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Debarati Roy Dr. Tapan Basu Semester One: Presentation LH3 21 October 2013 Bertolt Brechts debate against Lukacs forms the crux of his argument towards a new kind of realism, one that is experimental and responsible towards the needs of a society that has evolved to its present point. For Lukacs, realism works when it has an objective, totalising impulse. He critically argues in his Realism in the Balance against the modernist schools of art, specifically Expressionism and Surrealism and dismisses fragmented narratives. He sees such kinds of artistic innovations as merely experimental without being socially pertinent. He points out that the montage form of writing, which these forms of art usually deploy shows chaos without a critical view of social reality. According to Lukacs, realism of the kind that Thomas Mann employs tries to show how experiences and emotions are parts of the total complex of reality. Thus, he says, art requires a movement back to traditional objective realism. Now, Brecht in response to Lukacs does not intend to discount his realism. However, he does question it; in as much as how can one look at objective reality, in a world where the objective is part of a particular discourse? Who decides the objective standards? Are they ever innocent? Brecht seems to think not. Reality cannot be objective. Anything that becomes the norm, the objective is simply the perpetuation of a particular reality, one which is convenient to the existing ruling class. To prevent this, the depiction of realities must evolve as societies evolve and art must be true to this change. In order to do so art must innovate. Innovations can be set up for success or failure, but engaging with social realities is of prime importance. Using realities as


contextual backgrounds, no longer qualifies. These are not the means anymore, they are the end. They need scrutiny and understanding for art to be able to effect social change and an updated view of reality. This paves way for Brechts innovative theatre-the epic theatre, where the term epic is used to portray a complete break from traditional Aristotelian theatre and brings about formal innovations. If one were to turn to Brechts own work, A Short Organum for the Theatre clearly espouses his intentions. He wants to create a dialectical theatre. One that by way of contradictory entry points into the same narrative deliberately fractures it, in order to hold up the fact that the reality portrayed is a construct. There is no universal right or wrong. It is the bourgeois mans particular ideals that have been universalised to form the common, natural way of life. It is a specific discourse that can be changed. In order to depict this, he makes use of Verfremdungseffekt, the distancing effect, alienating the audience from the play. In doing so, Brecht tears down Aristotelian theatres need for the audience to identify and empathise with the play. He has no intention to evoke catharsis. For as he mentions in A Short Organum for the Theatre, all it does is create an illusion of similarity by way of which The one important point for the spectators in these houses is that they should be able to swap a contradictory world for a consistent one, one that they scarcely know for one of which they can dream. That is the sort of theatre which we face in our operations, and so far it has been fully able to transmute our optimistic friends, whom we have called the children of the scientific era, into a cowed, credulous, hypnotized mass. This hypnosis needs to be avoided. The Alienation effect helps that. It presents a narrative that is mostly of common knowledge. The audience recognises it. But now he fragments the narrative and introduces contradictory approaches. Repeatedly, one course of action is interrupted and another introduced. The idea is to portray as Walter Benjamin discusses


in his essay What is Epic Theatre? that It can happen this way, but it can also happen quite a different way. What this does is that it breaks down the idea of a singular way of looking at a problem that one thinks one knows and shows it in a completely new and different way, thus making social problems the subject for the audiences critical analysis. The defamiliarisation creates, not empathy but a distance, allowing the audience to look at what they think is normal and make a realisation that what is normal is also queer. It is not a situation beneficial to them. Moreover it is not one they can empathise with. Having arrived at this understanding, the audience now engages with the art critically. This is helped by the role of the actors who again do not associate with or imitate their characters. What is portrayed is the various possible ways in which the character can be played out. So there is the writers version, which might have been met with shock or surprise by the actor. This response is also retained in the latters performance and is portrayed as one of the many attitudes engaged with and played by the actor. The actor brings his judgement and opinion into the playing. Again, one goes back to A Short Organum for the Theatre where Brecht says Without opinions and objectives one can represent nothing at all. Without knowledge one can show nothing; how could one know what would be worth knowing? Unless the actor is satisfied to be a parrot or a monkey he must master our periods knowledge of human social life by himself joining in the war of the classes. This tendency to have different versions of attitudes towards performance is the Gest as Brecht calls it any idea that can be explained as the many versions of an attitude that can be portrayed by the actor, with the interruption of one by another totally different portrayal. Brecht says


The actor must show an event, and he must show himself. He naturally shows the event by showing himself; and he shows himself by showing the event. Although these coincide, they must not coincide in such a way that the difference between the two tasks is lost. The Alienation effect is supported by use of music which ceases to be the creator of atmosphere or facilitator for the hypnosis of the masses. It ceases to be a weapon of the ruling classs ideology and becomes that which can cause interruptions in action, facilitating gests. Benjamin in What is Epic Theatre? observes that for Brecht, the theatre also needs literarising as by introduction of placards, captions, subtitles etc. which will make what is shown on the stage unsensational1. The audiences who, as Benjamin mentions do not think unless they have a reason to are forced to bring to the performance, their critical opinions. They are forced to realise that reality itself is a discourse created by the ruling class and that it can be changed. It can be engaged with in a sphere where art has been made political. Thus there is direct dialectical engagement in theatre with what have been known and accepted as standards of judgement, putting them up as constructed by the ruling class and leading the masses on to an understanding of realities regarding social conditions and of a tangible need for change.

The concept of an unsensational theatre was one that Brecht borrowed from Chinese theatre.


Discussion: Ratnakar Kumar: My question is for discussion that when Brechts plays are performed it loses its claimed alienation effect and somehow arouses pity and fear. How this arousal is different from traditional? Also since Brecht is very often adapted in Indian context, I would like to make a point that in Indian context his conception of alienation effect fails to larger extent. And so whether his ideas are significant in Indian context, and so his politics?