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Saturday, 21 December 2013

Bertolt Brecht: Why Should My Name Be Mentioned?


哈尔滨松花江. Despite heavy smog there is a lot of life on the frozen Songhua River, Harbin, China: photo by SinoLaZZeR, 23 November 2013

Once I thought: in distant times 
When the buildings have collapsed in which I live
And the ships have rotted in which I travelled
My name will still be mentioned
With others.

Because I praised the useful, which In my day was considered base 
Because I battled against all religions
Because I fought oppression or
For another reason.

Because I was for people and
Entrusted everything to them, thereby honoring them  
Because I wrote verses and enriched the language 
Because I taught practical behaviour or
For some other reason.

Therefore I thought my name would still be
Mentioned; on a stone 
My name would stand; from books
It would get printed into the new books.


But today
I accept that it will be forgotten.  
Should the baker be asked for if there is enough bread?
Should the snow be praised that has melted
If new snowfalls are impending?
Should there be a past if 
There is a future?

Should my name be mentioned?

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956): Why Should My Name Be Mentioned? (Warum soll mein Name gennant werden?), 1936, translated by Robert Conard in Poems 1913-1956 (1976)

dock at dusk (Hikone, Lake Biwa): photo by Stephen Cairns, 16 September 2013


ACravan said...

The pictures you've chosen are really terrific, both on their own and in their juxtaposition with each other and the very clarifying Brecht poem, which reminds me a little of that scene at Graceland in Spinal Tap where the band concludes that the visit to Elvis's grave puts things into a little too much perspective. Tonight's struggles with Blogger (Blogger won) make the predictable certainty of complete personal obscurity seem as much an available wise choice as an inevitable event. This also seems strangely on point. Curtis

TC said...

Curtis, yes, it was a bit disheartening there for a while, some years back, when it sunk in that, to use Brecht's metaphor, blog posts have a strange way of disappearing like melting snow.

From the background, in the direction of the vacuum cleaning operation, the echo of the chorus: "... and to think of all the work you put in on your ___ posts..."

But details are odious, and pointing things out is vulgar, as our moms always told us in the toy department of Marshall Field's just before Christmas -- when not only the red-faced Santas but the equally florid Paddy O'Cinnamons seemed several sheets to the wind as they winked at our helpful moms while we wee lads sat on their capacious Santa laps and uttered our deepest toy wishes into their beards... which, the closer one got, seemed more and more like the nests of small fetid rodents.

But those days are gone alas (or fortunately). And here we are, bloggers. And everybody knows that bloggers are Nobodies.

If not, why would they be blogging, for heaven's sake.

On another note... it has to be admitted that if it weren't for bloggers, certain interesting experiences, offered at a price no one could ever refuse, would never be had by many, including all of us here. Where else, for instance, could one see that great top shot of smogbound icelocked Harbin in the Breughelesque winter blunderland of a period in history which will be gone by early next week?

But did he just say "...all of us here?" Wouldn't "both" have been more accurate?

Hazen said...

Oh, this is great. We thank you, who straggle to the table for the meal you prepare every day—a soup kitchen for the soul. Your and Curtis’ comments were good for some additional smiles this ayem.

The subtle grey contours of mountains on the horizon in the second photo do it for me. Horizons have taken on importance these days, seem nearer now.

ACravan said...

And when I finally fell asleep after finishing my blog and visiting Harbin (wow), I had what are commonly described as "strange dreams" featuring just about everyone in that Harbin shot and various former work colleagues whom I hadn't seen in 15 years at least, who looked remarkably well and seemed reasonably glad to see me. Paddy O'Cinnamons? We didn't have them in our parts, but I get the picture. Yesterday evening driving through Manhattan it seemed that a number of landmark locations, places that were never supposed to change or move are all changing and moving. Caroline's childhood Christmas department store was John Wanamaker's in Philadelphia. Vanished, transformed, tarnished. You really can't go home again. Curtis

manik sharma said...


"If not, why would they be blogging, for heaven's sake." I did stutter there a bit, while reading..I would however, like to believe that being nobodies ,doing nothing is still better than being somebody , and doing here we are on either side of this digital sea-saw..and thank heaven's for this for i do not like the other toys people play with,nor the things they have to talk about.. It is uneasy, to accept(personally) that people I usually share my breathing space with,provide very little conversational comfort or intrigue..Wishing you all a happy festive period ahead..

kent said...

No, dear Tom, all of us are here.

TC said...

Yes, the horizons are nearer now.

And here we are, huddled together, shivering, our little brethren -- all for one and one for all.

"He ain't heavy, he's my brother".

Brecht wrote this poem in a cold frozen place, at about the same latitude (c. 55 degrees N) as Harbin.

On 28 February 1933, the day after the Reichstag Fire, Brecht, with Helene Weigel and his son Stefan, fled Berlin for Prague, whence they continued on to Vienna, Lugano, Paris, before settling in Skovbostrand near Svendborg, on the island of Fünen, Denmark. There Brecht bought a house, where he resided in exile for the next seven years. This poem is a product of those years of exile.

Brecht's work of this period bears examination by those curious about possible parallels between life under the political and social conditions prevailing in 1930s Germany and life in the contemporary surveillance state. Of particular interest, for those who haven't read it, is the 1938 play Furcht und Elend des Dritten Reiches, variously rendered into English as Fear and Misery of the Third Reich or The Private Life of the Master Race. Fear, social suspicion, inauthenticity elevated to the scale of mass hallucination, and the paralytic effect terror works on the mind -- Brecht's themes here feel eerily familiar. The "play" is actually a series of parabolic playlets, on these themes. In one playlet titled The Sermon on the Mount, a pastor must try to comfort a dying man, but cannot respond honestly to the man's questions without putting himself at risk. In another, titled The Motto, a boy at a Hitler Youth Meeting is chastised for his failure to learn the prescribed motto, "beat stab shoot them till they fall", and is accused of instead surreptitiously learning "something different at home." In a third playlet, The Spy, parents are caught up in a state of panic when their son disappears after they have been quarreling; the parents are convinced their son has gone out to betray them, and is even at the moment "handing them over" to the SA; when the innocent son returns with the sweets he has gone out to get, their distrust is not dispelled. It is part of a mass epidemic.

ACravan said...

The Furcht und Elend playlets each sound extraordinary and, although extreme in situation, totally plausible. Curtis

Hazen said...

Your comments Tom, about Brecht writing The Private Life of the Master Race, were moving, and moved me to do some searching on the internet. I found this downloadable PDF of the plays, in case anyone is interested:

TC said...

Good to hear we're sharing the fireside reading.

Hazen, thanks (for the millionth time) for your excellent services for the cause.

Here's that link done up in in the code language of the new master race:

Brecht: Fear and Misery of the Third Reich aka The Private Life of the Master Race

Wooden Boy said...

When you consider this as a work of exile, of displacement, it turns the colour of melancholy.

I'm always taken aback when coming across those moments of stillness in Brecht's writing (not that this is any less politically driven).

TC said...

It does shrink into silence, at the end.

The ironies are difficult to miss, though.

His name is not forgotten, at least in this small community of the exiled.