Baal Dancing: The Unsettling Position of Baal in Brecht's Theater of the New

by Richard Block
Baal Dancing: The Unsettling Position of Baal in Brecht's Theater of the New
Richard Block
The German Quarterly
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Bad Dancing: The Unsettling Position of Baal in Brecht's Theater of the New

Traditionally, scholarship has tended to assign Baal to an early and immature phase of Brecht's production or to see Baal's recurrence in later works as evi- dence of an irrepressible demon that forced Brecht to embrace a totalizing rational structure to hold that demon in check.' It might, however, be time to reconsider such approaches. With Baal Brecht seems more accurately to have discovered an effective and enduring means to challenge and de- stablilize theatrical institutions, including his own, and thereby to create a space for something new to appear, such as a theater of the future.

The basis for such an argument was pre- sented by Reiner Steinweg in 1972. Stein- weg argues that the Lehrstiiche were part of Brecht's on-going effort to develop a theater of the future, a post-revolutionary theater in which the distinction between house and stage would be eliminated. All participants in what he called, after Brecht, the "Grosse Padagogik" would be both stu- dents and actors. By contrast, the epic theater, or the works traditionally regarded as Brecht's mature work, were part of his "little" pedagogy, a necessary com- promise of sorts to prepare the way for an unknown future when the new theater could emerge.2 Baal, as I will argue, is a critical component of that program, the fig- ure or principle necessarily invoked peri- odically to dismantle those structures erected along the way, lest the little peda- gogy or epic theater become as institutionalized as the theater it was seeking to move beyond.

Steinweg's argument is, however, ap- parently at odds with a conversation with Brecht reported by Manfred Wekwerth. In that discussion, Brecht cites "the theatrical means of communication" in Die Mapnah-

m.e as "the form of the theater of the fu- t~re."~

While the remark may have critical significance for Steinweg, insofar as it of- fers no distinction between theater and its form, it is of concern for my argument only after the fact. Baal is neither the form nor the embodiment of that theater, rather a destructive force that clears a space for that stage to assume its form. If we consider Brecht's remarks literally, however, we might question why it is that merely the form of that theater (and perhaps only once in Brecht's career) came to occupy the space Baal had prepared for it. Might it be that Brecht's theater, by definition, is al- ways irretrievably displaced into that fu- ture? Might its actual site be the threshold of the new as it gestures toward a future, which, to remain a future, can never truly arrive? Whatever the answer, and it is by no means certain that one can be found, a critical clue may have been left by Brecht in 1926. At that time, Brecht gave a name to Baal's apparent Vorbild, Joseph K, whom he called a "m~nteur."~

The obvious and puzzling reference to Kafka's Prozep may have been amere passing fancy. At the same time, it might throw into relief the necessary limit of any attempt to effect a complete or lastingbreak from the present. As the asocial figure in an asocial world Baal, like Joseph K, might remain tied to the very institutions he would seek to ex-

Tlw Gerlr~ari Ql~~~rt~rly 117

G8.2 (Spring 1995)

tricate himself from.5 What configures it- self in the space Baal has cleared would therefore be something other than new, al- ways bearing the imprint of an asocial world and its institutionalized distinctions. In that instance, Baal would necessarily be the on-going or repeated focus of Brecht's efforts-always re-invoked to complete by definition what he cannot complete, and in that incompleteness, ensure not only his future, but likewise a future for Brecht's theater.

It was also in 1926 that Hugo von Hof- mannsthal hinted at the same strategy for reading the play when he prepared a pro- logue, virtually unattended by Brecht schol- arship, for the Viennese premiere of the play. The prologue presents the actors and managers of the theater company playing, "so to speak," themselves, as they embark on an initial production of Baal. Many of the techniques of the play, such as its over- lapping dialogue, are incorporated into the prologue. Moreover, the players debate the merits of staging a work that signals the end of the European individual and proceeds horizontally rather than verti- cally, that is, without a privileged perspec- tive from above. In addition, the observa- tion is made that gesture and word are one. Through this discussion it becomes clear that the players are simultaneously students of what they are producing. In- sofar as they are engaged in a self- critical pose of discussing what they are engaged in acting out in that same moment, they are conscious of each movement or speech as a gesture whose significance is not yet known. The so-called horizontal progres- sion of thought they attribute to Baal results, in fact, from the very halt in the progression of the prologue such critical awareness signals.G What results, on the one hand, is a willingness of all the players to abandon previously held notions about the theater and to proceed fully anew or without the slightest expectation. They, too, have no fmed perspective on what they are staging. On the other hand, that dis- mantling of the existing theater announces or prepares a space for the staging of what Hofmannsthal calls, after the title of his own prologue, the "Theater of the New":

HOMOLKA W*en Sie bereit, diese Verbindun-

gen mit dem Unbekannten . . . Geburtswe

hen der Zukunft zu nennen?

WALDAUS Ich sehe kein Hindernis.. ..

WANIEK Bewilligt! AUes Bewilligt! Wir . . .

erij&en das "Theater des Neuen" am

einundzwanzigsten Miirz!

HOMOLKA Mit "Baal"von Brecht.

FRIEDELL Keinerlei Bedingungen?


FRIEDELL Keinen Aufschub? Keine Hin-



FRIEDELL Das heat ja geradezu, einem den

Boden unter den Fiil3en ~e~ziehen.~

What is significant about the prologue is how it underscores elements ofBaalthat are typically associated with Brecht's more mature epic theater, such as Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder or Leben des Galilei. It points to Brecht's attempt to eliminate the duality of actor and spectator or class distinctions as they are encoded in the theater. Additionally, one cannot but hear in Hofmannsthal's "Theater of the New" resonances of Brecht's own project for a theater of the future. In other words, Hof- mannsthal's prologue may also provide a clue to understanding the play in terms of Brecht's entire work.

