Journal of Romance studies

‘This is (not) my body’: transubstantiation as a metaphor for acting in Brecht

Journal of Romance studies (2008), 8, (3), 23–39.

Abstract

This article investigates Brecht’s use of the notion of transubstantiation in his polemics against Stanislavski’s Method. Writing from a Marxist standpoint, Brecht parodies the deeply Christian foundation of Stanislavski’s language and technique, exposing the Method as quasi-religious. Central to his critique is the actor’s embodiment of the role, which Brecht links to the notion of transubstantiation, a concept originating from the Eucharist in Western Christian medieval culture. Brecht contrasts this technique of acting with his own approach that requires the actor to abstain from transforming him or herself into the role. Religiousness on the basis of transubstantiation becomes opposed to Brecht’s own dialectical-materialist, scientific and socio-critical aesthetics. In this way Brecht asserts his status of being the rightful representative of Marxist aesthetics – an urgent claim at a time when Stanislavski’s Realism becomes the official state art of the Soviet Union. However, this article will further show that Brecht’s arguments can in fact be subsumed into the history of theological discourse itself, a discourse which has repeatedly aimed to persuade through an iconoclastic rhetoric against rituals and belief structures based on transubstantiation.

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Author details

von Held, Phoebe

Satz, Aura