To Use Brecht Without Criticizing Him Is To Betray Him


II Kafka was among the themes discussed by Brecht and Benjamin in Svendborg. Between Benjamin’s lines arises the question as to whether Kafka’s parable is not more encompassing, whether it cannot contain more reality (and yield more) than does Brecht’s parable. And this, not despite but because of the fact that Kafka’s parable describes gestures without a reference system. It is not oriented toward a movement (praxis), it is not reduceable to a meaning, it is strange rather than estranging, without a moral. The landslides of recent history have done less damage to the model of the penal colony than to the ideal construction of the learning plays. The blindness of Kafka’s experience is evident enough for its authenticity. (Kafka’s view is a view into the sun. The inability to look history in the eye as the basis of politics.) Only the increasing pressure of authentic experience – assuming that it “rallies the masses” – develops the ability to look history in the eye. This alone can be the end of politics and the beginning of a history of humankind. The author is more clever than the allegory, the metaphor more clever than the author.
In a text about Elizabethan literature, Gertrude Stein locates its power in the rapid change of meaning in language. “Everything moves so much.” Meaning change is the barometer of the pressure of experience at the dawn of capitalism which begins to discover the world as market. The tempo of meaning change constitutes the primacy of the metaphor, which in turn serves as a blinder against the bombardment of images. “The pressure of experience forces language into poetry” (Elliot). The anxiety of metaphor is the anxiety of the internal dynamic of the material. The anxiety of tragedy is the anxiety of permanent revolution. Brecht’s effort at not understanding Kafka – or at least understanding him falsely – can be recognized in Benjamin’s protocol of the Svendborger conversations.

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