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“To be or not to be”:The Terror (Un-)Masked and the Dialectics of Form and Content in Bertolt Brecht's The Measure Taken

By Hsin-fa Wu

Abstract

The dramatic form of Bertolt Brecht’s The Measures Taken as a learning play and its thematic content of advocating the absolute priority of the collective at the price of the individual have long received much attention from critics, but the dialectical relationship between its form and content, between its extensive use of mask and the agitators’ bodily enactment, still remains unexplored. It is thus the purpose of this paper to offer a detailed account of such a dialectical relation between the two in the light of Hegelian assertion that in works of art these seeming extremes have their absolute correlation and reverse into one another. In The Measures Taken as a whole, the thematic content, the ABC of Communism, is furiously called into question and finally subverted by its dramatic form, which turns out to be the “precipitated content” of the play proper. The ideological demand of the individual’s sacrifice, like the erasure of the body by the mask, naturally evokes a perturbed feeling of uncanniness and terror. Put in the light of Hegelian “reconciliation,” we may well infer that, if the mask’s concealing the body is a negation and denial of the individual in favour of the collective, then the Brechtian Gestus of the Young Comrade’s death in the form of the agitator-actor’s tearing off the mask and then becoming a voice without the body certainly manifests itself as a negation of negation, which, according to Žižek, would affirm the differences between rather than the identity of the mask and the body. What is to be learned, so to speak, is neither the Young Comrade’s revolutionary passion to sacrifice himself nor the priority of “the teachings of the classics,” but the four agitator-actors’ aloofness in their role-playing, the indispensable necessity of the mask for the sake of bodily survival both onstage and offstage. We only attain the level of proper dialectical analysis of a form when we conceive a certain formal procedure not as expressing a certain aspect of the (narrative) content, but as marking or signalling that part of the content is excluded from the explicit narrative form, so that – and herein resides the proper theoretical point – if we want to reconstruct “all” of the narrative content, we must reach beyond the explicit narrative content as such and include those formal features which act as a stand-in for the “repressed” aspect of the content. (Slavoj Žižek, Less Than Nothing 306) The point of great art is to reveal existence – including its uncanniness – and ultimately it does this through revealing the limits of art to reveal. Art should reveal that death is more than any artist can reveal through performing. (Bruce Wilshire, Role Playing and Identity 268

Topics: Brecht, Zizek, The Measures Taken, dialectics, form and content, body, mask, terror, role-playing
Publisher: 臺中市:國立中興大學外國語文學系
Year: 2014
OAI identifier: oai:ir.lib.nchu.edu.tw:11455/84597
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