Bertolt Brecht and the four aesthetics

Rubens Gerchman, Caixa de Morar Brasilia, 1966/1967. Photographic Reproduction Romulo Fialdini/Itaú Cultural.


Introduction conference to the work of the German playwright.

At the outset, I would say this: I wrote a book about Brecht,[I] about 400 pages, a lot of articles, essays, etc.,[ii] but that doesn't mean I'm Brechtian, you know? Absolutely! I'm a pragmatist. When I go to the theater, I want to see the show, Brecht or not Brecht, but it has to be a show.

Of course I published a book about Brecht, and the reason is obvious, too simple. There are inventors, theater theorists of the XNUMXth century, who were much more radical than Brecht – for example: this immense thing that was Antonin Artaud. But if you pursue Artaud's work, Artaud's work, deep down, in practice, he did almost nothing. Artaud is primarily, and this is a compliment I am paying, an inspiring principle of twentieth-century theater. And deep down, what he actually created was what Rubens Corrêa did: “a wonderful character!”.

Now, if we want, respecting all the source of inspiration that is present in Artaud, think, in fact, of a problematizer of the theater, not a theoretician – Brecht was not a theorist. On an essentially practical level, he was problematizing. His writings have no theoretical autonomy, no major research.

Sometimes I wonder: did Brecht read the Poetics of Aristotle? Because I think he quotes Aristotle or the Poetics only two or three times; but he was concerned not with Aristotle or with the Poetics of Aristotle. He was concerned with the way in which Aristotle made himself present in modern and contemporary theatre. He disagreed fundamentally in that way, and he disagreed in the way he put on his show. He was essentially a man of poiesis, the production of the show, and it was from there that he wrote his small texts… (small, small, bigger, bigger…), which ended up in seven volumes. Interesting! But always with a sense of incomplete work, because he didn't want to make a system.

Now, look carefully, how do you understand Brecht? It is a very violent critique of traditional theater, but at the same time it is a critique that is, in a certain way, within that same traditional theater. His question is very aesthetic. It is the idea of ​​the theater, it is what the theater was – one should accept it or not – and what the theater should be, or has an obligation to be. Since, for Brecht, the starting point of the theater is not the theater, it is life! It's society, it's the world, the way we live and we accept or reject, applaud or revolt against this world.

The theater is just a consequence of that. So he conveys the idea that this world is full of problems. One day, he hopes, these problems will be solved. And from that moment on, his theater – Brecht said this – will lose its meaning. On the one hand, Brecht is a man who wanted to make a classic theater, a literature, let's say, modern, of a fundamental stability. Everything was done based on this stability in the theater. And, at the same time, look at Brecht's paradox: he wanted, desired, in the name of the evolution of society, the evolution of social issues and the overcoming of these social issues, he wanted nothing less than the overcoming of all his dramaturgy .

Depending on what? Of the suppression of the theater? Of course. From one theater to another. And the curious thing about Brecht is this: he always wanted a different theater. He ended his life saying: “No, the epic theater I did… the way out is not there”. The way out is in what, at the end of his life, he called “dialectical theater”. What did he understand by dialectical theater, my God? It is not known. In that line he did nothing. I want to say that Brecht, with all the greatness he had, with all his creation – without a doubt, Bárbara Heliodora says that he is the best playwright and the best play is Galileo Galilei[iii], she could be right – this man, with all that height, that grandeur, reached the end of his life inhabited, shall we say, by a very radical dissatisfaction.

And that's what I wanted to talk a little about here today with you. He is within a transformation, let's say, theoretical, theoretical-practical of the theater. And traditional art, it undergoes an evolution that is very singular. There were things for which Brecht had no sensitivity. For example – it is impressive – Greek tragedy. It is one of the culminating moments, in a way, in the history of Western culture. And do you know what he said? “The tragedy was only possible in Greece due to the lack of sanitary facilities, because without the plague there is no tragedy”.

The plague is something we don't understand, thanks to Pasteur. But the plague, which permeates, traverses the whole culture, the whole of Western society, deep down is a kind of negative foundation of tragedy. Because the very reason for being, say, the political meaning of Greek tragedy – of Oedipus, for example – comes from the plague. as there was a hybris, an excess, an irregularity of some kind, the consequence was that the gods poured the plague on society, and that plague has to be eradicated. The political character of Greek tragedy derives entirely from this.

What if Pasteur had been Greek? Deep down, that's what Brecht thinks (laughs!). Tragedy would have no meaning, and it no longer makes sense. Is Brecht right or wrong? Is Oedipus guilty or not guilty? So it goes… I won't go into that topic here.

But the medieval mysteries, of course this is another great moment of Western theater –, Greek tragedy, the medieval mysteries, the XNUMXth, XNUMXth, XNUMXth centuries were culminating, a culmination of the theater –, for him, they have no meaning. Do you know why? Because all that ancient theater – I’m talking about great art, not comedy, the arts of comedy, satire –, that for the ancients was not art, it was entertainment. It was a form of entertainment, nothing more. But for all the ancients, what did this art represent? A kind of imitation, of mimesis, from Aristotle precisely, who will be the opponent of Brecht.

