Bertolt Brecht’s Journal Entries on Galileo

6 apr 44

JED HARRIS, the producer-director who did a very good production of Th[orton] Wilderʼs Our Town, is interested in Galileo. so i took another look at the moral which i have always found slightly worrying. precisely because i was trying here to follow history and had no moral interest, a moral emerges, and i am not happy about it. g[alileo] is as little able to resist blurting out the truth as wolfing a tempting dish, it is a form of sensual pleasure. and he builds up his personality with the same passion and wisdom as his view of the world. in actual fact he collapses twice. the first time when he keeps silent about the truth, or recants because his life is in danger, the second time when he carries on and disseminates his research in spite of the danger to his life. his productiveness destroys him. now, to my dismay, i am given to understand that i thought it right for him to recant in public in order to carry on his work in secret. this is too cheap and shallow. g[alileo] destroyed not only himself as a person, but also the most valuable part of his scientific work. the church (ie the authorities) defended the biblical doctrine simply in order to maintain itself, its authority, its capacity to oppress and exploit. the people were interested in g[alileoʼs] astronomy only because they were suffering under the rule of the church. g[alileo] jeopardised true progress when he recanted, he let the people down, astronomy reverted to being just another scientific subject, the domain of experts, apolitical, isolated. the church separated the ʻproblemsʼ of the heavens from those of the earth, consolidated its rule and then accepted the new solutions without further objection.

30 jul 45

coming back to GALILEO, which he [Hans Winge] also considers to be an inconsequential minor work (so far as form is concerned, i do not defend this play particularly strongly) i explain to him that it follows recorded history and was written without any inention of proving anything, and tell him how, as i work out a stage version with the actor laughton who has no political thoughts whatsoever, alongside the theme that in this form of society a desire for knowledge can be fatal (since society both produces and punishes it) another theme emerges, namely the decisive difference between ʻscientific progress pure and simpleʼ and scienceʼs social and revolutionary progress. (G[alileo} robs the emergent bourgeoisieʼs astronomy of its social-revolutionary significance, makes a ʻsubjectʼ of it, sterilises it.) it also transpires that the ruling class is fully aware of the whole of its ideology, at least as a fact: it knows that the chain binding it to the oppressed class is no stronger than its weakest link. so galileo is in my production interesting at least as a contrasting example to the parables. they are embodiments of ideas, whereas here a subject gives birth to certain ideas.

10 sept 45

the atom bomb, in which atomic energy makes a timely first appearance, strikes ʻnormal folkʼ as simply awful. to those impatiently awaiting their sons and husbands, the victory in japan seems to have a bitter taste. this superfart is louder than all the victory bells.

(for a moment LAUGHTON fears quite naively that science might be so utterly discredited by it, that the birth of science – in GALILEO – could lose all sympathy.ʼ the wrong kind of publicity, old man.ʼ)

20 sept 45

most of the time we are still working on GALILEO, which laughtonʼs audience in the military hospital listen to with quite extraordinary interest. the atom bomb has, in fact, made the relationship between society and science into a life-and-death-problem.

10 oct 45

driven on by his theatrical instinct, LAUGHTON plugs away relentlessly at the political elements in GALILEI too. at his behest i have worked in the new ʻludovico-lineʼ, and the same goes for the reordering of the last galileo scene (handing over the book first, then the lesson that the book must in no way alter the social condemnation of the author). laughton is fully prepared to throw his character to the wolves. he has a kind of lucifer in mind, in whom self-contempt has turned into a kind of hollow pride – pride in the magnitude of his crime etc. he insists on a full presentation of the degradation that results from the crime which has unleashed all g[alileoʼs] negative features. all that is left is the excellent brain, functioning in the void independently of the control of its owner who is happy to let himself sink.

he brings this conception out most clearly one evening when they had shouted ʻscabʼ at him as he went through a picket line in front of the studio. this wounded him deeply – no applause for him here.

23 dec 47

in GALILEO the moral lesson is of course in no way absolute. if the bourgeois social movement which makes use of him were on the way down, then he could recant without further ado and in that way achieve something very reasonable.

6 jan 48

a[rmin] kesser… raises the question of how deeply my playsʼ susceptibility to misunderstanding is rooted in the plays themselves. the fact that GALILEO was interpreted as an attempt to redeem the honour of opportunism; the SZECHWAN play as a religious (atheists being godʼs loyal opposition) condemnation of the two-soul structure, COURAGE as a hymn to the inexhaustible vitality of the mother creature. my answer is that the bourgeois mode of presentation can appropriate anything from antiquity, from the asiatic sphere, from the middle ages, and from all the anti-bourgeois developments in modern times and market it. the playwright can only protect himself by either abandoning his substance and/or appending a leading article.

15 mar 48

the new york press seems to have missed exactly what laughtonʼs catholic friend missed in GALILEO: a scientist agonising under duress whom we can empathise with. well, galileoʼs bad conscience is shown in right proportion to the play, but this is not nearly enough for the bourgeoisie; having come to power it wishes to see the higher spiritual movements of those whom it compels to act against their consciences displayed larger than life so as to embellish the overall picture of their world.

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