BERTOLT BRECHT: A literary life

6cdea320-22d9-11e4_1087716hMichael Hofmann at the Times Literary Supplement:

All his life Brecht had an instinctive originality that may once upon a time have been contrived in the form of a conscious and perverse style, but again maybe wasn’t: I tend to suspect it was always in him. This underwrites numerous remarks and positions of effortless carry and suggestion, whether he is discussing desirable qualities in acting (“Witty. Ceremonious. Ritual.”) or, in another, equally dazzling collocation, noting that “I keep coming back to the fact that the essence of art is simplicity, grandeur and sensitivity, and that of its form coolness”. In thirty years of translating, I have known nothing like the feeling of a joyfully manipulative intelligence I had when working on the wedding scene in The Good Person of Sichuan. Aesthetic assumptions are confounded wholesale by Brecht, whether it is an unhesitating, dumbfounding rejection of depth (“Depth takes you no further. Depth is a dimension of its own, just depth – which is why nothing comes to light in it”), or naturalism (imagining a possible play on a nineteenth- century slave rebellion, Brecht wanted the slaves speaking standard English, no questions asked) or entertainment (following The Threepenny Operaof 1928, “he would never again allow his audience to enjoy themselves in such an unfettered way”) or metaphysics (“For Brecht, militant opposition to metaphysics was an article of faith”). His favourite book – although he said, “Don’t laugh”, was the Bible. He was uninterested in personal matters.

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