerting and at times rather confusing. A book with so many possibilities deserves the attention of a careful editor. He might have raised questions about the organization, why a curtailed discussion of myth should conclude the book; why the first two chapters were not reorganized and perhaps combined; why garbled sentence constructions were not revised; why editorial comments were not deleted; why paragraphs written from several points of view were not rewritten; why awkward and colloquial expressions were not replaced; why literary references were not more fully given and those inaccurately used, as with Achilles, corrected; why the several sophomoric and patronizing comments were not blue penciled. Though there may not have been enough time between the dissertation and the book every student interested in the work of Thornton Wilder will appreciate the generous use of quotations within the text and the very fine bibliography at the end. SIGNI FALK Coe College BRECHT'S TRADITION, by Max Spalter, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore , Md., 1967, 271 pp. Price $6.95. This study of Brecht's literary antecedents is a genuine contribution to the growing body of Brecht scholarship. It is, indeed, one of the very best books on Brecht that has yet appeared, quite on a par with John Willett's excellent work. Dr. Spalter traces the influences which formed Brecht's style, technique, and dramatic philosophy to five writers: J. M. R. Lenz, Christian Dietrich Grabbe, Georg Buchner, Frank Wedekind, and Karl Kraus. These five writers contributed to the formation of Brecht's epic theatre style, which the author defines as episodic structure and an absence of conflict as the characters are controlled by reality rather than vice versa. Dr. Spalter does not in any way imply a lack of originality on Brecht's part by tracing these relationships. Instead, he makes quite clear that what distinguished these forerunners of Brecht-with the possible exception of Karl Kraus--was the fact that they were the avant-gardists of their day. Lenz, Grabbe, Buchner, and Wedekind were all living anachronisms, totally misunderstood in their day. Kraus was not ahead of his time, nor was he misunderstood: he was simply immeasurably superior to his time. One of the points that Spalter brings out in passing is that a full-length critical study of Kraus-certainly one of the most powerful and incisive of modern German writers-is badly needed. Prior to the present study's excellent chapter on him, Kraus had been treated only by Erich Heller in The Disinherited Mind. In his discussion of Lenz, whose play The Tutor Brecht later adapted, Spalter points to his anti-Aristotelianism. whereby the avoidability rather than the inevitability of tragic consequences is shown, his episodic structure, and his implication that social reform is hopeless. With Grabbe and with Buchner, Spalter emphasizes the control of human beings by society and by economic events and the equation of "morality" with a lack of worry about money. The concept of "Erst kommt das Essen, dann kommt die Moral" was espoused by Grabbe and Buchner just as enthusiastically as by Brecht. "Like Brecht," Spalter tells us, "Grabbe makes us feel that life is bitter hell for most people unlucky enough not to have a slice of the pie." Combined with this flatly realistic and disillusioned perception is a simplistic psychology that makes no attempt to "understand" 438 MODERN DRAMA February what motivates evil but merely contrasts it with the suffering it causes: " ... the dramatist takes greater pains to share his cynical perception than to communicate a moving experience." From Wedekind Brecht learned that there is no incompatibility between art and low-life; and from Kraus he learned that the very fabric of society as we know it is imbued through and through with cy~ical corruption based on economic self-interest. Spalter sums up the result of his researches in Brecht's literary antecedents in this way: They all de-emphasize Aristotelian plot in order to demonstrate episodically that man is wholly at the mercy of forces that reassert themselves with monotonous inevitability. For Lenz, these forces are social, for Grabbe and Buchner they defy definition, for...