Bertolt Brecht: Becoming World Literature

Having started his career as something of a cultural pirate, Brecht later embarked upon a more serious engagement with a wide range of both ‘Western’ and ‘non-Western’ cultures. This interest was variously motivated, by his literary ambition and also by his (internationalist) politics. He became interested in translation and cultural mediation. If we look again at his own work through these aspects – I shall be considering some poems and The Caucasian Chalk Circle – we discover, especially in his American years (1941-47), an extraordinarily wide-roaming work that can be read, in the midst of the Second World War, as a reflection on the condition of existing within or between the cultures. It is fitting that this take on cultural geography should have developed in the mind of a refugee. It was only in anti-Nazi exile that Brecht developed his notion of Verfremdung, which hereby acquires a new twist.

Tom Kuhn’s main research interests are in political literature in the 20th century. He has worked particularly on Bertolt Brecht, and is the series editor of the main English-language edition of Brecht’s works. In addition, he has written on exile and anti-fascist literature, and on more recent drama. He is currently working on a major project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, ‘Writing Brecht/Brecht into English,’ on the cultural transmission of Brecht. Outputs will include several major new publications of Brecht’s work in English. He is also working on a book on Brecht’s use of visual art and other pictorial material.

Following his lecture, on Friday, April 3 from 10am – noon, Tom Kuhn will lead a seminar titled “Brecht’s Theater and Poetry.”