Brecht's "Alienation Effect": an exercise in futility?

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Brecht's "Alienation Effect": an exercise in futility?

Post  eddie on Wed Apr 13, 2011 2:12 am

First page of the old ATU thread:

LINK EXPIRED

...by a process, presumably, of historical inevitability.

Never mind, here's a photo to be going on with:


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Re: Brecht's "Alienation Effect": an exercise in futility?

Post  eddie on Sat Jun 04, 2011 6:54 pm

Wiki:

Bertolt Brecht (German pronunciation: [ˈbɛɐ̯tɔlt ˈbʁɛçt] ( listen); born Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht; 10 February 1898 – 14 August 1956) was a German poet, playwright, and theatre director. An influential theatre practitioner of the 20th century, Brecht made equally significant contributions to dramaturgy and theatrical production, the latter particularly through the seismic impact of the tours undertaken by the Berliner Ensemble—the post-war theatre company operated by Brecht and his wife, long-time collaborator, and actress Helene Weigel.

From his late twenties Brecht remained a life-long committed Marxist who, in developing the combined theory and practice of his 'epic theatre', synthesized and extended the experiments of Erwin Piscator and Vsevolod Meyerhold to explore the theatre as a forum for political ideas and the creation of a critical aesthetics of dialectical materialism. Brecht's modernist concern with drama-as-a-medium led to his refinement of the 'epic form' of the drama. This dramatic form is related to similar modernist innovations in other arts, including the strategy of divergent chapters in James Joyce's novel Ulysses, Sergei Eisenstein's evolution of a constructivist 'montage' in the cinema, and Picasso's introduction of cubist 'collage' in the visual arts. In contrast to many other avant-garde approaches, however, Brecht had no desire to destroy art as an institution; rather, he hoped to 're-function' the theatre to a new social use. In this regard he was a vital participant in the aesthetic debates of his era—particularly over the 'high art/popular culture' dichotomy—vying with the likes of Adorno, Lukács, Bloch, and developing a close friendship with Benjamin. Brechtian theatre articulated popular themes and forms with avant-garde formal experimentation to create a modernist realism that stood in sharp contrast both to its psychological and socialist varieties. "Brecht's work is the most important and original in European drama since Ibsen and Strindberg," Raymond Williams argues, while Peter Bürger dubs him "the most important materialist writer of our time."

Collective and collaborative working methods were inherent to Brecht's approach, as Fredric Jameson (among others) stresses. Jameson describes the creator of the work not as Brecht the individual, but rather as 'Brecht': a collective subject that "certainly seemed to have a distinctive style (the one we now call 'Brechtian') but was no longer personal in the bourgeois or individualistic sense." During the course of his career, Brecht sustained many long-lasting creative relationships with other writers, composers, scenographers, directors, dramaturgs and actors; the list includes: Elisabeth Hauptmann, Margarete Steffin, Ruth Berlau, Slatan Dudow, Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, Paul Dessau, Caspar Neher, Teo Otto, Karl von Appen, Ernst Busch, Lotte Lenya, Peter Lorre, Therese Giehse, Angelika Hurwicz, Carola Neher, and Helene Weigel herself. This is "theatre as collective experiment [...] as something radically different from theatre as expression or as experience."

There are few areas of modern theatrical culture that have not felt the impact or influence of Brecht's ideas and practices; dramatists and directors in whom one may trace a clear Brechtian legacy include: Dario Fo, Augusto Boal, Joan Littlewood, Peter Brook, Peter Weiss, Heiner Müller, Pina Bausch, Tony Kushner, Robert Bolt and Caryl Churchill. In addition to the theatre, Brechtian theories and techniques have exerted considerable sway over certain strands of film theory and cinematic practice; Brecht's influence may be detected in the films of Jean-Luc Godard, Lindsay Anderson, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Joseph Losey, Nagisa Oshima, Ritwik Ghatak, Lars von Trier, Jan Bucquoy and Hal Hartley.


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Re: Brecht's "Alienation Effect": an exercise in futility?

Post  eddie on Tue Jun 14, 2011 4:25 am

Probably the single most important formative event in Brecht's life was his experience of working as a medical orderly during WWI: the consequences of Nationalism and Militarism at the sharp end.

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Re: Brecht's "Alienation Effect": an exercise in futility?

Post  eddie on Tue Jun 14, 2011 7:14 pm

^

It was the emotionalism inherent in Nationalist and Militarist sentiment which made Brecht distrustful of the conventional Stanislavskian approach to Theatre and acting style which was a) based on the actor's emotional memory and b) intended to invoke an emotional response in its audience (see the "An Actor Prepares" thread in this section). Theatrical spectacle based on raw emotion was to reach its apotheosis in the Nazi Party's Nuremberg rallies.

