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  • Editorial Principles in the Berlin and Frankfurt Edition of Bertolt Brecht’s Works
  • Erdmut Wizisla (bio)
    Translated by Marta Ulvaeus (bio)

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Figure 1.

The one-act play that became known as Die Kleinbürgerhochzeit [A Respectable Wedding] was called Die Hochzeit at its premiere. In the first complete edition it appears as Die Kleinbürgerhochzeit because a title correction handwritten by Brecht expands the original; the new edition goes back to Die Hochzeit. (Photo courtesy of Erdmut Wizisla)

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Figure 2.

he ballet Die Sieben Todsünden der Kleinbürger [The Seven Deadly Sins of the Petite Bourgeois] was originally called Die Sieben Todsünden [The Seven Deadly Sins]. (Photo courtesy of Erdmut Wizisla)

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Figure 3.

With texts that Brecht himself did not bring to print, the editorial policy of selecting the last-corrected text constrains, as in the case of this poem fragment “Der Zweifler” [The Doubter]. (Photo courtesy of Erdmut Wizisla)

In the concluding sentence of a letter to Wieland Herzfelde, the publisher of his Gesammelte Werke [collected works] put out by Malik-Verlag, Brecht wrote in December 1937: “By the way, there is still a misprint in the catalogue: Kuratier [kuratii] instead of Kuriatier [kuriatii]. Surely that’s been corrected in the book? Otherwise we’ll have the philologists on our backs” (BFA 29:67). Ironic remarks such as these show that Brecht had no real conception of the advantages of academic text and editorial work. At the same time his interest in the developing process that formed his own works led to a lifetime archive, which actually laid the foundation for literary investigations. Few authors of this century have been granted the same level of philological attention. By that of course is not meant “letter-sniffling” [Buchstabenschnüffelei], to use Elias Canetti’s word, but pure research, that is, the kind of preparation and presentation of texts, which are the basis of every academic textual work and often go unnoticed. To come straight to the outcome: Brecht did have the philologists on his back, and that was a lucky break for his work and its reception. Of course, they could occasionally have moved even closer.

With the imminent completion of the Große kommentierte Berliner und Frankfurter Ausgabe, the involved editorial history of Brecht’s works comes to a happy, albeit temporary, end. The achievement of the editors, volume compilers, and readers cannot be overestimated. All who have dealt closely with Brecht know that print history and the handling of literary remains at times resembled chaos. To his later publisher Peter Suhrkamp, Brecht wrote in October 1945: “Everything needs alterations” (BFA 29:366). And as much as he had on that morning appreciated the fair copy, prepared by the helpful hands of others from the previous evening’s revisions, he was unable to leave a clean copy untouched. That the attempted bibliography of Brecht’s unpublished writing was interrupted can also be attributed to the sheer unwieldiness of the condition of the material. Each reprint was a temptation for Brecht’s proofing pencil, the way the stage is a challenge and stimulation for adapting a script. Hardly a text that appeared a second or third time during Brecht’s lifetime resembled the first printing; not to mention the difference between individual unpublished versions or the problem of texts that the writer hadn’t prepared [End Page 31] for press. To make matters worse, in the process of revising, Brecht in no way took the “latest” version to be the final one, so that successive stages and structural sequences often could barely be detected.

The existing editions up to the mid-1980s appeared not to have risen to the challenge of this complex body of material. One must keep in mind that the most successful edition up to that point, the 20-volume collection from Suhrkamp (Brecht 1967), was riddled with shortcomings. Many versions printed in that edition were chosen by the editor Elisabeth Hauptmann, without having been agreed upon by text authenticators. Texts that Brecht hadn’t prepared for an edition were afterwards put together in...

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pp. 31-39
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