The relationship between philosopher-critic Walter Benjamin and playwright-poet Bertolt Brecht was both a lasting friendship and a powerful intellectual partnership. Having met in the late 1920s in Germany, Benjamin and Brecht both independently minded Marxists with a deep understanding of and passionate commitment to the emancipatory potential of cultural practices continued to discuss, argue and correspond on topics as varied as Fascism and the work of Franz Kafka. Faced by the onset of the 'midnight of the century', with the Nazi subversion of the Weimar Republic in Germany and the Stalinist degeneration of the revolution in Russia, both men, in their own way, strove to keep alive the tradition of dialectical critique of the existing order and radical intervention in the world to transform it. In Understanding Brecht we find collected together Benjamin's most sensitive and probing writing on the dramatic and poetic work of his friend and tutor. Stimulated by Brecht's oeuvre and theorising his particular dramatic techniques - such as the famous 'estrangement effect' - Benjamin developed his own ideas about the role of art and the artist in crisis-ridden society.
This volume contains Benjamin's introductions to Brecht's theory or epic theatre and close textual analyses of twelve poems by Brecht (printed in translation here) which exemplify Benjamin's insistence that literary form and content are indivisible. Elsewhere Benjamin discusses the plays The Mother, Terror and misery of the Third Reich, and The Threepenny Opera, digressing for some general remarks on Marx and satire. Here we also find Benjamin's masterful essay "The Author as Producer" as well as an extract from his diaries that records the intense conversations held in the late 1930s in Denmark (Brecht's place of exile) between the two most important cultural theorists of this century. In these discussions, the two men talked of subjects as diverse as the work of Franz Kafka, the unfolding Soviet Trials, and the problems of literary work on the edge of international war.
Walter Benjamin was born in Germany in 1892 and died in Spain in 1940. he studied philosophy and literature in Berlin, Freiberg, Munich and Bern. After the First World War he worked as a freelance critic and translator, notably of Baudelaire and Proust. He moved to Paris to escape the Nazi take-over and committed suicide in September 1940 whilst attempting to escape from Occupied France to Spain. He was a friend of figures such as Theodor Adorno, Bertolt Brecht, Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem. His other books include Illuminations: Essays and Reflections (1968), Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings (1978), Moscow Diary (1986) and, published by Verso, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism (1973), The Origin of German Tragic Drama (1977) and One-Way Street (1979). For biographical details, see Walter Benjamin. A Biography by Momme Broderson (Verso 1996).