Rehearsing Failure — Brecht’s America
America became a driving force in Brecht’s artistic production in at least two ways: as an imaginary place and as a real and material site. The “Three Penny Opera”, “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” or “Saint Joan of the Stockyards”, on the one hand, are explorations of an imagined America, “Life of Galileo” (second version) or his film scripts from the 40s, on the other—written during Brecht’s American exile—are marked by Brecht’s experience of the “real place”.
This research collaborative departs from the assumption that “America”, in these two forms—real and imaginary—fundamentally determined what is nowadays understood as “Brechtian”. We will bring together faculty and students from German Studies, Theater Arts, professional actors and scholars from across the university to render visible what could be understood as the “ghostly presence” of America. “Ghostly” because we do not look for American themes, real events or persons, but for “America” as a site whose imagined and real presence is only traceable through its effects: it “induced” artistic failures, namely a failure of narration and a failure of authorship.
Our research collaborative is situated at the intersection of academic research and embodied artistic forms of exploration. We will make a forgotten Brecht fragment: “Jae Fleischhacker in Chikago” (1924-1929) accessible to a scholarly audience and the public at large. It had its world premier only in 1998 and has never been translated. We revisit or rather, take a new look at Brecht’s workshop, it’s logic, driving forces and accomplishments, that is, we detach it tentatively from the common perspectives of copyright or moral deceit. We do so by exploring and putting to a test the very models of collectivity and interdisciplinary that we claim to be Brecht’s secret legacy. Finally, with our focus on failure of narration and authorship we are able to address a much broader and—in view of contemporary economic crises—very timely question, namely that of “representation”. Put differently, we indulge into a quest for models, forms of description and analysis that do justice to the complexities of the world and can render them comprehensible.