To understand how it is that Baal remains at the center of Brecht's project for the next thirty years, it is necessary to begin by examining the role the body plays in the text. By privileging the body's passing sensations through the figure of Baal, Brecht succeeds in destabilizing the ground upon which the institutions of bourgeois society are propped, and in the ground cleared by the collapse of those institutions, a space for the future is pre- pared. Engaging, or getting at, the body is, of course, no simple task; the "body" is already mediated through the structures of representation embedded in Brecht's own concept of the theater. Brecht's strategy for overcoming this obstacle is therefore of equal interest. At least initially, he at- tempts to do so by specifically writing against what for him was a telling example of institutionalized theater, namely Hanns Johst's Der Einsam.e.

Near the end of 1919, Brecht wrote a letter to Hanns Johst confirming what crit- ics have outlined in detail elsewhere: the intentionally antithetic relationship of Baal to Johst's ~er

~insan2.e.' For my dis- cussion, the attempt to summarize or re- peat those differences is of less interest than bringing into sharper focus Brecht's precise strategy for breaking with Johst. What Brecht discovers is a rhythm for breaking from the idealist or ideological su- perstructure under which class distinc- tions, as well as the institution of art, have become reified. He reduces all exist- ence to states of the body. If, for Johst, the Menschenuntergang of his martyred poet Grabbe is contrasted with the arc ofhis soul as it moves ever closer to transcendence, that arc is fully absent in Baal. There is no compensation for the physical Untergarg of Baal. Physical presence and bodily experience are the defining limits for Baal of all creatures. When, for example, the lumberjacks wonder where their dead co- worker now is, Baalreplies: "Da ist ern and points to the dead man.' Nothing exceeds the physical facticity of existence: "Teddy hingegen war fleiljig. Teddy war freigebig. Teddy war vertraglich. Davon blieb eines: Teddy war" (113).

The reduction of existence to states of the body is most apparent in scene 18. 10 While the poem apparently refers to Jo- hanna, who drowned herself in shame after sacrificing her virginity to Baal, mention of her name, her soul, or any sort of char- acter attributes is missing. The disposition of her being after death is viewed strictly in terms of the sure decay of her body. The poem initially speaks of the glory of the azure heaven, which seems destined to con- secrate the body, but not only does God for- get her, but the body is fully unable to es- cape the constraints of its surroundings as well; it is nothing more nor less than the physical site it occupies:

Tangund Algen hielten sich an ihr ein

So da13 sie langsam vie1 schwerer ward

Kiihl die Fische schwammen an ihrem


Pflanzen und Tiere beschwerten noch ihre letzte F'ahrt ....

Als ihr bleicher Leib im Wasser verfaulet war Geschah es, sehr langsam, dd Gott sie allmWch vergal3: Erst ihr Gesicht, dann die Hiinde und ganz zuletzt erst ihr Haar. Dann ward sie Aas in Flussen mit vielem

Aas. (126)

One could see in virtually every scene of the play a physical literalization of the transcendental notions Johst attributes to his martyred poet. Even the apparent metaphysical and sententious statements Baal abundantly interjects throughout the play are either (1)vivid, literal descriptions of sensorial experiences, or (2) descriptions so rooted in the language of the body that it is impossible to imagine a space beyond it. In the first instance, there is Baal's de- scription once again of the dead lumber- jack: "Der hat seine Ruhe und wir haben unsere Unruhe. . . Der Himmel ist schwarz. Die Baume zittern. Irgendwo bliihten sich Wolken" (113). In the second instance, Baal will speak of his intestines being on display

(123) or tell the parson that his sky is full of trees and bodies (111).Likewise, he will measure on countless occasions one's moral character by the strength in one's knees. In both examples, the apparent ref- erences beyond the trajectory of the con- versation never get off the ground; they are suffocated in the physical literalness of the referent. There is no conjuring of a space that escapes the markers of the body or sensorial determinations. What is immor- tal, as Ekart says, is Baal's viscera (109). While feelings, for Grabbe, assume a transcendental function, for Baal they in no way transport one beyond the body to a higher essence.'' The sensorial is the es- sence, which is the same as to suggest that there is no essence, save perhaps for that which cuts off or marks where one sensa- tion begins and another starts: "Nichts dauert ewig" (123).

This strategy of literalization is most evident, perhaps, from the circumstances in which Baal, and for that matter Ekart, compose their works. For the latter, his ef- fort to write amass in apparent defiance of any valorization of the body (or at least in celebration of Christ's sacrifice of it) is in- extricably tied to his progressive emacia- tion. In the end, only his virtually trans- parent body can attest to the sanctity ofhis soul and can protect it from Baal's recur- rent assaults. For Baal, poetry serves as a surrogate for love-making. As Ekart re- marks: "In der letzten Zeit hast du vie1 Lyrik gemacht. Du hast schon lange kein Weib gehabt?" (130). When Baal writes, as he says, to turn over a new leaf and to give his inner man a try, he finds he is hollowed out; there is no inner self to be reconsti- tuted. It is a mere phantom mirrored in brandy bottles (101), or, at best, is indistin- guishable from one's physical constitution, as evidenced by Ekart.

Nonetheless, one cannot assert that the poem is a pure receptacle or depository for the experiences of the body. Already in the opening scene it is viewed as a commodity; its publication and circulation isultimately exchangeable for Mech with any of his other business ventures. Similarly, Baal may sing his poems to the teamsters, but they are also his means to make a living, to keep his body going. In other words, the document of his body is not entirely his. It must circulate among the very institutions that seek to constitute the self in terms, if not entirely hostile, certainly inhibiting to Spring 1995

experiences of the body. One might even ask if his pleasures would be the same, or even be at all, if these institutions did not seek to circumscribe him within their boundaries. Clearly, the joy he finds in his degradation of Emilie and of using his po- etry to arouse the base urges of the team- sters, so as to humiliate her, are rooted in his relations to that society: "Er hat mich aus seiner weiRen Stuben hinausgeschmis- sen, weil ich seinen Wein ausspie. Aber seine Frau lief mir nach und amAbend gab es eine Festivitat" (91).

