|abstract | about Robert Kaufman|
responses to earlier versions of this essay and/or assistance with
translations, I am indebted to Adam Casdin, Norma Cole, Geoffrey Galt
Harpham, Stephen Hinton, Robert Hullot-Kentor, Tamara Levitz, and Arthur
Strum. Any mistakes are the author's own.
1. See Shelley, The
Mask of Anarchy 301-310.
Shelley wrote the Mask in response to the infamous "Peterloo" or "Manchester Massacre" of 16 August 1819, in which a mass meeting of some 60,000 people--demanding parliamentary and social reform--was attacked by armed militia and cavalry. Peterloo subsequently became a rallying cry for parliamentary-reform movements, as well as for Britain's nascent labor movement.
2. For the more youthful, anxiously self-conscious
meditations on Shelley, see Sartre, Lettres au Castor et ŕ quelques
autres I: 14, available in English in Witness to My Life 7-8;
and Sartre, Carnets de la drôle de guerre 270, in English in War
Diaries 74. War Diaries translates the now-superseded 1983
French edition of Satre's "Phoney-War" Carnets, which had not
included--as the 1995 French edition would--the September-October 1939
entries. Hence the discrepancy in the subtitle-dates of Carnets de la
drôle guerre and War Diaries.
3. See too Jones's
"Shelley's Satire of Succession and Brecht's Anatomy of Regression: `The
Mask of Anarchy' and Der anachronistische Zug oder Freiheit und
Democracy." As Jones indicates, some earlier English-language critics had
also made valuable contributions towards charting the Brecht-Shelley
relationship; cf., e. g., S. S. Prawer 92-96 and Richard Cronin 39-42.
See also Bertolt Brecht, "Der anachronistische Zug oder Freiheit und Democracy," in Gesammelte Werke 4: 943-949; the text is translated as "The Anachronistic Procession or Freedom and Democracy" in Poems 409-414. In the later and more comprehensive German edition--the Bertolt Brecht Werke: Grosse kommentierte Berliner und Frankfurter Ausgabe--the poem appears under the title "Freiheit und Democracy" 15: 183-188. Unless otherwise indicated, all further references to Brecht's German texts are to the Werke: Grosse kommentierte edition and are cited by volume and page. All translations of Brecht, unless making specific reference to Willett's and Manheim's Poems or unless otherwise noted, are my own.
4. See "Das Paris des
Second Empire bei Baudelaire" in Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire: Ein
Lyriker im Zeitalter des Hochkapitalismus 63 n.49 (vol. I.2, 562
n.51of Gesammelte Schriften). In English, see "The Paris of the
Second Empire in Baudelaire" in Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the
Era of High Capitalism 59 n.48. For the Benjamin-Adorno disagreements
over "Das Paris des Second Empire bei Baudelaire" see my n.27 below.
5. Shelley, Peter Bell the
Third, "Part Third: Hell," 330, l.147; Brecht Werke 15
[Gedichte 5]: 46 and Poems 367. In the Brecht Werke,
the poem is known by its first words, "Nachdenkend, wie ich höre,"
whereas in the older Gesammelte Werke (4 [Gedichte]: 830),
it is formally titled "Nachdenkend über die Hölle," by which
title it is still often discussed in the critical literature, even where
the later, Werke text, is cited.
6. Wolfenstein's translation
of the Mask stanzas is the first text in the "Übersetzungen"
["Translations"] section of Das Wort's June, 1937 issue. The
translated Mask excerpt is titled "Sie Sind Wenige--Ihr Seid Viel!"
["They are Few--You are Many!"]; an introductory note tells Das
Wort readers that the stanzas come from the last part of Shelley's
Mask, and that they have been translated by Wolfenstein.