This imitation had to restore, construct, build up a certain reality. What reality is this? It is the reality or connection that exists between man and the gods, between man and the absolute. The fundamental dialogue of Oedipus is between him, who is King – who, in a way, overlaps with the reality of poor mortals –, and divine justice itself. This connection is essential. Now, for Brecht, this makes no sense at all. This is religious art that has totally lost its reason for being, and art has to go in another direction, follow other paths. Do you want to see how Brecht is right?

The Baroque was the last moment in Western art history that produced religious art. After the Baroque of the XNUMXth century, there is no longer religious art in the Western world, it simply disappears. Of course I can find a writer, a musician, I can find a playwright who does a religious play. How is this explained? It's his business! It's a matter of private private economics – he's religious. Because he is, for example, evangelical; it turns out that if I am a Buddhist, what do I have to do with it? It's a matter of choice.

But until the time of Bach and Mozart, all those great ones, art was religious. That is to say, it belonged to what Hegel called objective substance. The whole of society, the world in which man lived, was that of religion, she constitutively belonged to it. Note that the figure of the atheist, the atheist movement, only emerged in the XNUMXth century, after the baroque. It means that there is no longer that art of imitation that produced the relationship between man and god, of the “splendor of truth”, as St. Thomas Aquinas said, which produced the great tragedy, the great medieval mystery, the baroque opera… that's another problem, I won't go into it here. Then all of a sudden it starts to disappear. Thus, two new aesthetics emerge, and Brecht is within this whole perspective.

This talk I'm giving you is, so to speak, a kind of introduction to Brecht.

But then, after the end of the Baroque, two aesthetics emerge. I like to exemplify this, I already wrote about it, with Beethoven. Beethoven starts with Mozart, who is baroque, and this baroque Mozart lives on a baroque language, which is still within a fundamental religiosity. It can be said that religiosity is now Masonic, but that doesn't matter, it's a universal language. Beethoven starts there. In the third symphony he changes his aesthetic. And Beethoven makes a break and invents – not theoretically, this is secondary, theory always comes later – two practices, two new aesthetics that are fundamental to knowing all of modern aesthetics.

On one side he writes the third symphony, the Heroic, a large historical panel; or else, he writes right after the sixth symphony, which is the Pastoral. The third movement, you certainly remember – the description of a storm – is just fantastic! Through the orchestra, he reproduces, imitates, the full force of a storm, you see? Then comes the bonanza and there's even a cuckoo singing, things like that... I mean, he creates an aesthetic that lets itself be guided by the category of the object. He paints objects, and this is fundamental, as we shall see, to understanding Brecht.

I mean, on the one hand, he makes a type of art, symphonies and other things, in which he lets himself be guided no longer by God, by dike of Greek tragedy and the medieval Christ. Everything disappears, it's a suicide, but because of the category of the object. And at the same time he does something else that shines through, that appears in chamber music, piano music, sonata and things like that. In the sonatas, for example, he confesses. He talks about his soul, his feelings, his emotions, his personal problems. So he invents an aesthetic.

This was already being announced, but Beethoven is so clear in his teaching that I like to use him as an example. He invents an aesthetic of the subject, of expression. And these two aesthetics, these two fundamental lines, are at the base of modern aesthetics and, in a way, at the roots of Brecht. On the one hand, there is an aesthetic of the object, because the object has to be painted. The landscape, for example, even has a symphony by Richard Strauss in the Alps…

Everything has to be reduced to the category of the object. Because god disappears, god is dead. On the other hand, there is the aesthetics of the subject, the aesthetics of expression. The aesthetics of expression has to say what the artist feels and will convey to the public. It is clear that these two aesthetics have a whole history, an evolution. But in the last century there are only two, let's say, in the two centuries there are only two. There was that old aesthetic of imitation, which disappears. Then there is the aesthetics of expression, of the subject and the aesthetics of the object. And this evolves, and a fantastic difference begins to emerge at the end of the last century, the XNUMXth century. It's just that these two categories – subject and object… See how our world is. In order to explain the full weight of the problem it would be necessary to give an extra lecture.

We have a world in which everything is either subject or object. This is the starting point – there is no more God, there is no more devil, everything is subject or object. And the most fantastic thing: the world itself, the planet, is an immense object, which can be discussed, planned, experienced. One day they will manage the planet Earth and divert it, why not? – in the possibility of a cosmic cataclysm. Why not?

