Performative language in Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo. Didactic reflections on dialogue and interpretation

Interroger la performativité dans La vie de Galilée de Bertolt Brecht. Réflexions didactiques sur les articulations entre l’interprétation et le dialogue

Abstracts

There are nowadays a whole series of publications on the staging or productive use of theatre, all of which show that the theatrical learning medium has long since been used not only in mother-tongue or foreign language teaching in schools, but also in the field of dialogue interpretation. What is striking, however, is that it is not the drama text but preferably theatrical techniques that are used to initiate a better way of dealing with complex language situations. Theatre has developed into a relational medium par excellence because of its play character and not because of its literary text substrate; in fact, the theatrical genus is form-giving and formable, sometimes so formable that one of its ostensible constituents, i.e. the text, is often perceived as a negligible one. The approach adopted here is different: With its dual focus – on a specific drama text and on the prosodic design –, it adopts a holistic perspective that considers both language and gestural awareness of dialogical interactions.

De plus en plus de publications démontrent que le théâtre et l’expression dramatique ont aujourd’hui droit de cité non seulement dans l’enseignement des langues mais aussi en didactique d’interprétation de dialogue. Ce qui est frappant cependant, c’est que ce sont les techniques théâtrales et non les textes dramatiques qui font office de référence pour former les étudiants à la gestion langagière des émotions et des conflits. Parmi ces techniques, le jeu de rôle occupe une place privilégiée dans les modes de conduite de la situation pédagogique, à un point tel que la mise en situation individualisée est considérée aujourd’hui comme un « incontournable » en matière de didactique de l’interprétation de dialogue.

Le « jeu de rôle » doit son succès à sa malléabilité, à sa capacité de s’adapter aux modifications auxquelles son emploi est soumis. Cependant, cette qualité devient presque un défaut lorsque vient à manquer toute référence à son terreau originaire, à savoir le « théâtre », terme d’origine grecque (θέατρον, theatron) qui désigne non sans hasard le « lieu où se déroule une action importante ». Réduit à une boîte à outils pédagogiques, le théâtre se voit « amputé » de ce qui constitue sa véritable force : le texte dramatique, trop souvent perçu, que ce soit en classe d’interprétation de dialogue ou en classe TOLC (Translation for Other Learning Contexts), comme une donnée négligeable. La perspective empruntée ici est différente : en adoptant un double regard, posé à la fois sur le texte dramatique et sur la prosodie, nous nous proposons de poursuivre ici une approche « holistique » qui tienne compte de toutes les composantes de l’acte théâtral. Pour ce faire, nous épouserons, en guise d’approche théorique, une perspective résolument transculturelle, qui entend se démarquer des limites et des implicites de l’approche interculturelle, telle qu’elle fut de mise à la fin du xxe siècle dans de nombreuses disciplines, et en l’occurrence dans les sciences théâtrales.

Dans les lignes qui suivent, nous tenterons, en nous référant au concept de « transculturalité », de démontrer qu’un theatrical turn est en train de s’opérer en matière de didactique d’interprétation de dialogue, et qu’il suffit, pour le parfaire, de prendre en compte l’aspect proprement textuel du théâtre. Notre point de vue est en effet que le texte théâtral est particulièrement riche d’enseignements, surtout lorsqu’il s’agit de réfléchir aux articulations entre l’interprétation d’une part et le dialogue de l’autre.

Le terme « théâtre transculturel » ne nous revient pas ; il a été initié et développé par Günther Heeg (Heeg, 2017), homme de théâtre et universitaire allemand qui cherche à se démarquer des limites et des implicites de l’approche interculturelle. Son objectif est de pouvoir interroger autrement la question théâtrale qui ne se limite pas selon lui au champ restreint des études théâtrales. Selon Heeg, le théâtre, plus que tout autre genre littéraire, entretient un lien direct avec la vie, raison pour laquelle il apporterait un regard intéressant à des contextes à la fois en mutation et en divergence. L’objectif que nous entendons poursuivre ici consiste tout d’abord à souligner les articulations entre l’interprétation de dialogue et le théâtre. Ensuite, nous proposerons une « mise en scène didactique », basée sur un texte théâtral, à savoir une scène de La vie de Galilée de Bertolt Brecht. Destiné non pas à un public spécialisé en littérature, mais à des étudiants souhaitant consacrer leur avenir professionnel à l’interprétation de dialogue, ce voyage dans le monde du théâtre a été conçu pour les sensibiliser à la dimension performative du langage.

Es gibt heute eine ganze Reihe von Publikationen zum produktiven Umgang mit Theater, aus denen sämtlich hervorgeht, dass das theatrale Lernmedium längst nicht mehr nur im Mutter- oder Fremdsprachenunterricht seinen angestammten Platz hat, sondern auch in der Didaktik des Dialogdolmetschens. Auffällig ist dabei, dass nicht der theatrale Text, sondern die theatralen Techniken eingesetzt werden, um die Studierenden für einen besseren Umgang mit komplexen Sprachsituationen zu sensibilisieren. Nicht wegen seines literarischen Textsubstrats, sondern wegen seines Spielcharakters hat sich das Theater zum relationalen Medium par excellence entwickelt. Tatsächlich ist das Theater eine ebenso formgebende wie formbare Gattung, deren Formbarkeit allerdings die Gefahr birgt, andere Komponenten wie beispielsweise den Text in den Hintergrund rücken zu lassen. Der hier gewählte Ansatz grenzt sich von dieser Tendenz deutlich ab: Durch seine doppelte Ausrichtung auf einen spezifischen Theatertext und auf die prosodische Komponente wird eine ganzheitliche Perspektive eingenommen, die nicht nur der Sprache, sondern auch dem gestischen Moment der dialogischen Interaktion Rechnung trägt.