The referential ground at the base of Baal's apparent pure engagement of the body should not suggest, at least at this stage, that Baal is the inappropriatevehicle for Brecht to employ to break from the in- stitutions of art. By literalizing the very terms of Johst's idealist portrayal of Grabbe's Urztergarzg, Brecht disconnects the incidents of his protagonist's life. They no longer move headlong toward embodi- ment and confirmation of some over-arching abstraction, such as the immortal- ity of the soul. That development or march forward is interrupted by the non-sublat- able excesses of the body. Those excesses resist any sort of appropriation that seeks to censor and to veil the indignities of the body's desires according to the abstract or idealist terms that otherwise hold society and its institutions together. It should not be forgotten that the attendeesofthe soiree seek to make Baal "der Vorlaufer des groljen Messias der europGschen Dichtung."12 Baal, however, stands at least par- tially outside this society, enough so that this society decides to ignore his presence, to regard him as "Luft," or non-existent. The body, of course, is anything but invis- ible. How the ineluctability of its excesses opens up the possibility of dismantling the institutions embedded in Johst's brand of heroic idealism, or even Mech's capitalism, still remains to be seen. How truly revolu- tionary that possibility is, I might add, might ultimately hinge on just how rooted Baal is in those institutions from which he seeks to break; that is, the limitations nec- essarily written into the body and into Brecht's own concerns about its revolu- tionary potential might render that break something short of complete.13

Engaging the material basis of society, which in the case of Baal is limited to the body, has the initial effect of rendering strange one's own body; that is, the desires or interests of the body break from the ab- stractions or conditions under which the personality is unified. As a result, they con- front one with a very real marker of oneself that is so alien and hostile that one no longer recognizes oneself. All of Baal's women, for example, cannot reconcile their physical desires for Baal with the notions they otherwise have of themselves. Johanna's ideas of a woman's virtue, as well as her apparent repudiation of Baal's dis- regard for any forms of civility, cannot keep her body from violating the conditions or abstract mores under which she seeks to define herself. So alien does her body be- come to her that she must finally murder it. Likewise, the two sisters who visit Baal's room would prefer to come to Baal when it is dark, rather than see themselves or wit- ness their bodies elide the concept of what they think they should be. When Baal asks them if they liked it last time, they ca1111ot answer. They cannot conceptualize, put into words, or simply respond to what their bodies do in the dark. They live in unac- knowledged exile from their bodies, but the body, as Baal emphasizes when he points to the corpse of Teddy, is the surest and only marker that one is. Rather than an- swer, they prefer silence, interruptedby the tragic tale they relate of Johanna (99).The abstract notions of guilt, sin, or morality are the only avenues open to them to un- derstand the "deviations" of thebody. Even Baal's homosexual relationship with Ekart underscores the body's total ignorance of social constructs and moral institutions; it challenges the laws that these constructs would exercise over the body. 14

Just how blind, like the two sisters, moral and social institutions are to the urges of the body is indicated by the hostil- ity Baal's women display toward their own bodies. For one cannot merely assert that it is purely physical pleasure they seek; punishment or masochism is rooted in their desires to rendezvous with Baal. The body, it seems, can be experienced by those otherwise anchored securely in bourgeois society only through degradation. Emilie is just asmuch in love, perhaps even more so, with Baal after he has had her humiliated with a lascivious kiss from a teamster, and Baal cannot beat Sophie off of him. Rainer Nagele, in regards to the Lehrstiicke, has written of Brecht's theater of cruelty, ofthe violence necessarily inflicted upon the body as the collective tries to subsume it.15 The same could be said of the pre-Leh?stiick, Baal. The body seeks out punishment for those desires that transgress the bound- aries of civil society. What this points to is how the body is employed by Brecht as a vehicle to provoke arupture from the struc- tures of consciousness. For the women, their masochism is not merely an attempt to punish a body falling out of line, but to preserve by force its accommodation to a concept of self. If the desire of another should recognize their desire, the self could halt the revolt of the body and its threat to the self; a structure of self-consciousness could be preserved. That Baal participates in this desperate marriage of desires throws into fuller relief his potential to force a rupture in the structures of con- sciousness. On the one hand, he is the criti- cal participant in the women's masochistic attempts to rescue aconcept of identity. On the other hand, his very presence calls that concept into question. What renders the self strange to itself also serves to help re- constitute it. Much as Baal's own experi- ence of the body is somehow contained by a constitution of his desires, so too do the desires of the women render their bodies at once strange and familiar. There appears to be no full, or at least enduring rupture from the structures of consciousness. How this notion of de-structuring and re-struc- turing figures in Brecht's larger concerns with the theater will become clearer below.

Despite these apparent limitations of the body, things in Baal do fall out of line, or disarticulate. Unity of plot, for example, is almost entirely suspended in Baal. The scenes, particularly in the versions after 1919, have no apparent continuum. The time elapsed from one scene to another var- ies considerably, obscuringthe apparent re- lation between event and consequence. To be sure, Baal is seen on the run after killing Ekart, and his stay in prison is mentioned in passing, but the individual scenes, like the individual experiences of the body, stand in secondary relationship to each other. They are independent constructions underscoring what Barthes has called Brecht's plasticity and what Hofmanns- thal called the "horizontal" perspective of the play.16 The primary experiences of Baal's life have no pre-given unity, and what is lent them in order to hold them together, as I will show below, is what Brecht brings to consciousness. As Baal re- marks, "Frii-her, was fur ein merkwiirdi- ges Wort!" (123).