It's within the calculations; in a way, the Earth, the planet Earth is already an object. And what is opposed to this object is us – the subject –, who are aware and, for example, use the planet Earth, pollute it, or are against pollution and so on…

And do you know what is more curious? It is because these two categories, subject and object, become interchangeable in the XNUMXth century. Suddenly the subject is an object and the object is a subject. Things start to mix up. And this is really going to represent a very big complication for art. How can the subject be an object and the object be a subject? This is aesthetics until the end of the last century, the beginning of the XNUMXth century, which is fundamental to understanding Brecht's own evolution. He is totally in, the conflict, I would say, of these two aesthetics of the subject and the object. It is clear that if we take Chopin as an example, it is the subject's aesthetics; he cries all the time, he lives… he gets carried away, puts himself on the piano or things like that.

Or, take Wagner's opera. What did Wagner want? “Total work of art”. Do you know what “total art” is? It is the expression of the ecstasy that is all within the subject. And Wagner wanted exactly that: the expression of synthesis, I would even say cosmic, and this cosmic synthesis enters into a kind of unity, of fundamental unison, through an aesthetic of the subject. So, from the orchestra, he wanted to evoke in the audience a kind of ecstasy, which is evidently subjective, in such a way that this ecstasy provoked a kind of transformation in the subject. I mean, it's the ultimate victory for the aesthetics of the subject, of expression... just Wagner, I'm not going to develop the theme here, these are just preliminary implications.

But the curious thing is that when Brecht opposes the two forms of acting – there is an old acting, which is the imitation of the subject, the subject interprets and cries and things like that –, do you know who he is referring to? To Wagner. In that painting of his – of the dramatic and epic ways of acting – he begins by putting in the epigraph Total artwork, total work of art. And then another word appears in the title and nothing else in the title, it's the word Trennung, “separation”. Because Wagner wanted a profound unity, the synthesis of all the arts, the synthesis of art with the public and through this double synthesis, to reach, let's say, a state of ecstasy that would reform reality in some sense.

Against this whole synthesis, what Brecht seeks to do is the culture, I would say, of separation. All things have to remain separate. So he is, in a way, returned to those aesthetics of the subject and the object, no longer to the glorification of the subject, which is Wagnerian opera, but… that is where the thing that becomes serious in Brecht comes in… he enters the line of an aesthetics of the object . It is something that even today is very much criticized in Brecht. It lacks, according to some authors, the idea of ​​the subject, of the person, of subjectivity. So it all comes down again to the object category, and that's what I wanted to talk to you about a little bit more today.

You see, in addition to these two fundamental aesthetics – of the subject and the object – and of imitation, there is a fourth that I will talk about later – they have a certain interchange. For example, from the end of the last century in France and then in Germany there is a theater called naturalist… In this naturalist theater: in Émile Zola, in the great director, Antoine, for example, the character has to be reduced literally to the condition of an object . What does that mean? That the subject cannot be found on the scene. We are in the age of scientism.

Science, even in parentheses, is the great presupposition of all of Brecht's theater. Brecht's notion comes from the surge, the victory of scientism at the end of the last century across Europe. So, from there, how does a character appear on stage? In the same way as the scientist shows the paw of a frog. On a marble board, the dead frog's foot will receive an electric shock and will reproduce a reflex. This is the reduction of the frog to object status, because it is evidently not that. The frog jumps in the swamp, it has a fantastic spontaneity of movement. But for science, to do science, I have to reduce everything to the condition of an object.

Émile Zola thought in the following way, then: what is valid for science – showing the frog's paw – must be valid for the art of the novel or the theater. I have to reduce the character, the subjectivity, to the category of an object. And it is when I reduce it to the category of an object that I make the truth. Because scientific truth is necessarily an objective truth or one linked to the category of object. This is one of the assumptions of all of Brecht's aesthetics.

You see, this object thing was not an invention of Brecht, as certain people say in certain writings. Absolutely! This was normal at the turn of the century, at the beginning of the century. The whole theater lived for this, and Brecht was born in this atmosphere. For example, with German expressionism and not only in it – and Brecht comes from expressionism –, for the first time the Freudian unconscious is present in theater and cinema, consequently; but the Freudian unconscious is the negation of the personality and, in a certain way, the unconscious dissolves the personality and explains it starting from the previous impulse, which is pre-individual, pre-subjective, pre-personal. So there is a dissolution of subjectivity.

It is this idea of ​​the dissolution of subjectivity that is at the base of much that was done in XNUMXth century art. Expressionism also did something else: put on stage you know what? The mass man. Back and forth at the Museum of Modern Art… or in Metropolis by Fritz Lang is a mass man who is on stage. And what is mass man? It is the man who no longer has individuality. And expressionism created this whole mass man thing. Who is this mass man? It's us, when we walk along Avenida Rio Branco, understand? We are shoulder to shoulder with other people. Nobody is nobody. We walk in a big city and we reduce ourselves, we de-individualize ourselves, because, in a way, the landscape demands it. And it was exactly expressionism that brought this about for the first time.

