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The Brechtian Exception: From Weimar to the Cold War

Paul Haacke

diacritics, Volume 40, Number 3, Fall 2012, pp. 56-85 (Article)

Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/dia.2012.0010

For additional information about this article

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Paul haacke

Was Bertolt Brecht un-American? Or un-German? Did he believe in the need for a state of exception, whether in politics or in art? Although largely absurd, these were some of the questions he found himself confronting when called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in Washington, DC on October 30, 1947. Of course he was not and had never been a citizen of the United States; he had lived in California for only six years, arriving almost a decade after fleeing Nazi Germany in 1933. As a guest in the country, he was nonetheless forced to testify because of his obvious interests in Marxism, his support for the social-democratic Free Germany movement, and his personal connections to suspected Communists like the composer Hanns Eisler, who had worked with him on many of his pedagogical learning-plays (Lehrstcke) and was ultimately deported in 1948. Brecht left for Europe of his own accord only a day after his hearing and never returned; after waiting a year in Switzerland for a visa to reenter Germany, he eventually settled in the Russian-occupied zone of the newly divided Berlin, where he directed the Berliner Ensemble theater company until his death in 1956. Much to the surprise of the HUAC, Brecht had never been a member of the Communist Party. He was exposed not as a Communist, but rather as a curiously elusive writer and critic who had championed the right to aesthetic freedom and political dissent throughout his career. At the center of his trial was an almost comical discussion of his play, Die Manahme; although literally translated as The Measure or The Procedure, and generally referred to in English as The Measures Taken, the title was consistently mistranslated by the HUAC as Disciplinary Measures. As early as 1943, the FBI attempted a close examination of the script, which it called The Disciplinary Measure, and concluded that it was a self-styled educational play which advocates Communist world revolution by violent means.1 More thoughtful interpretations of The Measures Taken have managed to discuss its political plotRussian agitators attempting to spread Communist thought in prerevolutionary Chinawhile at the same time recognizing that it is not simply ideological but also aesthetic.2 Less often attended to is the particular historical context in which it and Brechts other Lehrstcke were conceived and first performed: the early 1930s in Germany, soon before Hitlers rise to power and at the height of Brechts growing friendship with Walter Benjamin. Even a basic understanding of this background makes it clear that it was not Brecht but rather the FBI and the HUAC who believed that disciplinary measures should be taken against those who take exception to political rule. A careful reading of The Measures Taken is only one step in approaching the complex questions of aesthetics and politics raised by Brechts trial. At least as important to examine are Brechts critical writings and conversations with Benjamin, his writings on Japanese No theater, and the other Lehrstcke that he wrote between 1929 and 1933 especially The Exception and the Rule (Die Ausnahme und die Regel), The Yes-Sayer (Der Jasager) and The No-Sayer (Der Neinsager). While Brechts call for a non-Aristotelian form of epic drama as an alternative to tragic drama is well rehearsed, especially thanks to the pioneering work of Benjamin, the Lehrstck requires recognition as yet another Brechtian genre. In turn, although Brechts innovative methods of estrangement and DIACRITICS Volume 40.3 (2012) 5683 2012 by The Johns Hopkins University Press

Paul Haacke has held post-doctoral teaching positions at the University of California, Berkeley and New York University, having received his PhD in Comparative Literature and Film Studies from Berkeley in 2011. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including French Forum, In These Times, and the architecture magazine Pin-Up, and an essay is forthcoming in an edited volume entitled Philosophy and Kafka.


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Gestus did obviously attempt to get beyond such time-honored Aristotelian notions of pity, fear, pathos, and catharsis, most of his plays at the same time depend on modes of mimesis (imitation, representation), peripeteia (reversal, change in fortune), and anagnorisis (recognition, discovery), and he in fact admitted his ultimate submission to Aristotles laws in his private notes, as we shall see. Since the waning of the Cold War, more recent scholarship has also examined Brechts interest in Chinese and Japanese aesthetics, which, as alternatives to Greco-centric traditions, helped provide the basis for his theory of the Alienation effector, perhaps better, Estrangement effect (Verfremdungseffekt)as well as his development of the Lehrstck while he was still living in Germany.3 In addition, as I discuss below, Brechts early Orientalist studies no doubt influenced his concern for Japanese-Americans living in California during World War II, whose fate as enemy aliens he described specifically in terms of exception and rule. Why did Brecht focus on these particular ideas of exception and rule during the rise of both National Socialism in Germany and McCarthyism in the United States? My argument here is that Brechts explicit comparisons between German and American exceptionalism during and after World War II hark back to his ideas of Ausnahme, Manahme, yes-saying, and no-saying, which all recur throughout his Lehrstcke, and which were developed at least in part through friendly discussions about aesthetics with Benjamin in critical response to the politics of Carl Schmitt. Prior to this turn in Brechts thinking, the notion of the exception held no particular significance in his work. For instance, in The Threepenny Opera, when Polly declares Im an exception (Dann mach ich eben eine Ausnahme) to justify her decision to stay married to Macheath instead of obeying her parents wish for her to get divorced, her turn-of-phrase is hardly suggestive of the political. In the following years, however, as Brecht gravitated more toward Marxism and also learned about Schmitts influential, right-wing theory of the state of exception or state of emergency (Ausnahmezustand), he found it increasingly necessary to defend mimetic representation specifically in terms of taking exception to political rule. In turn, it was by rejecting this belief in aesthetic freedom that the National Socialist regime managed to blacklist Brecht as undeutsch, and that the FBI and HUAC later suspected him of being un-American. Each read his writings exclusively for ideological purposes, and thus refused to recognize their varied aesthetic forms. Such nationalistic methods of interpreting and critiquing Brechts workwhether as undeutsch or as un-Americanderived not only from a tyrannical opposition to the politics for which he presumably stood, but also from an intellectual refusal, if not a hermeneutic inability, to read for anything other than politics. >> Mimesis, Recognition, and Allegory The conflict between politics and aesthetics in Western philosophy dates back to the disagreement between Aristotle and Plato over the uses and abuses of mimesis for society. Aristotle was of course a great defender of mimesis. In this respect he differed from Plato, who argued (in the form of his own rather artful dialogues) that it should

The Brechtian Exception >> Paul Haacke


be banned from the city-state. Benjamin reminds us of this at the beginning of his essay, The Author as Producer, which he first delivered as a lecture in 1934 at the Institute for the Study of Fascism in Paris: You will remember how Plato deals with poets in his ideal state: he banishes them from it in the public interest. He had a high conception of the power of poetry, but he believed it harmful, superfluousin a perfect community, of course. The question of the poets right to exist (Existenzrecht des Dichters) has not often, since then, been posed with the same emphasis; but today it poses itself.4 Benjamins dialectical method of turning to the past in order to critique the present took on especially grave significance during his exile from Germany in the 1930s. Yet already in the early 1920s, several years before Brecht developed a serious interest in Aristotle, Benjamin began developing the thesis that baroque reformations of tragic mourning, catharsis, and allegory had deep implications for the current and future state of Europe. He published The Origin of German Tragic Drama in 1925, some years after exchanging letters with Schmitt, to whom he sent a copy, and one year after meeting Brecht for the first time through Asja Lacis, who had worked in Brechts theater in Munich.5 Benjamin and Brecht met again in 1928 and formed a close intellectual, political, and personal friendship in the years that followed.6 Benjamin eventually came to see Brechts work as representing one of the most important aesthetic forces in the fight against fascism, not only because he sympathized with Brechts politics, but also because he believed in his mimetic method: the use of aesthetics for functional transformation or refunctioning (Umfunktionierung) rather than mere entertainment or naturalistic representation. Perhaps recalling Brechts own occasional references to aesthetic standards or rules (sthetische Mastbe), Benjamin conceptualized this principle as the limits or provisions of the possible (Magabe des Mglichen): To signify the transformation of the forms and instruments of production in the way desired by a progressive intelligentsiathat is, one interested in freeing the means of production and serving the class struggleBrecht coined the term Umfunktionierung [functional transformation]. He was the first to make of intellectuals the far-reaching demand not to supply the apparatus of production without, to the utmost extent possible (Magabe des Mglichen), changing it in accordance with socialism.7 This Brechtian formulation of the relationship between aesthetics and politics is distinct from the more idealistic one that Benjamin proposed in his well-known essay The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, in which he concluded that the fascist aestheticization of politics should be combatted with the Communist politicization of art.8 For the functional transformation of society by aesthetic means does not simply entail the politicization of art, but, more specifically, a critical exception to the established political system with the practical purpose of changing it.