The German title (and text) translates but reverses the Mask's celebrated, twice-repeated line addressing English workers (a line Shelley simultaneously intends as description, incantation, and exhortation/inspiration): "Ye are many--they are few." (In Shelley's text, these words appear at l.155 and again in the poem's final line [l. 372]). Wolfenstein apparently changes Shelley's word order in an attempt to preserve, in German, what he perceives as the essence of the Mask's rhyme-scheme, syntax, and overall rhythm. The reversal may also reflect Wolfenstein's and Das Wort's political judgment about the importance of ending--that is, ending first the bold-faced, all-capitalized, exclamatory title given to the Mask-excerpt; then, the repeated phrase within the translated stanzas; finally, the translated text as a whole--with the "many," rather than the ruling class's "few."
7. The Vermischte Schriften, along with the
poems, short stories, novels, and plays collected in the other volumes of
Wolfenstein's Werke, reveal Wolfenstein's writings to have been
thoroughly saturated by his readings in, and responses to, Shelley. For a
valuable discussion of how Shelley infuses Wolfenstein's attempts to
couple, or put into dialogue, an experimental poetics and a committed Left
politics, see Siebenhaar. See too Fischer and Brown.
8. On Du Bois's
passionate Shelleyanism, see the brief published comments of Herbert
Aptheker (once Du Bois's younger colleague and close friend, and
eventually, editor of the 40-plus volumes of Du Bois's collected writings)
204. (Aptheker has indicated, in correspondence and conversation with the
present author, that the above-cited commentary on Du Bois and Shelley
represents "only the tip of the iceberg" of Du Bois's recurrent recourse
to Shelley.) See also Du Bois's stress on the exemplary status of the
second-generation English Romantic poets: "... Byron, Shelley, and Keats,
lord, gentleman and cockney, all were social revolutionists." [Du
Bois here paraphrases, and adds his distinct emphasis to, a formulation in
the book he is reviewing, Annette T. Rubinstein's Marxian-humanist The
Great Tradition in English Literature.] On Du Bois's initial
attractions to, and ultimately radical interpretations of, German
philosophical idealism, see Russell A. Berman's important "Du Bois and
See too Ella Reeve Bloor's autobiography, We Are Many and Ossie Davis's and Ruby Dee's "Martin Luther King: The Dream and the Drum," with its deliberate inclusion and performance of Shelley in tribute toas the program consistently articulates itKing's militant radicalism.
9. Until the
publication of Brecht's Arbeitsjournal, the best-known evidence was
probably the June-August 1938 section of "Gespräche mit Brecht" in
Benjamin, Versuche über Brecht 117-135; "Conversations with
Brecht" in Benjamin, Understanding Brecht 105-121. The Brecht
Werke's generous editorial notes add a good deal to the picture;
see citations in my n.17 below.
10. The editors of
Aesthetics and Politics, and other commentators, have asserted that
Brecht was only a figurehead for, or, at most, nominally involved in
editing, Das Wort. See, e. g., Aesthetics and Politics 62.
Brecht's journals and letters, as well as some of Benjamin's recollections
(and Benjamin's own contributions to Das Wort) show this to be an
inadequate overall analysis. In fact, Brecht's attitudes towards his
participation in Das Wort ranged from frustration, cynicism, and
disgust, to cautious enthusiasm, to energetic determination to shape the
journal more towards his liking (including through active solicitation of
manuscripts from writers around the world).
See Brecht's correspondence about Das Wort in the Brecht Werke 28 [Briefe 1]: 562 and 569, and 29 [Briefe 2]: 9, 13, 19, 20, 21, 25-26, 36, 38, 64, 77, 81, 83-84, 101, 106-107, 126, and 147-148. (Most of these letters can be found in the English translation of an earlier edition of Brecht's letters, Brecht Briefe, see Bertolt Brecht Letters 163, 235, 239, 240, 246, 247, 248, 256, 259, 260, 271, 276, 279, 289, 290, 295, 315, 607, 610, and 611.)
See too, for further evidence of Brecht's ambivalent attitudes towards, and dealings with, Das Wort, the Brecht journal entries cited in my n.17 below.