Expressionism created something else that is present in Brecht's thought: robotization by the machine, which was first ridiculed by Carlitos in Modern times: the man who imitates the gear and prolongs the gear of life. Which means that deep down there is no more individuality, there is no more personality, there is nothing subjective anymore, do you understand? It means that this mass man, robotized, was reduced to the unconscious or something like that. Deep down, he was reduced to the category of an object.

It is within this perspective that all of Brecht's initial aesthetics moves. You see, he is within a posture that was more or less general at the time: a distrust of subjectivity.

You know what's interesting? in the play A man is a man[iv], which we are going to see here, man is man, but how does this show itself? Man is a skill that can be dismantled and reassembled as an object. It is a composite of parts that can be turned off and on. In the beginning, he is a package carrier, subjective even, and suddenly, for reasons that are foreign to him, he is decomposed, deconstructed, as we would say today, and reconstructed in another character. And he turns into a valiant warrior who single-handedly destroys a fortress in Asia where he was fighting.

That is to say, this human reality is completely reduced to the category of an object. This idea is present in the young Brecht. You see, this is not exactly a Marxist idea. Do you know where she comes from? From United States. That's where it comes from, behaviorism, conductism, as you want to call North American reflexology. Within this North American posture, there is in fact no subjectivity. Man can be explained either by purely biological (i.e., objective) reactions, or he is a bundle of relationships, or rather reactions, and these social reactions all also reduce man to society, and consequently to a pre-subjectivity. .

You have to understand one thing: Germany has a fantastic influence of American culture. Extraordinary. Do you know that there is something common that calls my attention in Germany – what I know about Germany – something that I only see in Germany? It's the American western fashion stores. You know those leather, suede, fringed coats? There are stores that specialize in this.

One has to wonder to what extent the culture, the American people, is made up of Germans and Englishmen. That's it, you understand? I don't have precise data, you have Klaus[v]? For example, a French Nazi told me this: “over in the United States they held a plebiscite to find out what language was going to be spoken in the United States. The English won by one vote. And that vote was cast by a German.” I don't know if it's Nazi fantasy or not, but there is some truth in it (laughs). Among American names, it's amazing how many German names there are. This idea of ​​culture...

And do you know who is the great educator in Germany? It's Karl May. I read it when I was a teenager in an edition of Editora Globo, I read everything, my grandfather, who was German, gave it to me. the fundamental book winnetou is the story of a North American Indian, a great hero of German youth. In a way, Karl May was to Germany what Jules Verne was to France.

So, there's this whole mystical North American culture thing in Germany, and even more so with the universal nostalgia for discovery, it goes a long way. So, I think that this thing of reducing – there is in Brecht, in the young Brecht, a fascination for North American culture – needs to be better examined.

And then, when the war broke out in Germany and all over Europe – well, Brecht was never very well accepted in Russia – he went through all that at the beginning of the war and then he went to the United States. This is very important, as an experience. He was within an aesthetic that was all molded from the category of the object. And it was within North American capitalism that this category of the object reached a fantastic splendor, there is no longer a subject.

Does this mean that the same thing is happening on the left line? No! See the breadth of the problem, to see how big it is; the foundations from which all of Brecht's aesthetics is constituted. It's not because in Stalinism, for example, in Pavlov's reflexology…. the subject what is it? It is not. The subject has no status of its own.

I remember, I met them in Brazil, I won't mention names, there's no need to mention names, because anyone from the time knows that very well, there were great art critics: Mário Schemberg[vi], for example, who was a friend of mine, made a violent criticism of me in a public space. I made a statement once, he was next to me, I was going to debate, and he crushed me simply because I spoke a lot about the subject, the unconscious, subjectivity, in a little book that I wrote a long time ago and that made me famous, that with low ears, no know who invented this? That Gerd Bornheim was an existentialist.

I didn't even feel that bad, it didn't matter, these things are etiquette, unimportant. The fact is that that type of Stalinist had a kind of modesty, which was very curious, not talking about unconsciousness, about the individual; in sex, no way. He was kind of almost lacking in character; he didn't talk about these things, they didn't exist, what existed were social relationships, and these social relationships determined the whole of reality. Now, the individual… Luckács, in the 1930s, wrote a book – Class Consciousness and Struggle[vii] – and had to make a public recantation in order to adapt to Stalinist culture. The book was condemned, only rehabilitated after the war.

By this I mean that in all areas: Mário Pedrosa[viii], the Schemberg, which I mentioned, were a little unfaithful, because they had a wonderful thing. Do you know what? They loved abstract painting. Because for Stalinism, as well as for Nazism, abstract painting was an indecency, a bourgeois decadence. When they destroyed Schemberg's apartment in São Paulo, they destroyed his paintings; much of it was abstract painting, his passion. All of that was a sin.

I'm saying this just to show the following: in the first half of the century, this category of object had a hegemony that was fantastic. And Brecht was within that chain. But it is important to understand that in Brecht there is no passive acceptance of this. There is a whole elaboration, an evolution of Brecht... not that he converts to subjectivity, but this problem really has to be discussed, you know?