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The critique of Schmitts theory of sovereign decisionism involved a defense of aesthetics against decisionist politics and nationalismor, more specifically, of mimetic representation as a form of exception to absolutist rule.

Of course Benjamin never lived to see what became of Brecht after the war, let alone the many other exiles and refugees who fled to the United States. It would be illuminating to compare his interpretation of Plato to that of Leo Strauss, given the latters impact on American political thought after his own flight from Nazi Germany. Although such a line of investigation is outside the scope of this essay, it is connected to the work of Schmitt, an important interlocutor for Strauss as well as for Benjamin and the Marxist political theorist Karl Korsch, who were arguably Brechts closest friends and advocates in Berlins academic community. For Brecht and Benjamin in particular, the critique of Schmitts theory of sovereign decisionism involved a defense of aesthetics against decisionist politics and nationalismor, more specifically, of mimetic representation as a form of exception to absolutist rule. For some it might appear contrarian to argue for the significance of mimesis and recognition in Brechts dramatic theory, given the well-rehearsed understanding of Brechtian epic drama as being opposed to Aristotelian tragic drama (or more recent theoretical arguments defining the performative in opposition to the pedagogical). But it is also obvious that Brecht was deeply indebted to Aristotles Poetics despiteor in fact because ofhis concerted attempt to get beyond it. Even his most didactic Lehrstcke include scenes of performative miming, masking, tragic error, recognition, and violent catastrophe, all of which are central to Aristotles understanding of tragedy. Perhaps the best evidence of Brechts persistent devotion to the Greek philosopher may be found in his own 1921 copy of the Poetics, in which he slipped a typewritten page of fragmented notes, written in all lowercase, that try to come to terms with its basic tenets (only recently published in German thanks to an exhibition commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of his birth). Presumed to have been written in the mid-1930s, when he finished writing his Lehrstcke and left Germany, Brechts response to Aristotle begins with a clear and bold defense: aristotle is in no way a dethroned lawgiver for the dramatist of the present. the proper significance of his laws are still not understood by the scholars, yet so much do they rule!9 What were Aristotles aesthetic laws, then? As Brecht points out in his notes, they were based primarily on the principle of mimesis, which may be translated as imitation, representation, performance, or, in German, Nachahmung. For Plato and Aristotle, the idea of mimesis did not stand for any kind of reflection theory or realism of verisimilitude, as is often presumed by modern critics, but for an aesthetic form of representation based on illusion, deception, or masking. While diegesis was considered a trustworthy, historical method of relating the facts, mimesis was taken to be a poetic mode of perfor-

The Brechtian Exception >> Paul Haacke


mative showing, a theatricaland, for Plato, also effeminate and dangerousmode of representation that made its mark above all on the stage. Brechts critique of Nachahmung in his notes on Aristotle involves an inquiry into the possibilities of a pre-mimetic vorahmende, a word he invents apparently to signify the beforeness of representation rather than its translated afterwardsness. Although this speculative notion is rather undeveloped in his notes, his attempt to conceive of imitation as both a method of translation and as a learning process is clear: in imitation the process of translation reaches its decisive conclusion. it should be permitted to call contemporary performance pre-mimetic (vorahmende) in order to really do justice to it. . . . imitation was understood from the beginning as an aesthetic phenomenon. in any case, it was not its purpose to deal with the aesthetic. one gains knowledge through imitation.10 Only a few years before writing these notes, Brecht began embarking on his project for an explicitly practical theater that would not simply aim to make representations of the world for audiences, but would actually teach them to rethink and ultimately refunction the very world around them. He established the term Lehrstck in 1929 with The Baden-Baden Lesson on Consent (Das Badener Lehrstck vom Einverstndnis), which was loosely based on Lindberghs Flight (Der Flug der Lindberghs) of the previous year. Commenting on this new form, he wrote that it aims for the imitation of highly qualified models (Nachahmung hochqualifizierter Muster) and suspends aesthetic rules (sthetische Mastbe) for the shaping of characters, which are generally valid for the showpiece.11 These two key conceptsimitation and aesthetic ruleswould become even more important for Brechts theory and practice in the years to come. Brechts later published essays tend to avoid reference to Nachahmung in favor of the term Abbildung, but this alternative conception of aesthetic representation is also a mimetic one. Generally, he conceives of Abbildung as a performative process that depicts reality through poetic or theatrical illusion, and thus need not bear an exact or precise resemblance to it. In fact, he argues that this has been the case throughout the history of Western theater: And we must always remember that the pleasure given by representations (Abbildungen) of such different sorts hardly ever depended on the representations likeness to the thing portrayed. Incorrectness, or considerable improbability even, was hardly or not at all disturbing, so long as the incorrectness had a certain consistency and the improbability remained of a constant kind. All that mattered was the illusion of compelling momentum in the story told, and this was created by all sorts of poetic and theatrical means.12 Brecht did ultimately aim for a theater that would attempt to represent reality rather than delight in the merely culinary pleasures of illusory entertainment: The theater has to become engaged with reality if it is to be able and allowed to turn out effective representations of reality.13 That said, his theory does not reject pleasure, entertainment, or performative representation, and his central concept of the Verfremdungseffekt is by no means an alternative to mimetic illusion, but rather goes hand in hand with it: Elegant


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The Weimar Republic in which Brecht emerged as a writer and critic was thus not only a postwar period of national reconstruction and soul-searching, but also of sudden decolonization.

movement and graceful grouping, for a start, can alienate, and inventive miming greatly helps the story.14 The performative aspects of Brechts dramatic theory have been emphasized in Fredric Jamesons impressive study, Brecht and Method, which focuses to some extent on Brechts turn to East Asian poetics as an alternative to Greco-centric classicism.15 Drawing mainly from the work of Antony Tatlow, Jameson discusses how this Chinese Brecht became invested in a kind of Marxist Confucianism that was most apparent in such works as The Good Person of Szechuan, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Me-Ti: The Book of Twists and Turns (and, we might add, the collaborative efforts of Brecht and Elisabeth Hauptmann to translate classical Chinese poetry and Japanese No plays into German, from Arthur Waleys translations into English).16 What is surprisingly absent from this analysis, given Jamesons bold call to always historicize, is a consideration of Brechts own historical context, including the extent to which one may read his plays as national allegories of either Germany or the United States, if not also international allegories of wartime and postwar history on a larger, global scale. Of particular curiosity is why Brecht came to develop such a great interest in both Chinese and Japanese cultures during his years in Weimar Berlin, having never been to either country and having only read the literature in English translation. Why did he come to believe that his epic theater imitated an Asian archetype (das asiatische Vorbild), as he argued in his 1930 essay The Way to Great Contemporary Theater?17 And why did he focus so much on Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting in his 1936 essay of that name, effectively defining the former in relation to the latter?18 Surely this was not simply a result of his visit to a Moscow performance of Chinese opera by Mei Lan-Fang, as a vulgar historicist interpretation might suggest. For Brecht shared his growing interest in East Asia with many of his German-speaking contemporaries in fields ranging from literature and the visual arts to sociology and psychology.19 One major reason for the German interest in China is no doubt the Reichs colonial control of Tsing-Tao in the Shandong province, which it occupied following the 1901 Boxer Rebellion until Japan gained possession of the territory after World War I. The Weimar Republic in which Brecht emerged as a writer and critic was thus not only a postwar period of national reconstruction and soul-searching, but also of sudden decolonizationone that gave way to both anticolonialist cosmopolitanism as well as resurgent aspirations for imperial expansion and domination. Brechts interest in East Asia at this time was not simply symptomatic of imperial nostalgia, however, as the Chinese settings in so many of his plays gesture to the countrys contemporary political situationthe 192737 civil war between the Kuomintang Army and the Communist Peoples Liberation Army.

