Mother Courage and Her Scholars, part2

I had bought two second hand books on Brecht a while ago. Rhie Won-Yang’s Studies on Brecht (1984), discussed last time, is a mass-produced paperback (as far as academic literature is mass-produced), designed for students all around the country, and sold at a price of 4,500 won (my copy shows suspiciously few notes, though).

In contrast, my copy of Studies on Brecht’s Mother Courage (1989) by SIN Seong-hui (신성희) is one out of possibly fifty reproductions of a type-written manuscript, bound in a dark-blue hard-cover with golden lettering, mostly in hanja, the Chinese characters that designate serious inquiry and enduring insights, and features a hand-written dedication by the author to Mr. AN Sang-won (안 상원 님께), dated the 26 Sept. 1989, three months after the thesis had been handed in at the Graduate School (대학원) of Sungkyunkwan University (성균관 대학교), to obtain the academic degree Master of Arts (문학석사학위) from the Institute of German Language and Literature (독어독문학과).

Stacked in the bargain bin, alongside other theses on German-language literature of identical appearance (all the usual suspects, from Hauptmann to Handke), at a first glance it looked like some professor had recently moved to the countryside, yielding an opportunity to get rid of all those souvenir thank-you presents he or she never had intended to read anyway. On a second thought, however, aforementioned Mr. An seems to have been a fellow student of Sin. A biographical entry notes that he received a PhD with a dissertation on “Artistic Issues in Rilke’s New Poems” (「릴케의 <신시집>에 나타난 예술의 문제」) at Sungkyunkwan, later worked there and at Hanyang University (another hatchery of Brecht scholars) as a lecturer and translated a number of German books, among others Rilke’s treatise on Rodin.

Back to Sin’s study on Brecht’s Mother Courage, one of more than thirty MA-theses on Brecht written in Korea during the 80s. After a short introduction (I. 머리말) and a general chapter on German literature during the Third Reich (II. 독일 파시즘시대와 文學), an account of Brecht’s perspective on the Thirty Years’ War (III. 브레히트가 보는 30年 전쟁) paves the way to the central part of the thesis.

Mirroring the study’s subheading, the fourth chapter deals with the “Realities of War and the Life of the People” (IV. 전쟁의 현실과 민중의 삶) Sin discusses two major Brechtian characters—Mother Courage and her mute daughter Kattrin—as personified behavior patterns, illuminating different modes of adaptation vis-à-vis the contradictions of capitalist society (paraphrased from the German abstract).

More interested in the ways Brecht is tackled in different contexts, both on stage and on paper, than in Brecht’s thoughts themselves, I found three things quite astonishing:

First, the textual surface is truely fascinating, thanks to the extensive use of Chinese characters, eye-catching renderings of German terms and names in hangeul (the native Korean script), and quotes in German. The combination of three different kinds of scripture also helps the skim-reading eye by identifying key terms in an palpable way.

Second, apart from generic Korean encyclopedic reference works, Sin uses exclusively German-language secondary literature. This makes sense, of course, given the subject matter—still, I am impressed. On the other hand, Sin does not refer to any Korean scholarship on Brecht, which at that time should have been more easily available (the majority of the German works quoted date to the 70s).

Numerous quoted passages from Mother Courage also beg the question whether Sin has used the existing translation provided by Rhie in his Studies on Brecht (see my last entry on that matter; nowadays there is also a more recent translation by LEE Yeon-hui [이연희]) or made a new one herself. Despite some similarities, the latter seems true, as this excerpt from Mother Courage’s last song clearly shows:

幸運[행운]과 위험을 거듭하면서 행운과 위험을 거듭하면서
전쟁, 그 놈은 뭔가를 그곳으로 끌어 당기네 전쟁, 그 놈은 오래도 가지.
전쟁, 그 놈은 백년이나 계속 되겠지 전쟁, 그 놈은 백 년도 더 가지만
천민은 생기는 것도 없다오 불쌍한 천민은 생기는 게 없다오.
오물이나 얻어 먹고 넝마나 걸친다오! 얻어 먹는 거라곤 돼지 죽 같은 것,
두르는 옷가지는 넝마 같은 것!
봉급의 반은 연대가 도둑질해 가고 쥐꼬리만한 봉급은 연대가 잘라먹고
하지만 누가 알아 기적이 일어날지 하지만 누가 아나, 기적이 생길지.
遠征[원정]은 아직 끝나지 않았네! 행군이 끝나려면 아직 멀었다오!

And here the original:

Mit seinem Glück, seiner Gefahre
Der Krieg, er zieht sich etwas hin.
Der Krieg, er dauert hundert Jahre
Der g’meine Mann hat kein Gewinn.
Ein Dreck sein Fraß, sein Rock ein Plunder!
Sein halben Sold stiehlts Regiment.
Jedoch vielleicht geschehen noch Wunder:
Der Feldzug ist noch nicht zu End!
[…] (B. Brecht, Gesammelte Werke 4, p. 1438)

Finally, the use of the term minjung (민중 / 民衆) in the title of Sin’s treatise (“The Realities of War and the Life of the People“, being translated as “Volk” by Sin herself) might make this MA-thesis an example for the academic integration of the correspondent political concept. Literally “the masses of the people”, both in the sense of an ethnic community and a proletarian initiative, the term minjung became a discursive in the social movements in South Korea of the 70s and 80s and has a lasting legacy in the form of interwoven notions of democracy, tradition, and nationalism (see, for example, Kenneth M. Wells’ anthology South Korea’s Minjung Movement: The Culture and Politics of Dissidence, 1995).

How studies like Sin’s figure in the historic discourse (or discourses) on minjung would make an interesting research topic. Likewise, a comparative close-reading of various approaches might provide insights about the reception of Marxist theory and terminology in the context of a movement opposing the strongly anti-Communist ruling class. I wonder where those other 30-something MA-theses on Brecht are lingering…

— 9 Oct. 2010 (土)

  • 申璇憙, 「Bertolt Brecht의『억척어멈과 그녀의 자식들』硏究 — 戰爭의 現實과 民衆의 삶을 中心으로」碩士學位 請求論文,  成均館大學校 大學院, 1989. 6.
  • SIN Seon-hui, Studies on Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, Focusing on the Realities of War and the Life of the People, MA-thesis, Sungkyunkwan University, June 1989 (79 pages).

About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
This entry was posted in Readings in Secondary Literature and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Mother Courage and Her Scholars, part2

  1. Pingback: So Dissent is Just a Disease After All « अनिल एकलव्य ⇔ Anil Eklavya

  2. Pingback: Talking about Brecht and Pansori in Toronto (AAS 2017) | Seoul Stages

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