“Ja, fast ein Schauspiel scheint’s mir”: Self-reflexivity, Crisis, and Canonization in Bertolt Brecht’s Die heilige Johanna der Schlachthöfe

Leonie Wilms


This article examines the relationship between the literary-theoretical topos of self-reflexivity and a politically efficacious theater in Bertolt Brecht’s Die heilige Johanna der Schlachthöfe, with the objectives of reassessing the special position Johanna occupies within Brecht’s work and of responding to criticism questioning the usefulness of self-reflexivity as an analytical category. This article argues that the triad of self-reflexivity, crisis, and critique is instrumental in developing a theater suitable for the challenges of the early twentieth century. Self-reflexivity in Brecht’s play is established through a series of intertextual references and metatheatrical scenes. By confronting epic theater with tragic form, Johanna produces a structural crisis that makes possible a critique of both politics and theater. As a symptom of capitalism, crisis needs to be staged in order to be rendered comprehensible. Crisis as a formal element, by contrast, serves as a critique of the seemingly inescapable capitalist cooptation of Johanna. (LW)

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