The Brechtian Exception >> Paul Haacke


More importantly, his project of reorienting Western poetics away from Greece and toward China was part of a larger attempt at critiquing and estrangingif not even refunctioningEuropean cultural politics instead of allowing it to fall into the self-pitying will to power evinced by the reactionary, Spenglerian discourse of The Decline of the West. In Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting, Brecht makes it clear that his recognition of the similarities between his newly developed dramatic theory and the long-standing traditions of Chinese theater also involves a recognition of the decentering or estranging of European culture. According to his limited research, there had been a long history of self-referential techniques of defamiliarization or estrangement in Chinese acting well before he arrived at the concept of the Verfremdungseffekt (and also, we might add, before Viktor Shklovsky developed his earlier, similar concept of ostranenie). However, because these techniques were so radically new to Western aesthetics, they could be used to provoke in European audiences a sense of critical distance not only from the work being performed, but also from Eurocentric or Greco-centric mimetic traditions that were generally taken for granted. This is why Brecht sees the fact that there is no fourth wall in Chinese drama not as a lack, but rather as an enabling possibility for selfawareness: Above all, the Chinese artist never acts as if there were a fourth wall besides the three surrounding him. He expresses his awareness of being watched.20 Likewise, he argues that the experience of European audiences watching Chinese drama involves not only an estrangement from the performance itself, but also a recognition on the part of the audience as Europeans that they are indeed European: When one sees the Chinese acting it is at first very hard to discount the feeling of estrangement which they produce in us as Europeans. One has to be able to imagine them achieving an A-effect among their Chinese spectators too.21 In this way, the effect of alienation or estrangement inevitably results in a corollary effect of recognitionarguably a Brechtian version of Aristotles concept of anagnorisis. In A Short Organum For the Theatre, Brecht defines it as follows: A depiction that estranges is one that allows us to recognize its subject, but at the same time makes it seem unfamiliar.22 Such recognition must take place both on the part of the actors, who must recognize their own performative practice even as they perform it, and on the part of the spectators, who become aware of their roles as spectators and of their positions in the world at large. Brechts understanding of Japanese theater was due in part to the work of one of his main collaborators during this period, Elisabeth Hauptmann, who first introduced him to Arthur Waleys 1921 translations collected in The No Plays of Japan after obtaining a copy of the book during a trip to London in 1928. Brecht read it over the next few years, and eventually he and Hauptmann decided to consider one play, Taniko , as a mimetic model (Vorbild) for the pair of Lehrstcke that came to be called The Yes-Sayer and The No-Sayer. Hauptmann also studied the writings of the Japanese actor and critic Zeami Motokiyo (c. 1363c. 1443), and later noted that one of the main similarities between him and Brecht was their similar concepts of imitation. Reflecting on the origins of The


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Yes-Sayer and The No-Sayer in a 1966 interview, she commented: Again and again one is reminded of Brecht, for example when one reads Zeamis remarks on imitation.23 One especially suggestive aspect of Brechts aesthetics is its uncanny allegorical method, perhaps most overt in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, which depicts a gangsters growing tyranny over Chicago as a means of critiquing Hitlers rise to power in Germany. It is thus surprising that a theory of allegory is so undeveloped in both his own writings as well as those of his critics, especially considering that Benjamin wrote an extensive chapter on Allegory and Trauerspiel in his study of baroque drama.24 Brechts Lehrstcke, as well as The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, which was also written in his final years in Berlin, typify this increasingly allegorical turn in his work. Similar to the historic London of The Threepenny Opera and the American urbanism of In the Jungle of Cities, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, the Chinese settings in so many of Brechts Lehrstcke not only worked to estrange German audiences from their own potentially nationalistic historical context, but also performed an allegorical association between the places being represented and the places in which they were being performed. In this way, Brechts mimetic turn to China and Japan was motivated not only by political beliefs but by aesthetic methods and specifically, an aesthetics of alienation and allegory that aimed to estrange Germany from itself during what was becoming an increasingly foreign and questionable period in its national history. >> The Exception and the Rule What is the purpose of aesthetic estrangement beyond mere recognition? Brechts Lehr- stcke show how scenes of recognition are not only accompanied by processes of reflection and understanding regarding a given practice or malpractice, but also of consent, dissent, and remediation. This is particularly evident in The Exception and the Rule, in which estrangement from custom is represented in political-juristic terms of exception to rule. In the plays conclusion, the actors address the audience in a call to recognize that some rules may be wrong and thus in need of change: We ask you: If its not strange, find it estranging (befremdlich)! If its familiar, find it inexplicable (unerklrlich)! Whatever is usual should surprise you, Whatever is the rule, recognize as an abuse (Mibrauch) And where you have recognized an abuse Provide a remedy!25 The Exception and the Rule follows three characters traveling through the desert in pursuit of oil: one who exploits and two who are exploited, as the actors tell us in their opening remarks. Their mission is an explicitly imperialist and capitalist one, in this case through the fictional Asian desert of Yahi (presumably based on the Gobi desert

The Brechtian Exception >> Paul Haacke


in northern China). The plays vaguely imagined Chinese setting should by now make some sense, but it takes a bit more background information to understand how the concept of the exception that it employsespecially the possibility for the exception to actually become the rulerelates to Schmitts contemporary political-juristic theory of the Ausnahmezustand. Much attention has been paid in recent years to the impact of Schmitts work in political thought since the Weimar period. Some of the most well-known contemporary Continental philosophers, including Jacques Derrida, Giorgio Agamben, Jrgen Habermas, Chantal Mouffe, and Slavoj iek, have devoted considerable time and energy to grappling with his radical critique of liberalism and his openly Nazi politics.26 American political theory can be traced back to Schmitts work largely through the mediation of Strauss. Although most of the prominent American followers of Strauss have been labeled neoconservative, many of the European thinkers who have responded to Schmitts work have done so from the Left.27 While Habermas has made a concerted effort to argue against Schmitts theories, and Mouffe has adopted his critique of liberalism for the sake of radical democratic socialism, both Derrida and Agamben have taken up his work with particular interest in his correspondence with Walter Benjamin. Despite this burgeoning interest in Benjamins ideological engagement with Schmitt, however, relatively little attention has been devoted to Benjamins aesthetic critique of Schmitts political theory, especially in relation to his extensive writings on Brecht, and there has been even less recognition of Brechts relationship to Schmitt both during and after his time in Weimar Germany. As far as I have been able to discern, Brecht kept a clear distance from Schmitt and made no explicit references to him despite the fact that he was well aware of his political theory; Schmitt, on the other hand, did refer to Brecht several times in writing, and so may have been more influenced by him than the other way around.28 Although Brecht owned a first edition of Schmitts 1921 book, On Dictatorship (Die Diktatur), an examination of it in his library suggests that he probably didnt read much of it: aside from the introduction, table of contents, and index pages, only the first nine pages and about ten pages from the fifth chapter (on the French Revolution and Napoleon) were cut open. Instead, Brechts critical engagement with Schmitt presumably derived above all from his conversations with Benjamin. The conclusion to one of their exchanges, promptly following a public talk that Schmitt gave in Berlin on Problems of Democracy, was recorded in Benjamins diary entry of April 21, 1930: Schmitt / Agreement Hate Suspicion (Schmitt / Einverstnd nis Ha Verdchtigung).29 The first term, which may be translated either as agree-

BERTHOLT BRECHT, NEW YORK, 1945 Gelatin silver print Photograph by Dorothy Norman (19051997) 2000 The University of Arizona Foundation Gift of Mr. Richard Gold. Photography courtesy of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University.


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While for Schmitt, sovereign is he who decides on the exception, for Brecht, the exploited is he who is denied the free choice of making his own sovereign decision.

ment, mutual understanding, approval, or consent, is a central concept in Schmitts On Dictatorship, but what Benjamin meant by it remains an open question. It could represent the agreement that Benjamin and Schmitt managed to share despite their differences, the agreement between Benjamin and Brecht to either hate or suspect Schmitt, or something else entirely.30 The same year that Benjamin recorded this exchange, Brecht wrote three of his most famous Lehrstcke, each of which appears to make oblique references to Schmitt: The Yes-Sayer and The No-Sayer, which open with a chorus singing the importance of Einverstndnis; The Measures Taken, which includes a character named Karl Schmitt from Berlin; and The Exception and the Rule, whose title and theme are closely related to Schmitts theory of the Ausnahmezustand. The consonance between Die Manahme and Die Ausnahme may have been mere coincidence, but the associations between the two plays and their relationship to Schmitts theory of the Ausnahmezustand would surely not have been lost on Brecht during this increasingly politicized and polarized period. Is The Exception and the Rule thus an aesthetic critique of political exceptionalism? One scene halfway through the play suggests as much, as it restages Schmitts basic distinction between friend and enemy in Marxist terms of exploitation, and turns the theory of decisionism on its head by exposing the unjust crisis that the exploited is forced into at the hands of the exploiter. For Schmitt, decisionism rejects both liberalism as well as revolution, upholding instead a form of exceptional sovereignty that goes beyond negotiation and discussion and overrules questions of political illegitimacy altogether. As he writes in Political Theology, the essence of liberalism is negotiation, and dictatorship is the opposite of discussion.31 In turn, Schmitt argues that all law is situational law because it depends on exceptional decisiveness rather than normative discussion: like every other order, the legal order rests on a decision and not on a norm.32 While for Schmitt, sovereign is he who decides on the exception,33 for Brecht, the exploited is he who is denied the free choice of making his own sovereign decision. Brechts reversal of Schmitt shows that questioning or overturning a given rule can be a legitimate, decisive exception to sovereign power in its own right. In this way, it is akin to Benjamins own memorable reversal of Schmitt in his essay On the Concept of History: The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the state of emergency in which we live is not the exception but the rule (Die Tradition der Unterdrckten belehrt uns darber, da der Ausnahmezustand, in dem wir leben, die Regel ist).34 How does Brecht depict this reversal on stage? In The Exception and the Rule, the oppressor and the oppressed are represented by the Merchant and the Coolie (or, in German, Der Kuli, a now pejorative term used to refer to an indentured Asian slave or