It is not merely a temporal dislocation that Baal enacts, but a de-territorialization as well. The scene, for example, in which Baal flees after killing Ekart takes place ten degrees longitude east of Greenwich. Thereis, of course, plenty oflatitudein that description, and barring a placard to an- nounce Baal's position, there is slight hope of communicating that precisely imprecise location. Time and space become rela- tivized concepts no longer able to hold one in place, to fur or assign identity. It is this break from any overarching constructs of identity that announces what Hofmanns- thal called in the prologue the death of the European individual or reveals, as Brecht states, the self as amere phenomenon, and not something "~elbstverst~dliches."~~ This unrelatedness, temporally and spa- tially, accounts, in turn, for the seemingly endless metamorphoses Baal undergoes. He is attimes plant or animal, and is almost always referred to as something other than human. Sophie, for example, remarks how she loves this animal (118), and Ekart re- gards him as a degenerate beast (120). The lumberjacks call him "Elephant" (1131, and one of the rangers insists that he has no soul and belongs instead to the animal kingdom (135).

In short, what Baal has done is pull the ground out from under the overarching concepts that define the bourgeois self. The body, as the marker of the self, continues to so remake or transform itself that no notion of the self propped upon that ever- changing ground can sustain itself beyond the present. The self, as it were, travels unrecognizably, at least for a time or some distance, along a path that defies siting; like ten degrees longitude east of Green- wich, it cannot be sufficiently located. As a result, the structures of society resting on this shifting ground either collapse or re- veal themselves to be something less than transcendent and enduring, that is, condi- tional.

Of ultimate concern in Baal is construc- tion, insofar as one seeks to understand its position within Brecht's work. What Ro- land Barthes has said of Brecht's later plays holds equally for Baal: "Have you ever seen a Japanese pin? It is a dress- maker's pin whose head is a tiny bell, so that you cannot for et it once the garment


has been finished." In other words, the seams are always visible. By rendering the self strange to itself, Baal forces the stitch- ing or seams of these social institutions, constellated around the notion of a unified self, to be exposed. One becomes conscious of trying to sew the horizontal structure of isolated occurrences together-of trying to render the self seamless. If, however, Baal himself does not point out doing just that-or if other figures in the play do not do so for us-one has to ask whether the play is merely an example of the dialectic gone wild or a cautionary note to revolu- tionaries.lg In other words, does Baal merely leave the institution in ruins with no possibility for some sort of resurrection? Without scripting themove after the break, can Baal still gesture toward what comes after? The answer, I will argue, lies in how Baal, having pulled the ground out from under the institutions upon which bour- geois society rests, reveals all life to be a form of construction and therefore reme- dial. Moreover, in the necessarily adverse reaction one has to Baal, the impetus for an "afterward" is provided. Stated another way, when one does not simply read Baal as a flat text, but understands it astheater or staging (something any viewer or reader of Hofmannsthal's prologue would do), its possibility for inaugurating the theater of the new becomes apparent; as a transi- tional stage, it gestures toward something else.

In fact, each incident in Baal's life is itself a staged or constructed event. The focus of virtually every Bild is Baal and the attempts to organize the events of that pic- ture around him. Since Baal, by his very nature, renders all relations questionable, what results is a disturbance of continuity, which, in turn, reveals the theatricality im- plicit to each event. No internal unifying principle holds the scenes together, save for the disruptive omnipresence of Baal. As such, they have no other reason for occur- ring, except as something staged. This is apparent from the very outset. Since there is no real necessity to view the soiree in terms critical to a unified or overall devel- opment of plot and character, what occurs there does so only because the figures have been brought together for a party. No con- ditions transcendent to its staging script its progress. The soiree is a construction seeking to bring into its social circle that which disturbs all relations, namely Baal. As a result, the scene is left hanging, cut off by the disruptive character of Baal from standing in mimetic relationship to some outside referent, whether that be charac- ter, plot, fate, etc. In this state of suspen- sion, the scene, or Bild, assumes a certain randomness; all that holds it together is its self-concocted staging. There is nothing beyond the theater it enacts.

By placing a Bild of what is clearly a staged event first, Brecht calls immediate attention to the theater of the other Bilder: the two sisters coming to Baal's room, the champagne toast in the beggar's inn, the rites surrounding the death of the lumber- jack Teddy, the performance of Baal's po- etry in the night caf6 or in an open field, and the ceremony surrounding his own death. Without this staging, whether it be initiated by invitation to the soiree or by death and its ceremonies, the scenes are wholly uneventful and cut short, such as when Baal and Ekart do nothing but look up at the sky and sleep in an open field .

In 1920, by the time he could claim Baal's independence from Johst's Der Ein- same, Brecht added the one scene that most convincingly collapses all difference be- tween theater and life: the spectacle of the bulls.20 The scene is nothing short of a stage of a stage presented on yet another stage. Baal attempts to enact a spectacle of the bulls, conscious of both its setting and lighting. His production hinges on allowing the farmers to think that their construc- tion of events is the only construction or stage in town, and that one among them stands to reap an exorbitant profit. The farmers, by buying into their construction of events as the truth, will allow Baal to dupe them. In other words, his spectacle depends on them not understanding the conditional status of their own construc- tion of events. Baal thereby shows how fail- ure to acknowledge life as mere theater renders one susceptible to exploitation. It is, of course, no coincidence that Brecht has the parson prevent the spectacle of the bulls from occurring. The pastor can ill-af- ford for the farmers to arrive at the reali- zation that nothing exists beyond that spectacle, that what they are buying into is, as he says, a swindle. So long as the il- lusion of the theater is preserved, the par- son can be assured that his parishioners, like the innkeeper, will name him "Hoch- wiirden" (112).