For a measured assessment of the relevant materials and controversies, see Pike, esp. Chapter 8, "The Literary Popular Front, Part I: Das Wort."
11. They are now all available, with ample
editorial notes, in the Brecht Werke 22.1 and 22.2
[Schriften 2.1 and 2.2].
12. See the account of
Haenisch's fate given by his widow in Gut angekommen, Moskau. Also
on Haenisch, see Walter 2: 525-526 n. 4 and 4: 422.
13. Nor had it been
included in a kindred German volume that preceded Aesthetics and
Politics, Die Expressionismusdebatte.
14. "Weite und
Vielfalt" was first published, some sixteen years after its composition,
in the series Brecht Versuche. The essay was also published--before
the 1989-1998 Werke's appearance--in Brecht's Gesammelte
Werke 8 [Schriften 2]: 340-349.
15. Brecht is of
course often described, by others and himself, as the Left's plumpes
Denken ["crude thinking," "crude thought," "vulgar thought"] poet,
over against Left writers like
Wolfenstein who exhibit a penchant for visionary, sometimes arcane or
delicate, Symbolist esotericism. It therefore seems entirely natural that
Brecht chooses to render Shelley's lines far more literally than had
Wolfenstein. Yet, paradoxically, it is Wolfenstein's translation that
yields the familiarly Popular Front verse-cadence of ringing hammerbeat,
along with a rhetorical thematics that quickly thins to weak abstraction.
Meanwhile, Brecht's scrupulously literal, generally unrhymed translation
somehow manages--no doubt due to Brecht's terrific feel for other poets'
language, and, more specifically, his obvious sympathy with the
Mask--to convey Shelley's startling ways of simultaneously
condensing and exfoliating image, phrase, and line. Brecht, that is,
powerfully grasps and identifies with Shelley's manner of marrying
rhythmic propulsion to textural density, whereby through syntax, cadence,
diction, and tone, an intense forward movement and stingingly precise
denotation coexist with an imagistic counter-impulse that, with
understated elegance, deftly builds back into the poem a cumulatively
thickening self-reflection. The inspired and brilliant literalism of
Brecht's translation--Brecht's ability to see (and then to render into an
impressive construction of energy, concretion, and transparency) the
Mask's interanimation of the material and the ideational, of grit
and philosophically-oriented intellection--results in stanzas notably more
literary and poetic than Wolfenstein's.
For Benjamin's implicit, and Adorno's and Elizabeth Hauptmann's explicit, assessments of Brecht's Shelley translations (as well as Brecht's later, possibly ambivalent attitude towards the translations), see my n.27 below.
16. Werke 14
[Gedichte 4]: 404-405, 662n. Brecht worked on both the Mask
and Peter Bell translations with his close collaborator Margarete
Steffin; see Werke 14: 662-663nn., and 22.2: 1035-1036nn.
The Werke presents Brecht's Peter Bell translation as part of a larger text titled "Hölle" ["Hell"], Werke 14: 404-409, 662-663nn. "Hölle" begins with the nine Peter Bell stanzas, and then segues directly into the 25 Mask of Anarchy stanzas translated--and otherwise appearing only--in "Weite und Vielfalt." The textual history provided in the Werke's notes leads one to deduce that publication of the Peter Bell translation occurred only in (and then after) 1972, when the translation appeared in Benjamin's posthumously-organized-and-published Passagen-Werk; see my n.17 below.
17. Brecht's translated Peter Bell stanzas
appear in Das Passagen-Werk 1: 563-564 [also found in Benjamin,
Gesammelte Schriften 1: 563-564]; in English, see Benjamin, The
Arcades Project 449-450.
