Brecht considered War Primer part of “a satisfactory literary report on my years in exile,” as he wrote in a 1944 journal entry. Since this first English language reception of War Primer on the centenary of Brecht’s birth in 1998, what are we now to make of his poignant modernist epic of four-liner lyrics and scrapbook photos? Today, in our post-crash era, with its renewal of Marxism, Brecht the formalist can be freed from a series of postmodern qualifications. War Primer’s historical intervention can be seen in a new way today. With the far right politically relevant again, Brecht’s image-by-image analysis of social democracy, America, and fascism, which is the veritable heart of War Primer, possesses fresh relevance.
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"I am a city still, but soon I shan’t be –
Where generations used to live and die
Before those deadly birds flew in to haunt me:
One thousand years to build. A fortnight to destroy."
Bertolt Brecht's War Primer is a terrifying series of short poems by one of the world’s leading playwrights, set to images of World War II.
Razmig Keucheyan's The Left Hemisphere: Mapping Critical Theory Today has recently appeared in its first Greek edition, published by Angelus Novus. Earlier this month, Keucheyan spoke with Tasos Tsakiroglou of Efimerida ton Syntakton about the book and contemporary critical theory — in the context of climate change, and in relation to recent European electoral contests, including the 2017 French presidential election.
In the panorama of the different critical theories that you analyze in your new book The Left Hemisphere, and despite their diversity, do you discern a common thread that unites them? and what is it?
Pessimism certainly is a common thread. None of these thinkers believes that overthrowing capitalism and replacing it with another, relatively better, system is an obvious possibility. Some of them believe it is not possible, and think “resistance” to power and “micropolitics” is our only option. This pessimism is a consequence of the tragic experiences of the 20th century, especially Stalinism.
This piece first appeared in LookLeft.
The statue of a Jewish Marxist intellectual in Budapest is being taken down, while at the same time, the statue of an anti-Semite fascist (Bálint Hóman) is being raised up. This is a deep insult to all those who fought against fascism. A trampling of history typically accompanies any fascist regime. One need only look at Spain under Franco, Greece under the Colonels, Brazil under Vargas and so on: a recurring trend is the revision of history and the expulsion of facts that don’t gel well with the predominant narrative.
Terry Eagleton has recently spoken on the idea of the ‘New University’ at Occupy Coleraine in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ulster. Eagleton argues for a new concept of the university, which will reinstate the importance of critical thinking and a humanistic education.
Traditionally, he argues, universities have been taken to cultivate and guard certain values, as ‘places of enquiry, free exploration, dispute, dialectic, investigation and above all critique’. However, that ‘long and honourable tradition’ of the university ‘is now almost dead at its feet’. He argues that we must set about the work of re-creating a space for the exploration of these values, as the space made for enquiry and critique is constantly being diminished in our society.
Eagleton criticizes what the university has become in contemporary society, arguing that ‘the production of knowledge’ has been fully incorporated into ‘the institutions of corporate capitalism’. These institutions have become incapable of valorizing ‘self-realisation’ or ‘self-development’ and education no longer serves a function of ‘critical dialogue’ but consists merely of the ‘production of mind factories which sell commodified bits of knowledge’ in the current ‘education system which is almost a complete technocracy’.
His idea for a “New University” is based on what he sees in occupations such as Occupy Coleraine. What the occupiers represent, he argues, is ‘the real university … the true idea of the university’. At the end of his talk, he extends his solidarity and tells the occupiers,
You are here to defend this space as symbolic of the very idea of education ... you are here to teach the philistines who run these institutions a vital lesson.