This week in Humanities Core, one of the major ideas we discussed was the difference between res gestae, Latin for the things that happened, and historia rerum gestarum, the way those events are retold. The contrast between the meanings of these two phrases tells a great deal about perspective. While many writers try to recreate the events of the past in their work, it is impossible for them to recreate the res gestae. The way authors retell a story is from their own point of view, and the different approaches they use to convey the events and their attitude toward those events influence the ways their readers think about them. It is hard for a work to encompass all the factors that influenced the outcome of a historical event, so, instead, authors pick and choose the topics and ideas that best convey the message they are trying to relay.
In class, we have been reading the play Mother Courage and her Children by Bertolt Brecht. Brecht came of age during World War I, watched the turmoil caused by World War II, and saw Germany rise and fall twice in his lifetime. He was also a known communist sympathizer and was forced to flee Germany to avoid being placed in a concentration camp. The influence of his experiences of exile and turmoil are evident in his play. Living in an era of chaos and despair, it is not surprising that Brecht asked, “’…why? Why did all this occur? Why weren’t the German people noticing all the horrible things occurring around them?’” These wonders are evident in the style of his play. Brecht uses the alienation effect to remind the audience they are watching a play and to purposely prevent the audience from becoming too emotionally invested in the characters by forcing the audience to take a step back and think about the bigger picture. Although the layout of the play forces the audience to analyze the events that occur, it also limits the scope of the audience’s view. The play follows Mother Courage and her journeys during the war. Due to this setup, the audience is subjected to analyze the war based on the experiences of just several individuals. They do not get a view of the overall picture of the war, or the huge battles are occurring. While Brecht may be truthfully portraying what individuals might have experienced, the true events in their entirety are not revealed through Brecht’s limited work.
This idea of subtraction to elicit a certain response from the audience is present everywhere we look. The media, whether it is the newspaper, news channels, radio stations, Facebook, or Twitter, is subtractive in the news they bring to the people. It is important for us to realize that the news we see is prepared with the audience and profit in mind. The news we see is often times edited towards what the media thinks will bring in the most profit.
Smith, John. “War Stories II: Brecht’s Thirty Years War: Mother Courage and her Children (1939/1949).” University of California, Irvine. Humanities Instructional Building 100, Irvine, CA. 27 October 2015. Lecture.