The Brechtian Exception >> Paul Haacke


manual laborer). When they reach a riverbank in one of the central scenes of the play, the Merchant demands that his servant join him in swimming to the other side. The Coolie hesitates, fearing the dangerous risk in crossing and recognizing his exploited role, both in the present and as he imagines it would remain on the other side. What am I to do? he asks himself, and then proceeds to sing a song expressing his recognition of the apparently tragic situation into which he has been forced: Here is the river. To swim across is dangerous. Look: There are two men on the riverbank. One swims across, the other Hesitates. Is the first brave? The second cowardly? No: On the other side One of the two has business. The first emerges with a smile from the dangerous water Onto the opposite bank which he has conquered: He now sets foot on his property and eats new food. The second emerges from the dangerous water Into nothing: Gasping, and weaker than before, he now confronts New dangers. So: Are both brave? Are both wise? They conquered the river together but They are not both conquerors. WE and YOU AND I Are not the same thing. WE defeat the foe But YOU defeat ME.35 Responding to this song of complaint, the Merchant threatens the Coolie with his gun and says bluntly, Shall we bet you get across? My money makes me fear bandits and overlook the dangerous state of the river. His power over the Coolies life is thus based less on decisive sovereignty or disciplinary force than on the threat of violence. Singing his own song, he closes the scene and the crisis of decision it has staged by showing how he has made the Coolies decision for him: This is how man overcomes the desert and the rushing river, And how man overcomes himself And wins the oil, the oil he so needs.36


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The plays violent pseudo-catastrophe takes place later, when the Merchant mistakenly believes the Coolie is trying to rebel and immediately kills him in a strategic, preemptive strike. At the plays conclusion, when the Merchant is put on trial, the Judge rules him innocent for acting out of self-defense, singing: Such is the rule: an eye for an eye. / Only a fool waits for an exception.37 While the play ultimately allows for the Merchant to be found innocent by the judges, it ends with the actors call for the audience to learn from this case a higher justice that is based on critical exceptionalism in place of absolute rule. Such calls for critical engagement are at once pedagogical and performative, given that their educational lessons are professed by actors on the stage. In turn, as Christoph Menke has shown, these actors ironically call attention to their role as actors while at the same time playing characters who appear able to choose their own fates instead of submitting to the fate of tragedy.38 Although it may seem obvious or trivial to insist that Brechts plays are indeed plays, their aesthetic dimension is often overlooked by critics, and was completely ignored by the HUAC in its interpretation of The Measures Taken, which in fact consists of a play within a play. Performative questions about practice or malpractice, agreement or disagreement, and consent or dissent are also foregrounded in what is arguably Brechts best-known pair of learning-plays, The Yes-Sayer and The No-Sayer, which are adapted (in large measure word-for-word) from the Japanese No play Taniko . Following the Japanese model, both plays open with the Great Chorus posing the problem of agreement or consent (Einverstndnis) as the ultimate object of learning, thereby upholding a direct opposition to Schmittian calls for nonnegotiable, sovereign rule: What we must learn above all is consent. Many say yes, and yet there is no consent. Many are not asked, and many Consent to wrong things. Therefore: What we must learn above all is consent.39 Consent, we eventually learn, depends to a large extent on sacrifice and custom, which may in turn be distinguished in terms of customary practice (Brauch) and malpractice (Mibrauch). In The Yes-Sayer, this comes to light after a disease has struck an unnamed city, where among the afflicted victims is the mother of a certain boy. When a teacher decides to lead a group over the mountains in search of medicine, the boy demands to come along and is eventually allowed to join them. Over the course of their journey, however, the boy falls ill. According to the lands ancient custom (Brauch), he who falls ill in such a situation is required to give himself up and not be taken back home. When reminded of the custom of not turning back, the boy answers that he understands (Ich verstehe), and when asked if he consents to being left behind, he pauses to reflect and then agrees: Yes, I consent (Ja, ich bin einverstanden). The teacher responds, He has answered in accordance with necessity (Er hat der Notwendigkeit gem geantwortet),40 and so the decision is made to hurl him into the valley and sacrifice his life both for the sake of following the rule of custom as well as for the immediate, pragmatic aim of obtaining the medicine needed for saving the city.

The Brechtian Exception >> Paul Haacke


Here again the decision is not due to any form of sovereign exception, but is rather the result of consent (Einverstndnis) in accordance with (gem) the rule of custom (Brauch) or necessity (Notwendigkeit) after a process of reflection (Nachdenken). In the first play, the decision in question involves the boys consent to his own self-sacrifice. His personal decision-making process is then taken further in the sequel, The No-Sayer, in which virtually the same story is introduced before being promptly reversed: this time, after another pause of reflection, the boy decides to disagree with a No: Nein. Ich bin nicht einverstanden. In refusing to consent to the Great Custom, he calls instead for a new custom to replace itthat of rethinking every new situation: As for the old Great Custom, I see no rhyme or reason in it. What I need is a new Great Custom to be introduced at once, to wit, the Custom of rethinking every new situation.41 While the first play upholds the consent of the boy to the rule of custom, the second upholds the boys decision to take exception to this rule, which leads in turn to the consent of the teacher and other students to a new practice of situational critique. Taken together, the plays do not suggest any single right decision, as the either/or question is left open to the situational logic behind each decision. In both cases, the privileged modes of decision-making involve processes of negotiation and agreement rather than sovereign exceptionalism, above all when the custom is ultimately overruled by a new, antiauthoritarian exceptionalism of continual rethinking and reflecting.42 This antiauthoritarian conception of decision-makingwhich is based on interpersonal dialogue, recognition, and both consent and dissentposes an implicit challenge to Schmitts theory of decisionism. For while the Yes-Sayer and the No-Sayer are capable of making decisions through consent as well as dissent, decisionist sovereignty not only forbids the dissent of its subjects, but is in turn incapable of saying No to its own absolutism. Schmitts theory is thus based on rule rather than exception to rule, and thus is not really situationist at all, since it inevitably upholds the sameness of sovereign power rather than the difference of alternative situations and actors. The Schmittian sovereign can only maintain the law or override it with his own higher law, and so in any case must always represent the fixity of rule. Because he supersedes distinctions between consent and dissent or agreement and disagreement, there can be for him only rule, and thus never any exception to speak of. Brechts politics were clearly opposed to Schmitts, both before the war and after. Although they arguably shared an interest in critiquing liberal ideals of perpetual negotiation as well as anarchist objections to political organization, Brecht represents consensual understanding as problematic in his Lehrstcke only insofar as it can become a form of closure that rules out the possibility of open dissent. From this perspective, Yes-saying can result from coercion and compliance as well as from more voluntary forms of mutual consent. And so, as much as Brecht recognized the political powers of performative speech, pedagogical discipline, and strict adherence to tradition, it is clear that he also upheld the necessity of dissent and deliberative democratic dialogue, and that he did so in aesthetic terms above all.43


