Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Reading Period 16: January 26 - February 4: Germany

Class Meeting: 
Tuesday February 2: Brecht, Germany, Greece
Thursday February 4: Night, Germany

Due Dates: 
Readings and quiz: Monday February 1, 7pm
Assignments: Wednesday February 3, 7pm

Long read: 

Night by Elie Wiesel, sections 1-4. Night doesn't have a table of contents or chapter numbers, but there are section breaks. In my copy, sections 1-4 gets you to page 65. If you are reading the translation by Marion Wiesel, please also read the preface and foreward.

Short read: 

This week's short "read" is more of a look and listen.

"Mother Courage and Her Children" is a play about the 30 Years War, that was written by German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht as a response to Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939. Brecht was a socialist who escaped Germany before Hitler's rise to power in 1933. He lived and worked in other cities in Europe before moving to the USA and then back to East Germany after the war.

Link to the script. Don't read it all -- just get a look at it.

The main character, Mother Courage, is a selfish entrepreneur who follows armies to sell them bread and other stuff from her wagon. She has three children who she loses, throughout the play, because she's pursuing her own interests. The idea is that war has ruined her, and by extension all of us.

Link to an review of a production with excerpts with Kevin Kline and Meryl Streep.

Link to an interview with Meryl Streep, talking about her portrayal of Mother Courage.

Brecht also adapted "The Threepenny Opera" for film, with music by Kurt Weill. It's a critique of capitaslism set in Victorian London. You may recognize the famous song "Mack the Knife" in the first few minutes of this film. Original film from 1931, in German:


English version of the same opening song from a 1989 version:


"The Burning of the Books" by Bertolt Brecht

Creative Assignments:

When we do our Novel Autopsy Report, we list important quotes from the novel. To this point, I've identified the most important quotes for you, but now I'd like you to practice doing this on your own. Choose three quotes from the first half of Night that you feel are significant, and write a short personal journal entry for each one, saying why you feel it is important to highlight. If you're using a paper copy of the book and the owner is okay with you writing in it, you can underline these passages in the book, and write notes in the margin, and take a picture of that. Or you can just type in the quote and your response.


Choose any song from any Brecht play or film and play it or sing it (or both!) on any instrument you choose. Create a video of yourself doing this. Here's a playlist of all the songs from The Threepenny Opera.

Writing Assignments:

Watch this short video about Brechtian theater, focusing on a National Theater production of "Mother Courage and Her Children." At the beginning of the video are several quotes from Bertoldt Brecht. Choose one and apply it to Elie Wiesel's Night. How does Wiesel's book do or not do what Brecht is talking about? Here are the quotes:
"Theatrical illusion must be partial, so that it can always be recognized as illusion."  
"Art is not a mirror with which to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it."  
"The question of what artistic devices we should choose is simply the question of how we can get our audience to become socially active." 
Is the theatrical illusion of Night partial or total? Do you see it as an illusion, as a work of art, or do you see it as fact? Is Night a reflection of reality or a hammer to shape it? Is the purpose of Elie Wiesel's story to get his audience to become socially active or socially aware?


Elie Wiesel mentions being inspected by Dr. Josef Mengele, and Brecht's poem "The Burning of the Books" references the Nazi book burning, orchestrated by Joseph Goebbels. Choose one of these high ranking Nazis and write a short (300 words) essay about him. Focus your essay however you choose, but make sure you cite your sources with links.


In lieu of a quiz, I'd like you to look up these words that you may be unfamiliar with, from Night. Write the definitions. A quick Google search should give you everything you need.

1. Kabbalah
2. Gestapo
3. Kapo
4. Kommando
5. Zionist
6. Fascist
7. Blockalteste
8. Talmud
9. Pipel
10. Appellplatz

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