Theatrical construction, as a condition for anything to occur, is not restricted to the scenes themselves, or to how they hang together, but also informs the way one links the speeches within the individual scenes. The dialogue does not follow astraight line. Instead, several trains of thought often overlap with and loop around each other. Consider, for example, the following ex- changes from the opening scene (1922):

MECH trinizt:Ich gebe Ihre Lyrik heraus. Ich la13 die Zimtholzer schwimmen oder tue beides.

EMILIE Du solltest nicht so vie1 trinken! BAALIch habe keine Hemden. Weilje Hemden konnte ich brauchen. MECH Sie machen sich nichts aus dem Ver-

lagsgeschXt? BAALAber sie miiljten weich sein. PILLER irorriscl~:Mit was, meinen Sie, da13 ich

Ihnen dienen konnte? EMILIE: Sie machen so wundervolle Chan- sons! BAAL zu En~ilie:Wollen Sie nicht etwas auf

dem Harmonium spielen?
PILLER Sie sind ein komischer Igel!
MECH Ich esse gern mit Harmonium.

En~ilie spielt BAAL lzrwpf?nuf: ZIL Enl.ilie: Sie haben gute he!

MECH Nehmen Sie noch den Aal! Es wiire schad um ihn. Er schwiimme in die Latrinen....(8748)

Several things, not easily disentangled, are obviously going on at once. Baal is mak- ing a pass at Emilie, which increasingly disturbs Piller, who finds Baal's comport- ment incompatible with that of literati. Emilie, as later events in the scene reveal,

does not know how to feel or respond. Pro- priety demands that she respond one way; her body is inclined to do something else. At the same time, Mech and Baal are dis- cussing business, but in terms neither one shares. And, of course, they are eating, drinking, playing, and listening to music; none of which is simply peripheral, but fig- ures prominently into the course of events or is, in many respects, the event itself. These various strands of dialogue or ges- ture force one to make leaps and connec- tions not wholly indicated by the text or performance. Much of what occurs and prompts the literary scene's abrupt dismiss- al of Baal is not stated, and perhaps not even shown. It is implied through a series of assumptions that make up for gaps in the text. That they can be nothing more than assumptions is indicated by the in- ability of the spoken language to mirror or tell what goes on gesturally or bodily. Does Emilie's playing the harmonium suggest her willingness to gratify Baal's desire to see her beautiful arms? Does Mech really enjoy eating to harmonium music, or is he trying to reclaim Emilie for himself, to assert that she is playing for him and not Baal? The point is that with- out some master script beyond the spec- tacle of this opening scene, the words have no assigned or fxed meaning. They become gestures unattached to any stable context; they are unable to find or claim areferent. The signified, as it is, for example, when Mech speaks of eating eels, is not univo- cal. This, in fact, is what Hofmannsthal means when he writes in his prologue that gesture and word are one.21 Not that speech describes what one does, rather that the word, disconnected from any fxed con- text, becomes mere gesture. It floats about and circulates freely in the text.

What occurs in the dialogue cited above is descriptive of the entire play and is not limited to a technique of overlapping dia- logue. In the very next scene, for example, Baal initiates a discussion about the posi- tion of the planet and its relation to others:

Wenn man nachts im Gras liegt, ausgebrei- tet, merkt man mit den Knochen, dalj die Erde eine Kugel ist und dalj wir Eegen und dalj es auf dem Stern Tiere gibt, die seine Pflanzen aaressen. Es ist einer von den kleineren Sternen. (89)

When Johannes wonders whether these observations are not premised on some knowledge of astronomy, Baal succinctly answers "Nein," followed by silence. The insight is into nothing4r is simply no in- sight. It is merely a sensorial equivalent that with Baal's flat rejection of a larger context is asfree-floatingasBaal describes human beings to be. The remark has no truth against which to measure itself, save for the sensation of the moment. In other instances, the function of the "Nein," which, much like Baal, renders strange the apparent context of the dialogue, is taken up by the literalized images cited above or what I have called here the language of a sensorial equivalent. In that same scene, for example, Baal and Johannes discuss the latter's dilemma about whether or not to sleep with Johanna. Baal repeatedly frus- trates any potential decision with com- parisons to love's physical sensations, such asbiting into an orange or discarding abitter coconut. These descriptions displace any moral referential ground, and the con- versation that Johannes would like to push toward discussion of virtue and responsi- bility never materializes, or rather, mate- rializes too well. The literalness of the de- scriptions detours the dialogue from its supposed destination toward moral resolve and throws it so off course that Johannes comes to the wrong conclusion:

JOHANNES Sie meinen also, ich sol1 es tun, wenn es so selig ist? BAAL Ich meine, du sollst dich davor hiiten, lieber Johannes! (91)

The question posed at the beginning of this section, however, still remains unan- swered: Does something in the play press toward some sort of reconstruction after the overarching structures of meaning have been dismantled? What is there to suggest that drunken revelry is not the end result? Moreover, the possibility of some- thing new or "afterward" depends on rec- ognizing the conditional status of these constructions, that the theater or spectacle can be staged another way. The issue there- fore rests upon demonstrating that the spectator is made aware of the spectacle.

Hofmannsthal's prologue, of course, points in that direction. The actors are con- scious of each gesture or speech as some- thing whose only referent is the process under construction as they play out their roles ("Diese gewissen ungewissen Verbin- dungen mit dem unbekannten, die wir bestii.ndigeingehen"22).While the possibil- ity exists for these players to break from previous institutional requirements of the theater with full knowledge that what fol- lows is their construction, that same self- critical posture cannot be assumed for every performance of Baal. Without some sort of device associated with Brecht7s later epic theater, the bringing of the dialectic to a standstill, as Benjamin calls it, and the "freie Hand" that is released from its con- text, will just as quickly become unfree. 23 That is, the bodily gesture that escapes any overarching concept must, to be of any sig- nificance, announce or mark itself as freed from that concept.