Indexes

Mots-clés

théâtre, complémentarité, jeux de rôles, texte théâtral, prosodie, effet d’étrangeté

Keywords

theatre, complementarity, role-plays, theatrical text, prosody, estrangement effect

Schlagwortindex

Theater, Komplementarität, Rollenspiele, Theatertext, Prosodie, Verfremdungseffekt

Plan

Full text

1. Dualism vs. Complementarity

The concepts of “interculturality” and “transculturality” have led to extensive literary and communication research in the past two decades. Since then, the abundance of publications dealing with both concepts has been impressive, despite some attempts in the last ten years to demarcate them and give some preference to the second tenet1. An example of a work that clearly stands under the sign of interculturality is the volume edited by Wilfried Floeck, published after an international colloquium on contemporary theatre in Germany and France (Floeck, 1989)2. It may seem artificial to pin down German and French theatre to distinct characteristics, yet the intercultural perspective is derived precisely from the assumption and perception of two distinct theatrical traditions as enduring entities. The intercultural perspective does not describe theatre in the process of becoming, but about adopting a comparative, sometimes evaluative attitude, which is articulated, for example, in the statement that the German theatre system should be considered as exemplary within Europe (Floeck, 1989: X).

A completely different perspective is taken by Günther Heeg, whose book Das transkulturelle Theater (Heeg, 2017) has received comparatively little attention despite its ground-breaking originality. Interculturality has been replaced by a radical commitment to transculturality. According to Heeg, 21st century thinking is characterised by complementarity rather than binarism. Thus, life does no longer present itself as an “either or”, as assumed since René Descartes; there is no “German theatre” on one side and “French theatre” on the other, as still assumed by Floeck, rather both are constantly connected with each other. Instead of highlighting differences, the transcultural perspective consists of asking oneself if there is more to experience than a “cultural collage” of different cultural traditions (Heeg, 2017: 18). This shift in perspective presupposes a different relationship between theory and experience, as Heeg emphasizes.

So far, so good. However, what does transculturality have to do with the Didactics of Dialogue Interpreting (DI)? Is this a useful concept in TOLC3? The objective of this study is primarily to elucidate how the DI approach has gradually shifted toward the realm of theatre over the past decade; indeed, a growing number of theoretical texts advocate for a radical shift towards role-playing as a pedagogical medium of choice for DI. The second segment focuses on a concrete didactic contribution grounded in a theatrical text, specifically a scene from Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galilei. Overall, this journey into the world of theatre was consciously designed as an experiment: The aim here is not to convince students pursuing a Bachelor of Art or Theatre Studies about the merits of this art form, but to introduce TOLC or DI4 students to a medium that can boast of being highly developed in terms of “interaction”. The “experiment” was conducted at the Heidelberg “Institute for Interpreting and Translating”, where I had the opportunity to teach on several occasions. It is linguistically oriented toward a German-speaking learning audience with English5 as a second language.

2. Turning towards theatre

When reviewing the relevant literature on DI didactics, it becomes apparent that the nonverbal perspective is being increasingly emphasised. More specifically, there seems to be a consensus that the notion of “interaction” is the very starting point for addressing the methodological challenges of Interpreting Studies (Pöchhacker, 20156; Bendazzoli and Monacelli, 2016: XIV; Cirillo and Niemants, 2017). Similarly, the contributions curated by Laura Gavioli and Cecilia Wadensjö (20237) assert that interaction is a dynamic phenomenon, thereby introducing novel notions in educational settings that align with this presumption. Nonetheless, I am not inclined to overlook the paradox that despite the consensus that role-playing, the theatrical medium par excellence, is a highly effective means of teaching students dialogic thinking, there are only a handful of authors who associate role-playing with theatre as a performative genre or consider whether theatre can contribute to a holistic approach8 to DI.

Since the end of the 1990s, the identification of professional competencies that teachers of interpreting should bring with them has been a subject of pedagogical-psychological and didactic research (Kautz, 2000). What characteristics make a good teacher of interpreting, what attitudes one should possess towards teaching and learning, and whether didactic knowledge transcends subject knowledge are increasingly significant questions and have gained prominence in the relevant literature (Petrova et al., 2022). Since the entry into force of Directive 2010/64/EU on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings, a call for a stronger contouring of the professional habitus of a Public Service Interpreter has been raised. Nonetheless, there remains a deficiency in the competencies that must be acquired during training. Therefore, the postulate of vocational education that is practice-oriented and conducive to reflection, as advocated by Şebnem Bahadir in relation to interpretation training in German-speaking countries, can be extended to the entirety of Europe:

Die professionellere Art des Umgangs mit einer solchen Bedarfssituation ist der Weg einer praxisorientierten kritischen Aus- und Weiterbildung, die sich nicht nur auf die Förderung der rationalen Fähigkeiten konzentriert, sondern die Sensibilisierung von Körper und Emotionalität, also die nonverbale wie verbale Kommunikationskompetenz und die Empathiebildung mit einbezieht. (Bahadir, 2008: 177)

The more professional way of dealing with such a situation of need is to take the path of practice-oriented critical education and training, which not only focuses on the promotion of rational skills, but also includes the awareness of the body and emotionalism, that is non-verbal and verbal communication competence and empathy building. (Bahadir, 2008: 177)9

Mira Kadrić, like Bahadir, also believes that the role of the university in the field of DI is not limited to providing students only with subject-specific knowledge (Kadrić, 2011: 11). She employs diverse methodologies from diverse fields, such as the Theatre of the Oppressed, which was pioneered by Augusto Boal. The Brazilian director and theatre theorist addressed political indifference towards social issues10 (Boal, 1985). His theatrical practices centred on the correlations between physical postures and inner dispositions. Kadrić draws inspiration from Boal’s exercises (Boal, 2002) and employs them in a scenic manner to teach DI. Thus, she writes:

Die Beispiele sind Dolmetschübungen entnommen, die authentische Situationen nachstellen, und stammen damit aus einer Faktensammlung; gleichzeitig stellen die Beispiele den Versuch dar, subjektive Erfahrungen zu reflektieren und Zusammenhänge mit den theoretischen Ansätzen aufzuzeigen und zu interpretieren. Auch Lernen ist nicht nur ein rationaler, sondern zugleich ein emotionaler Vorgang. (Kadrić, 2011: 95)

Examples are taken from interpreting exercises that recreate authentic situations and thus come from a collection of facts; at the same time, the examples represent the attempt to reflect on subjective experiences and to point out and interpret connections with theoretical approaches. Learning too is not only a rational process but also an emotional one. (Kadrić, 2011: 95)

