Brecht 101 (NPM, 4.15.22)

Dear Ruthie,

Have you ever read Brecht?

He was one of my influences —I stole a couple of lines from “A Worker Reads History” and used them at the end of “A Mindful Rant for the P.M. and Co.” in We Inter-Are.   

I’ve included a couple of my  pieces after the Brecht poems.

I admit it, I imitated him, which reminds me of a book I think you would enjoy, Scott Newstok’s How to Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons from a  Renaissance Education

Bertolt Brecht
A Worker Reads History

Who built the seven gates of Thebes?
The books are filled with names of kings.
Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?
And Babylon, so many times destroyed.
Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima’s houses,
That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?
In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished
Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome
Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Byzantium lives in song.
Were all her dwellings palaces? And even in Atlantis of the legend
The night the seas rushed in,
The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.

Young Alexander conquered India.
He alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Was there not even a cook in his army?
Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet
was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears?
Frederick the Greek triumphed in the Seven Years War.
Who triumphed with him?

Each page a victory
At whose expense the victory ball?
Every ten years a great man,
Who paid the piper?

So many particulars.
So many questions. 

Bertolt Brecht
General, Your Tank is a Powerful Vehicle

General, your tank is a powerful vehicle 
It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men.
But it has one defect:
It needs a driver.

General, your bomber is powerful.
It flies faster than a storm and carries more than an elephant.
But it has one defect:
It needs a mechanic.

General, man is very useful.
He can fly and he can kill.
But he has one defect:
He can think.

Bertolt Brecht

When the Russians had got as far as Spandau
Strizzi began to fear the noose
And he decided to take that last corner and end it all; but first
There was, he felt, a certain item of lawful business
That had to be enacted. So he appointed
In his capacity as Führer and Chancellor
Some odd-bod to be registrar and, in proper form, he wed
His mistress of so many years. A faithful SS man
Ran through the hail of shells in search of a rubber stamp. Thus
The mass murderer demonstrated his deep respect
For bourgeois custom and the law.

Bertolt Brecht
Praise of Learning

Learn the simplest things! For you
whose time has already come
it is never too late!
Learn your A B C’s, it is not enough,
but learn them! Do not let it discourage you,
begin! You must know everything!
You must lake over the leadership!

Learn, man in the asylum!
Learn, man in the prison!
Learn, woman in the kitchen!
Learn, man of sixty! 
You must take over the leadership.

Seek out the school, you who are homeless!
Sharpen your wits, you who shiver!
Hungry man, reach for the book: it is a weapon.
You must take over the leadership.

Don’t be afraid  of asking, brother!
Don’t be won over,
see for yourself!
What you do not know yourself,
you don’t know.
Add up the reckoning.
It’s you who must pay it.
Put your finger on each item,
ask: how did this get there ?
You must take over the leadership.

Bertolt Brecht
When the Leaders Speak of Peace

The common folk know
That war is coming:

When the leaders curse war
The mobilization order is already written out.


After Reading Brecht’s Galileo

People want heroes, role models, saints, exemplars
Keep looking!

Ramakrishna had his soft spot for the young lads, eh?
Howard Zinn had affairs

Gandhi slept naked in his old age along side young Hindu  female relatives
Brecht’s Galileo, too, likes the delicious things in life and fears the instruments shown him

Yes, Ramakrishna loved Kali
Zinn loved the power of the people

Gandhi loved the struggle
Galileo loved science

The message for us
We  ordinary people—

Andrea: “Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero”
Galileo: No, Andrea: “Unhappy is the land that needs a hero” —

We must take over
The hero-ship

The Path of Learning 
(Dear Layla/Welcome to Palestine)

Dear Safa

Grad school can be a grind
I know you’ve got the persistence to see it though
(Remember when I asked you
Why you wanted to study history
And you pounded your fist on the table and declared:
“Because people have to know the truth of what happened!”)

I wish it were the case that you could take seminars every semester
Along the lines of Brecht’s “Five Difficulties in Writing the Truth” 
And devote yourself to continuing to cultivate  
The courage to write the truth about this week’s Nakba
The intelligence to recognize the truth of the Palestinians’ incredible will
The art to use truth as a weapon to cut through the fog of liberal media bullshit 
The practical sense for the choice of those friends and allies 
Most willing to make effective use of the truths of gradual ethnic cleansing and resistance thereto and
The cunning to spread the truth widely in LaGrange & Bakersfield & Orland Park & Delray Beach

Good luck
Dr. Schimmel

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