If suddenly in a play – which was well staged by Fernando Lobo at the Aliança Francesa in Botafogo, The mother[ix], you see? – the mother appears, that is the problem. Why was the mother important in Brecht? the courage mother[X], mother… this has never been analyzed by anyone. In 1933 he made this play, but it is a little square, I would say, with a dialectic that is too closed, but it has a character who is a mother. She wants to understand why they killed her son. She wants to understand, she wants to evolve, she wants to understand. She revolts and ends up understanding.

There, in Brecht, the construction, the elaboration of the character, begins to take place. How far the subjective element goes or not is another problem, because deep down Brecht was never completely reconciled with this idea of ​​subjectivity. See how it is. I repeat: we live according to two categories: either subject or object. The subject is very complicated, because he is committed to a whole metaphysical, theological tradition and so on…, but the big key was in the category of the object. What did I say to you? I wanted to show how much this category of object is still present today. When you watch television... deep down, television reduces everyone to the category of the object. It's a repository of actions, reactions... and everyone loves it or not, and it can be good, it can be bad. There may even be some criticism, but to what extent?

And criticism can be the birth of the subject, but deep down everything is within the category of the object. So things are complicated.

But the interesting thing about Brecht is the following: in the man is man, which I used as an example, there is a hegemony of the object category that is absolute. But there is a whole evolution... not that Brecht converts himself to the category of the subject, but in a certain way, through his theater, he conquers the subject, whether he likes it or not. If we take a piece, mother courage, for example, of course she's ignorant, of course she's marginal, of course she doesn't know anything about what's going on, but Brecht was a pacifist, he was against violence. He always has been, since his youth. He wanted to do a play against the war. And did! One of the most brilliant texts of the XNUMXth century.

But she, the main character, doesn't understand anything. She loses her son, her daughter marries a soldier, and she doesn't understand anything. The play ends and she sings a hymn in praise of war, because war feeds its man. She didn't understand, but the viewer does. This understanding of the spectator – that's where science comes in, I'll talk about that in a moment – ​​is fundamental, because the mother courage it's a character with a very big “psychological” force, it's really a character, even if she doesn't understand anything. So, in a way, the play ends up being a critique of the presence of the personal psychological element. And that? It's kind of complicated to answer (laughs!). And this is a whole evolution of Brecht.

At the end of his life, this is a curious thing about Brecht, which is not analyzed… Do you know what it is? Brecht must have read Stanislavski – my assumption, but I guarantee it's true (laughs!) –, why was Stanislavski a very important man, with one of the most important methods for actor training? No! For character composition. So, he had a genius project, unique in history, to write eight books about it, although he only wrote two. And Stanislavski never studied psychology. He didn't know... and he was even self-taught. Of course, at that time there was no psychology. There was no psychology. Except for Dostoyevsky, who is a marvel, worth more than all psychology.

In 1932 two disciples of Stanislavski went to New York to present a show. And these two students stayed there. I find that a very interesting thing. At that time, in the United States, a kind of reaction to the hegemony of the object category was beginning. Then, from there, psychoanalysis is introduced into Stanislavski's method. Then it starts to emerge, for example Tennesse Williams[xi], hysteria, pure subjectivity, but that's another problem. I won't go into that here.

Anyway, this subjectivism was rooted in the great theater – a fantastic theater. From the point of view of training actors, evidently, it was based on a kind of rehabilitation of the category of the subject, do you understand me? Through psychoanalysis.

Is that Stanislavski? But not a bit like that! Stanislavski had never read Freud. But the main thing, do you know what it is? It's just that at the end of Stanislavski's life he published a lecture in Moscow. I know the German version. I don't know if it's translated into Portuguese. It is a very interesting conference called: “On the Importance of Physical Actions”. For the actor to compose the character.

And Brecht was working on something… in my book I call attention to this, I think I'm the first to talk about it, not even in Germany they talk about it, I've never read it, and until yesterday I read everything [laughs]. There's a word he uses... it's a German habit to use Latin. It's the word "gesture”. THE gesture it's a very curious thing about Brecht. He was not a theorist, I repeat. He uses the word "gesture” in the texts of maturity only three times. For the gesture the actor has to figure it out physically... the physical can also include the word, it can include... Desdemona's handkerchief that Iago will use in Othello[xii]. He has to discover a certain way of being that defines the character. Do you understand how it is? The construction of the character will depend on the construction of the gesture. Of course, from that point on, the actor can use other things… manifest dementia, other levels of gestures or things like that. But what defines the character is the gesture.

