German Studies Association Conference, Sept 29-Oct 2, 2016, San Diego
1956: Brecht, Death, and Socialism
1956, the year of Bertolt Brecht’s death, marked a fundamental turning point in the socialist world, with the “secret speech” of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in February denouncing the crimes of Stalin, liberalization efforts in East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and elsewhere, and ultimately the brutal crackdown on the Hungarian revolution and the arrest of Walter Janka, Wolfgang Harich, and others in East Germany in the final months of the year. Brecht’s death in August of 1956 came in the middle of this momentous year, at a time of relative liberalization while the Berliner Ensemble was preparing for its first trip to London, before the crackdown of the year’s final months. Would this year have been significantly altered if Brecht had not died in 1956? Is it possible that the crackdown in East Germany would not have occurred, or that it would have occurred in a different way? What was Brecht’s role in the events of 1956, and to what extent did he serve as a role model and inspiration for East German reformers? To what extent did reformers elsewhere in the socialist world influence him? On the sixtieth anniversary of Brecht’s death in 1956, the International Brecht Society invites brief (200 words) paper proposals for the forthcoming German Studies Association conference (San Diego, California, September 29-October 2, 2016) dealing with Brecht, socialism, and the year 1956 in East Germany and the rest of the socialist world.
Brecht and German Studies
Bertolt Brecht, returning to Europe in 1947 after more than 14 years in exile, entered a cold war context that had little room for his unorthodox Marxism and dreams of renewing the theater. Twenty years later, after the publication of John Willett’s anthology “Brecht on Theatre” (1964) and the twenty-volume Suhrkamp edition of his “Gesammelte Werke” (1967), Brecht was becoming the touchstone for a new generation of literary, theater, and cinema artists and scholars seeking to redefine the relationship between culture and politics. Brecht, who had explored new approaches in the theater, in the cinema, and in his critical writings, faced new challenges and developed new strategies during the fascist reign in Europe. And during the brief, final years of his life in the GDR he responded to the context of a devastated, riven Germany with creative projects and dogged energy. This is the legacy that inspired the next generation who found in Brecht’s oeuvre and attitude a model of cultural and critical engagement that came to define the turn in German studies. What impact did Brecht and his legacy have on the development of Germanistik and German Studies in Germany, the United States, and elsewhere? Would our field be the same without him, or would it be radically different? On the fortieth anniversary of the German Studies Association and the sixtieth anniversary of Brecht’s death, we invite contributions that address aspects of Brecht’s impact on German Studies during the past four decades.