”The Temptations of Goodness: Brecht’s Enlightenment“
Joseph Roach, Dec. 3, 2019. 220 York Street, room 100
What happened to drama in the supposed “broad spectrum” of performance studies? What happened to history?
Addressing these urgent questions to all the participants in PSWG, “Brecht’s Enlightenment” refers first to the playwright’s fascination with eighteenth-century dramatists (including John Gay, George Farquhar, Denis Diderot, and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, “the world’s first officially appointed dramaturg”) and second to the underappreciated role of their theater in his formulation of the key concepts of estrangement and social gesture. In The Caucasian Chalk Circle Brecht deploys these techniques to challenge his audiences to face the sacrificial struggle toward a truly enlightened social contract, against all the odds and despite all the costs: “Terrible is the temptation to do good,” as “The Singer,” Brecht’s narrator, puts it, speaking to us today even more heart-piercingly now than at the play’s premiere seventy years ago.
Joseph Roach, founder of the Performance Studies Working Group in 2003, is Sterling Professor of Theater and Professor of English, Emeritus, at Yale University.