Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Stories of Mr. Keuner by Bertolt Brecht

Geschichten vom Herrn Keuner (Stories of Mr. Keuner) is a series of short stories, aphorisms and commentary written by the great dramatist and poet Bertolt Brecht from about 1930 to his death in 1956.  They give advice and comments about all aspects of life and go far beyond the purely political  themes one usually associates with Brecht.  The advice is often simply about how to relate to other human beings and how to live ones daily life. Politics is however of course not absent at all and is a prominent recurring theme. The stories are very short, ranging from one sentence or a paragraph to two pages at the most.

The stories are both about and told by Mr. Keuner (therefore the ambiguous title) and serve to illustrate the points made by the title character. Keuner is a clever, if not wise man, a humanist and a thinker, who has opinions on most things and is most often seen in the role of the teacher and sage.

The advice given is often contrary to and directly challenges percieved and common "wisdom" and is often odd in a way that is hard to describe, if it's understandable at all. At times Keuner's comments resemble Zen koans. Humour is another important element and are present in many, if not most of the stories. The stories is often inspired by the author's Marxist worldview, but also by the Chinese philosophy that inspired Brecht as well.

But one should also keep in mind that the stories are more supposed to act as incitement to further thinking, than an infallible guide.  Keuner is far from always a sympathetic character. For all his non-conformist and revolutinary thinking, Keuner also advocates a cowardly submission to the powers that be when necessary, something that Brecht practiced in real life at times.

The Keuner stories are despite this very much worth reading. The advice given is often very wise and thought provoking and even if one doesn't agree or understand, the story is often interesting or funny nevertheless.
The stories have been translated into English by Martin Chalmers. The Swedish translations I read was by Ulf Gran and a complete collection of them was released last year. Many of the stories can be found on the internet. Here is a page with some of the stories in english.

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