Tag: Bertolt Brecht

On Liars, Politics, Michiko Kakutani, Martin Jay, and Hannah Arendt

A long piece by Michiko Kakutani on “the death of truth” is making the rounds. In it, she quotes Arendt: Two of the most monstrous regimes in human history came to power in the 20th century, and both were predicated on the violation and despoiling of truth, on the knowledge that cynicism and weariness and fear can make people susceptible to the lies and false promises of leaders bent on unconditional power. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1951 book The Origins of Totalitarianism, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false […]

I am a Communist, not an Idiot

1. “The trouble with intellectuals is that what starts as feelings ends in a hangover.” —Bertolt Brecht to Edwin Piscator 2. When Walter Benjamin asked Brecht, who was fleeing the Nazis, if he’d take refuge in Moscow, Brecht is supposed to have replied: “I am a Communist, not an idiot.” 3. In 1945, just after he had retired from UCLA with a meager pension, Arnold Schoenberg applied for a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation. He was rejected. H/t this essay by George Steiner.


Adam Smith, The Theory of the Moral Sentiments: The poor man, on the contrary, is ashamed of his poverty. He feels that it either places him out of the sight of mankind, or, that if they take any notice of him, they have, however, scarce any fellow-feeling with the misery and distress which he suffers. He is mortified upon both accounts. For though to be overlooked, and to be disapproved of, are things entirely different, yet as obscurity covers us from the daylight of honour and approbation, to feel that we are taken no notice of, necessarily damps the most agreeable hope, and disappoints the most ardent desire, of human nature. The poor man goes out and comes in unheeded, […]

O Yale…(Updated, Again and Again and Again)

A friend writes me that he just got a copy of the Yale Alumni Magazine and, well, listen to my friend: The image: a clean-cut [WHITE] man in a [PIN-STRIPE] suit picking fruit from a large tree. The headline: “Reaching beyond the low-hanging fruit.” The subtitle: “Yale College seeks smart students from poor families. They’re out there—but hard to find.” What was it that Brecht said? O Germany— Hearing the speeches that ring from your house, one laughs. But whoever sees you, reaches for his knife. Update (3:30 pm) Tim Barker points out that if you go to the article itself, it has a dek that reads: The families of Yale College students, on average, are substantially richer than the […]

Bertolt Brecht Comes to CUNY

Last month, the English Department faculty at Queensborough Community College (QCC), which is part of the CUNY system where I teach, voted to recall their chair and elect a new chair. (At CUNY, chairs are elected.)The vote was a landslide, as these things go: over 20 out of 30 full-time faculty were in favor of the recall and the new chair. On Tuesday, the president of QCC decided to overturn the faculty’s decision. Among the reasons the president gave for her decision was that the department was divided (apparently, only Soviet-style election results in which 100 percent of the people vote for the Party are acceptable) and needed time to heal (by having its decisions overturned). The president also reappointed […]