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>> Discipline and Democracy The Measures Taken was written the same year as The Yes-Sayer and The No-Sayer and, like them, it is structured according to a narrative of goal-oriented legitimization, mutual consent, and eventual self-sacrifice. The plays are so similar that Brecht may have confused them to some extent in his hearing before the HUAC. Yet while The Yes-Sayer draws from a traditional Japanese No play, The Measures Taken, which takes place in modern China during the early years of Communist agitation for revolution, was much more of Brechts own invention. Mimetic modes of performance are made explicit at the beginning of the play, when the Russian Agitators and Young Comrade agree to don special masks in order to pass as Chinese and teach the classics of Communist thought from within the culture they have entered rather than from the outside. The Agitators warn against falling prey to pity (Mitleid),44 but eventually the Young Comrade does just that. Feeling too much for the workers and opposing the Agitators decision to wait for the right time for revolution, he rips up the classic teachings, which, according to the song In Praise of the Party, are derived from the recognition of reality (der Kenntnis der Wirklichkeit).45 He then commits a final betrayal in tearing off his mask, thereby putting the entire mission at risk by allowing the group to be recognized as foreigners. Here the Agitators methods may be interpreted as going against Brechts own stated theory, given his demand for recognition through estrangement rather than concealment through masking. In any case, this scene highlights the extent to which they are indeed questionable players rather than trustworthy representatives of a given truth or ideal. In the next scene, the Chorus asks the Agitators what measures they have decided to take in response to the riots that have ensued from the Young Comrades act, stating that one must be careful when theory is in a state of confusion, thus potentially suggesting that the state of exception is more of an obfuscating idea than a practical situation: What measures did you take? In times of extreme persecution and when theory is in a state of confusion Fighters are expected to make a scheme of the site And carefully weigh all commitments and possibilities.46 The Agitators respond by explaining their final decision: to dispose of him altogether by casting him into a lime pit. Yet just as the teacher in The Yes-Sayer first asks for the boys consent before proceeding with the deadly custom, the Agitators make sure to ask the Young Comrade if he agrees with their decision, to which he voluntarily says Yes, consenting to the revolutionizing of the world (Ja sagend zur Revolutionierung der Welt).47 Not surprisingly, this decision that the Young Comrade should die for the sake of Communist revolution struck the FBI and the HUAC as grounds for investigation during the early years of the Red Scare. Brecht and Chief Investigator Robert Stripling exchanged several minutes of debate about the play, which are worth quoting at length. When Stripling first inquires about the meaning of the title, Brecht replies in German,

The Brechtian Exception >> Paul Haacke


and the translator David Baumgardt explains, Measures to be taken, or steps to be takenmeasures. Stripling demands further, Could it mean disciplinary measures? and Baumgardt says No. Stripling then asks Brecht to explain the meaning of the play, and Brecht answers: This play is the adaptation of an old religious Japanese play and is called a No Play, and follows quite closely this old story which shows the devotion for an ideal until death . . . a religious idea. Stripling: Didnt it have to do with the Communist Party? Brecht: Yes. Stripling: And discipline within the Communist Party? Brecht: Yes, yes; it is a new play, an adaptation. It had as a background the Russia-China of the years 1918 or 1919, or so. There some Communist agitators went to a sort of no mans land between the Russia which then was not a state and had no real Stripling: Mr. Brecht, may I interrupt you? Would you consider the play to be proCommunist or anti-Communist, or would it take a neutral position regarding Communists? Brecht: No; I would sayyou see, literature has the right and the duty to give to the public the ideas of the time. Now, in this playof course, I wrote about 20 plays, but in this play I tried to express the feelings and the ideas of the German workers who then fought against Hitler. Stripling then reads aloud excerpts from the play before continuing his questions: Stripling: Now, Mr. Brecht, will you tell the committee whether or not one of the characters in this play was murdered by his comrade because it was in the best interest of the party, of the Communist Party; is that true? Brecht: No, it is not quite according to the story. Stripling: Because he would not bow to discipline he was murdered by his comrades, isnt that true? Brecht: No; it is not really in it. You will find when you read it carefully, like in the old Japanese play where other ideas were at stake, this young man who died was convinced that he had done damage to the mission he believed in and he agreed to that and he was about ready to die in order not to make greater such damage. So, he asks his comrades to help him, and all of them together help him to die. He jumps into an abyss and they lead him tenderly to that abyss, and that is the story. The Chairman: I gather from your remarks, from your answer, that he was just killed, he was not murdered? Brecht: He wanted to die. The Chairman: So they kill him? Brecht: No; they did not kill himnot in this story. He killed himself.48 What is particularly curious about Striplings anti-Communist critique here is his insistence on reading the actions of the Agitators in terms of discipline rather than agreement or consent. The HUACs repeated mistranslation of the title as disciplinary measures rather than measures taken or measures to be taken reveals the members


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deeper misreading of the play, and especially their ignorance of the mimetic dimensions of both the Japanese No play on which it was based as well as Brechts reinterpretation of it through his revisionist aesthetics of estrangement and recognition.49 At another point in the recording of the trial, Eric Bentley (who provided commentary on the Folkways record of Brechts hearing) notes: Brecht would seem to be speaking here, not of The Measures Taken, but of Der Jasager, He Who Says Yes, another play of his that is derived from the same No play as The Measures Taken. No one will ever know whether Brechts memory was playing him tricks, or whether he wanted to lead Mr. Thomas a dance.50 Regardless of whether Brecht was actually misreading his own play or not, his role before the committee may itself be interpreted as a mimetic performance rather than a straight, diegetic account (represented better by his prepared statement, which was not accepted as testimony). One might otherwise argue that his answers were not at all elusive but simply attempted to be faithful to the performative complexity and ambiguity of the play under discussion. In either case, his testimony is a clear defense of aesthetic freedom in opposition to political absolutism. For as much as Brecht defended a quasi-scientific theory about arts ability to effectively represent reality, he also insisted on the potentially open-ended nature of aesthetic performance, its inability to be fully subordinated to disciplinary rules of either prescription or interpretation. This is why the Yes-Sayers in his plays never consent out of mere submission or subjection, but rather through dialectical processes of dialogue, negotiation, and interpersonal decision-making. And it is ultimately why the No-Sayers stand not only for freedom of speech, but for art itself. Brecht had already imagined a trial scenario that would force him to make a decision between earnestness and art years before he came to the United States, as Benjamin notes in an entry from his Conversations with Brecht dated July 6, 1934. Soon after discussing Benjamins essay The Author as Producer, their exchange turns to questions of artistic license. Here, Brecht confesses that he had often imagined himself being interrogated by a tribunal. In narrating the scene, he represents himself as answering No to the question of whether he is really serious about what he says, and admits that even if it is less effective to do so, he nonetheless upholds the right to be artistic above all: Brecht, in the course of yesterdays conversation: I often imagine being interrogated by a tribunal. Now tell us, Mr. Brecht, are you really in earnest? I would have to admit no, Im not completely in earnest. I think too much about artistic problems, you know, about what is good for the theatre, to be completely in earnest. But having said no to that important question, I would add something still more important: namely, that my attitude is permissible (Erlaubt). I must admit he said this after the conversation had been going on for some little time. He started by expressing doubt, not as to whether his attitude was permissible, but whether it was effective.51 Brecht would later argue that such aesthetic permissibility is a basic necessity for democracy itself. For although the democratic process allows for both persuasion and co-

The Brechtian Exception >> Paul Haacke


ercion in order to achieve agreement, it nonetheless depends on performative modes of social interaction that are characteristic of dramatic dialogue. In the written speech that he prepared for the HUAC, Brecht drew parallels between the repression of democracy in Germany and in the United States, suggesting a provocative comparison between Hitlers assaults on un-German people, art, and ideas and McCarthys campaign against un-American Activities. Referring to his early years as a playwright in the Weimar period, he wrote: For a time, Germany was on the path to democracy. There was freedom of speech and of artistic expression. In the second half of the 1920s, however, the old reactionary militarist forces began to regain strength. . . . Voices could already be heard demanding that free artistic expression and free speech should be silenced. Humanist, socialist, even Christian ideas were called undeutsch (un-German), a word which I hardly can think of without Hitlers wolfish intonation.52 Brecht also dwelled on the term undeutsch in an earlier piece of writing presumed to have been written in 1933, the year he went into exile from Germany. He left this typewritten self-interview unpublished during his lifetime, apparently keeping it to himself by slipping it into his edition of Aristotles Metaphysik. Beginning with the question Are you a Jew?, he asked himself point-blank why his books had been blacklisted in his homeland as undeutsch. Although written well before his trial in the United States, it is startling how much this piece of personal writing reads as if he is already putting himself on trial: Are you a Jew? No. Then why are your books put on the blacklist as un-German? The National Socialists consider only a part of all Germans to be German. Those who have a different view of social questions than Herr Hitler are generally considered un-German. And just like many million Germans, I have a different view of social questions than Herr Hitler. Did you flee Germany? I was in Vienna for a public reading. There I heard that Herr Hitler wished to lead German affairs without having people around who have my opinions. Because of the truly extraordinary power he had others give him toward this goal, I had to postpone my return.53 About ten years later, Brecht began to raise similar concerns about his relationship to Americanism, and ultimately defined US wartime nationalism and xenophobic racism in terms of exception and rule. He was responding in his journal to a newspaper article entitled Seek to Till Aliens Land, which discussed how so-called native Americanshere meaning Americans of European descentwere taking over land in Southern California after the Japanese-Americans who had been working there had been sent to internment camps as enemy aliens. Beside a clipping of the article, under the date February 26, 1942, Brecht wrote:


