Thursday, August 04, 2011

Brecht's Mistress by Jacques-Pierre Amette (The New Press 2003)

There was a welcoming speech in the hotel salon. As they thanked him for being there, Brecht drowsed and his mind wandered; he was thinking of a very ancient German folk-tale that he'd read at school in Augsburg and later remembered during his stay in California. A serving girl had noticed a familiar spirit sitting near her by the hearth; she'd made room for him and chatted to him during the long winter nights. One day, the serving girl asked Little Heinz (the name she had given the spirit) to show himself under his real identity. But Little Heinz refused. Finally, as she persisted, he agreed and told the serving girl to go down into the cellar, where he promised to show himself. The serving girl took a torch, went down into the vault and there, in an open barrel, she saw a dead child floating in its own blood. Many years before, the serving girl had secretly given birth to a child; she had slit its throat and hidden it in a barrel.

Helene Weigel tapped Brecht on the shoulder to bring him out of his torpor - or rather, his meditation. He sat up straight, put on a brave face and reflected that Berlin was a barrel of blood, that Germany, ever since his teens, at the height of the First World War, had also been a barrel of blood and that he was the spirit of Little Heinz.

There had been bloodshed in the streets of Munich, and modern Germany had been swamped in the rivers of blood that flowed through the old Germanic folk tales. He had come back into the cellar and what he now wanted was, with his modest reasonableness, to pull the child out, educate it, and wash away with cold water the blood that still lay on the cellar flagstones. Goethe had down the same with his Faust, Heine with his On Germany; but the stain was now bigger than ever; Mother Germany was half-drowned in it.