So, if I am, for example, a liar. What is the gesture of the liar? He does something, a grimace with his hand, shakes his head, whatever. And when you see that gesture if you understand what a lie is, for example. Then the gesture, which is not only physical, but fundamentally… Stanislavski writes, I think in his autobiography, he speaks… and he didn't know how to compose the character. He searched and searched, he lacked a starting point. Then he saw you know what? On the outskirts of Moscow, a hut covered with moss, like a gray-green. And when he saw that color, he understood the character. He did the makeup and composed the whole character from there. That's the gesture in Brecht. It means that Stanislavski also entered this line of Brecht.

But Brecht didn't know that. He did it on his own. He said: “I have to find out with the word or without the word; with Desdemona's handkerchief or without the handkerchief; I have to discover a path from which I can, in fact, compose the character”. That's the gesture! This explains why, at the end of his life, Stanislavski gave this lecture on the importance of physical actions. It was 1948, and of course Brecht knew that, he lived in East Germany. Things circulated, had to circulate.

So much so that from then on, in the 1950s, Brecht's last years, there is a kind of elaboration of Brecht by Stanislavski. Then he started to argue… not Brecht alone. Brecht does not exist alone. Because Brecht is a collective thing; when he put together a show, he was never alone as “I, director of the show”. It was always a collective thing. Kind of a liar too, because he, more than anything, was fundamental. But that was it, he discussed everything with everyone.

So he started doing a seminar on Stanislavski, studying Stanislavski. But all this was not very clear. He praises Stanislavski in a text. But which Stanislavski? Of course, it's not that North American line, the psychoanalyzed study; of course it is not a psychologism in this way or that way. However, there is an opening for understanding the character. A greater experience of the idea of ​​this character. Stanislavski – his first master was Chekhov.

Chekhov has no defined character, no Galileo. It's all atmosphere. It's a whole kind of undefined thing. So, this uncertainty has to be translated. Suddenly there's a character who is a wonderful thing. Do you know what it is? He is the eternal student. The student is an individual who leads, by definition, a provisional life: “I want my degree”. How is the gesture of the eternal student? – which is basically a refusal of responsibility. It is a refusal of life. I'm not going to work, I'm going to wait: I'm studying! [laughter].

How is the gesture of the student? Chekhov's question from the theater in Rome is wonderful. It's fantastic research that has to be done. The actor has to get to express, it's not enough to say: “No, I'm not going to study on stage”, he has to show that he is the eternal student through his interpretation. And the interpretation goes through this gesture. Hence the dialogue, which is not an inclusion, is not simply the suspension of that hegemony of the object category. And it no longer ignores the category of the subject.

O Galileo[xiii], for example, ignore the subject? Of course. I mean it's a whole evolution. And this evolution in Brecht takes place within a conflict that is profoundly contemporary. Hence the vitality and importance of Brecht. Because he simply doesn't have the answer at hand. He lives the problem. This is the question in Brecht. This experience of the problem does not come from the decision, the young Brecht chose the object, but then it cools down.

It is the conflict of the subject and object relationship that took a certain lead in Brecht. Not that he stops being materialistic, that he stops choosing the object or thing that is worth it, but he has all... gesture? It's the character. O gesture It's character building. So what is it? Is it psychologism or is it sociologism? Deep down, these discussions are starting to lose some sense. I think that, in contemporary culture, talking about spiritualism, materialism is old fashioned. It doesn't make any more sense. Humanity is moving towards something else. It is an overcoming of all that.

Here comes another fundamental element to understand Brecht, is that there is, from the end of the last century, in painting, in literature, a fourth aesthetic. This is extremely important. This somewhat diverts attention from the subject or object in Brecht. Allow this type of discussion, of ideological choice, to pass for a while.

It is a fourth aesthetic that is, for example, in Madame Bovary by Flaubert or in Cézanne's apples. Did Cézanne paint the apple? Cézanne's apple, of course. Only whoever sees the apple doesn't understand anything. That is the problem! He painted the painting. Which is very different. He was interested in plastic language.

A Madame Bovary it's a silly, boring story, of a little couple with an even farofeira adventure... the film shows that. What the film does not show is what Flaubert's language is. What Flaubert is inventing is the XNUMXth-century Romance, the question of language. When Picasso painted that wonder that is his wife – Jacqueline, a perfect model neck – did he paint his wife? He was literally an adulterer. Do you know why? Because he didn't do Jacqueline's portrait. He painted the painting. It was a laboratory for painting painting, for painting plastic language. That is the problem.

So the art of the XNUMXth century is more or less understood by that. For example, in the XNUMXth century there is no longer the art of the portrait, which is the glory of painting from the Renaissance onwards: it is the art of the portrait. Did Picasso make a portrait? Something in the beginning mainly. Who is the great portrait artist of the XNUMXth century? Francis Bacon. I agree! There is no more portrait art, there is no longer Rembrandt, who is the man in the portrait. What's going on with the guy?

It's all part of that thing I said before. Can I collapse the object's category? Painting, for example, goes down another path, as Beckett also goes down another path: the exploration of language – it is beyond or beyond subject and object.

