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Politicised Theatre: The Case of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Garbage, The .City and Death DENIS CALANDRA My primary object of srudy is the controversy which has surrounded Fassbinder's play Garbage, The City and Death off and on for the last thirteen years. I Touched off by allegations of antisemitism against the author and the various production teams whicb have attempted to stage it, the issue exploded into areas beyond the immediate conflict between the Federal Republic's dedication in its Basic Law to the preservation of buman dignity, underscored by Germany's special responsibility to Jewish citizens, and the same Law's promise that there shall be no censorship. By the very fact and circumstances of its not being produced at this particular historical juncrure, this play bas catalyzed important political discussion, most likely beyond the intentions of its author and certainly out of his control. The Garbage affair raises interesting questions about the culrural appararus, .the function and meaning of official censorship and self-censorship, and the relationship of the theatre to politics at large. I will limit my remarks to the details of the controversy, to commentary on Fassbinder's playas written and to its performance potential. In so far as Brecht is a key toour understanding ofpolitical theatre in this cenrury, and as he was invoked on various occasions during the debate, he is part of this story. Fassbinder wrote Garbage, The City and Death for the city of Frankfurt during his troubled tenure in the 1974-75 season at the Theater am Turm. He had wanted to do a film based on Gerhard Zwerenz's Frankfurt novel, The Earth is Uninhabitable - Like the Moon, but had been rurned down for a grant by the FilmforderungsAnstalt, the reason given being fear the material could be construed as antisemitic. The play, Garbage, The City and Death, which Fassbinder claims to have written on a round-trip flight to Los Angeles, is a personal response to Frankfurt, which describes its devastation and the perversion ofhuman relationships, to borrow Heiner Miiller's phrase, in "huge, harsh images".2 (In 1984, Miiller had been engaged to be a dramaturg for the second of the three attempted productions.3 ) A central character in the play, a Garbage, The City and Death 42] property speculator who eventually revenges the murder ofhis parents, is called The Rich Jew. Muller saw the real estate development itself to be the means of revenge. Garbage is a nightmare vision with only loose connections to the Zwerenz novel, yet the choice to alter the name of the equivalent character in the novel from Abraham to the typifying "Rich Jew" is significant. In Zwerenz a positive counter-figure to the speculator also appears, a Jewish lawyer, who doesn't exist in Garbage4 Among the other characters in Garbage is one ofthe Rich Jew's competitors, Hans von Gluck, a bitterly resentful neo-Nazi, who utters such lines as: "He's sucking us dry, the Jew. Drinking ,our blood and blaming everything on us because he's a Jew and we're guilty ... Just being there he makes us guilty. If he stayed where he came from or ifthey gassed him I'd be able to sleep better." This sort of statement and the apparent stereotyping of the Rich Jew in a play which sometimes borders on the pornographic, naturalJy attracted most of the attention at flfst, though there is much more to the text than that. Attempts were flISt made to produce the play in Frankfurt in ]975 and 1984. This reached a climax in 1985 when members of the Frankfurt Jewish Community occupied the stage of the Kammerspiele to block the third attempted premiere. The image which flashed around the world at the time thanks to an AP photo was worthy of a play all its own: Dany "The Red" Cohn-Bendit in what looked like jovial debate with co-religionist protesters from the conservative Jewish Community. Lines from the ensuing debate ran as follows (Cohn-Bendit speaking): "When I got to Frankfurt in 1968, a member ofthe Jewish Community came to me and said: 'Dany, you're not in France any more. As a Jew you...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
pp. 420-428
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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