Despite the assertions made in this article that role-play ought to encompass not only a pragmatic but also a poetic approach, it is undeniable that it is a technique of significant didactic value due to its closeness to reality and its capacity to adapt to intricate human dynamics. In the relevant literature, it has been implicitly assumed that role-playing is necessary (Crezee, 2015; Krystallidou et al., 2017); it appears that there is a consensus that role-plays do not accurately represent real-life experiences, but that they offer the advantage of presenting specific scenarios (Dahnberg, 2023) and focusing on specific aspects of the intricate reality, allowing for the experimentation of previously unfamiliar behaviours in a relatively secure environment. Simultaneously, role-playing is a delicate technique that requires specific prerequisites and consideration of some basic rules during its execution. Letizia Cirillo and Maura Radicioni rightly emphasise that role-playing, particularly in the realm of “business negotiations”, requires careful consideration. They suggest that the achievement of learning objectives calls for meticulous execution of each step of the activity, including defining the objectives, preparing the materials, briefing the participants, carrying out the activity, and debriefing afterwards (Cirillo and Radicioni, 2017: 120).

However, it is important to remember that role-playing is an activity that does not necessarily require physical action; it can also be imaginary or narrative and does not necessarily have to occur in the oral mode. While there is a consensus that role-playing in a well-prepared setting is the best way to introduce students to DI, I worry that role-plays, particularly those simulating conversation or conflict11, may not be as authentic as they pretend. Practising empathy, persuasiveness, adaptability, conflict resolution, and other interpreting skills may not always be possible in simulated sales, staff meetings, or customer complaints. Theatrical elements play a crucial role in helping students understand the logic behind the effectiveness of dialogical interactions, emphasising their resemblance to DI.

3. Why Brecht?

The idea of replacing Boal with Brecht may seem puzzling at first. After all, their connection lies predominantly in the realm of the “social” and little else. However, while both advocate for a shift in prevailing conditions, they also diverge significantly. Unlike Boal, Brecht was not only a theatre director and theorist, but also a poet and playwright affiliated with the modernist literary movement. The idea of using a scene from Brecht’s Life of Galileo in DI classes owes much to Günther Heeg’s book mentioned above, which, compared to the discussion of postdramatic theatre triggered by Hans-Thies Lehmann in the 1990s (Lehmann, 2005 [1995]), has caused relatively few waves. Contrary to Lehmann’s concept, transcultural theatre goes beyond the boundaries of a particular genre or completely novel form of theatre. Instead, it introduces a ground-breaking perspective within theatre studies, delving into diverse theatrical practices and shedding new light on various historical forms and techniques. It embraces a modern outlook, heavily influenced by current events, as described by Heeg:

Von seiner Dringlichkeit zeugen die Nachrichten, die uns täglich erreichen. Massenflucht von Menschen vor Krieg, Hunger und Armut über Land und Meer, brennende Geflüchtetenunterkünfte, Fremdenhass. Ebenso schlimm wie diese Ereignisse sind die Reaktionen darauf. Auf die bislang größte Herausforderung Europas und der Weltgemeinschaft antwortet vielerorts eine Politik der Abschottung und der neu errichteten Grenzzäune und Mauern. […] Unübersehbar ist der Widerspruch zwischen der Notwendigkeit und Möglichkeit, eine in Bewegung geratene Welt auf den Weg einer transkulturellen Weltwerdung zu bringen und dem Wunsch, der Bewegung Herr zu werden durch ein generelles Zurück zur unerschütterbaren Tektonik fundamentalistischer Ordnungen und Traditionen. (Heeg, 2017: 23)

News that reach us every day testifies to its urgency. The mass flight of people from war, hunger and poverty over land and sea, burning refugee shelters, and xenophobia. As serious as the events themselves are the reactions that they trigger. The biggest challenge that Europe and the world community have faced so far is now tackled with isolation policies and newly erected dividing fences and walls. [...] The contradiction between the necessity and possibility of setting a world in motion on the path of transcultural world-making and the desire to master the movement through a general return to the unshakable tectonics of fundamentalist orders and traditions can no longer be overlooked. (Heeg, 2017: 23)

According to Heeg, one representative or (better yet) founder of practices promoting transcultural theatre was Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956); the influential German playwright saw the strangeness of theatre as a potential source of its renovation. His famous term “Verfremdungseffekt” (which is also sometimes rendered as “estrangement effect”) understands “alienation” as an alienation from experience itself. He was convinced that the audience and actors should become strangers to themselves; in this way, hidden connections beyond the everyday, superficial view of reality would become visible. Replacing gawking with critical seeing, under this basic premise, Brecht wanted to turn the theatre of illusion from head to toe. This alienation enables the spectator to adopt the peculiar attitude which characterises the natural scientist, as Brecht explains in his theatre writing Kleines Organon using the figure of Galileo:

Damit all dies viele Gegebene ihm als ebenso Zweifelhaftes erscheinen könnte, müßte er jenen fremden Blick entwickeln, mit dem der große Galilei einen ins Pendeln gekommenen Kronleuchter betrachtete. Den verwunderten diese Schwingungen, als hätte er sie so nicht erwartet und verstünde es nicht von ihnen, wodurch er dann auf die Gesetzmäßigkeiten kam. (Brecht, 1957: 151-152)

For the self-evident to appear to him as equally doubtful, he would have to develop a strange gaze with which the great Galileo looked at a chandelier that had begun to swing. He was astonished by these oscillations, as if he had not expected them and understood nothing about them, which then led him to the laws. (Brecht, 1957: 151-152)

Recipients of Brecht’s work should develop the ability to observe human behaviour and social circumstances from a unique perspective. This “strange gaze” allows for seeing through established norms and eventually gaining control over them. For Brecht, alienation means understanding everything in such a way that there is a possibility of intervening. It is this perspective that seems to me to be interesting for dialogue interpreting, since the aim is to train students in a way that they understand the social relevance of their work, the ethical dimension of the interpreting activity they carry out, which inscribes itself to social change, no matter how small.