That the dialectic cannot remain at a standstill may be inevitable. Experiencing the gesture asfree when it is at a standstill, however, is essential to realizing the possi- bilities opened up by bringing it to a standstill. In other words, therecan beno theater of the new if that free gesture is just as quickly forced back into a context in the moment that follows without awareness that the flow was arrested, that it has no prescribed course but that which one con- structs for it. In fact, without calling at- tention to it as gesture, the flow is never arrested. Without some device such asHofmannsthal's prologue, the possibility, as Marx would say, for not merely interpret- ing the world, but changing it as well, is lost.24

There are, of course, several moments in the play that show the figures doing just that. As I mentioned above, the staging of the bulls has Baal not only collapsing all distinctions between theater and reality, but also constructing a theater of his own making. There are also the lumberjacks, who consciously extend staging to the very persons they themselves are. And finally, there are Baal's own references to himself: in the scene with Johanna, when he de- scribes himself as washed clean by the flood and his thoughts as soaring over the black water like doves; or later, when he echoes theopening chorale and talks ofhow he himself tricks and feasts on vultures (97, 134);in these moments Baal knows that he is playing out a role, much like Hof- mannstha17s figures, that that "himself' is a construction of his own stage.

A more encompassing example is the chorale that introduces the play and that transforms what follows into a conscious exercise of staging. As a re-enactment of what is summarized in the chorale, the play calls attention to the difference between the two. The chorale and the play necessar- ily stand in imperfect relation to each other. One can talk about Baal, but that talking about him cannot stand in for what follows. The strangeness of the body that elides all conceptualizations about it is played out in the relation between the chorale and the play One may be asked to subsume or to view what follows under the terms of the chorale, but those terms are uncertain, vague, or ambiguous, and moreover, in- volve bringing together elements which, as I have argued, resist unifying structures. If nothing else, the chorale betrays the con- ditions of tying loose ends together to pro- duce a text ofits own; as a textual summary or commentary on what follows, it is, none- theless, something quite different from the text it supposedly refers to.

For the spectator, it can be argued, the experience is not limited to one of witness-

ing the construction of atext, but of engag- ing in that construction itself. More than just observe Baal staging himself, for ex- ample, the spectator is led by hisher repu- diation of Baal to rejoin those loosened or free-floating elements in an effort to render the world palatable. As Brecht wrote: "Ich versuche ihn [Baal] so darzustellen, dal3 jede seine Handlungen beurteilt werden kann und sein ganzes Leben einige Schlusse uber das Leben selbst erm6g-


In other words, we know that Baal elicited stron irrepressible reactions from the audience? One is therefore not con- tent to leave things dismantled, to have, as Baal does, only the sky to cover the naked- ness. When in 1922 Brecht added the scene of Baal's seduction of the two sisters, he evidently wanted to ensure a strong repu- diation of him by the audience, as if his treatment of Sophie, Ekart, or Emilie would not be enough. The spectator is therefore impelled to hide the nakedness. That whatever is used to hide it is as much a construction as Baal's sky, is charted in every aspect of the play: in the relationship of the chorale to the play; in the attempts to link one scene to the next or to join the non sequitors that disrupt conversational flow; in the failed pursuit to overcome the strangeness of one's body; or in the periodic confirmations of the players that their identities are assumed. The indices for linking these elements are the spectator's own constructions. Since every scene is constellated around Baal, the very figure that disassembles the assembled, not only are these constructions conditional or pro- visional, they are also undone the moment after they are configured. What follows is of unlimited and unknown possibility. As the original title suggests, "Baal tanzt! Baal friBt!! Baal verkl&t sich!!" The possi- bility to transform the existing is possible so long as Baal keeps dancing.

What still remains unclear is why the theater of the future, and not just its form, never came to occupy the space apparently opened up for it. Steinweg suggests that history prevented its fulfillment; the sec- ond revolution never came. That may be, but that history, it would seem, is just as much aconstruction as the structures Baal engages in Baal. Also unanswered is Brecht's oblique reference to Kdka or Joseph K. That Baal differs so radically from his apparent Vorbild is consistent with the ideas of non-sublatable differ- ences emphasized above. What Brecht nonetheless points to is the inability to break totally from any Vorbild; that is, Baal, like Joseph K, is still ultimately con- tained within the structures he seeks to break from. While this is not the place to undertake a comparison between the two, it is perhaps no coincidence that Baal, like Joseph K, dies "wie ein Hund"-or at least on all fours.

What is at issue for Brecht is that the body cannot fully disengage itself from the structures of consciousness. The breaks in the play, as I have suggested above, are not entirely complete, just as the sky or nature is, in part, aconstruct of Baal's own desires. The later versions may eliminate the scenes that render a sense of continuity to the play (the prison scene, for example, after Baal runs out on his contract), but Baal is still unable to escape fully the conse- quences of what happens in earlier mo- ments. His poem, apparently describing the fate of Johanna's corpse in the river, or his remark as a fugitive following the mur- der of Ekart ("Ich mulj die kleine Affare im Riicken lassen. Weiter!" [I341j, underscores how the body, or sensorial experi- ence, is still rooted, however minimally, in some structure of consciousness; it never fully escapes. That Baal can anticipate the conditions of his own death also signals more than the repetitive experiences of the body or the sensorial. The similarity be- tween the two emphasizes a pre-existing consciousness that in part holds the body or its experiences within its structures. Ad- ditionally, Baal's final delight-the taste of the spit spat onto his face at his deathbed by one of therangers-indicates how, to the very end, Baal's pleasures and tastes are tied to the revulsion he elicits from others. There is no immediate experience of the body. Baal is as wedded to the structures he seeks to elide as Joseph K is boxed in by his executioners.

