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  • Brecht. Rollenmodell eines Dichters by Uwe Kolbe
  • Stephen Brockmann
Brecht. Rollenmodell eines Dichters. Von Uwe Kolbe. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 2016. 176 Seiten. €18,99 gebunden, €17,99 eBook.

To say that this book is an attack on Brecht would be understating the case. In fact, Kolbe makes Brecht responsible not only for the duration of the German Democratic Republic but also for the behavior and alleged moral failings of later East German writers such as Heiner Müller, Volker Braun, Wolf Biermann, and Thomas Brasch. Without Brecht, according to Kolbe, neither the GDR as it actually existed, nor the careers of any of these writers, would have been possible. Kolbe thus condemns Brecht while at the same time offering the most extreme possible testimony to Brecht’s lasting influence. Kolbe himself is aware of the paradox. On the one hand, he admits to being an admirer of Brecht’s extraordinary talent as a poet and playwright; on the other hand, however, he abhors Brecht and those writers who, he believes, followed in Brecht’s footsteps. Among other things, the book is a powerful example of what Harold Bloom once called “the anxiety of influence.” Kolbe calls Brecht “der andauernde, der unvermeidliche, der ewige Gottseibeiuns” (17) and admits that “Brecht ist so sehr bei jedem, der ihm einmal begegnet ist, dass er ihn mehr oder minder bewusst ein Leben lang im kleinen Handgepäck mit sich führen wird” (19). Brecht’s influence on German literature and the German language can only be compared to that of Martin Luther, according to Kolbe.

At the same time this book constitutes a late reply to one of Brecht’s most famous poems, “An die Nachgeborenen” (written in the mid-1930s), which ends with the famous supplication that those born in a hoped-for later, better time should think back on Brecht and his contemporaries, who went through more difficult times, “mit Nachsicht.” Kolbe is unwilling to indulge in such “Nachsicht,” or empathy, and instead sees no justification for Brecht’s politics, especially his embrace of socialism and his decision to live in the German Democratic Republic starting in 1949. In this sense, it is clear that Kolbe is heavily influenced by the American scholar John Fuegi’s long-since-discredited Brecht biography, Brecht & Co.: Sex, Politics, and the Making of the Modern Drama (1994), to which he refers several times, both directly and indirectly, as well as by David Caute’s 1988 study The Fellow-Travellers (first published in 1973 and then again in a revised version in 1988). What Kolbe unfortunately fails to take from Caute, however, is the sense that Brecht was an intellectual and political maverick and that his case was highly complex and ambiguous. Reading Kolbe’s book, one might get the impression that Brecht was a full-fledged, hard-core [End Page 675] supporter of Walter Ulbricht and his politics, and that he was never openly critical of the policies of the Socialist Unity Party during his lifetime. Kolbe claims that Brecht wrote his highly critical poems “Nicht feststellbare Fehler der Kunstkommission” and “Das Amt für Literatur” “für die Schublade, versteht sich,” and that “er nahm die Rahmenbedingungen hin, welche die Zensur stellte, mit der Existenz der Zensur beginnend” (35). In fact these two poems were published in the Berliner Zeitung on July 11 and 15, 1953, respectively, as Kolbe would have discovered if he had done a little extra digging, and as even Fuegi acknowledges. The poems were part of an intensive—and relatively successful—campaign by Brecht to secure more independence and freedom for the literary sphere in the wake of the uprising of June 17, 1953. Kolbe ignores that campaign, just as he ignores the many campaigns against Brecht and his allies by SED hardliners between 1949 and Brecht’s death in 1956, starting with attacks on Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder in 1949, continuing with the condemnation of Das Verhör des Lukullus in 1951, and moving through and beyond the controversy surrounding the libretto to Hanns Eisler’s Johann Faustus in 1953, in which Brecht was involved on his friend and collaborator Eisler’s side. In fact the...


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