Academic journal article Consciousness, Literature & the Arts

Chapter 6: Brecht's Dialectics of Enlightenment

Academic journal article Consciousness, Literature & the Arts

Chapter 6: Brecht's Dialectics of Enlightenment

Article excerpt

"Eppur si muove"

6.1 Introduction

In Chapter 2, we saw that Brecht was attempting to set the necessary preconditions for revolution. Specifically he was attempting to foster the class consciousness of the proletariat which would allow them to overthrow their exploiters. However, in order to change the consciousness of the working class certain obstacles had to be overcome. The main obstacles, for Brecht, are the natural and totalizing appearance of the dominant worldview. In Chapter 3, we saw how Brecht sought to alter Aristotelian narrative structure in his epic plays. Brecht's alteration of Aristotelian narrative structure challenged the naturalness of this form and exposed it as reified. By extension this move opened the door to expose other reified social relations and introduced the argument that they too were alterable. In this, Brecht "show[s] us mankind's world/ as it really is: made by men and open to alteration" (Brecht, et. al. 1979: 234).

In Chapter 4, it was argued that Brecht's epic theatre attempts a certain eidetic reduction. This reduction was an effort to remove the object outside of its place in the schema of bourgeois ideology. By removing the object from a schema which claims totality, Brecht's dramaturgy is meant to reveal contradictions like the one we saw in the last chapter. Theoretically the exposure of contradiction does two things in Brecht's philosophy. First, it undermines the totalizing claims of bourgeois ideology and secondly, it allows the object to be placed in the truly rational (i.e. dialectical) context. By contradicting the claims of unity and nature found in the dominant worldview, Brecht works to undermine the faith one has in that worldview and at the same time offers a new one-what he sees as a pure, totally rational one, dialectics.

As we have seen in Chapter 4 and will see from our discussion on Galileo, Brecht attempts to disrupt one's worldview by creating what he sees as a sort of Cartesian doubt. 1 That is, this disruption is predicated on the calling into question of the existing schema of understanding. Not only does Brecht see this as the foundation for the emancipation of the working class; he also sees this impulse at the heart of the bourgeoisie's historical emancipation from the feudal aristocracy and princely classes. However, doubt in one's Weltanschauung is not enough to move one from the realm of ideology, according to Brecht. One must also have the proper tools of perception. For Brecht, this necessarily means the use of dialectics-the discovery of which Brecht likens to a sort of technological advancement that offers the possibility of complete reconciliation between truth and illusion. Just as the telescope allowed Galileo to contradict the Ptolemaic worldview, dialectics allow one to contradict the bourgeois worldview. In Brecht's mind, history has progressed by means of this type of technological advancement. With technological advancements humankind has been able to further reconcile theory with praxis and as the movement toward clarity progresses, humanity has also been eliminating the chains of domination permitted by ideology. Each technological advance can be, in essence, a weapon which emerging classes may employ toward emancipation, in the war against ideology. Dialectics was such an important technological advancement for Brecht that he states "plays, especially with an historical content, cannot be written intelligently in any other framework" (Journals: 372) [1947].

In Galileo, Brecht displays a model of the bourgeois revolution or at least the beginnings of it. In doing so he outlines his own dialectic of enlightenment which is founded on his version of historical materialism. From this several things emerge. First, Brecht sees a Cartesian form of doubt as the impetus behind the Enlightenment and that this type of doubt is a necessary precondition to the altering of Weltanschauung and thus to class consciousness and revolution. …

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