Sunday, 19 July 2009

Jack London's writings

Why Socialism ? by Albert Einstein

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Brecht on Epic Theatre

Above all things that theatre was and what he wanted theatre to be, Brecht believed that the theatre's broadest function was to educate. "It is the noblest function that we have found for 'theatre'".

Brecht wanted the answer to Lenin’s question ‘Wie und was soll man lernen?’ ('How and what should one learn?'). He created an influential theory of theatre, the epic theatre, wherein a play should not cause the spectator to emotionally identify with the action before him or her, but should instead provoke rational self-reflection and a critical view of the actions on the stage. He believed that the experience of a climactic catharsis of emotion left an audience complacent. Instead, he wanted his audiences to use this critical perspective to identify social ills at work in the world and be moved to go forth from the theatre and effect change.

Hans Eisler has noted that these plays resemble political seminars[citation needed]. Brecht described them as "a collective political meeting" in which the audience is to participate actively. One sees in this model a rejection of the concept of the bureaucratic elite party where the politicians are to issue directives and control the behaviour of the masses.

For this purpose, Brecht employed the use of techniques that remind the spectator that the play is a representation of reality and not reality itself, which he called the Verfremdungseffekt (translated as distancing effect, estrangement effect, or alienation effect). Such techniques included the direct address by actors to the audience, transposition of text to third person or past tense, speaking the stage direction out loud, exaggerated, unnatural stage lighting, the use of song, and explanatory placards.[61] By highlighting the constructed nature of the theatrical event, Brecht hoped to communicate that the audience's reality was, in fact a construction and, as such, was changeable.

Another technique that Brecht employed to achieve his Verfremdungseffekt was the principle of historicisation. The content of many of his plays dealt with fictional tellings of historical figures or events. His idea was that if one were to tell a story from a time that is contemporary to an audience, they may not be able to maintain the critical perspective he hoped to achieve. Instead, he focused on historical stories that had parallel themes to the social ills he was hoping to illuminate in his own time. He hoped that, in viewing these historical stories from a critical perspective, the contemporary issues Brecht was addressing would be illuminated to the audience.

In one of his first productions, Brecht famously put up signs that said "Glotzt nicht so romantisch!" ("Don't stare so romantically!"). His manner of stagecraft has proven both fruitful and confusing to those who try to produce his works or works in his style. His theory of theatre has heavily influenced modern theatre. Some of his innovations have become so common that they've entered the theatrical canon.

Although Brecht's work and ideas about theatre are generally thought of as belonging to modernism, there is recent thought that he is the forerunner of contemporary postmodern theatre practice.

This is particularly so because he questioned and dissolved many of the accepted practices of the theatre of his time and created a political theatre that involved the audience in understanding its meaning. Moreover, he was one of the first theatre practitioners to incorporate multimedia into the semiotics of theatre

The birth of Brecht's theories, centering around his writing of Baal and In the Jungle of Cities, was the core of the plot of the play The Concrete Girl by Bertolt Brecht written by Josh Morrall and Simon Farid. Set in 1921, when Brecht was 23, the short play featured an actor portraying Brecht on stage as a tortured, young, famine stricken writer, recently arrived in Berlin. In order to inspire himself to finish a play he is writing (the fictitious, supposedly 'lost' play The Concrete Girl) Brecht summons Frank Wedekind from his grave. Brecht hopes Wedekind will aid him in the writing of the play, but is ultimately left feeling discouraged, and burns the work, setting the tone for his early theory and later works.

The Real Spartacus

Slaves and fighters

In Spartacus's time, the Roman republic was entering a period of turmoil which would end with the rule of the Caesars. Roman territories were expanding east and west; ambitious generals could make a name fighting in Spain or Macedonia, then carve out a political career in Rome. Rome was a militaristic society: battles were staged in the newly popular sport of gladiatorial combat. While successful gladiators were idolised, in terms of social status they ranked little above convicts; indeed, some gladiators were convicted criminals.

Others were slaves. Slavery accounted for roughly every third person in Italy. It was an increasingly slave based economy. Slaves were liable to extreme and arbitrary punishment from their owners; while the death penalty for free Romans was rarely invoked (and humanely executed), slaves were routinely crucified. In the previous century, two slave revolts, both on Sicily, had been put down at the cost of tens of thousands of lives.

