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Humanities 2019, 8(2), 73; https://doi.org/10.3390/h8020073

‘Daring, Unusual Things’: Bertolt Brecht’s Photo-Epigrams as Poetic Inventions

School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics, Monash University, Clayton, VIC 3800, Australia
Received: 11 March 2019 / Revised: 8 April 2019 / Accepted: 9 April 2019 / Published: 10 April 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Sister Arts Since 1900: Poetry and the Visual Arts)
PDF [475 KB, uploaded 10 April 2019]

Abstract

This essay explores the aesthetics of Bertolt Brecht’s compositions of poetry with photography in the so-called photo-epigrams of his 1955 book War Primer. The photo-epigrams have mostly been viewed and appreciated as interventions in photography; but in this essay I aim to show their novelty and efficacy as poetic inventions. To do so, I draw on Karl Marx’s and Walter Benjamin’s views apropos the decline of poetry under modern, industrial capitalism to argue that Brecht, in his photo-epigrams, is responding to—and attempting to counter—a specific problem at the heart of modern poetry: the crisis in perceptibility and accessibility. By coupling poems with photographs—in unique and uniquely politicised ways—Brecht provides a resonant critique of the deadly ideologies of the ruling classes engaged in World War II, as well as a method for addressing the decline in the readability of poetry in the modern era.
Keywords: Brecht; War Primer; poetry; photography; Benjamin; Marx; photo-epigram; alienation; ideology Brecht; War Primer; poetry; photography; Benjamin; Marx; photo-epigram; alienation; ideology
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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Alizadeh, A. ‘Daring, Unusual Things’: Bertolt Brecht’s Photo-Epigrams as Poetic Inventions. Humanities 2019, 8, 73.

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