The impossibility of Baal ever fully es- caping the institutions that close in around him might not be the only reason that the theater of the future did not replace what had been displaced. One could argue that containment ismerely thenecessary recon- figuration that follows any break, its nec- essary reabsorption under new or certainly altered structures. Since the space that opens up is necessarily unmarked, the ex- tent of the break cannot be accurately gauged by what ensues. Moreover, the issue cannot be restated solely in terms of Baal. He is simply that which disconnects what has been subsumed under structures of consciousness; he reveals, to quote Barthes once again, the Japanese bell pins. What we do know is that Brecht seems to fear what Baal had wreaked. On several occa- sions he expressed those reservations, most notably in "Bei Durchsicht meiner er- sten Stiicke":

Das Stuck Bad mag denen, die nicht ge- lernt haben, dialektisch zu denken, aller- hand Schwierigkeiten bereiten. Sie werden darin kaum etwas anderes als die Ver- herrlichung nackter Ichsucht erblicken.. .. Ich gebe zu .. . deln Stuck fehlt ~eisheit.~~

With that posture of concern, Brecht may have found it difficult to leave uncharted the space Baal had prepared. He might have found it necessaryto import adoctrine or moral toguide its construction; that is, he might have been unwillingto observe the requirements that his own theory of practice, insofar as it is worked out in Baal, prescribes. Whether fear of the

monster he had created signaled, in all his future workings and reworkings of Baal, a violation of the only condition under which the theater of the new could be born, is not the issue here. What we can sayisthatBaal would always require reconfiguration, would neces- sarilyreconfigure itself, no matter how inwm- plete itsbreak with existing structures. What restructuresafter thebreakisalwayssomehow different for having been ruptured. Baal will alwaysreappear in different disguises or asdifferent figures, and the text will be ever-changing. But whatever re-structures must be rup turd anew; there is no end tothe process. Baal "tanzt...undverkliirt sich,"but inthemoment he transfigures himself, he must begin dancing again. In this regard, Barthes is wrong when he claims that in Baal there is no afterward. There is always and only an afterward, and that is the theater of the future, which never arrives, becauseit is the future. As Brecht him-

selfsaid, "Der Weltraum gibt uns den Beweis, da13 es ein Nonplusultra nicht gibt, unser Gehirnfaljt die Unendlichkeit nicht und begniigt sich nicht mit der Endlichkeit. Niemand weirj also, was uns bevor~teht."~


lMuch of the early criticism of &ml was lim- ited to a discussion of its relationship to Expres- sionism, designed in many ways to preserve canonical distinctions and a national literary tradition in the face of the Cold War. For an over- view of the Expressionist debate, see Jan Knopc Bourgeoisie: The Myth of Brecht's Theory of an 'Unemotional Theater,"' Pattens of Clmge, ed. Dorothy James and Silvia Ranawake (New York: Peter Lang, 1991) 269-83. The one recent book that reconsiders Brecht's early works, Ronald Speirs,Breckt's Early Plays (Atlantic Highlands, NJ:Humanities Press, 1982), fails to seeBaal in terms of Brecht's larger project for the theater. Speirs limits himself to thematic discussions without concern for Brecht's attempt to distance himself from traditional thematics and notions of the theater. An early exrnple of the latter sort of &Lal criticism, in which Baal is evidence of a demon with which Brecht wrestled his entire lie, is Herbert Liithy "Von armem Bert Brecht," Der Morrnt44 (1952): 11544. Also see Martin Esslin, Bertolt Breci~t: Tl~e Marl ar~d His Worlz (Garden City, NY: Anchor-Doubleday, 1971); see Tony Calabro,Bertolt Brecirtr Tire Art of Dissembhrce

(New Hampshire: Longwood, 1990).

2Reiner Steinweg, Das Lekrstiiclz: Breclrts Tlreorie eirrer politisclr-&flretiscl~er~Erzielrurrg

(Stuttgart: Metzler, 1972) 205-10. For Brecht's specific reference to the great and little pdago- gies, see Bertolt Brecht, Werize,ed. Werner Hecht, Jan Knopf,Werner Mittenzwei, and Klaus Detlef Miiller, 30 vols. (Frankfurt: Suhrkarnp, 1989) 21: 396 and 752.

"recht, Werize3: 445.

4Brecht,Werlze 1:565.

5For a description of Bnnl in these terms, see Bertolt Brecht, Der bose Baal, der asoziale: Texte, Vwinrrterr, Materinlierr, ed. Dieter Schmidt (Frankfurt: Suhrkarnp, 1973) 105.

"ugo von Hofmannsthal, "Das Theater des Neuen," G'esarrrrrzelte Werlze, ed. Herbert Steiner, 4 vols.(Fhnk€urt: Fixher, 1956) Lustspiele 4: 405-26, here 421.

7Hofmannsthal 4: 424-26. The figures in the

prologue are actual members of the troupe:

Bertolt Breclrtr Eirr liritisclrer Forsch~~r~gshricl~t

(Frankfurt: Athenaum, 1974). Also of interest in this regard are Ernst Schurer, Georg Knjser urrd Bertolt Breclrt (Frankfurt: Athenaum, 1971) and Hans Mayer, Bertolt Breclrt urrd die Trnditiorr (Pfdingen: Neske, 1961). Solong as Brecht criti- cism has attempted to retain the notion of three phases in his work ("Drei Phasen Theorie"), ~L has been viewed as a coarse beginning, signifi- cant only insofar as it points teleologically to what comes in the "mature" works. See, for ex- ample, John Fuegi, Tlre Esssrtial Blrht (Los Angeles: Hennessey and Ingalis, 1972) or David Jenkinson, "Verf?errrdur~gand the Critique of the Waniek, the director; Homolka, Thirnig, and Waldau, actors; and Friedell, dramatist and critic.

a detailed discussion of the relationship between these two plays, see Florian Vassen, "Die Verwerter und 'ihr Material'Brecht und

I GegenentwurfBaal: Bertolt Brecht's Bad--ein zu Hanns Johsts Der Eirrsarrae," GrnObe Jdrrbuclr 3 (1989): 743. Also see Angelika Rauch, "Brecht zwischen Expressionismus und Marxismus: Bud und Hanns Johst's Der Eirr- sanre," New Gerrrrar~istilz 3.2 (1984): 3749.