The sequence of this sharing of ideas and manuscripts, and copying out of translations, can be reconstructed by coordinating Brecht's "Arbeitsjournal" entries for the period in question, along with the June-August 1938 sections of "Gespräche mit Brecht" in Benjamin's Versuche über Brecht 128-135 ["Conversations with Brecht" in Understanding Brecht 114-121], as well as Benjamin's correspondence (particularly with Adorno; see my n.27 below). In addition to the Benjamin texts just cited, see the Brecht Werke 26 [Journale 1]: 312-323, esp. 315, 317, and 319; these entries can be found in English in Bertolt Brecht Journals 6-19, esp. 10, 13, and 14.
18. Brecht, "[Notizen
über Baudelaire]" and "[Zu Les fleurs du mal]," Werke
XXII.1 and XXII.2 [Schriften 2.1 and 2.2]: 451-453 and 1044-1045nn.
Brecht had left these fragments untitled; "Notizen über Baudelaire"
and "Zu Les fleurs du mal" are the titles supplied, and bracketed,
by the Werke's editors.
19. Ursprung des
deutschen Trauerspiels. [Gesammelte Schriften 1.1: 203-430]. In
English, The Origin of German Tragic Drama.
20. It is almost
impossible to resist juxtaposing Benjamin's insistence on Shelley's
powerful grasp of allegory (and Benjamin's consequent insistence on
Shelley's artistic grasp of reality) with F.R. Leavis's notorious
claim, made only two years earlier, that Shelley had had a "weak grasp
upon the actual." Leavis's indictment arises amidst his specific dismissal
of Ode to the West Wind: the poem epitomizes what Leavis deems
Shelley's unfortunate manner of being so "'essentially lyrical'" that, as
a poet, Shelley can have "little to do with thinking." For Leavis,
Shelley's poetry "induces--depends for its success on inducing--a kind of
attention that doesn't bring the critical intelligence into play"
(206-08). For two of the most thorough and impressive rebuttals of
Leavis's argument, see Wasserman and Keach.
Leavis's judgment, based as it is on Shelley's lyricism (as Leavis sees it, on Shelley's exaggerated, excessively emotion-oriented lyricism) might for that reason seem removed from Benjamin's attention to Peter Bell the Third's biting satire. Yet the surrounding coordinates of Benjamin's discussion--from the Wolfenstein and Das Wort preludes, to the Baudelaire and Brecht variations, to the central motif of allegory itself--make clear that back of Benjamin's interest in Peter Bell lies exactly this problematic jointure: on one side, an ethereal or seemingly obscure lyric poetics convinced of the need for via-negativa coaxing of reality into provisionally apprehendable form; on the other, a righteous truth-telling that aims to call (with equal recourse to clear observation, active intellection, and socio-linguistic precision) a degraded present by its proper name. Productively to motivate the oscillation or shifting combination of the two sides is the whole point of Benjamin's theory of allegory, whose raison d'etre is, in a phrase, to gain a grasp upon the actual.
21. Some, but by no
means all of these poems (not to mention the drafts printed in the
Werke notes) have been published in the English Poems. See
the poems gathered under the titles Hollywoodelegien and
Gedichte im Exil, Werke 12 [Gedichte 2]: 115-125; in
Poems, see Hollywood Elegies 380-381 and the texts in the
section "American Poems 1941-1947." See too "An Walter Benjamin, der sich
auf der Flucht vor Hitler Entleibte," "Die Verlustliste," "Nachdenkend,
wie ich höre" ["Nachdenkend über die Hölle"], and "Zum
Freitod des Flüchtlings W.B.," Werke 15 [Gedichte 5]:
41, 43, 46, 48; in Poems, see "On Thinking About Hell" and "On the
Suicide of the Refugee W.B.," 367, 363.