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We are, those of us of German descent, enemy aliens, and the fear persists that we will have to go away from the coasts if they dont make an exception for Hitlers enemies. The Japanese fishermen and gardeners here are being sent into camps. They were always unpopular among the farmers here, and now there is fear of their disloyalty. Exception and rule.54 Each of these personal responses helped form the basis for Brechts eventual comparison of the undeutsch and the un-American in his prepared statement for the HUAC. From here, he goes on to describe the various persecutions that were staged as political witch hunts (wurden politische Hexenverfolgungen inszeniert), including the drastic measures (Manahmen) taken against the 1930 American film adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front, which prepared the way for the censorious control of all mass culture and art under the National Socialist regime. According to Brecht, these disciplinary measures were conceived and performed as the intellectual preparation for total war, in which the total enemy is culture.55 In being suspected of un-American activities while living as a guest in the United States, Brecht found that his work was being sentenced to a similar kind of suspicion and persecution that had led him to be labeled undeutsch in Germany. The image of the witch hunt would go on to play a crucial role in his third version of Life of Galileo (which he revised to take into account the ethics of science after the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), as well as Arthur Millers allegorical play, The Crucible, which hit the stage six years later in 1953. Brecht left the United States shortly after his trial in 1947 and settled in the Soviet sector of eastern Berlin. Only a few years later, however, he found himself confronting questions about the Manahme and Ausnahme once again. When East German workers rose up against the Communist government to protest its newly established labor policies, and were in turn suppressed through a violent crackdown administered by the Soviet army, Brecht was evidently confused: 17th june has alienated the whole of existence (hat die ganze existenz verfremdet),56 he wrote in his journal. Surprisingly, he didnt oppose the army or take the side of the people, and thus appears to have betrayed his long-held concern for consent, dissent, and remediation. Brechts most famous response to the 1953 uprising is his ironic poem The Solution (Die Lsung), which seems to mock the governments response without actually committing to either side of the conflict, but in his more private writings he rationalized the military crackdown as a necessary means of establishing post-war peace. Not only did he write letters to East German and Soviet officials declaring his continued support,57 but he also attempted to justify the armys actions in his journals, and suggested that the uprising was unworthy of solidarity because the working classes had been duped by a confluence of capitalist and fascist forces. Although he called the violence terrible and critiqued the economic policies (Manahmen) of the government as misguided, he nonetheless defended the Soviet army in the end as the only force that is capable of coping with what he believed to be the capitalism of the fascist era in renewed strength.59 Gnter Grass later ridiculed Brecht for this apparent hypocrisy in his satirical play The Plebeians Rehearse the Uprising: A German Tragedy (Die Plebejer proben den Aufstand: Ein deutsches Trauerspiel), which revolves around Brechts attempt to stage Shakespeares

The Brechtian Exception >> Paul Haacke


Coriolanus during the summer of 1953. While Grasss subtitle alludes to the same genre of the Trauerspiel that Benjamin examined in his study of the baroque, he was probably not aware of the fact that Brecht and Benjamin actually discussed Coriolanus together only a few days after their apparent agreement about Schmitt in 1930, and then again in 1931 (on a day that also remarkably happened to be the 17th of June).60 Grass may be right that Brecht ended up becoming more of a Yes-Sayer than a No-Sayer during his final years in East Germany. Yet although ideas of decisionist sovereignty seem close at hand in Brechts questionable attempts to defend the military crackdown, as if he ultimately consented to Schmittian decisionism despite his earlier critiques, it is worth noting that he avoided the term Einverstndnis when excusing the governments refusal to establish an agreement with the workers, preferring the term Zustimmung, and that he did not defend the tasks that had to be performed as Manahmen, but rather as Aufgaben. And so in choosing the rule of the party over the resistance of the workers, Brecht also sacrificed many of the terms that helped define his otherwise exceptional legacy of taking exception to the violence of political rule. This aesthetic legacy is perhaps best represented in the conclusion to the statement that he hoped to present to the HUAC, which in no uncertain terms defends the necessity of art for the cause of freedom: My activities, even those against Hitler, have always been purely literary activities of a strictly independent nature. As a guest of the United States, I refrained from political activities concerning this country even in a literary form. . . . Being called before the Un-American Activities Committee, however, I feel free for the first time to say a few words about American matters: looking back at my experiences as a playwright and a poet in the Europe of the last two decades, I wish to say that the great American people would lose much and risk much if they allowed anybody to restrict the free competition of ideas in cultural fields, or to interfere with art, which must be free in order to be art.61 Here, the more Brecht repeats the word activities, the more he calls attention to the very name of the committee that he was addressing. While he may have been mocking it to some extent, his words appear earnest, as if he honestly were asking himself the question: what does it really mean to be un-American? Or un-German? In claiming the right to take exception to American policy for the first time, Brecht recalls his own essay on the difficulty of finding the courage to write the truth, which was first published in the United States that same year.62 His final warning strikes a somewhat more mournful tone, however, as if he recognized that the free competition of ideas in cultural fields would remain at risk in the United States even despite the Constitutions unique protection of the right to free speech. Indeed, assaults on democratic freedom since the Cold War have continued to be launched in the very name of defending democracy, and from the culture wars of the 1980s to the USA Patriot Act during the war on terror, art has remained vulnerable to political measures taken against it.63 The freedom of art may always be at risk for the very reason that it is so open to question, but as Brechts case reminds us, it is only by taking risks that art is able to test the limits of freedom itself.


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1 Federal Bureau of Investigation file, Bertolt Brecht, pt. 1a, p. 14. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, 369 pages that the FBI filed on Brecht are now available for archival retrieval online at http:// (although certain passages and all names of participating sources, informants, and agents have been redacted). According to these files, Brecht was issued a Quota Immigrant Visa with no nationality listed on May 3, 1941, and was registered as an enemy alien with the US government in February 1942. From 1943 until his departure in 1947, the FBI maintained close watch of his activities as well as his home, mail, acquaintances, friends, and family. On February 21, 1945, a request was made for more advanced technical surveillance to be adopted for the following reasons: BERT BRECHT is the subject of a pending investigation concerning his activities with respect to the Free German movement, the aim of which is the development of a postwar German government friendly to Soviet Russia. BRECHTs activity in this regard has been largely that of a propagandist in that he writes for the Free German magazine in Mexico. He was also active in the organizational work resulting in the foundation of the Council for a Democratic Germany (pt. 1b, p. 10). Technical surveillance of Brechts home was granted provided full security assured in a letter by J. Edgar Hoover dated April 9, 1945 (pt. 1b, p. 22), and further wiretapping of those friendly to him followed soon after. 2 In their 1976 essay on Heiner Mllers transcendence of Brecht, David Bathrick and Andreas Huyssen argue that most post-World War II scholarship on the Lehrstck ultimately participated in the politics of Cold War polarization (Bathrick and Huyssen, Producing Revolution). According to their helpful survey, critical opposition to Brecht tended to read The Measures Taken in terms of tragedy, an approach developed early on by Reinhold Grimm in the 1959 essay Ideologische Tragdie und Tragdie der Ideologie: Versuch ber ein Lehrstck von Brecht. This was followed by a more leftist, anti-tragic re-politicization of Brechts work in the late 1960s, represented above all by Reiner Steinwegs articles in the journal Alternative, his book, Das Lehrstck: Brechts Theorie einer politisch-sthetischen Erziehung, and his edited volume, Auf Anregung Bertolt Brecht: Lehrstcke mit Schlern, Arbeitern, Theaterleuten. Bathrick and Huyssen also identify an apparently more subtle third way, as represented by Wolfgang Schivelbuschs study, Sozialistisches Drama nach Brecht, which, they argue, picks up the traditional view of the play as a tragedy and frees it from the dead weight of cold war arguments without, however, abandoning the theory itself (Producing Revolution, 114). Also important to recognize in the context of Cold-War-era Brecht scholarship is the challenging work of Peter Szondi, especially his essay Brechts Jasager und Neinsager. 3 For an in-depth study of Brechts productive reception of Japanese theater, see Oba, Bertolt Brecht und das N-Theater. For a broader approach to Brechts comparative East-West aesthetics, see Tatlow, The Mask of Evil and Brechts Ost Asien. 4 Benjamin, Selected Writings, 2.2:768.