The teaching module explained in the following section presents a different approach compared to that of Bahadir and Kadrić. It does not rely on exercises originally designed for aspiring actors and then adapted for dialogue interpreters. Instead, students are immersed in an alienating experience (in a Brechtian sense), where a theatre text, such as the one presented here, perpetuates the dialogical principle in countless variations. The audio version of the text is an invaluable training aid as it vividly illustrates the fundamental principle of every literary text: language as a dynamic and interrelated phenomenon. It exemplifies Brecht’s dramatic aesthetic, emphasising the inseparable link between the power of language and the impact of gestures.

4. Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo

Brecht’s Life of Galileo, set in Renaissance Italy and written before, during, and after the Second World War, explores the timeless ethical dilemma surrounding knowledge. The author continually refined his play, resulting in three surviving versions spanning 1936 to 1956, each situated within a dynamic historical context. However, in this teaching module, the focus is not on the connection between the first atomic bomb and Galileo Galilei. Instead, the main character of the play serves as an opportunity for students to contemplate their capacity for action. Ethical reflection on professional action and the integration of one’s professional role into one’s personal identity are indispensable components of dialogue interpreter training. These fundamental objectives must be integrated into a comprehensive curriculum that has yet to be established. As outlined in the following lesson plan, the workshop encompasses two distinct teaching phases:

Table 1: Lesson plan

TARGET GROUP Students of dialogue interpreting (First- and second-level Master degrees) with a mother tongue knowledge of German and a good to very good knowledge of English
TIME REQUIRED 3 two-hour lessons
MATERIALS Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo in the Suhrkamp Edition; pre-prepared work assignments on worksheets; 3 Wikipedia articles about Galileo’s life and the heliocentric world view; Galileo’s monologue in the line version of the Berliner Ensemble Theatre Schiffbauerdamm.
DESIGN
PREPARATION (one week before the start of the teaching module) Students will be asked to write a pardon request consisting of approximately 450 words (homework).
FIRST TEACHING PHASE
LAUNCH Presentation of the homework
DEVELOPMENT Class discussion on the question: “Individual ethics versus institutional ethics” – can one be exchanged for the other?
PREPARATION (one week before the start of the second teaching phase) Students will be asked to read the whole play.
SECOND TEACHING PHASE
LAUNCH Discussion of the first scene direction
CONSOLIDATION Galileo’s monologue
FINAL DISCUSSION To what extent can the alienating view be helpful for dialogue interpreting?

4.1. First teaching phase

The teaching module I conducted as part of a seminar on DI within the framework of an exchange program at the University of Heidelberg began with a discussion of a creative writing agreement that students had to complete at home; they were asked to examine Galileo’s curriculum vitae and write a petition for pardon in a language marked by submissiveness. The written format of the exercise closely mirrors face-to-face interaction, capturing an interactional phenomenon in its literal sense. As in any interaction, the author must adjust the predetermined statement consistently throughout the writing process12. The exercise was a challenge, especially for a generation whose tone, rather known for its directness, seeks to avoid any semblance of flummery. My students were familiar with Brown/Levinson (1987) politeness theory and the related concept of face-threatening acts. They were acquainted with the idea that, in the coexistence of people, certain linguistic actions can hurt the image of the person being addressed, so that politeness strategies must be used to mitigate the effect of these actions. In the writing task below, difficulty was increased by the power gap, in which any threat to the positive face could lead to consequences for the writer’s physical integrity and life. The learning objectives associated with the exercise were as follows:

Students will understand that

  • language can contribute to the domination of some people by others;
  • within power-impotence constellations, language can open up limited spaces of freedom;
  • politeness strategies may be a question of survival;
  • any misplaced words can lead to significant consequences.

WRITING TASK

In 1616, an Inquisitorial commission declared heliocentrism to be “foolish and absurd”. On 26 February, Galileo Galilei (1564-1641) is ordered by Cardinal Bellarmin “to abandon completely the opinion that the sun stands still at the centre of the world and the Earth moves, and henceforth not to hold, teach, or defend it in any way whatever, either orally or in writing” (Pearson, 2020: 175).

Put yourself in Galileo’s situation and imagine that he were to write a petition for pardon to Pope Paul V in a submissive language. What is the wording of his request?

Notice: Before writing your letter in English, read the websites below. On the last website you can even find the signature of the famous astronomer.

LINKS:

Heliozentrisches Weltbild. (2023). viewed on April 29, 2023, from https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heliozentrisches_Weltbild

Robert Bellarmin. (2023). viewed on April 29, 2023, from https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Bellarmin

Galileo Galilei. (2004). viewed on April 29, 2023, from https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_Galilei

This article was added to the list of excellent articles in this version on 10 June 2004.

The Valediction or “How to end a letter”. (2021, April). parks@uh.edu. viewed on April 23, 2023, from https://www.bauer.uh.edu/parks/genealogy/parks_washington_letters.htm#gal [Here you will find Galileo’s signature.]

Here is what I consider to be a particularly well-written letter, penned by one of my students:

Florence, 02 February 1616

Highly honored Pontifex maximus,

To take up the pen to write to You, Your Holiness, is something I would not dare to do under normal circumstances. But times like these, when issues that were thought to be long settled are being raised anew, call for unprecedented courses of action. I am sure Your Holiness will be gracious enough to forgive my impertinence. Recently, His Eminence, Roberto Francesco Romolo Bellarmino, whom I hold in infinite esteem and who assists You as Cardinal and Counsellor in Your difficult office with his infinitely wise and intelligent views, sent me a dispatch signed by Your holy hand, urging me to abjure the heliocentric conception of the world. Without in any way wishing to overstrain your exceedingly great capacity for compassion, let me, most Serene Holiness, speak to you of the despair that took hold of me when I became aware that the text of the dispatch had come from your holy pen.

If I were standing before You in person, I wouldn’t dare to kiss the hem of your dress. But a letter – the much more indirect form of conversation – allows me, without violating the precepts of courtesy, to explain to you with all necessary modesty what heliocentrism consists of.

My scientific efforts, the many investigations, and proofs I have carried out with your gracious support, have brought me to the evidence that the heliocentric view is indeed the correct one. It took me an infinite amount of time and effort to discover, using the latest scientific methods, that the Sun is the resting center of the Universe. The planets, including Earth, move around the center, while the fixed stars are attached to a resting outer ball shell. The Earth revolves around itself once a day and the Moon revolves around the Earth about once a month. All these are scientific facts that can be refuted by no one and by nothing, not even by Holy Scripture. By which I do not wish to have said that the Scriptures could err. Nothing is further from me. The Scriptures cannot err, but their interpreters can. It is time – if I may speak so freely – for theologians to reconcile the statements of the Bible with the heliocentric view of the world. Only through this common effort of will, can man succeed in subduing the earth.