See also the Werke's reprinting of the remarkable 1942 typescript draft that Brecht had provisionally titled "Die Hölle" (which is distinct from the Werke text combining the Mask and Peter Bell translations and titled "Hölle," discussed in my n.16 above); this "Die Hölle" typescript is clearly a preliminary stage of the Hollywoodelegien. This 1942 "Die Hölle" typescript, moreover, unmistakably arises from the Shelley-matrix, reworking, in fact, the same ideas and even words about "mein Bruder Shelley" (and the figuration of London and Los Angeles as competing versions of Hell) that appear in the 1941 "Nachdenkend über die Hölle." Both "Nachdenkend über die Hölle" and the "Die Hölle" typescript should be traced, of course, back to the Summer 1938 translations, analyses, and discussions of Shelley, particularly to the Peter Bell translation. See Werke 12: 399-400nn. (The 1942 "Die Hölle" typescript may well have emerged from what would have been a previous, manuscript sketch--evidently not possessed by the Brecht Archive, nor elsewhere known--that would have served as the basis for "Nachdenkend über die Hölle," the Hollywoodelegien, and related poems.)
For a more brutal sense of what is at stake in these overlapping materials, contexts, and drafts, where--with Shelley so often providing the stated melody or haunting undersong--Brecht undertakes to write alternately despairing and enraged elegy, see Brecht's seven stark, ultimately-discarded lines from the first sketch of "Die Verlustliste" ["The Casualty List"]. Those lines include: "Wo ist Benjamin, der Kritiker?/...Benjamin ist an der spanischen Grenze begraben./...Ich fahre entlang den Bomberwerften von Los Angeles" ["Where is Benjamin, the critic?/...Benjamin is buried at the Spanish border./...I drive along the bomber-hangars of Los Angeles"]. Werke 15: 338-339nn.
22. See, most recently, Chandler's monumental England in 1819 483-554, Cox's brief but very suggestive comments in Poetry and Politics in the Cockney School 211-216, and again, Jones's Shelley's Satire 49-69, 149-164.
23. Translation emended: ("wenn er von diesen
Kompositionen spricht, nicht wenn er komponiert," Werke 27
[Journale 2]: 125). See too the editors' notes, Werke 12
[Gedichte 2]: 399-403, and the note in Poems, 586.
24. Werke 27 [Journale 2]: 125
["Dies sind volle Gedichte"; "in der Tat haben die Kompositionen wirkliche
Bedeutung wahrscheinlich auch als Musik..."].
Eisler's 1942 comments on the Brecht poems may not have been as judgmental as Brecht had initially believed, nor, in any case, do they appear to have represented Eisler's final opinion on the texts: Eisler subsequently observed that the Hollywoodelegien were his favorite works among all Brecht's poetry. See Bunge 244, cited in the Brecht Werke 12 [Gedichte 2]: 402.
texts have a staggered publication and reception history, dating from
Eisler's 1950s recordings of the Hollywoodliederbuch [Hollywood
Song-Book] (which includes the Hollywoodelegien and other
Brecht poems), and the volumes of Brecht's later poetry, in German and in
translation, that appear from the late 1940s onward. With the Brecht
volumes in particular, it happens that a significant number of the early
1940s poems from and around the "Shelley-Baudelaire-critical lyric" matrix
become readily available in German only in the '50s and '60s, and in some
cases are not translated until the '60s and '70s.
26. Here I use
avant-gardist and anti-aesthetic in the very specific sense
drawn out by Peter Bürger's Theory of the Avant-Garde. For
related thoughts about how currents within today's experimental poetry
complicate the usual narrative of post-Modernism's superannuation of
Modernism, see Kaufman, "A Future for Modernism" and "Everybody Hates
his 1 February 1939 letter to Benjamin about "The Paris of the Second
Empire in Baudelaire," Adorno questions the fidelity to Shelley of the
Brecht Peter Bell translation that Benjamin's essay quotes; Adorno
wonders whether such "directness and bluntness" ["Direktheit und
Härte"] can really be found in the original. See Adorno and Benjamin,
Briefwechsel 1928-1940, 397; Adorno and Benjamin, The Complete
Correspondence, 1928-1940, 304. An editors' note in Complete
Correspondence, though not indicating that the rest of Brecht's
Peter Bell translation appears in the Passagen-Werk, does
provide Shelley's stanza, and comments that "Brecht's translation does
follow the English of Shelley's original very closely" (308 n.32).