Gladiators and rebels

Spartacus was a native of Thrace (now Bulgaria). After joining the Roman invaders as a mercenary, he was enslaved and sold at auction to a trainer of gladiators in Capua. In 73BC, Spartacus led a revolt of 74 gladiators, who escaped and fled to the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, where they set up camp.

Rome's response was swift and forceful: an army of 3,000 was sent to suppress the rebellion. Meanwhile, Spartacus's camp had become a magnet for slaves from the surrounding area, several thousand of whom joined him. In an impressive tactical coup, he defeated the Roman army by abseiling his forces down the side of the mountain during the night and attacking from behind. A second army was sent out, numbering 6,000 and bearing the fasces, the symbol of Roman authority. This too was defeated. Spartacus captured the symbolic fasces- ac act dramatised in the Kubrick film.

Spartacus's army spent the winter of 73BC camped on the south coast of Italy, building up its armaments and morale. In spring, it headed north; the audacious plan was to march the length of Italy, cross the Alps and escape to Gaul (present-day France, then largely outside Roman control). Two armies were sent to intercept it, and both were defeated.

But Rome scored one victory, defeating a Gaulish contingent which had refused to march under Spartacus's leadership; 20,000 Gauls were killed. In honour of the Gaulish leader Crixus, Spartacus held funeral games, including gladiatorial combat between captured Roman soldiers.

Winners and losers

At Mutina (Modena), Spartacus faced his greatest challenge: an army of two legions – 10,000 men – commanded by Cassius Longinus, the Governor of Cisalpine Gaul (Piedmonte). The army was massacred; Spartacus seemed invincible.

Then the plan changed. Perhaps drawn by Italian plunder, perhaps put off by the logistics of getting an army across the Alps, or perhaps even a sense of invincibility amongst the rank and file, Spartacus turned back: his army once more marched the length of Italy, repulsing an attack by two legions under the command of Licinius Crassus. By the end of 72BC, the army was encamped in the south, this time at hegium (Reggio Calabria) on the Strait of Messina: a few kilometres from Sicily, homeland of the previous slave revolts.

But events were no longer moving Spartacus's way. Crassus, a wealthy and ambitious Roman politician, built up his forces. For reasons which are unclear, Spartacus proved no more able to cross the Strait of Messina than the Alps. Seeing Spartacus trapped, Crassus built fortifications, which contained the rebels in the peninsula.
After a small skirmish, Spartacus had a Roman prisoner crucified, in sight and earshot of the Roman army. Spartacus had continually subverted a Roman Ideology that perceived slaves to be unintelligent.

The crucifixion served the double purpose of warning his own men of their potential fate if they lost This new transgression was the final provocation for the Romans. Two Roman generals were recalled, Pompey from Spain and Lucullus from northern Turkey. Spartacus carried out one final coup, breaching Crassus's impregnable wall and making for the port of Brundisium (Brindisi), where Lucullus's army was landing. In the event, Spartacus's army was intercepted and trounced by Crassus. Crassus was keen for the glory of victory in his competition for power with Pompey.

Myth and reality

Contrary to the celebrated sequence in Stanley Kubrick's 1960 film, Spartacus, the survivors of the battle were never asked to identify Spartacus; he had died on the battlefield cut down trying to reach Crassus. . The subsequent mass crucifixion scene, however, is historically accurate: Crassus had 6,000 men crucified along the Appian Way between Capua and Rome – a distance of about 200 kilometres.

Spartacus was a brilliant battlefield tactician with an eye for the defiant gesture. ( Before one battle he had killed his beloved white horse in front of his army saying that if they won he could pick any horse from the Romans he wanted and if they lost , then it didn’t matter as they would all be crucified anyway) Little united his army except the goal of continuing survival. Internal dissent and sheer confusion sealed its fate as surely as Rome’s superior forces . The revolts took place at a time when conditions made success virtually impossible.

Nevertheless, the legend of Spartacus lived on. For the Romans, the story of the slave revolt was an awful warning: it suggested that a society built on the backs of slaves and subject peoples might one day be overthrown by them. Four centuries later, this is exactly what happened, and Rome fell to the 'Barbarians'.

Peter Burton- July 2009- Info from the documentary “The Real Spartacus “