It is because I am so committed to this common effort of will – and because I dare to hope for your great understanding for the cause of science – that I place my fervent hope in you reversing the prohibition imposed on me and allowing me to teach and research in adherence to the heliocentric world view.

Humilus et Oboedens Servus

Galileo Galilei

Image

The discussion revolved around the question of how much space there is for individual ethical reasoning in a social system that primarily relies on a systematic framework for morality. In the letter above, Galileo passionately defended his views, even though they were deemed heretical at the beginning of the seventeenth century. He firmly believes that his views are true and worth advocating for. However, he dresses his convictions in suggestive formulations that border embarrassment, at least in today’s perception. In the penultimate paragraph, he eventually develops a conscious attitude of his own in which he calls on the pope to cooperate more. He suggests that theologians and scholars should work hand in hand – a bold idea, since the 17th century was strongly influenced by the power of the Church, which claimed to be the institution holding the truth. “Ingratiation is like cotton wool into which the truth is lulled”, was the laconic comment of one of my students. “And if the truth is packed in too much cotton wool, it suffocates in it”, another replied. A very pertinent metaphor, as I found, which sums up the whole of Brown and Levinson’s theory of politeness.

In the last paragraph of Galileo’s letter, he does not adopt the submissive posture that characterizes the opening of the letter. Instead, he maintains a polite but not overly ingratiating tone, offering a glimmer of hope that the Church may eventually acknowledge the limitations of its claim to truth and work more closely with science. The students noted that the letter’s closing resembled a sermon, and this observation is particularly intriguing because it highlights the performative power of language. On a conceptual level, it becomes clear that religion and science should complement one another and collaborate for the betterment of humanity. At a linguistic level, this idea is conveyed through the scientist’s use of a sermon-like form of address. The scientist’s goal, or ideal, is fulfilled through the medium of language.

4.2. Second teaching phase

Consisting of two different types of texts, the second teaching phase is reserved for the examination of a specific theatre text, namely the 14th scene from Brecht’s Life of Galileo (Brecht, 2021 [1955/1956]). The learning objectives associated with the exercises in the second teaching phase were as follows:

Students will understand that

  • the open performativity of a sentence is determined by its syntactic position;
  • performative sentences serve to make a stronger speech act than a simple assertion;
  • a simple scene statement can contain a strong, foreshadowing symbolic power;
  • moral judgements are not necessarily made explicitly;
  • language and ethics are closely intertwined;
  • it is important to focus on the expressive dimension of actions;
  • the prosody of spoken text can have gestural characters.

4.2.1 Discussion of the first scene direction

Having written the petition for pardon to the pope, the students are now sufficiently prepared to understand the final scene of Brecht’s play, which, as the first scene direction suggests, takes place in a country house near Florence. Thus, this first scene direction is an introduction to the second phase of the teaching module. It is projected onto the wall without any further commentary, which triggers reactions from the students after a few minutes of stunned silence. Here, the wording of the scene direction:

Sechzehnhundertdreiunddreißig bis sechzehnhundertzweiundvierzig

Galileo ist ein Gefangener der Kirche bis zu seinem Tode (Brecht, 2021 [1955/1956]: 117).

Sixteen hundred thirty-three to sixteen hundred forty-two Galileo Galilei remains a prisoner of the Church until his deatha. (Brecht, 2007: 59)

a) The translation was realised by Wolfgang Sauerlander and Ralf Manheim.

Unlike what is claimed in Kerry White’s theatre lexicon (White, 1995: 179), scene directions are to be considered an integral part of the theatre text. More precisely, instructions that precede a scene are not a product of coincidence, and so one can only agree with Hans Lösener’s stance that a scene begins before it starts (Lösener, 2017: 46). All the events on stage are prepared by events that precede them in time. In the preceding scene, Galileo recanted his revolutionary beliefs, making the scene statement seem like an immediate reaction to his revocation13. Both events, the revocation and the fact that Galileo is now a direct prisoner of the Church, are directly related.

The significance of the highlighted scene directions in this play is undeniable, since it is titled ”Life of Galileo”, which implies certain expectations, especially given that it features a renowned figure. The 14th scene’s title, which specifies the location of the action as a country house near Florence, adds to the intrigue of the previous scene, which took place in the palace of the Florentine envoy in Rome. The contrast between the two phrases “Prisoner of the Inquisition” and “Prisoner of the Church” further enhances the local definition:

Leben des Galilei

1633-1642. Galileo Galilei lebt in einem Landhaus in der Nähe von Florenz,

bis zu seinem Tod ein Gefangener der Inquisition. Die „Discorsi“

Sechzehnhundertdreiunddreißig bis sechzehnhundertzweiundvierzig

Galileo ist ein Gefangener der Kirche bis zu seinem Tode

The life of Galileo Galilei

1633-1642. Galileo Galilei lives in a country house near Florence,

a prisoner of the Inquisition until his death. The „Discorsi“

Sixteen hundred and thirty-three to sixteen hundred and forty-two

Galileo is a prisoner of the Church until his death

The expectations of a book that pretends to contain a life story automatically focus on the particularities of that story and on the trace that remains of a particular life. The fact that the title of the 14th scene emphasises that Galileo is now a prisoner of the Inquisition reduces his life to this period; it is as if Galileo’s whole life consisted of this period from 1633 to 1642. The phrase “until his death” precedes “prisoner” in the title, while the same phrase follows “prisoner” in the scene direction, as if the language wanted to make it performatively clear that there is no escape for Galileo from this situation. He can neither go forward nor back; he remains a prisoner, however he may behave. It is not only the Church that keeps him captive, so does language, which surrounds him with insurmountable walls.

