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  • German Brecht, European Readings
  • Susanne Winnacker (bio)

The writer never reads his work. It is, for him, illegible, a secret. He cannot linger in its presence. It is a secret, because he is separated from it. However, his inability to read the work is not a purely negative phenomenon. It is, rather, the writer’s only real relation to what we call “the work.” The abrupt Noli me legere brings forth, where there is still only a book, the horizon of a different strength.

—Maurice Blanchot ([1955] 1982:25)

The author Brecht, who all his life lent himself to self-interpretation, apodictic determinations, and incorrect perceptions, was no exception. Certainly the readings of his works allow one to more than just suspect that he was aware of this above-quoted connection between author and writing. In Brecht, one can observe the following phenomenon: by allowing his work to be a poetic expression of his own death, Brecht makes an attempt to anticipate, and, at the same time, escape this idea that “one cannot read oneself.” The “Wunderblock” 1 of this notion for Brecht is the writing itself, the poetic representation of the search for the possibility to exceed any individuality without the surrender to a collective, and the futility that is consciously embodied in any such search. One example from an abundance of expressions in which Brecht himself describes what he called “the instruction for dying” (Sterbelehre) is the following:

leute sind wertlos für die gesellschaft menschliche hilfe ist nicht üblich trotzdem wird ihnen hilfe gegeben und obwohl der tod des einzelnen rein biologisch für die gesellschaft uninteressant ist soll das sterben gelehrt werden. (in Steinweg [1972] 1976:58)

[people are worthless to society human assistance is not usual, but, nevertheless assistance is given, and despite the fact that a single death is purely biological is not interesting to society dying should be taught.] [End Page 7]

Even in the social wilderness, some minute, barely tangible remainder of community must exist: it is not possible for us to not “seem together.” For Brecht, community, whose ultimate home is death, is not representable as a system or as a body, but only as a trace of its own absence. Its own superfluousness comes through in all of his work. The fission, displacement, and irreconcilability with one’s own reality cannot be eradicated by the individual. Individuality is also subject to the “natural weakness” (Natürliche Schwäche) (GW 2:584)—the irreducible uniqueness of the human being who is not capable of renunciating himself and is, therefore, ready to accept his own obliteration. In the Lehrstücke, for example, assistance comes only as assistance for dying. The only plea that is ever fulfilled is that one’s own death be made possible. The Pilot, He Who Says Yes, and the Young Comrade each reveal themselves to the others as different in their own death. Fellowship, which appears to exist through and for the others, can only be whole at the time of death, at the abrupt interruption of the self, one’s work, and one’s own existence. The theme “writing without signature,” as one can understand from Foucault, appears in many of Brecht’s poems, as is apparent in the following lines:

Was immer du sagst, sag es nicht zweimal Findest du einen Gedanken bei einem anderen, verleugne ihn. Wer seine Unterschrift nicht gegeben hat, wer kein Bild hinterließ Wer nicht dabei war, wer nichts gesagt hat, Wie soll der zu fassen sein! Verwisch die Spuren!

(BFA 11:157)

[Whatever you say, don’t say it twice If you find your thought in another person, deny it. He who has not left his signature, who leaves behind no pictures He who was not involved and who said nothing How shall he be taken hold of! Cover the tracks!]

Only the other side of the, let’s call it the experience of reading the works of Brecht, is the fact that art must allow itself to be absorbed into the innermost core of the social process in order for it to be ultimately experienced as nonsocial. This factor is likewise important for the work to escape the thoughtless “artistic...

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pp. 7-11
Launched on MUSE
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