So I do abstract painting. It can be figurative. Picasso, for example, always did figurative painting. Picasso never made an abstract painting. But what he always did was the exploration of plastic language. And that's where Brecht comes in.

Want to see something curious? I made a statement some time ago in the Folha de S. Paul, saying that Brecht's theater was social and not political. The journalist from Sheet reacted, saying no, that this, that that, but it's true! This is how you have to understand in what sense he makes this fourth aesthetics, the aesthetics of language. Because Brecht had two years of experience that were fundamental for him, with a great friend of his, Erwin Piscator, in the late 1920s. But Brecht came out of that experience, or entered into that experience, understanding better what he wanted. What he wanted was not political theater.

The theater, the spectacle, has to be, for Piscator, literally a rally, the cause, the party, the CP, which was Brecht's own party at that time – he started to convert to Marxism in 1926, and shortly thereafter met Piscator. What did Piscator do? He made the theater rave crowds. He performed in the public square to overthrow everything, it was the theater of political agitation. And Brecht said, “I don't want that. I want a social theater”. What he did his whole life was social theatre. Of course, social theater is confused with what I said before: the category of the object.

Take a good look. In Nazi times… There is a piece, a collection of pieces, called Terror and Miseries of the Third Reich[xiv]. Which are scenes, there are 26 or 27 scenes, anecdotal, in the European sense of the word. Unique scenes, unique situations, in small themes that he used as sketches based on street rumors, in certain things that were heard in the press. The most famous one you know, right? A couple. They were Jews, and the son belongs to a Hitler youth group. And the son leaves. And the couple is scared to death. The son doesn't come back. They think the son will rat out his parents. And the son returns. He had gone to buy chocolate.

It is these things that Brecht takes up and puts into play with Piscator-like force and political impact. Only, at a certain point, in his diary, he says: “This is not theater”. This is political propaganda. If you, in Brazil, for example, want to use this scene, adapt it. What matters is the immediate impact. It is immediate political action. But Brecht did not do this in his dramaturgy. He doesn't do politics. He makes social criticism, which is something else. He transports the spectacle – even before his Marxism, man is a man – to the East, to something sort of archeological, to the Roman Empire or things like that. It does what he calls distancing.

And the instrument to understand all this is not politics, although everything can and does have political consequences. The path is not the party's urgency. Brecht's path, do you know what it is? It's science. For Brecht, everything passes through science. It is no coincidence that he wrote Galileo, for example. He had the myth of science in his head. Already the young pre-Marxist Brecht. Science is great… And what sciences would those be? Of course, the social sciences, history, economics, statistics, which are very important – in the First or Away World War so many millions of people were killed. But starting from scientific information, he elaborates a whole scheme that is not primarily political, but totally social.

And it is precisely this elaboration by science that makes it formal. His research always involves scientificity, shall we say… And it is science that is at the base of everything called the distancing effect. Is it not by chance that back in the late 1930s or 1940s, around there, he approaches you know what? He thinks that his audience, deep down... "I'm the one who's talking to you about the show, because I'm transmitting the idea, and the show has to transmit the idea". He thinks that the spectator does not have to be a Wagnerian… or as Tennesse Williams wants…

He has to be like the Greek philosopher. Not to make the public a philosopher, but the public has to come equipped with certain virtues, with a certain disposition. The show has to raise this in the public to give validity to the show. Which are what: admiration, thomasen, astonishment, which is the starting point of philosophy. I mean, the show has to teach the audience to see things – when the boy buys bread at the bakery – in such a way that he is astonished, as if he were seeing it for the first time. That's admiration.

Usually I see things, but I don't see anything. Somewhere else it happens all the time and nobody notices. It does not act or react. And suddenly the theater or Greek philosophy teaches this: they pull man out of his comfort, out of his usual comfort and make him understand the fact for the first time.

And the second characteristic is this: precisely because I am amazed, shocked, seeing things for the first time, I develop a critical spirit. I begin to judge what I am seeing. That's philosophical. This does not mean that the viewer has to know all of Aristotle's philosophy, but he has a fundamental stance, or starting point, which is philosophical. And this is Brecht's point of contact with the whole of ancient Greek culture. I mean, the path is not, you see, in the dissemination or information of scientific data.

It makes no sense to say that in World War II so many millions of people died or anything like that. This is a waste of time. It is in something prior, which is the genesis of the whole science of the human condition, in the sense that it is profoundly Western and is at the base of Western philosophy itself. So the individual has to become distanced by astonishment, but at the same time develop a critical spirit; this criticality bathed in astonishment, in admiration, is at the base of all of Brecht's formal research. Because Brecht was a formalist through and through.

My deepest conviction is exactly this. I think. Of course he had an impact on social production, of course he lived as a nurse in the First World War, of course he went through absolutely incredible experiences, social and political, but he understood that to make art, an art that he wanted: Piscator was not enough. Piscator was ephemeral. And it was, it disappeared. Piscator was not the way.