5 For discussions of the correspondence between Benjamin and Schmitt, I have relied especially on Weber, Taking Exception to Decision, Agamben, Homo Sacer and State of Exception, and Kahn, Hamlet or Hecuba: Carl Schmitts Decision. For discussion of Brechts relation to Schmitt, see Mller-Schll, Der Eingriff ins Politische and Wichtig zu lernen vor allem ist Einverstndnis. For Mller-Schlls in-depth discussion of The Measures Taken in particular, see Die Massnahme auf dem Boden einer unreinen Vernunft. Finally, for the argument that Schmitts political theory conceptualizes aesthetics itself as the enemy, see Levi, Carl Schmitt and the Question of the Aesthetic. See Wizisla, Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht, 6 for a rigorously researched study of their friendship; and Benjamins posthumous Understanding Brecht for

The Brechtian Exception >> Paul Haacke


essays on Brecht and transcriptions of their conversations between 1931 and 1938. See also Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht Discuss Franz Kafka in Rokem, Philosophers and Thespians. 7 8 Benjamin, Selected Writings, 2.2:77374. Ibid., 4:270.

9 aristoteles ist fr die dramatiker der gegenwart keineswegs ein entthronter gesetzgeber. die eigentliche bedeutung seiner gesetze geht der wissenschaft noch gar nicht auf, so sehr herrschen sie! (Wizisla, Bertolt Brecht 18981998, 171); this and all subsequent translations from German sources by the author, unless otherwise indicated. 10 in der nachahmung findet der prozess der bersetzung seinen entscheidenden abschluss. die neuzeitliche darstellung msste man eine vorahmende nennen drfen damit ihr gerechtigkeit widerfhrt. . . . die nachahmung wird von anfang an als sthetisches phnomen genommen. ihre zwecke beschftigen jedenfalls die aesthetik nicht. der mensch erwirbt sich kenntnisse durch nachahmung (ibid.). 11 Brecht, Zur Theorie des Lehrstcks, in Steinweg, Brechts Modell der Lehrstcke, 164. Only later did Brecht come upon Erich Auerbachs Mimesis: Dargestellte Wirklichkeit in der abendlndischen Literatur, a 1946 copy of which he kept in his library. It was evidently a gift from Eric Bentley, who inscribed his best wishes on the first page. 12 13 14 Brecht, Brecht on Theatre, 182; Werke, 23:69. Ibid., 186; Werke, 23:74. Ibid., 204; Werke, 23:96.

16 For Waley (and, according to Elisabeth Hauptmann, also for earlier Japanese theater critics like Zeami Motokiyo), theories and methods of mimetic imitation were central to Japanese N theater: Though the N seems to us so little a realistic performance, it was the development of imitation (mono-mane or miming) in the Yamato school of Sarugaku which differentiated it from the rival mi school and led it from dance to drama (Waley, The N Plays of Japan, 3132). 17 Brecht, Der Weg zu grossem zeitgenssischem Theater, in Werke, 21:38081. 18 Brecht, Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting, in Brecht on Theatre, 91100. 19 A few examples of prominent figures in arts and letters interested in Asia: Hermann Hesse (whose parents were missionaries in India), Alfred Dblin (especially his short story collection Der berfall auf Chao-lao-s), Franz Kafka (The Great Wall of China), Fritz Lang (especially his early film Destiny [Der Mde Tod]), Max Weber (who developed major studies of religion in China and India), and Carl Jung (who, among other explorations into comparative spirituality, wrote the introduction to Richard Wilhelms German edition of the I Ching, the first comprehensive translation of the text into a European language). 20 Brecht, Brecht on Theatre, 9192; Werke, 22.1:201. 21 Ibid., 9596; Werke, 22.1:206.

15 Specifically, Jameson discusses what he calls Brechts Chinese dimension (Brecht and Method, 3) and the Chinese Brecht (11); for his extended discussion of Tatlow, see 32.

22 Ibid., 192; translation modified. Ein verfremdende Abbildung ist eine solche, die den Gegenstand zwar erkennen, ihn aber doch zugleich fremd erscheinen lt (Werke, 23:81). 23 Steinweg, Brechts Modell der Lehrstcke, 215.

24 Benjamin defined baroque allegory as a fixed image and a fixing sign with Chinese writing in mind: This is what determines allegory as a form of


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writing. It is a schema; and as a schema it is an object of knowledge; but it is not securely possessed until it becomes a fixed schema: at one and the same time a fixed image and a fixing sign. The baroque ideal of knowledge, the process of storing, to which the vast libraries are a monument, is realized in the external appearance of the script. Almost as much as in China it is, in its visual character, not merely a sign of what is to be known but it is itself an object worthy of knowledge (The Origin of German Tragic Drama, 184). 25 Brecht, Werke, 3:260.

26 See especially Derrida, Force of Law, Agamben, Homo Sacer and State of Exception, Habermas, The Inclusion of the Other, and essays by iek and Mouffe, among others, in Mouffes edited collection, The Challenge of Carl Schmitt. 27 Shadia B. Drury argues that a majority of intellectual and policy figures allied with the Reagan and Bush administrations have identified themselves as Straussians, including former attorney general John Ashcroft, former secretary of education William Bennett, former chief of staff William Kristol, former assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, Alan Keyes, legal scholar and judge Robert Bork, Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, and former deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz. See especially Drury, Leo Strauss and the American Right, 3. Other followers of Strauss who have been recognized as part of the American neoconservative movement include Daniel Bell, William F. Buckley Samuel Huntington, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Irving Kristol, Seymour Martin Lipset, Norman Podhoretz, and James Q. Wilson. Some critics, such as Anne Norton and especially Steven B. Smith, have argued that Strauss has been misunderstood as a founding father of the neoconservative movement, and that his work is somewhat more complicated and ambiguous than both his followers and opponents have acknowledged. For instance, Smith argues that there was in fact a hostile takeover (Reading Leo Strauss, 3) of Strausss

work by the neoconservative movement, and that Strauss was in fact a friend of liberal democracyone of the best friends democracy has ever had (ix). Norton stops short at defending Strauss as a liberal, but is careful to distinguish between Strausss students and his disciples, as well as what she calls Straussian genealogies and Straussian geographies, and offers the following disclaimer: I am sorry for the name Straussian because it implicates Strauss in views that were not always his own, but it is best to call people what they call themselves. Straussian is the name these disciples have taken. The Straussians have made a conscious and deliberate effort to shape politics and learning in the United States and abroad (Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire, 7). 28 According to Hans-Dietrich Sander, although there was never a direct connection between Brecht and Schmitt, Karl Korsch acted as an indirect liaison between the two. Korsch was a close friend of Brechts who communicated with Schmitt on several occasions. As Sander notes, Schmitt developed his own concept of Manahme in his political theory, and in his 1957 essay, Problem der Legalitt, he referred to the Gangster-Fhrer as a specifically Brechtian figure: Legality becomes a poisoned weapon with which to stab a political opponent in the back. After all, in Bert Brechts novel, the Gangster-Fhrer gives orders to his people: the job must be done strictly according to the law. This is where legality ends up as the language of gangsters. It had begun as a message from the goddess Reason (Sander, Die Massnahme, 146). See also Schmitt, Verfassungsrechtliche Aufstze aus den Jahren 19241954, 450. 29 Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, 2.3:1372 (April 21, 1930). Horst Bredekamp writes, Albert Salomon, Social Democrat and professor of political philosophy at the Deutsche Hochschule fr Politik in Berlinthe one who had encouraged Benjamin to send his Trauerspiel book to Schmittorganized a series of lectures called Problems of Democracy in the winter of 192930. Schmitt was one of the participants. Shortly

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thereafter, Benjamin had a long discussion with Bertolt Brecht, which he summarized in four words. In their highly emotional form, they embody Benjamins paradoxical proximity to Schmitt: Schmitt / Agreement Hate Suspicion (Bredekamp, From Walter Benjamin to Carl Schmitt, 266). 30 For an extended discussion of this key term in the work of both Brecht and Schmitt, see Mller-Schll, Wichtig zu lernen vor allem ist Einverstndnis. 31 32 33 Schmitt, Political Theology, 63. Ibid., 13. Ibid., 5.

about it, says Steff. My father and I talk about other things, then Steff says: It is 6. I ask: How did you come up with that? He says: through reflection. Me: Who told you that you need to reflect? No one, he says, I heard about reflection and saw that you rest your head on your shoulder and sit still and thats reflection. I have a funny way of reflecting, I always count like that a little bit. So, I say, a little bit of faking? Yeah, he laughs, a little bit. This cleverness, it comes from the brain, we only get it from the brain (Brecht, Werke, 26:292). 43 Jean-Luc Godard, in his 1995 film, JLG/JLG: Autoportrait de dcembre, offers a remarkably similar understanding of the dialectical relationship between art and culture: There is the rule. There is the exception. The rule is culture. Culture is a question of rules. It is part of the rules. Exception is a question of art. Everyone speaks the rule: cigarettes, computers, t-shirts, television, tourism, war (Godard, JLG/JLG, 16). For a thoughtful philosophical reflection on this remark, see Kaufman, Red Kant, 707. 44 Brecht, The Measures Taken and Other Lehrstcke, 14; Werke, 3:106. 45 Ibid., 29; Werke, 3:120.