Instead, Brecht sought to create an educative theatre based on Reason, which he termed "Epic" theatre. He wanted his audience to think rather than feel.

To this end, he experimented with a new acting style based on the principle of the "Verfremdungseffekt" ("Distancing" or "Alenation" effect), through which the actor did not associate himself emotionally with his role (a la Stanislavski) but stood at the same remove as a person would when describing to a third party a traffic accident- or, indeed, as a stand-up comedian addressing his audience.

That was the theory, at any rate.

The problem was ( and is) that it's very difficult to stop an audience feeling, almost impossible to inhibit the process of catharis. When an audience watches the story of Brecht's "Mother Courage and her Children" unfold, for example...


Mother Courage and Her Children, with Therese Giehse in the title role, with Erni Wilhemi, Hans Christian Blech, and Karl Lieffen, at the Munich Kammerspiele, directed by Bertolt Brecht, Munich, 1950. Photo shows the famous cart Mother Courage pulls through the Thirty Years War, here on a revolving stage, designed by Theo Otto.

....it's hard to see how its members are not going to become emotionally engaged with the story and the characters.

Was Brecht's whole theoretical edifice, then, a house of cards? Was the attempt to introduce the "Alienation effect" into the Theatre an exercise in futility?


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Re: Brecht's "Alienation Effect": an exercise in futility?

Post  eddie on Tue Jun 14, 2011 7:23 pm

This is probably more the kind of thing he had in mind:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPG9GcykPIY
Lotte Lenya sings "Mack the Knife".

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Re: Brecht's "Alienation Effect": an exercise in futility?

Post  eddie on Sun Dec 25, 2011 12:15 am

B is for Brecht

The German great was only secondly a Marxist. First and foremost he was a playwright of exceptional power and scope

Michael Billington

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 21 December 2011 17.32 GMT


Write left … Bertolt Brecht. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

Is there room for a Marxist dramatist in the modern world? Since the collapse of communism, common sense might say no. But it would be madness to dismiss Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), and for a variety of reasons. He was a great German poet. His best plays transcend dogma. He wrote parts that actors will always be hungry to play. And his influence on modern theatre is still visible.

Predictable right-wing groans greet any Brecht revival, yet his core masterpieces remain indestructible. You may go in expecting to be given a political message, but what you get is contradiction. Life of Galileo (1937-9) is a decidedly equivocal portrait of a seeker after truth battling Catholic orthodoxy – Brecht endorses Galileo's faith in reason, but sees his surrender to the Inquisition as proof of the scientist's abdication of responsibility. Mother Courage and Her Children (1939) is even more complex. Everything in the play tells us we should condemn the heroine's small-business ethic and belief that, by profiting from war, she can protect her three children, because what she fails to realise is that her little world is dependent on a corrupt big world. Yet I defy anyone to watch the play's ending, in which the childless Courage trudges off hauling her cart, without a lump in the throat.

Brecht was a dramatist first and a Marxist second; by which I mean that, at his best, he was more fascinated by the human instinct for survival than by creating exemplary characters. He was also a great theatre-maker who understood the power of satire and ridicule: one of my favourite scenes in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1941) shows the pseudo-Hitlerian gangster hero learning the arts of rhetoric and gesture from a ham Shakespearean actor.

Of course, you can easily make a case against Brecht. He was a shameless magpie who stole from everyone, often without acknowledgement. He deluded himself that he could provide an inner opposition to Ulbricht's corrupt postwar East German regime while accepting its money to create the Berliner Ensemble. And although he championed the proletariat Brecht himself was, in the words of the critic Eric Bentley, "bottomlessly bourgeois".

Yet his plays still have abundant vitality – and not just the acknowledged masterpieces. The Young Vic brilliantly revived a A Respectable Wedding and The Jewish Wife in 2007, and this summer Phil Willmott wittily staged The Mother, a play about a working-class woman roused from apathy to activism, in a London amphitheatre shadowed by the glittering towers of contemporary capitalism. I'd love to see more companies delve into the supposedly minor works.

In the end, whether you like Brecht or not, it's impossible to deny that he had a galvanic impact on modern theatre. The famous visit of the Berliner Ensemble to London in 1956 had a transforming effect on British dramaturgy, direction and design, and a half-century later we're still living with the consequences. Sean Holmes's recent revival of Edward Bond's Saved at the Lyric Hammersmith was a classic example of cool, spare Brechtian staging. Mike Bartlett's 13 at the National had the epic sweep of a Brecht play. And Gillian Slovo's The Riots at London's Tricycle showed how theatre can become a form of political enquiry and stimulus to debate.

