An anarchist aesthetics of education in Bertolt Brecht's gestic theatre

Frimberger, Katja (2022) An anarchist aesthetics of education in Bertolt Brecht's gestic theatre. In: International Network of Philosophers of Education (INPE) Conference 2022, 2022-08-16 - 2022-08-20, Aarhus University.

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This paper explores Bertolt Brecht’s view of the relationship between education and the theatre, with particular reference to his notion of the Verfemdungseffekt and gestus. Epic theatre aims to educate its audience into a form of critical, practical curiosity about the world. Positioning his theatre as being anti-Aristotelian, Brecht seeks to not only make social reality recognisable in the theatre. He wishes to render possible (through the V-effekt aesthetic) the observation of the social and aesthetic processes, which bring forth what we name our reality. I will show that Brecht’s pedagogical intention pivots around his (rather Aristotelian) view that pleasure resides at the heart of the theatrical mimetic task. This is a pleasure that does not however emerge from Aristotelian identification, but instead from theatre’s pedagogical task. Brechtian theatre wishes to make observable the coming-into-meaning of our ideas about, and representations of, the world. As a form of concept-making, theatre is hereby called to not erase individual experience in the name of representing higher ideals. Theatre is tasked instead to not obscure the uneasy congruence between the individual’s experience of the world and its ideal presentation (in the metaphors of art, science). The artist is to acknowledge this theory-practice connection in the imitations of the world that s/he creates, as well as in her/his conduct towards the audience. Theatre is not to aim to ‘govern’ the audience through its images by instructing them into a worldview. It is to position people’s innate capacity to reason and govern themselves at the heart of theatrical mimesis. The V-effekt acts hereby as an aesthetic pedagogy that is to forestall Aristotelian catharsis, and with that, the act of instruction into a fixed image of the world. The ‘dialectic (non-Aristotelian) theatre’ is to instead heighten the contradictions of a mimetic work that creates as much as it represents things, people and actions. As a consequence, the theatre leaves a productive, pedagogic gap that can only be ‘closed’ by the audience’s own consideration as to the truth of what is presented to them on stage. In other words, the pedagogical act is not to be fully controlled by the artist. Brecht’s somewhat anarchist educational tendency is hereby revealed in his concern with the artist’s role in creating the conditions for social virtues and human propensities to flourish. Attending to the productive conditions specific to the theatre, the artist is to care for its ultimately ‘superfluous’ creation of metaphors about human actions. Drawing on Brecht’s Me-ti texts (and editor Antony Tatlow’s editorial comments), I will also show how Brecht’s concern with the interdependent relationship between theory and practice echoes his own examination of the Marxist-Leninist doctrinal distinction between idealism and materialism. This includes its materialism’s assumption that the individual’s consciousness simple reflects matter (as ‘real being’), but cannot shape (or question) it. As a last step in the paper, I will look at actress Helene Weigel’s gestic acting in her role as Mother Courage. Her gestus of showing the complex process of Courage’s (self-)formation, productively illustrates Brecht’s pedagogical concern. The modern theatre is to not obscure, but make observable in mimesis, the ‘critical dialectical’ relationship between an individual’s conscious experience, their actions in the world, and the material circumstances they live in.