- The Making of a Document: An Approach to Brecht’s Fatzer Fragment
In the Fatzer fragment (1926–1930) Brecht develops his own concept of the document in response to the increasing popularity of documentary drama and literature in the 1920s. He plays with the conventional meaning of this term and especially with the common understanding of authenticity. As early as 1926 Brecht outlines his idea of the document as an artifact or even a fake that would become “authentic” only by provoking conflicting commentaries. In the context of Fatzer the document is reflected as a theatrical potential, vacillating between true or false, real or fictitious. Its meaning depends on the audience, which is obliged to enact and discuss it. Thus, Brecht favors the idea of a theatre where the spectators would be able to take part in the making of documents, embodying thereby a revolution of the theatrical process itself.
Fatzer is a fragment in progress. Brecht worked on it from 1926 to 1930, covering over 500 pages with numerous drafts of the story, dramatic scenes, chorus parts, theoretical notes and bits of sentences barely decipherable. Spread out over different folders and notebooks, parts of this material might also belong to other projects and fragments of that time, when Brecht wrote most of his Lehrstücke and plays such as the Dreigroschenoper (Threepenny Opera). The story of Fatzer is set in World War I, taking place at the battlefield and in the industrial area of the “Ruhrgebiet” behind the front. Together with Fatzer as their leader, four deserters try to survive in hiding, waiting for a revolution that doesn’t occur. This situation remains the focus for Brecht’s examination of Fatzer, the egotist, who endangers the group in order to get his own way until finally his comrades decide to execute him. Although he had published parts of it in the first number of the Versuche essays in 1930, Brecht did not complete the play Untergang des Egoisten Johann Fatzer (The Downfall of the Egotist Johann Fatzer). And as if he had wanted to demonstrate the failure of his project and of its dramatis personae, he put the remaining fragments on file and called them the “Fatzerdokument” (BFA 10:1116).
In the context of Fatzer, Brecht developed his own concept of the document in response to the increasing popularity of documentary drama and literature in the 1920s. Using this term, he plays with its conventional meanings “certificate,” “record,” or “piece of evidence,” exposing them to a certain ambiguity between true and false, real and fictitious. However, this ambiguity has a part in [End Page 122] Brecht’s rhetoric of the “document” itself. It is interesting to know that Brecht intensified his work on Fatzer in 1927/28 during the time of his collaboration with the newly founded theatre of Erwin Piscator. He participated in the dramatic preparation and also in the staging of various productions: Rasputin, die Romanows, der Krieg und das Volk, das gegen sie aufstand; Die Abenteuer des braven Soldaten Schwejk by Jaroslav Hasek; and Konjunktur by Leo Lania. For the 1929/30 season Piscator even intended to produce Johann Fatzer (Piscator 1979:233). Obviously Brecht received an important stimulus from this cooperation, but in the following years he formulated an alternative model, especially in the theory and practice of the Lehrstücke. According to his comments in 1928, the revolutionary demands of documentary drama were counteracted by the restriction of documentary techniques to the depiction of history. In Brecht’s opinion the directors of this theatre were the last advocates of a bourgeois, naturalistic theatre, Morgenluftarrangeure, who had failed in the necessary revolution of the theatre itself (BFA 21:234). In contrast to Piscator’s theatre and its use of historic events—which were staged as reality using films, reports, and photographs—Brecht developed his idea of the document as an artifact that would become “authentic” only by provoking conflicting interpretations.
Especially in the Fatzer fragment Brecht outlines a dialectical concept of document and commentary:
Zum Fatzerdokument gehört das [sic] Fatzerkommentar. Das Fatzerkommentar enthält zweierlei Anleitungen für die Spieler: solche, die die Darstellung, und solche, die den Sinn und die...