Stories of Mr. Keuner

Overview

Bertolt Brecht's Stories of Mr. Keuner is a collection of fables, aphorisms, and comments on politics, everyday life, and exile. From 1930 til his death in 1956, Brecht penned these ironic portraits of his times as he was "changing countries more often than shoes." An ardent antifascist, Brecht roamed across Europe just ahead of Hitler's armies—only to wind up poolside in Los Angeles and then interrogated by Senator Joe McCarthy's infamous committee.

Bertolt Brecht wrote The ...

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Overview

Bertolt Brecht's Stories of Mr. Keuner is a collection of fables, aphorisms, and comments on politics, everyday life, and exile. From 1930 til his death in 1956, Brecht penned these ironic portraits of his times as he was "changing countries more often than shoes." An ardent antifascist, Brecht roamed across Europe just ahead of Hitler's armies—only to wind up poolside in Los Angeles and then interrogated by Senator Joe McCarthy's infamous committee.

Bertolt Brecht wrote The Threepenny Opera, Mahagonny, Mother Courage, The Life of Galileo, and many other plays. A major poet of the twentieth century, Brecht also wrote extensively on the theater. At war's end, Brecht became director of the renowned Berliner Ensemble in East Germany.

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Editorial Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
Stories of Mr. Keuner finally puts in English translation this startling and stunning body of work, not only encouraging a broader appreciation of a playwright famed for fighting inhumanity in his time, but also effectively questioning integrity in our own day.
Library Journal
In this collection of 86 prose fragments, Mr. Keuner (hereafter Mr. K.), the "thinking man," reflects on various issues that epitomized the volatile nature of German society between the two world wars, particularly its intellectual branch. Included are thoughts on poverty, religion, power, the profitable nature of folly, the benefits of uncertainty, small-minded nationalism, the suicidal nature of self-love, and more. Brecht compares Mr. K.'s wisdom to that of the prototypical philosophy professor who walks "clumsily" and creates "no light with [his] talking." Mr. K., on the other hand, is simply an ordinary man with an extraordinary acumen who sees so far ahead that he is able to prepare his next mistake. Autonomous and suspiciously accessible, these pieces are perhaps easier to comprehend than to classify: they are not strictly philosophical because of their visibly imaginative nature yet not strictly poetic as they teem with crudely translated language (at times so literal that they contain undertones of the commanding German idioms). Still, to label them as fiction is an easy way out: Sure, they are rooted in dialog between purposefully vague characters, and they also entertain, but their true value is most often hidden in the last sentence that not only bears the weight of each story's message but also the author's own ideology. These debatable and still timely stories belong in all academic libraries. Mirela Roncevic, "Library Journal" Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The first English translation of the great playwright's discursive semifictionalized observations on German life and politics, as spoken by the eponymous Keuner (his name from the German "keiner," meaning "no man"), a "thinking man" obviously inspired by Plato's Socrates. Written between the 1920s and '50s (and collected for first publication in 1956, the year of Brecht's death), they're brief (often single-paragraph) aperçus generally employed to deflate contemporary pretensions regarding religion, patriotism, capitalism, exile, and other themes engaged more fully in their author's celebrated poems and plays (e.g., "I am for justice; so it's good if the place in which I'm staying has more than one exit"), but most effectively adumbrated in this revealing coda to an indisputably major, and still challenging, body of work.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780872863835
  • Publisher: City Lights Books
  • Publication date: 7/1/2001
  • Edition description: 1ST CITY L
  • Pages: 120
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Read an Excerpt




Excerpt


What's wise about the wise man is his stance


A philosophy professor came to see Mr. K. and told him about his wisdom. After a while Mr. K. said to him: "You sit uncomfortably, you talk uncomfortably, you think uncomfortably." The philosophy professor became angry and said: "I didn't want to hear anything about myself but about the substance of what I was talking about." "It has no substance," said Mr. K. "I see you walking clumsily and, as far as I can see, you're not getting anywhere. You talk obscurely, and you create no light with your talking. Seeing your stance, I'm not interested in what you're getting at."


Organization


Mr. K. once said: "The thinking man does not use one light too many, one piece of bread too many, one idea too many."


Measures against power


As Mr. Keuner, the thinking man, was speaking out against Power in front of a large audience in a hall, he noticed the people in front of him shrinking back and leaving. He looked round and saw standing behind him—Power.

    "What were you saying?" Power asked him.

    "I was speaking out in favor of Power," replied Mr. Keuner.