The way is in a formal research. Hence the famous controversy with Luckács. He said that Brecht's theater is formalist, it abolishes means and ends and depoliticizes. To which Brecht replied: “Formalists are you, who want to make popular art based on Balzac and Thomas Mann, you are bourgeois”. But how? New art has to be completely different. The starting point is different, and there it seems to be inserted in the vein, I would say, in the soul, in the trail, of all XNUMXth century art, which is precisely formal research.

Then you get to the point: who else has done this, to explore what the language of the gestures? Like what Picasso did with the painting; the plastic language is what matters. The actor, to make the full impact of what he wants to say, socially or otherwise, has to do this formal research. And this formal research does not come from the rally, it comes from knowledge, from science. And this science has to be conducted, starting from theatrical practice, in such a way that it ends up configuring the very possibility or creation of the gesture suitable, which defines the character and directly reaches the viewer. I mean, it's not a random experience of doing social, political theater or anything like that.

It is a very elaborate technique that Brecht developed, which goes through this exploration of formal language, in search of an essential gesture. And that same man who arrived at this very lucid conscience or else because of this very lucid conscience in relation to all his work, at the end of his life said: “No! The way is not in the Epic, the way is in the dialectical theater”. What he understood by dialectic, in this case, is not known. In Brecht's last years, he made many projects, but he did not make any more definitive texts. It seems that his time had already passed due to a hope in another language, but the issue is in the language. Perhaps he no longer knew how to configure or create, in fact, this new path.

I want to say that the whole of Brecht has to be considered not as an answer, but exactly the opposite: Brecht is a starting point. A research point that forcibly leads to a kind of reinvention of the theater. If I imitate Brecht, repeat Brecht, I am condemned to make a museum. The important thing is that Brechtian techniques are assimilated in such a way that they become fully compatible with theatrical creativity.[xv]

* Gerd Bornheim (1929-2002) was professor of philosophy at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Brecht: the aesthetics of theater (Grail).


[I] Gerd Bornheim. Brecht: the aesthetics of theater. Rio de Janeiro: Grail, 1992.

[ii] Some essays and articles can be found at: Gerd Bornheim. The Sense and the Mask. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 1992; Gerd Bornheim “The General Assumptions of Brecht's Aesthetics”. In.: Brecht in Brazil. Wolfgang Bader Organization. Rio de Janeiro: Peace and Land, 1987; Gerd Bornheim “About Popular Theater”. In.: Encounters with Brazilian Civilization. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1979; Gerd Bornheim. Art philosophy pages. Rio de Janeiro: UAPE, 1998.

[iii]Bertolt Brecht. Galileo's life – 1938-1939. In: Complete Theater, vol. 6. Roberto Schwartz translation. Rio de Janeiro: Peace and Land, 1991.

[iv]Bertolt Brecht. A man is a man – 1924-1925. In.: Complete Theater, vol. 2. Translation by Fernando Peixoto. Rio de Janeiro: Peace and Land, 1987.

[v]Reference to Klaus Vetter, former director of the Goethe Institute in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, filmmaker, cultural producer, founder of the choreographic dance center in Rio de Janeiro and friend of Gerd Bornheim.

[vi]Mário Schemberg (1916 -1990), Brazilian physicist and professor at USP. He was active in political and cultural circles and was internationally recognized for his research on mechanics, gravitation and electromagnetism.

[vii]Georg Luckács. History and class consciousness. Trans. K. Axelos and J. Bois. Paris, Les Editions de Minuit, 1960.

[viii]Mário Pedrosa (1901-1981), art critic and political activist.

[ix]Bertolt Brecht. The mother – 1931. In.: Complete Theater, vol. 4. Translation by João Neves. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1990. Deals with the life of the revolutionary Pelagea Wlassowa (according to the novel by Máximo Gorki).

[X]Bertolt Brecht. Mother Courage and her Children – 1939. In.: Complete Theater, vol. 6. Geir Campos translation. Rio de Janeiro: Peace and Land, 1991.

[xi]Pseudonym of Thomas Lanier (1914-1983), American writer and playwright. He addressed eroticism, brutality, among other things.

[xii]William Shakespeare. Othello. Penguin Popular Classics, 1994.

[xiii]Brecht's play

[xiv]Bertolt Brecht. Terror and Misery in the Third Reich – 1935-1938. In.: Complete Theater, vol. 5. Translation by Gilda Osvaldo Cruz. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1991. The aforementioned scene is “O Espião”.

[xv] Conference given by Gerd Bornheim at Teatro Dulcina in Rio de Janeiro on February 3, 1998, as part of the Bertolt Brecht Reading Cycle organized by Caco Coelho. Published in Brazilian art and philosophy. Open Space Gerd Bornheim.Org. Rosa Dias, Gaspar Paz and Ana Lucia de Oliveira. Rio de Janeiro: Uapê, 2007.

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