The repetition of the expression “until his death” (which seems even more solemn in the second version because of the appended “e” in the word “Tode”) also has an associative effect in addition to its framing function: it establishes a relationship with the phrase “Until death do you part”, which probably goes back to the 16th century, but is also traceable in the Protestant Church since the end of the 19th century14. The expression implies that Galileo, despite his own beliefs, submitted himself to an ideological system “until death do us part”, the “Church system”, to which he bowed almost beyond recognition. This becomes performatively visible in the framing of his life testament, the Discorsi, which is restricted by inverted commas. Brecht, by using various titles, seems to be passing judgement on Galileo’s actions. In this scene, Galileo asks Andrei to smuggle his Discorsi to Holland, rather than openly declaring his convictions15. A vivid demonstration is given here that “theatre” creates an empirical and psychological reality by depicting the systematic phenomena of natural language.

4.2.2. Galilei’s monologue

That the dialogical principle is not only inherent to dialogue but also to monologues, that monologues do not require counter-speech in order to be dialogical per se, will be shown in the following. In a typical dramatic monologue, a person speaks to a counterpart who may be present or absent and who is singular or plural. In Brecht’s monologues, the audience is systematically included as plural counterparts. Brecht wanted to prevent precisely that stage magic in which the actor – forgetting the audience – seems to become identical with his role. He did not want to hide the theatre in the theatre, but to exhibit it, so his writing is gestural, in which the posture of the figure is demonstrated.

The famous Galileo monologue of the 14th scene may be taken as an excellent example. It is addressed in the same way to the former pupil Andrei, as to the performance audience. The definition of science developed therein is impressive because of its stringency. The question of the benefits of science to humanity brings together a wide range of issues, such as the need for self-criticism and constant questioning. Galilei’s diagnosis is especially true when science is in danger of submitting to “opinions” rather than “facts”. The question of the meaning of science in the face of human ethical matters stands and falls henceforth with the people who are prepared to “stand up for reason”. The students immediately noticed that the Galileo presented in the monologue was different from the one in their letters, insofar as a thoroughly submissive tone had given way here to a self-critical one.

Only recently has linguistic research begun to focus on studying prosodic-phonetic features in theatrical interactions (Barth-Weingarten and Szczepek Reed, 2014). One reason for this late interest in the prosodic design of theatre texts is that the transcription of productions is time-consuming and requires frequent listening to the passages to be transcribed. From a didactic perspective, it also appears to make little sense because of the amount of work involved. The transcription method presented here, which makes no claim to completeness, concentrates primarily on pitch movement, a fundamental characteristic of theatrical prosody. Other parameters such as pauses/sentence breaks and stress are subordinate to pitch movements. The hierarchy of the parameters is presented in the following homework assignment:

Table 2: Group work

Brecht: Leben des Galilei, 14th scene, Group worka
Prepare a rough transcript of Scene 14 in the Schiffbauerdamm production (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3tK_xf7aB8, 2:56:09) by marking conspicuous passages in the text relating to the character’s manner of speaking and narration. Refer to the following inventory of symbols for this: Pitch movement [< ? > rising high, < . > falling low, < ‗ > constant, < ‖ > slightly rising,  > slightly falling]. Pauses/sentence breaks [<-> short pause, <--> medium pause, <---> longer pause]. Emphasis [light accents in bold, strong accents in bold CAPITALS]b.

a) The version used here is based on the line version of a production that was staged at the “Berliner Ensemble Theatre Schiffbauerdamm” from 1978 (CLC, 2022).

b) The symbol inventory is strongly based on the Conversation Analytical Transcription System according to Selting (2009: 391-393), which has become widely established as the standard in German-speaking countries and is suitable for the transcription of all Indo-European languages. At this point, I would also like to refer to the excellent Gat-to-Das Online Tutorial zum Transkribieren von Gesprächsdaten, which is divided into four thematic modules and to which I owe some ideas for the conception of the didactic sequence presented here (GAT-TO, n.d.).

Here is the result of the transcription for Galilei’s monologue:

GALILEI: In meinen freien Stunden, <-> deren ich viele habe, bin ich meinen Fall durchgegangen <-> und habe darüber nachgedacht, wie in den Augen der wissenschaftlichen Welt, der ich nicht mehr angehöre, mein Verhalten erscheinen muss < ‗ >. <--> Sie wird zu erwägen haben, ob sie sich damit begnügen kann, dass ihre Mitglieder an sie eine <-> bestimmte Anzahl von Sätzen abliefern (sagen wir über fallende Körper <-> oder die Bewegungen gewisser Gestirne) < ‗ >.

Ich habe mich, wie erwähnt, von der Denkweise der Wissenschaft ausgeschlossen. Jedoch nehme ich an, dass sie – bei Gefahr der Verkümmerung < ‖ >nicht imstande sein wird, ihren Mitgliedern alle weitergehenden Verpflichtungen zu erlassen, zum Beispiel die Verpflichtung <-> einer Aufrechterhaltung ihrer selbst < ‖ >, der Wissenschaft als <-> Wissenschaft < ‖ >. Selbst ein Wollhändler muss, außer billig einzukaufen und teuer zu verkaufen, auch noch darum besorgt sein, dass der Handel mit Wolle überhaupt vor sich gehen kann < ‖ >. Demzufolge kann ein Mitglied der wissenschaftlichen Welt nicht auf seine <-> ETwaigen Verdienste als Forscher verweisen < ‖ >, wenn er versäumt hat, seinen Beruf als solchen zu verteidigen gegen ALLE GeWALT < ? >.

Denn die Wissenschaft beruht <-> darauf < ‗ >, dass man die <-> Fakten nicht den Meinungen unterwerfen darf, sondern <-> die Meinungen den Fakten unterwerfen MUSS. Sie ist NICHT in der Lage, diese <-> Sätze einschränken zu lassen und sie nun für <-> einige Meinungen und <-> die und die Fakten aufzustellen. Die Wissenschaft befindet sich nämlich mit der gesamten Menschheit in einem Boot, so kann sie nicht etwa sagen: Was geht es mich an, wenn am anderen Ende des Bootes ein Leck ist < ‖ >. Die Wissenschaft kann Menschen, die es versäumen, für die Vernunft einzutreten, nicht brauchen. Sie muss sie mit Schande davonjagen < ‖ >. Denn sie mag so viele Wahrheiten wie immer wissen < ‖ >, in einer Welt der LÜGE hätte sie keinen Bestand. < ? > Hätte ich widerstanden < ‖ >, hätten die Naturwissenschaftler etwas wie den hippokratischen <-> Eid der Ärzte entwickeln können, das Gelöbnis, ihr Wissen einzig zum Wohle der Menschheit anzuwenden. Wenn die Hand, die sie füttert, ihr gelegentlich <-> und ohne Warnung <-> an die GURgel greift < ‖ >, wird die Menschheit sie abhauen müssen. <---> Das ist der Grund, warum die Wissenschaft einen Menschen wie mich nicht in ihren Reihen dulden kann < ‗ >.