    After Mr. Keuner had left the hall, his students inquired about his backbone. Mr. Keuner replied: "I don't have a backbone to be broken. I'm the one who has to live longer than Power."

    And Mr. Keuner told the following story:

    One day, during the period of illegality, an agent entered the apartment of Mr. Eggers, a man who had learned to say no. The agent showed a document, which was made out in the name of those who ruled the city, and which stated that any apartment in which he set foot belonged to him; likewise, any food that he demanded belonged to him; likewise, any man whom he saw, had to serve him.

    The agent sat down in a chair, demanded food, washed, lay down in bed, and, before he fell asleep, asked, with his face to the wall: "Will you be my servant?"

    Mr. Eggers covered the agent with a blanket, drove away the flies, watched over his sleep, and, as he had done on this day, obeyed him for seven years. But whatever he did for him, one thing Mr. Eggers was very careful not to do: that was, to say a single word. Now, when the seven years had passed and the agent had grown fat from all the eating, sleeping, and giving orders, he died. Then Mr. Eggers wrapped him in the ruined blanket, dragged him out of the house, washed the bed, whitewashed the walls, drew a deep breath and replied: "No."


Of the bearers of knowledge


"He who bears knowledge must not fight, nor tell the truth, nor do a service, nor not eat, nor refuse honors, nor be conspicuous. He who bears knowledge has only one virtue: that he bears knowledge," said Mr. Keuner.


Serving a purpose


Mr. K. put the following questions:

    "Every morning my neighbor plays music on a gramophone. Why does he play music? Because he's doing exercises, I've heard. Why is he doing exercises? Because he needs to be strong, I've heard. Why does he need to be strong? He says it's because he must defeat his enemies in the city. Why must he defeat enemies? Because he wants to eat, I've heard." After Mr. K. had heard that his neighbor played music in order to do exercises, did exercises in order to be strong, wanted to be strong in order to kill his enemies, killed his enemies in order to eat, he put his question: "Why does he eat?"


Excerpted from Stories of Mr. Keuner by Bertolt Brecht. Copyright © 2001 by Suhrkamp Verlag. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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Table of Contents

What's wise about the wise man is his stance 1
Organization 2
Measures against power 3
Of the bearers of knowledge 5
Serving a purpose 6
Hardships of the best 7
Not bribing is an art 8
Love of fatherland, the hatred of fatherlands 9
The bad is not cheap, either 10
Going hungry 11
Advice, when advice is not heeded 12
Originality 13
The question of whether there is a God 14
The right to weakness 15
The helpless boy 16
Mr. K. and nature 17
Convincing questions 18
Reliability 19
Meeting again 20
On the selection of brutes 21
Form and content 24
Conversations 25
Hospitality 26
If Mr. K. loved someone 27
On the disruption of "one thing at a time" 28
Success 29
Mr. K. and the cats 30
Mr. K.'s favorite animal 31
Ancient times 32
A good answer 33
Praise 34
Two cities 35
Good turns 36
Mr. K. in unfamiliar accommodation 37
Mr. K. and consistency 38
The father of the thought 39
The administration of justice 40
Socrates 41
The envoy 42
The natural urge to own property 44
If sharks were men 45
Waiting 48
The indispensable civil servant 49
A bearable affront 50
Mr. K. drives a car 51
Mr. K. and poetry 52
The horoscope 53
Misunderstood 54
Two drivers 55
Sense of justice 56
On friendliness 57
[Mr. Keuner and his niece's drawing] 58
[On corruptibility] 59
[Error and progress] 60
[Knowledge of human nature] 61
[Mr. Keuner and the flood tide] 62
Mr. Keuner and the actress 63
[Mr. Keuner and the newspapers] 64
On betrayal 66
Commentary 67
[On the satisfaction of interests] 68
The two forfeits 69
[Signs of good living] 71
[About truth] 72
Love of whom? 73
Who knows whom? 74
[The best style] 76
Mr. Keuner and the doctor 77
[Alike better than different] 78
[The thinking man and the false student] 79
[On having a stance] 80
[What Mr. Keuner was against] 81
[On withstanding storms] 82
[Mr. Keuner's illness] 83
Incorruptibility 84
[A question of guilt] 85
[The role of feelings] 86
About young Keuner 87
[Extravagance] 88
[Servant or master] 89
[An aristocratic stance] 90
[On the development of the big cities] 91
On systems 92
Architecture 93
Apparatus and party 94
Anger and advice 95
Mr. Keuner and exercises 96
Mr. Keuner - and Mr. Brecht; or, Etiquette in dark times 97
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