In the Eyes of the Beholder

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.

This is a Brechtian style setup for a play. Notice how the stage open and how you can see the mechanism of the curtains in the back. This adds to the alienation effect and reminds the audience they are viewing a play. (From Bertolt Brecht Research)

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.


Can we trust the news we see on TV? (From WKTV)

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.

Works Cited

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.


  1. johnpaulreed · November 12, 2015

    The blogpost could use some more imagery and hyperlinks to aid itself. Furthermore, the opening paragraph seems to conflict with the content of the blog, in that the opening paragraph seems to focus on “Res Gestae” and “Historia rerum gestarum” while the rest of the post is solely dedicated to Brecht’s life and his alienation effect. In order to unify this, I would simply change your thesis to make a statement about Brecht’s alienation effect and perhaps mention how Mother Courage and her Children relates to those terms.


    • Meghan · November 18, 2015

      Thanks for the feedback John Paul! When I was writing this post, I intended the introduction about “res gestae” and “historia rerum gestarum” to introduce the idea that when writing, an author, such as Brecht, picks and chooses events and ideas to fit the message he or she wants to convey. This limits the scope of his or her retelling of events and in effect makes it impossible to retell the events exactly as they happened. The message I was trying convey through the use of Brecht and the media as an example was that we cannot necessarily trust that the author or the media is telling us the entire story, and that it may take multiple points of view to get full picture.


  2. Daniel · November 19, 2015

    I find that there is an ironic contrast underlying this blog post, one that you briefly acknowledged at the end. Both Brecht and modern news sources heavily subtract from their source material in order to portray their respective viewpoints, as you mentioned earlier in your blog post. However, I am uneasy in making the logistical jump from Brecht’s subtractive perspective to modern-day mass media, as it seems that these two are inherently divided in their respective purposes: Brecht seeks to alienate his audience, while news sources attempt to pander to their target audience. Brecht wishes the audience to think more, while it appears that modern-day mass media attempt to make the audience think less, going so far as to present us global events in bite-sized 5 minute segments in seeming random order. Social media seems to exacerbate this issue, especially with the prevalence of microblogging sites like Twitter or Tumblr. Are we still alienated from the actual events occurring throughout the world? Of course. However, I worry that the differing way that modern day media subtracts from the overall context of war compared to Brecht’s methodology in his writing makes the two forms of media inherently incompatible with each other.


    • Meghan · November 21, 2015

      I agree that it is a stretch to say that Brecht and modern news use the subtractive method for the same purpose, rather through this post I was trying to connect how the subtractive perspective is relevant to our lives every day. I would not say the media is trying to bring about collective action over an issue, however they are presenting their information in a way that elicits a certain response from the audience. In this case, they are trying to encourage the audience to continue watching their channel or using their website.


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