Interestingly, Adorno's initial doubts concerning the translation's fidelity or quality are later echoed by Brecht's close collaborator and editor Elisabeth Hauptmann, who observes too that Brecht himself had seriously doubted the Peter Bell and Mask translations' merit; see the Brecht Werke 14: 662-663nn. There is no corroborating evidence, from Brecht or others, that Brecht ever actually shared Hauptmann's view or held the one she attributes to him; Brecht's 1954 publication of the Mask translation-essay (in the journal Versuche) would seem to count as contrary evidence.
Adorno for his part may subsequently have changed his mind--at least somewhat--about the Peter Bell translations, which he would have continued to read, preserved as they were in the Benjamin texts that Adorno helped to edit after Benjamin's death. Significantly, the first line of those Peter Bell stanzas reappears in one of Adorno's most important discussions of modern poetics, "Parataxis" (1963). As if at once conceding and contesting the same old point, Adorno (here constellating Shelley, Baudelaire, and Hölderlin) quite laudatorily gives the first line from those Peter Bell stanzas: but he presents the first half of Shelley's line in German, the second half in English! "Wie Hölderlins Wahlverwandtem Shelley die Hölle eine Stadt ist, much like London..." ["Just as for Hölderlin's kindred spirit Shelley Hell is a city `much like London...'"]. See "Parataxis. Zur späten Lyrik Hölderlins," Noten zur Literatur 3: 174 [Gesammelte Schriften 11: 462], "Parataxis: On Hölderlin's Late Poetry," Notes to Literature 2: 122.
For several years, Benjamin had gone back and forth with Adorno (who usually also represented Horkheimer in these colloquies) about Benjamin's Baudelaire texts and related writings. In 1935, Benjamin had submitted a draft of "The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire" to the Institut für Sozialforschung's [Institute of Social Research's] house organ, the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung [Journal of Social Research]. At that point, Benjamin was conceiving "The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire" as the second part of a streamlined, three-part version of the Passagen-Werk that would be called Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century. In Fall 1938, Benjamin submitted a revised version of the essay, which quoted and briefly discussed the translated Peter Bell stanza. For the relevant exchanges about these essays, see Briefwechsel 138 ff., 364 ff., and 388 ff.; Complete Correspondence, 104 ff., 280 ff., and 298 ff. (Some of these letters are included in Aesthetics and Politics's section on the Adorno-Benjamin debates.)
Though Adorno and Horkheimer had published Benjamin essays about which they had serious reservations--most famously, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"--they did not, even after further Adorno-Benjamin correspondence (in November 1938), publish the revised "Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire." In early 1939 they did, however, publish Benjamin's "Über einige Motive bei Baudelaire" ["On Some Motifs in Baudelaire"], which Benjamin had intended as the "thesis" of Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century. "Über einige Motive bei Baudelaire" can be found in Benjamin's Illuminationen 201-245, in Charles Baudelaire: Ein Lyriker im Zeitalter des Hochkapitalismus 111-164, and Gesammelte Schriften I.2: 605-653. In English, see "On Some Motifs in Baudelaire" in Illuminations 155-200, or in Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism 107-154.
For a lucid and compressed history of the initial controversies over Benjamin's Baudelaire writings, see Jay 197-212, esp. 206-211.
"On Lyric Poetry and Society," "Parataxis: On Hölderlin's Late
Poetry," and "Commitment" in Notes to Literature; "Rede über
Lyrik und Gesellschaft," "Parataxis. Zur späten Lyrik
Hölderlins," and "Engagement" in Noten zur Literatur
[Gesammelte Schriften 11]. See too Aesthetic Theory;
Ästhetische Theorie [Gesammelte Schriften 7].
29. For a more
sustained discussion of Adornian constructivism, see Kaufman, "Red
30. For a sketch of the missing Keatsian piece,
see Kaufman, "Negatively Capable Dialectics."
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