Brecht on Brueghel

While putting together some essays by Bertolt Brecht for Erica, I came across one of my favorites (more a series of notes than a fully-formed essay) by the great German playwright. It’s called “Alienation Effects in the Narrative Pictures of the Elder Brueghel.” In this Brecht briefly dissects the 16th-century painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, and studies it’s exemplary components, those elements so familiar to and championed by Brecht himself:
* class struggle
* the artist as demonstrator
* action over essence
* comedy in tragedy (and vice versa)

Here’s the picture:
Fall of Icarus
Click for larger

And what Brecht had to say of it:

In The Fall of Icarus the catastrophe breaks into the idyll in such a way that it is clearly set apart from it and valuable insights into the idyll can be gained. He doesn’t allow the catastrophe to alter the idyll; the latter rather remains unaltered and survives undestroyed, merely disturbed.

“Tiny scale of this legendary event (you have to hunt for the victim). The characters turn their backs on the incident. Lovely picture of the concentration needed for ploughing. The man fishing in the right foreground, and his particular relationship to the water. The setting of the sun, which many people find surprising, presumably mean that the fall was a long one. How otherwise can it be shown that Icarus flew too high? Daedalus passed from sight long ago. Contemporary Flemings in an ancient Mediterranean landscape. Special beauty and gaiety of the landscape during the frigthful event.”

With those points in mind, click on the picture above and look closely at the full size version with Brecht’s comments in mind.

If you’d like to read the rest, here’s the PDF I made for Erica of Brecht’s essay, which includes copies of the other Brueghel paintings he mentions.


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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by jeffrey_cranor, Sara. Sara said: RT @happierman – Theater nerd stuff: Some notes on Brecht's notes on Brueghel. [...]




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