Bertolt Brecht was confronted with the alien throughout his life. He was exposed to it everywhere he lived, and in all venues he inhabited, he was as a stranger among strangers. Furthermore, he made the experience of the alien into the linchpin of his entire artistic project. His plays, prose, and poetry, as well as the texts he wrote about theater and the other arts, about politics and society, tell us that the experience of being alien is the precondition for the possibility of a future community among strangers.
Brecht’s intensive confrontation with the alien is more relevant now than ever in an era when, on a daily basis, fear and hatred of foreigners continue to demonstrate a fundamental inability to live among strangers even (or especially) in a period of increasing globalization and of societies affected by migration. The overarching goal of the symposium BRECHT AMONG STRANGERS/BRECHT UNTER FREMDEN is to make a contribution to cosmopolitan conviviality: living together as a stranger among strangers.
The alien is not simply that which is exotic and distanced. It does not mean merely »aliens« (or foreigners) from other countries, together with customs and moral attitudes that may appear alien (or strange) to those who perceive themselves, however correctly, to be »at home.« A perspective that takes its cues from Brecht starts by exploring that which is radically alien in one’s own world (culture, life history, personality): a strangeness that resists facile integration. It is only the experience of a fundamental strangeness within oneself that makes it possible, after Brecht, for people—whether »natives« or migrants—to live together as strangers among other strangers.
The topic of the symposium, in its historical, theoretical, regional, and praxis-oriented dimensions, will be explored and concretized by four central hypotheses:
Brecht must become alien to us (again). The canonization of Brecht and his epic theater in the East and West after his death have deprived him of the »sting of strangeness« (B. Waldenfels)—the very discomfiture that made Brecht into a contemporary who has something to say to the present. The domestication of Brecht has made a historicizing and alienating look at him urgently necessary: one that views Brecht, both in his own time and in his afterlife, as someone who always remained an alien body in alien surroundings. The perspective of a »Brecht among strangers« can be made productive to the extent that it is able to counteract Brecht’s cooptation and domestication and succeeds in offering a glimpse of an »alien Brecht.« The recovery of this alien Brecht is the first key task of the symposium.
Via Brecht, we will work toward a theory of a contemporary »theater among strangers.« The dynamics of globalization are forcing us to reflect in new ways upon the very idea of theater itself. These dynamics insist that we take into account the changed and changing relationship between that which we may view as our own and that which can be viewed as foreign; between what appears near to us and what appears far from us; between the simultaneous and the non-simultaneous; and between migration and residency/»at-homeness«. The dynamics of globalization call for a theory of the »transcultural theater« (G. Heeg). In contradistinction to the concept of the intercultural, a transcultural theater no longer makes a distinction between that which is culturally, and self-evidently, one’s own and that which is self-evidently foreign. Rather, the concept of the transcultural focuses on the interrelationship between the »native« and the »foreign« within—and as an integral part of—what one might believe to be one’s »own« domestic or »native« culture. Brecht’s theater work therefore offers considerable possibilities for a contemporary transcultural theater. It is a »theater among strangers.« The second key task of the symposium, following the clues left by Brecht, will be to work on a theory of the transcultural theater.
In a globalized world, Brecht is urgently needed. It is time for a theater and a literature among strangers. The urgency of this need can be measured by the masses of refugees fleeing from war, starvation, and poverty by land and by sea, as well as by arson attacks in Germany and elsewhere against residences for refugees, and by the fear and hatred of »natives« for »foreigners« that such attacks instantiate and demonstrate. The critical junctures of globalization—from which no region of the world is exempt—are marginalizing entire countries and regions and leading directly to a backlash: the creation of fundamentalist movements throughout the world. The specific local and regional instantiations of these fracture zones demand differentiated and targeted artistic procedures that are capable of confronting them. They call for a different Brecht, a Brecht who can be interrogated with a view to his transcultural relevance within the context of changed and changing cultural conditions worldwide. The third key task of the symposium will therefore be to seek out the world’s regional combustion points and to explore the ways in which a theater and a literature among strangers, following Brecht, can develop decisive agency in such a context.
Theater in the wake of Brecht is a cultural practice for everyone, by everyone. Although Brecht was keenly interested in work with professional actors, he also strove for a broader understanding of theater as a fundamental cultural, social, and anthropological practice that is by no means limited to the arena of professional theater. A theater among strangers, following Brecht, therefore encompasses theater with nonprofessional actors. Theater as a cultural praxis for and by everyone is an excellent medium for exploring relationships with what may appear alien, and with those who may seem to be foreign. Brecht formulated the model of the Lehrstück (learning play) for his theater work with nonprofessional actors, and this model has subsequently experienced numerous further developments and instantiations. The fourth key task of the symposium will be to continue work on the model of the Lehrstück within the framework of a theater among strangers.
The symposium will be organized in four sections that are further described in the extensive Call for Papers, which can be found on the conference website www.brechtunterfremden.org.
- Brecht in Foreign Lands/Brecht the Foreigner: New Perspectives on Brecht's Time as a Migrant and Theater Work »after Brecht« in the GDR and the FRG
- Theater among Strangers: Brecht’s Concept of a Transcultural Theater and Its Continuation in the Theater of Migration Societies
- Foreign Affairs in a Global World: Artistic Practices after Brecht in Regional and Social Combustion Points Worldwide
- Strangers Acting/Acting Strange: Theater Work with Nonprofessional Actors »after Brecht«
In addition to the four thematic sections, the symposium will address the contemporary significance and relevance of theater work with and after Brecht via a variety of keynote addresses by leading figures, as well as in multiple workshops and roundtables featuring theater practitioners and other experts. In addition, a large number of theatrical performances, scenic presentations, and lecture performances by artists from Leipzig and around the world will form an integral part of the symposium. We will make continual updates about the symposium program on our conference website.
Abstracts—of no more than 1,500 characters—for presentations, panels, short workshops, lecture performances, and related formats—with a time limit of twenty minutes, plus ten minutes for discussion—may be sent, by July 31, 2018, to: email@example.com. The symposium organizers will be happy to consider proposals for entire panels (with up to three presenters), or for mutual or interconnected presentations. We particularly welcome submissions oriented to one of the four main thematic complexes, described in the extensive Call for Papers at the conference website. The languages of the symposium will be German and English. All who have submitted abstracts will receive information about acceptance or rejection by October 31, 2018 at the latest.
Symposium fee and additional costs
There will be a symposium fee of 140 euros per participant. Students will pay a reduced fee of 65 euros. Non-student participants who register and pay their fees by January 31, 2019 will receive a discount of 40 euros off the regular rate and thus pay 100 euros.
Travel and room and board costs must be covered by participants themselves. The symposium organizers will try to negotiate reduced-rate hotel prices as well as an affordable ticket system for reduced-price lunches and dinners for participants. In the event of an invitation to participate in the symposium, the organizers would be happy to support participants who wish to apply to their home universities or other funding agencies for support in covering travel and other participation costs.
Following the conclusion of the symposium, the organizers plan to publish selected contributions in the Brecht Yearbook or in the IBS journal e-cibs (=electronic communications of the international brecht society). Joining the IBS is not a requirement for participation in the symposium BRECHT UNTER FREMDEN/BRECHT AMONG STRANGERS. However, only members of the IBS will receive a free copy of the Brecht Yearbook, which will include the proceedings of the Leipzig symposium. Further details about the work of the International Brecht Society and its publications, about membership benefits as well as about previous IBS symposia, can be found at the website www.brechtsociety.org.
Centre of Competence for Theatre (CCT)
at Leipzig University