GALILEI: In my free hours, of which I have many, I have been going over my case and thinking about how my behaviour must appear in the eyes of the scientific world, to which I no longer belong. It will have to consider whether it can be satisfied with its members delivering to it a certain number of propositions (say about falling bodies or the movements of certain celestial bodies). I have, as mentioned, excluded myself from the mindset of science. However, I assume that – at the risk of atrophy – it will not be able to relieve its members of all further obligations, for example, the obligation of maintaining itself, science as science. Even a wool merchant, apart from buying cheaply and selling expensively, must also be concerned that the trade in wool may proceed unhindered. Consequently, a member of the scientific world cannot point to his possible merits as a researcher if he has failed to defend his profession as such against all violence. For science is based on the fact that one must not subject facts to opinions but must subject opinions to facts. It is not in a position to allow these propositions to be restricted and set up for any opinions or for any facts. Science is in the same boat with the whole of humanity, so it cannot say: What is it to me if there is a leak at the other end of the boat? Science cannot use people who fail to stand up for reason. It must chase them away with shame. For it may know as many truths as ever, in a world of lies it would not endure. Had I resisted, natural scientists could have developed something like the Hippocratic Oath of physicians, the vow to use their knowledge solely for the good of humanity. If the hand that feeds it occasionally grabs it by the throat without warning, humanity will have to chop it off. That is the reason why science cannot tolerate a person like me in its ranks.

In the course of the class discussion, it was observed that pitch movement holds significant weight in the monologue and that the tone of one’s voice can reveal more about a speaker’s attitudes and intentions than the words themselves, thereby offering a vital insight for future dialogue interpreters. Professional actors are well-versed in this concept and deliberately modify their prosody, treating it as a flexible tool. In the Schiffbauerdamm production, gestural prosody is prevalent in every turn, and this is not a coincidence; as Brecht believed, gestural language serves a performative function.

The notion “gestic” refers to the gestures used by a certain person while speaking; to a certain attitude, which comprises not only the way this person feels or thinks but also the way she speaks. Similarly, the term “gestural” implies demonstrating and commenting on gestures. Prosody serves as a commentary on a character’s attitude. This is evident in the pauses that expand the monologue and subvert it simultaneously. Galileo’s speech is deliberately interrupted unnaturally, highlighting the individual parts of his speech. He analyses both the content and prosody of his own monologue by breaking down language into its components. The following sentence may serve as an example: “Demzufolge kann ein Mitglied der wissenschaftlichen Welt nicht auf seine <-> ETwaigen Verdienste als Forscher verweisen < ‖ >, wenn er versäumt hat, seinen Beruf als solchen zu verteidigen gegen ALLE GeWALT < ? >.” [Consequently, a member of the scientific world cannot point to his possible merits as a researcher if he has failed to defend his profession as such against all violence.]

Here the “merits” of the researcher are set in pauses, and they will stay in pauses, if the researcher does not at the same time defend his research activity against violence. In other words, a researcher can only refer to his research if he stands up for the freedom of research and does not allow himself to be taken over by any authority. The pauses – the prosodic embrace – symbolise the embrace of authority on a performative level. This eerie embrace is underscored by the heavy stresses placed on the words “ALLE GeWALT” that threaten to overwhelm the rest of the sentence with their prosodic force; the prosodic background literally represents the scale of the terror emanating from the word “GeWALT”. Brecht speaks here quite consciously of a changing and syncopated rhythm. In the type of monologue, we are dealing with here that prosody alienates the content and thus consciously presents it to the viewer.

5. Concluding remarks

In our contribution, we delved into the idea of “alienation effects” and their relevance to DI. We explored the advantages of adopting a transcultural perspective, which enabled us to uncover nuances that might have gone unnoticed otherwise. Brecht’s method of portrayal particularly piqued our interest, as he presents events in a manner that elucidates their underlying causes to the viewer. He posits that cultures are not static, but rather constantly evolving; and that it is essential to scrutinize our own customs and practices from an alternative vantage point.

We also discussed the importance of gestures and prosody; indeed, it is these that make the language system amazingly effective, and for this reason they cannot be separated from the interactional phenomenon whose integral components they are. Theatre demonstrates in a special way that the language system adapts dynamically to the constantly changing requirements of the interactional situation. Walter Benjamin, who was a great admirer of Bertold Brecht, emphasises not without reason that Brecht’s genius also lies in the fact that he concentrated on the most primitive elements of theatre and largely dispensed with wide-ranging plots. Epic theatre, according to Benjamin, seeks “to portray situations rather than develop plots” (Benjamin, 2018: 328). We were able to capture two such situations by focusing on two forms of interaction: the Petition of Pardon and Galileo’s monologue. Both forms had an alienating character in the Brechtian sense; we perceived both situations as “real”, not with satisfaction as in a film, but with astonishment. Epic theatre, and this is also the reason why it is so useful for DI teaching, does not reproduce situations; it discovers them together with the spectator, who is thus assigned the role of critical co-thinker.

The petition for pardon highlighted the necessity of engaging in “polite assaults”, as described by Catherine Kerbrat-Orecchoni (2000: 29), in order to mitigate the potential for “life-threatening acts” that could endanger a human being. In the context of theatre, linguistic gestures are used to create tension between characters and their surroundings, revealing the speaker’s tone and emotions and shedding light on their relationship with the subject matter.

