And then another director, Leander Haußmann, got all uppity about these damned writers meddling with things they don't understand. Over the weekend, the Deutscher Bühnenverein ("a politico-cultural organisation that represents the interests of its members, namely theatres and orchestras") issued a statement calling for a reform of copyright law to give directors more freedom:
It is unrealistic to demand that a director does not use additional text in a staging of a play, so as to protect a copyright-holder like Brecht who has been dead for almost sixty years. The aim of the performance of a work that has been in existence for decades must be to confront it with a director's present view of the world. If additional text is needed to do so, the heirs should not be able to demand the play be cancelled for copyright reasons.Woah. It's like a giant battle of the egos, only one of the egos is dead. Original genius director versus original genius writer, represented by offspring of original genius writer. How odd that the dead one would win. I suppose that's what you get for being canonized (in the literary sense) – extra weight in courtroom wrestling matches.
I have two approaches for looking at this, one as a lapsed Marxist atheist and one as a translator. I'll tell you the first one first.
So, the lapsed Marxist atheist in me is saying, What's the big deal, the guy's dead. He's been dead for sixty years and if his kids can't manage to support themselves financially yet they probably have bigger problems than whether Daddy would have liked this particular version of his play or not. Daddy certainly isn't looking down from heaven between mouthfuls of divine Kaiserschmarren and tearing his non-existent hair out. Isn't it enough respect for the dead that someone still wants to put on his play and still sees it as relevant ninety-two years after it premiered?
While the translator in me, as she often does, is drawing parallels to translation. The director is interpreting the words on the page and adding extra ones for context, the way translators sometimes have to do when we think our readers won't get the point for cultural or historical reasons. OK, we rarely add whole swathes of extra words like Castorf does, and our presence in the final text is expected to be minimal. But someone like Michael Hofmann seems to feel comfortable adding here and there, and there's certainly been a tradition of omission in translation, although we're getting more careful about that. In this case, of course, the context is Frank Castorf's present view of the world, or his comparison of Baal's bad behaviour to America in Vietnam, or whatever. I'm almost envious of theatre directors for having that freedom to interpret more wildly than translators.
Yesterday I cyber-eavesdropped on a long and interesting Facebook discussion in response to Haußmann's really rather clumsy opinion piece. Most of the people commenting were writers, and were concerned about the possibility of their work being misappropriated, the extreme example being a play performed within some kind of dictatorship. I can understand that, but at the same time – as someone who tinkers and tampers with writers' work for a living – I think writers have to let go of their products to some extent, let others interpret their books or their scripts publicly rather than in private. Like painters who have to sell their actual pictures to make a living, rather than keeping them on the wall in their kitchen. I won't say, like Haußmann does, that writers should keep away from the theatre and directors should keep away from writing. But I think he has a point when he says that the written word remains on the page, whereas the spoken word is ephemeral. Which, I suppose, is one reason why we translators are expected to be truer to our originals than directors are. At least most of us have smaller egos than Frank Castorf though, dear writers.
P.S. Does this totally contradict what I wrote about stage adaptations of novels? Not entirely, I feel. But who says I have to be consistent?