Brecht may be long dead but his ironic, inquisitive presence is absolutely with us.


Best translation: Collected Plays (Methuen), edited by John Willett and Ralph Manheim.

Now read: A Guide to the Plays of Bertolt Brecht (Methuen) by Stephen Unwin and The Brecht Memoir (Carcanet) by Eric Bentley.

Noted disciples: Charles Laughton, William Gaskill, Kenneth Tynan.

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Re: Brecht's "Alienation Effect": an exercise in futility?

Post  eddie on Sun Dec 25, 2011 12:20 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFP3x4bKpZE&feature=related
Lotte Lenya sings Pirate Jenny.

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Re: Brecht's "Alienation Effect": an exercise in futility?

Post  eddie on Tue Feb 14, 2012 8:21 pm

I is for illusion

Suspension of belief can be a powerful theatrical tool, but should we be more emotionally detached from what's happening in front of us?

Michael Billington

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 8 February 2012 10.36 GMT


It's just an illusion ... The Sea Plays by Eugene O'Neill at Old Vic Tunnels. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

The last 100 years have seen a constant battle against the concept of theatrical illusion: the idea that what we are watching is a plausible reproduction of reality. Everything has conspired against it. Brecht's theory of alienation. The demolition of the fourth wall. The Guthrie-inspired open stage. Visible scene changes and lighting rigs. Even something as simple as allowing drinks inside the auditorium works against illusion. And yet I see troubling signs of the return of an almost child-like credulity on the part of audiences.

In one sense, you could say that the idea of illusion has never entirely gone way. One part of us knows perfectly well we are sitting in a theatre: the other part surrenders to the momentum of events on stage so that, as Brecht once wrote, "in a performance of Oedipus one has, for all practical purposes, an audience full of little Oedipuses". For the critic, this dual response is even more acute. We are caught up, with luck, in the world depicted on stage. At the same time, we are assessing it, scribbling notes and – if we're writing for an overnight newspaper deadline – possibly structuring our review.

I am not anti-illusion. At times, what Coleridge called "that willing suspension of disbelief" can produce remarkable results. One of the most chilling experiences I've ever had in a theatre came at Stratford-upon-Avon's old Other Place in 1976. When Judi Dench's Lady Macbeth invoked the "spirits that tend on mortal thoughts", she described a circle with a stick and then did an involuntary jump as if the forces of evil were indeed stirring beneath her skirts: the power of the actor, the intimacy of the space, even the darkness of an autumnal Warwickshire night led us all momentarily to believe in black magic.

Even in a rationalist age, I've noticed that audiences can get so caught up in a play that they suspend their habitual detachment. John Mortimer, when he was chair of the Royal Court's council, used to chuckle over the fact that, during Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane, even Sloane Square sophisticates would cry out nightly at the moment when the mother in the play burns a crucial letter that will determine her daughter's future. And only the other night, during O'Neill's Sea Plays at the Old Vic Tunnels, I detected a similar audible concern when an innocent Swedish seaman was about to fall into a trap that would deny him the prospect of ever returning home.

Close emotional involvement is one thing. But I've also observed lately a self-conscious infantalism amongst audiences that almost verges on camp: in other words, a willed desire to behave like the rustic booby in the 18th-century novel who goes to see a performance of Othello and assumes it to be real. I sat close to spectators at the Bush recently who "oohed" and "aahed" at every twist in a play's plot to signal their engagement. And at Saturday night's preview of Master Class at the Vaudeville, a lady behind me reacted with excitable indignation, or outraged delight, every time Tyne Daly's Maria Callas delivered a withering put-down to one of her singing students.

Something strange is going on. It may be that theatrical spectators, like those sad exhibitionists who wear fancy dress at Test matches, desperately want to be noticed. Or it may be that the element of pretence, which forms the basis of theatrical illusion, is being taken to child-like extremes. Either way, it worries me. Theatre, for me, is at its best when imaginative surrender is combined with intellectual awareness – and brains are not deposited, along with one's overcoat, in the cloakroom.

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Re: Brecht's "Alienation Effect": an exercise in futility?

Post  Yakima Canutt on Thu May 10, 2012 5:32 pm

Perhats the lead of Ponzi Spivak should be followd and the non germanic persons can just call it Der V-effekt, but yess, 'alienation' is not the apt translation.