Heeg’s work sheds light on the fact that Brecht renounced the notion of enclosed cultures, which is still characterised by the concept of interculturality. To Brecht, cultures are in motion and detached from their origins and traditions. Displaced from their places of origin, either voluntarily or forced into exile like Galileo, cultures exist only in fragments: as thoughts and reflections, and as pitches or gestures. Brecht consistently strives to portray his own customs and traditions in a foreign light. The purpose of the alienation effect is to view everyday familiar things and situations from an alienated perspective (Heeg, 2018).

The theatre effectively illustrates the immense potential of language to perform. Both theatrical texts and interpreted interactions are complex adaptive systems that are dynamic. Theatre teaches us that dialogues, or interpersonal encounters, are not finite in their meaning. The fundamental performative nature of language is the crucial factor, which is why theatrical texts should not be excluded from dialogue interpretation. Interpreters of dialogue have a vested interest in developing a theatrical perspective, as Galileo did when he observed a swinging chandelier. This article aimed to demonstrate that theatre is the best means of cultivating this perspective.

1 Transcultural perspectives have also experienced a breakthrough in Interpreting studies. Similar to the field of theatre, “the concept of ‘culture’

2 In this book, 40 authors, including theatre scholars, directors, and playwrights, examine the development of German and French theatre from a

3 The abbreviation TOLC (which stands for Translation for Other Learning Contexts) implies that translation can have a didactic value for training

4 The feasibility of this concept was tested in an interpretation seminar I carried out at the University of Heidelberg.

5 The teaching module can also be transferred to other language combinations with a few appropriate modifications.

6 In this context, see in particular the following entries: “Animator”, “Body language”, “Cognitive Approaches”, “Competence”, “Creativity”, “

7 Cf. the entire third part of the book, dedicated to training and professionalisation.

8 That such a holistic perspective overlaps with the so-called embodiment pedagogy (Nguyen and Larson, 2015) is beyond question. Nevertheless, the

9 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are by the author.

10 Throughout his life, Boal pursued with what had become his mantra: to let as many people as possible participate in cultural and social matters.

11 I recently had a good experience with a collection of role-plays that were designed for mediation training, but were easily transferable to DI (

12 For more information on the similarities between face-to-face interaction and the letter form, see Andreas Franzmann (Franzmann and Rychner, 2023:

13 As can be seen from the Lesson plan, the students have read the entire play in German, i.e., in their mother tongue, at the beginning of the

14 It is interesting to notice here that Monks or nuns who take a vow of eternity (“eternal profession”) also promise to serve God “until death do us

15 One of the students commented that “Galileo drowned out his convictions with cotton wool”, thus reviving the metaphor of the previous lesson.

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Notes

1 Transcultural perspectives have also experienced a breakthrough in Interpreting studies. Similar to the field of theatre, “the concept of ‘culture’, on which identity has traditionally been grounded, is being questioned as a meaningless abstraction, detached as it is from reality where symbolic systems are in constant flux and evolve through mutual contaminations” (Merlini and Schäffner, 2020: 9).

2 In this book, 40 authors, including theatre scholars, directors, and playwrights, examine the development of German and French theatre from a comparative perspective. They are interested in the differences that exist between theatre companies in Germany and France as well as in the relationship between authors and directors, which also reveals, according to the relevant articles, astonishing differences between the two countries.

3 The abbreviation TOLC (which stands for Translation for Other Learning Contexts) implies that translation can have a didactic value for training courses that have some relation to translation but are not dedicated to the goal of training translators.

4 The feasibility of this concept was tested in an interpretation seminar I carried out at the University of Heidelberg.

5 The teaching module can also be transferred to other language combinations with a few appropriate modifications.

6 In this context, see in particular the following entries: “Animator”, “Body language”, “Cognitive Approaches”, “Competence”, “Creativity”, “Discourse management”, “Education Interpreting”.

7 Cf. the entire third part of the book, dedicated to training and professionalisation.

8 That such a holistic perspective overlaps with the so-called embodiment pedagogy (Nguyen and Larson, 2015) is beyond question. Nevertheless, the theoretical angle to be taken here is a theatre-scientific one, since the aim is to lead role-play out of its niche existence and to give theatre the space it deserves as a genre.

9 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are by the author.

10 Throughout his life, Boal pursued with what had become his mantra: to let as many people as possible participate in cultural and social matters.

11 I recently had a good experience with a collection of role-plays that were designed for mediation training, but were easily transferable to DI (Zurmühl, 2014).

12 For more information on the similarities between face-to-face interaction and the letter form, see Andreas Franzmann (Franzmann and Rychner, 2023: 151-179).

13 As can be seen from the Lesson plan, the students have read the entire play in German, i.e., in their mother tongue, at the beginning of the second teaching phase.

14 It is interesting to notice here that Monks or nuns who take a vow of eternity (“eternal profession”) also promise to serve God “until death do us part”.

15 One of the students commented that “Galileo drowned out his convictions with cotton wool”, thus reviving the metaphor of the previous lesson.

Illustrations

To cite this article

Electronic reference

Béatrice Costa, « Performative language in Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo. Didactic reflections on dialogue and interpretation », À tradire. Didactique de la traduction pragmatique et de la communication technique [Online], 2 | 2023, uploaded on 21 December 2023, accessed on 15 April 2024. URL : https://atradire.pergola-publications.fr/index.php?id=295 ; DOI : https://dx.doi.org/10.56078/atradire.295

Author

Béatrice Costa

Prodiguant des cours de traduction et d’interprétation de liaison à la faculté de traduction et d’interprétation de l’université de Mons, Béatrice Costa dirige le SEREG, le Service d’études et de recherches sur l’espace germanophone. Elle est détentrice d’une Habilitation à diriger des recherches sur les Processus de subjectivation dans le langage qu’elle a soutenue en décembre 2021 à l’Université Polytechnique Hauts-de-France (UPHF) de Valenciennes. Parmi ses publications, elle compte notamment à son actif un ouvrage consacré à Elfriede Jelinek et le vaudeville (Narr, 2014) ainsi que la traduction allemande de l’Éthique et politique du traduire d’Henri Meschonnic (Matthes & Seitz, 2021). Les recherches qu’elle a menées à l’université de Heidelberg dans le cadre d’un « sabbatical » étaient consacrées aux liens qu’entretiennent l’interprétation de dialogue et le théâtre.
beatrice.costa[à]umons.ac.be

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