O great academics! Still, let’s search more diligently and not despair.

Augustine of Hippo

The highest thing would be to understand that all phenomena are already theory.


Brecht can be supremely useful to us—if we wish to think through and do something about the present catastrophic state of the world; and what is useful is his method. This is Fredric Jameson’s thesis in his pathbreaking book.footnote It is, I think, the most significant contribution to come out of the hullabaloo that was the 1998 Brecht centennial. But what does he mean by method?

One of Jameson’s formulations may provide a first springboard: ‘there existed a Brechtian “stance” [Haltung] which was not only doctrine, narrative, or style, but all three simultaneously; and ought better to be called, with all due precautions, “method”’.footnote1 This builds on, but considerably expands Lukács’s famous assertion in History and Class Consciousness that ‘orthodox Marxism . . . refers exclusively to method’—precisely because it adds the crucial factors of stance (involving the whole body) and narrative (involving a more than exclusively conceptual articulation of a possible world). But then I would like to ask: why is it necessary to stress that this is not simply doctrine? Clearly, doctrine as a set of tightly—as it were, ‘horizontally’—linked political-cum-philosophical concepts, unfalsifiable by any ‘vertical’ reference to the embodied situations from which they once sprang and to which—in any Brechtian (or Jamesonian) ‘meshing thought’ (eingreifendes denken)—they should be applied, has failed us in this century. We are now yoked to a victorious doctrine of ‘free trade’, that is a lie in its premises and a horror in its results. Its opposite, Leninism, was in some important aspects flawed when extrapolated west of Russia, was certainly abused within Russia itself, and is, in any case, inadequate to the physical and mental technologies of post-Fordism. What, then, is inheritable or transmissable from a socialist past, that includes not only many glories, but even whose worst errors contain indispensable lessons for the future? Where can we find ‘a place-keeper’ for what Jameson in a somewhat different context calls the ‘metaphysics’, but we may term the doctrines, ‘that have become impossible’?footnote2

In the case of Brecht, Jameson’s answer—taken by him as exemplary of the whole inheritance—is: method. But this is a conclusion arrived at with a rich intricacy that requires us to discuss at least a few of the key foci ‘to be read into, or read out of’ a complex argument (as Brecht said about Coriolanus). Its crucial links have to do with what Brecht may mean to us today, and why the answer is significant beyond literary or theatre discussions. These two issues come together in the question: what is the social and indeed class locus from which, and to which, Brecht speaks? In whose name or names, and then to whom, could he—or did he—speak? After considering these matters (other important ones—Brecht and the subject, Brecht and modernism, sympathy vs. empathy, the ‘representability of capitalism’—must be slighted), I will return to see what illumination we may derive from Brecht’s and Jameson’s ‘method’.