9AllreferencestoBaal are to vol. 1of the 1989

critical edition cited above in note 2. Page num- bers follow citations in parentheses. This citation is from page 13. Any discussion of citations from the text runs up against the problem of which text or version one should use. With the excep- tion of the first scene, which is referred to as a "soiree" in the first and last versions, but occurs as "Helles Zimmer mit Tisch" in that of 1922, I have chosen to cite the 1922 version. This is done for consistency and also because it is, according to Brecht, the one version that most clearly breaks from Johst's model. Thus, it allows one to see most visibly the effects of what I have called Brecht's literalized engagement.

loLeslie Adelson's terms "embodiment" and "positionality" could easily be substituted in this argument for "a reduction of existence to states of the body." See Malzir~g Bodicv, Makir~g History (Lincoln: U of Nebraska F: 1993). In both in- stances, the body, not as some fixed or stable marker, is the slippery basis of existence or his- tory. While Adelson is interested in the narrative that imposes some interpretation upon the body, my emphasis, at least at this point in the argument, is on the disembodied body-that which apparently resists any interpretive or discursive framework. But as Judith Butler reininds us in

Gender Trouble: Fe~~ir~isn~

(WL~tl~e Subrlersior~ ofIdentity (NewYork: Routledge, 1970) 71, there are no real "bodies" in literature, only images of them.

"These comments refer specifically to the following speech by Grabbe: "Oh! Dies Gef~l! nicht um einen Thron mijchte ich es eintauschen! Dieses Gottvatergef~l! Himmel und Erde wird Willkiir meiner Gunst! Ich bin das Kosnos! Und ohne mein Wort und ohne die gliihende Guir- lande meiner Dichtung zerfallt dies alles Geschichte, Vernunft, Gegenwart und Seele von tausend Gottesackern zu wesenlosem Staube."

as Adelson correctly argues, with Peter Sloter- dijk's seemingly transcendental notion of the body as an agent of resistance, or ''~c."See his Kritik der zy~aiscl~e~a

Verrau~aft(F'rankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1983). The mark of its resistance or freedom, as I argue above, is simultaneous with its determinism or reinscription in social institu- tions.

14Elaine Scany's observation that the body in pain is anterior to language is appropriate here. Elaine Scarry, Tlae Body ira Pain: Tlte Malz-ir~gCUL~Ur~rrd~il~g

of the World (New York: Oxford UF: 1985) 19.

15Rainer Nagele, "Brecht's Theater of Cru- elty,"fidi~ag after Freud (New York: Columbia UF: 1987) 111-134. Nagele's discussion of the body in the Lel~rstiiclzehas yet to guide a reading of Elad. Moreover, many of the observations made about Brecht's later works are applicable to Bad, as I show throughout this argument. This, likewise, has not led readers to seek to in- corporate Bad within Brecht's larger body of work. As evidenced by Speirs, the play is viewed ultimately as a failure, leaving one with a "nasty hangover" (29). No consideration is given to how that "hangover" might be a motor for change and similarly ensure one's estrangement from the spectacle.

lGRoland Barthes, "The Tasks of Brechtian Criticism," Critical Essays, trans. Richard Howard (Evanston: Northwestern UF: 1972) 71-76, here 74.


Werlze 4: 419; Brecht, Werlze 21: 308.

IsRoland Barthes, "Brecht and Discourse," The Rustle of Language, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1986) 212-22, here 21%13.

'"Elizabeth Wright poses this question in Post~~0de1-1~ (New

Brecht: A Re-Prese~~tatior~

Hanns Johst, Der E~ILSCIT~L~: York: Routledge, 1989) 97-98.

Eir~ Mer~scl~er~~~r~ter-

gm~g(Munich: Delphin, 1917) 5. 12Page 23, in the first scene of the 1919 ver- sion.

13Bryan Turner is most convincing in this regard when he argues in The Body and Society: Exploratior~s ir~ Social Tl~eory (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984) 5, that the body is not only a material organism, but also a metaphor, a thing, and a sign. Similarly, the documents of the body cannot escape social mediation. In other words, the body is never private, but as Turner argues, always "socialized." Turner's position contrasts,

20See Brecht, Werlze 1:513.

Werlze 4: 412. 22Hofmannsthal,Gesarr~rr~elte

Werlze 4: 424.

23Walter Benjamin, "Was ist das epische Theater?" Versuche iiber Brecl~t, ed. Rolf Tiede- mann (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1979) 17-29, here 18 and 28.

24KarlMarx, "Concerning Feuerbach, "Ewly Wr-itir~gs,trans. Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton (London: Penguin, 1992) 421-24, here

423. 25Brecht,Werlte 24: 11-12.

26For example, a report from the 1926 per- formance in Berlin: "People whistled, shrieked, booed, applauded. The actress who happened to be on stage by herselfjumped onto the piano and began to bang the keys with her feet, singing: 'Allons enfants delapatrie!' The noise grew deaf- ening . . .and was kept up until the instigators of the scandal were utterly exhausted. Suddenly everything was quiet again. Only from one of the galleries one could hear the words You aren't redly shocked, you are only pretending ...' followed by the loud noise of a face being slapped. Then applause started, rose to a climax and the performance went on." Cited in Esslin 28-29.

27Brecht,Werke 1:517. Also see 21: 308 and

23: 241 for additional remarks regarding

Brecht's reservations. 28Brecht,Werle21: 95.

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