Brecht, Chaplin and the Comic Inheritance of Marxism

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Although many critics have discussed the influence of Chaplin on the theory and practice of Brecht’s epic theater, few have examined the political ramifications of this interaction. That such interaction spanned Brecht’s entire literary career suggests the importance of reciprocally reading these two figures, especially considering the politico-ethical concern they inherit from their nineteenth century forerunner, Karl Marx. If the Marx of The Eighteenth Brumaire is forced into satirical anger by the intrusive interruption of the lumpenproletariat, Chaplin and Brecht make this discontinuous, distracted and trampish figure the central object of their formal and narrative strategies. Beyond the teleology of Marxist science, the lumpen performs the political by exposing the repressed nonsense of social relations, thus suggesting their critique and transformation. This essay argues that epic theater screens these relations in a Chaplin-inflected montage of gestures, positions and attitudes, finding a means, to paraphrase Marx, to separate from the past cheerfully.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-59
Number of pages21
JournalThe Brecht Yearbook
Issue number35
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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