Snij, Brecht thought a theatur based on empathy was a newfangled variety of bull-shit. If you reelly believe for a moment that the Abe Vigoda you're watching is Titus Andronipus and for a moment you really genuinely feel trembly & soorry for the creep... well so what, big flopping deel, that's not what the theatar and the arts and galaxy are all about. To Brecht, his contemporaries were a bunch of Oparh Winfray marchingband mothorfjorders with some touchfeewy simple-mindeded falseness that doesnot understand the staige or the art or the world. The melotragic empathy kick sure is about dull decadent resignation, he thot.


Reptyles have a galdurn limbic system. Good and proper theatray should not be catered to the reptilian brain or moppet sentiments but to the epic sectors of the frontal lobe, so the thoro and compleat and proper respons to the reality and the artifice can be actualized and mobilisedd.

"He wanted the thinking not the feeling," is how we see this frased, but perhaps when the neocortex is activated comprehensivlie ... Reasoning and Emoting are synkronized into a conscious totality that manifests Die Kammersänger Zuckerzeit.

Ackswek, I'll just save bytes and quote the sublime Ted Danson:
The bourgeois theatre's performances always aim at smoothing over contradictions, at creating false harmony, at idealization. Conditions are reported as if they could not be otherwise; characters as individuals, incapable by definition of being divided, cast in one block, manifesting themselves in the most various situations, likewise for that matter existing without any situation at all. If there is any development it is always steady, never by jerks; the developments always take place within a definite framework which cannot be broken through.

None of this is like reality, so a realistic theatre must give it up.



Or as the prickly John Ratzenberger sez:
The dramatic theatre's spectator says: Yes, I have felt like that too just like me - It's only natural - It'll never change - The sufferings of this man appall me, because they are inescapable - That's great art; it all seems the most obvious thing in the world - I weep when they weep, I laugh when they laugh.

The epic theatre's spectator says: I'd never have thought it - That's not the way - That's extraordinary, hardly believable - It's got to stop The sufferings of this man appall me, because they are unnecessary That's great art: nothing obvious in it - I laugh when they weep, I weep when they laugh.


And it is a castaway's increasingly desperate attempts to return home to warn his family of the impending arrival of the Black Freighter, a phantom pirate ship which houses the souls of the damned.

To escape the deserted island he uses the gas-bloated bodies of his former crew~mates to float a raft ... fending off sharks en route; to infiltrate the (supposedly) pirate-controlled Davidstown, he murders a trusting couple and returns dressed in the man's clothing; to save his family he attacks a nightwatchman who is patrolling the house. However, this nightwatchman is actually his wife, and he soon realizes that there has been no attack and his efforts have only brought about his own destruction. The man returns to the beach to see the
Black Freighter approaching, ready to claim the only life it truly desired - his. He boards eagerly.


Not until 1906, when Udo married the young Austrian actress Tilly, 22 years his junior, did he become fiercely monogamous and ferociously, needlessly jealous. It was this jealousy that killed him. For he felt that he had to be, creatively and sexually, incessantly active to preserve his wife's devotion: Tilly tried both separation and suicide, but only because of his insane jealousy. So when, still insufficiently recovered from an appendectomy, he started strenuously acting again, he developed a hernia that one specialist refused to operate on immediately. Insisting on surgery, died of ensuing complications.

But that was much later. As a very young man in his father's Swiss castle, then as a rebellious son and self-made man in Berlin, Munich, Paris and London, he kept a diary of his preponderantly erotic vie de boheme. He also had unusual jobs: as a writer of advertising jingles for Maggi Soup, and as a publicist for a circus. And he wrote, though without getting anything produced for years. Mostly, he would rise at noon, see people in the afternoon, have dinner with friends, go to a theater or cabaret or opera house, then drink in good company till early morning. Some days, though, he just worked.



What a delightful fellow, who rushes off to be photographed "so as to know . . . in the future what I looked like when I had a thousand francs in my pocket."

observes, "The goose's profile, incidentally, is Greek." Or this, about women's legs: "Black or red tights make the legs seem slimmer than they really are, while blue, white, or flesh-coloured tights have the opposite effect."

The waitress finds his beer-mug half full and asks me if the gentleman has gone. I reply that he has settled his score, and suddenly sense that her question was after all nothing more than a mark of her favour. Then I see how she pours the contents of the old consumptive's beer-mug into her own tankard at the bar. She seems to have a healthy thirst, as it is. She has recourse to her mug every couple of minutes or so. But this isn't something that upsets me unduly. It makes the situation somehow more homely. It cuts out sentimentality.
Idea




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