34 Benjamin, Selected Writings, 4:392; ber den Begriff der Geschichte, 697. 35 Brecht, The Jewish Wife and Other Short Plays, 12425; Werke, 3:24647. 36 37 Ibid., 125; translation amended; Werke, 3:247. Ibid., 141; Werke, 3:258.

38 See Menke, The Untragic Hero: The Dialectical Lehrstck, in Tragic Play, 11524. 39 Brecht, The Measures Taken and Other Lehrstcke, 63; Werke, 3:59. Note that the English translation discussed here derives from the second version of Der Jasager rather than the first. 40 Ibid., 68; Werke, 3:64. 41 Ibid., 79; Werke, 3:71.

46 Ibid., 31; translation amended. Eure Manahme! / In den Zeiten uerster Verfolgung und der Verwirrung der Theorie / Zeichnen die Kmpfer das Schema der Lage / Abzuwgen Einsatz und Mglichkeit (Werke, 3:122). 47 Ibid., 34; Werke, 3:125.

42 At the very end of the 1920s, as he was embarking on his first Lehrstcke, Brecht wrote in his journal about the importance of reflection (Nachdenken) as a learning processand the role of performative deception or faking (Schwindel) that can go along with it. Discussing a warm moment with his young son Stefan, he recalled: 2 + 3 = 5, said Steff, and 2 + 2 = 4. How much, I asked, is 3 + 3? Wait a minute, I need to think

48 Hearings regarding the Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry, 49597. 49 The term Manahme appears to have been used by various political parties during this period, from the radical left to the radical right. In addition to Schmitts use of the term, many instances also appear throughout a 1933 booklet of Hitlers new laws, a copy of which Brecht owned in his library. One


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may speculate, however, that Brechts more literary and theatrical approach to the term was indebted to Shakespeare, as he owned more than one copy of Measure for Measure in his library. One of the German editions, translated as Ma fr Ma, was substantially underlined and marked up. 50 Bentley, Bertholt Brecht before the Committee on Un-American Activities, 6. 51 Benjamin, Understanding Brecht, 1067.

61 Bentley, Thirty Years of Treason, 22223; Brecht, Werke, 23:61. 62 The final version of Writing the Truth: Five Difficulties was published in German in April 1935. The English translation first appeared in the tenth anniversary issue of Twice a Year in 1948. See Brecht, Galileo, 133. 63 One of the more disturbing examples of the political repression of art in the United States in recent years is that of Steve Kurtz and the Critical Art Ensemble. For more on Kurtzs story, see Gregory Sholette, Disciplining the Avant-Garde and Lynn Hershman Leesons film, Strange Culture (2007), starring Tilda Swinton and Thomas Jay Ryan.

52 Bentley, Thirty Years of Treason, 221; Brecht, Werke, 23:59. 53 Brecht, Werke, 26:299.

54 Ibid., 27:62. The newspaper clipping appears with the following text: The back to the land movement is coming back to Southern California now that the Japanese have been evacuated from most of the agricultural country in this area and thousands of acres of rich soil have been left which native American farmers can cultivate without the former difficult competition. Martin Gifford, 26, is shown at left with his wife, Dee, and daughter, Wanda, as he applied for acreage before Howard Wilcox at the county coordinators office here. 55 Ibid., 23:61.

56 Brecht, Journals 19341955, 454 (August 20, 1953); Arbeitsjournal, 515. 57 58 See Clark, Hero or Villain? Brecht, Werke, 23:249.

59 Brecht, Journals 19341955, 455 (August 20, 1953); Arbeitsjournal, 515. 60 25 April 1930: Hamlet [?] / Sprechweise / Coriolan and 17 June 1931: Coriolan / Gesprch mit der Neher / Romeo und Juliet, in Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, 2.3:1372.

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Habermas, Jrgen. The Inclusion of the Other: Studies in Political Theory. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998. Hearings regarding the Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry. Testimony of Berthold Brecht, October 30, 1947, 491504. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1947. Jameson, Fredric. Brecht and Method. New York: Verso, 1998. Kahn, Victoria. Hamlet or Hecuba: Carl Schmitts Decision. Representations 83, no. 1 (2003): 6796. Kaufman, Robert. Red Kant, or the Persistence of the Third Critique in Adorno and Jameson. Critical Inquiry 26, no. 4 (2000): 682724. Levi, Neil. Carl Schmitt and the Question of the Aesthetic. New German Critique 34, no. 2 (2007): 2743. Menke, Christoph. Tragic Play: Irony and Theater From Sophocles to Beckett. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. Mouffe, Chantal, ed. The Challenge of Carl Schmitt. New York: Verso, 1999. Mller-Schll, Nikolaus. Der Eingriff ins Politische: Bert Brecht, Carl Schmitt und die Diktatur auf der Bhne. The Brecht Yearbook, 23 (1998): 11317. . Die Massnahme auf dem Boden einer unreinen Vernunft. In Massnehmen: Bertolt Brecht / Hanns Eislers Lehrstck Die Massnahme: Kontroverse, Perspektive, Praxis, edited by Inge Gellert et al., 23850. Berlin: Theater der Zeit, 1998. . Wichtig zu lernen vor allem ist Einverstndnis: Brecht zwischen Kafka und Carl Schmitt. MLN 119, no. 3 (2004): 50624. Norton, Anne. Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

Oba, Masaharu. Bertolt Brecht und das N-Theater: Das N-Theater im Kontext der Lehrstcke Brechts. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1984. Rokem, Freddie. Philosophers and Thespians: Thinking Performance. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010. Sander, Hans-Dietrich. Die Massnahme, rechtsphilosophisch betrachtet: Carl Schmitt Karl Korsch Bertolt Brecht. Deutsche Studien 17 (1979): 13554. Schivelbusch, Wolfgang. Sozialistisches Drama nach Brecht. Neuwied: Luchterhand, 1974. Schmitt, Carl. Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985. . Verfassungsrechtliche Aufstze aus den Jahren 19241954. Berlin: Duncker und Humblot, 1958. Scholette, Gregory. Disciplining the Avant-Garde: The United States versus The Critical Art Ensemble. NeMe (January 20, 2006); http://neme. org/318. Smith, Steven B. Reading Leo Strauss: Politics, Philosophy, Judaism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. Steinweg, Reiner, ed. Auf Anregung Bertolt Brechts: Lehrstcke mit Schlern, Arbeitern, Theaterleuten. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1978. , ed. Brechts Modell der Lehrstcke. Zeugnisse, Diskussion, Erfahrungen. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1976. . Das Lehrstck: Brechts Theorie einer politischsthetischen Erziehung. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1972. Szondi, Peter. Brechts Jasager und Neinsager. In Lektren und Lektionen: Versuche ber Literatur, Literaturtheorie und Literatursoziologie, 12533. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1973.

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Tatlow, Antony. Brechts Ost Asien. Berlin: Parthas, 1998. . The Mask of Evil: Brechts Response to the Poetry, Theatre and Thought of China and Japan. Bern: Peter Lang, 1977. Waley, Arthur. The N Plays of Japan. New York: Grove Press, 1967. Weber, Samuel. Taking Exception to Decision: Walter Benjamin and Carl Schmitt. diacritics 22, nos. 34 (1992): 518. Wizisla, Erdmut, ed. Bertolt Brecht 18981998: Und mein Werk ist der Abgesang des Jahrtausends. 22 Versuche, eine Arbeit zu beschrieben. Berlin: Ausstellung in der Akademie der Knste, 1998. . Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht: The Story of a Friendship. Translated by Christine Shuttleworth. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.


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Cdric Le Borgne, LES VOYAGEURS Durham, United Kingdom, 2011 Photo courtesy the artist