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New Left Review 57, May-June 2009


ROBERTO SCHWARZ

BRECHT’S RELEVANCE: HIGHS AND LOWS

No one’s to blame for crises!
Over us, changeless and inscrutable, rule
The laws of economics.
And natural catastrophes recur
In dreadful cycles.

Bertolt Brecht, Saint Joan of the Stockyards

How relevant is Brecht today? Put another way: how severely has the closure of capitalist horizons affected the unique combination of political convictions, aesthetic theses and literary methods that compose the texture of his art? The foregrounding of artistic artifice was a general method of the avant-garde, of course, part of its determination to tear away the sanctifying veil of aesthetic form by attacking reverential attitudes, de-automatizing the audience’s attention, dulled by habit, or highlighting the material aspect of the artist’s work, to align it with other forms of production. All of these dimensions existed in the Brechtian method, yet there they also underwent a change of purpose through being directly inscribed within the turn from capitalism to communism.

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Roberto Schwarz, ‘Brecht's Relevance: Highs and Lows’, NLR 57: £3
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