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- The Prose of Alfred Lichtenstein - 10/12 -
effort. And runs to the movies. For what should bind the public most to the theater: art, is for the most part shamefully neglected. (As when makers of felt hats had the idea, when straw hats were worn by everyone, to bring to the market felt hats shaped and colored like straw hats.)
Before movies came along, the many second-class theaters were by far a much greater danger to the theater. Characteristically organizations of this kind are threatened most by movies. Some will remain for a while, because of the skill of their directors or through other accidents. Second-class theater undoubtedly will die out in a short time. The public, which found this sort of thing to their taste, has, in the movies, a much more luxurious substitute: death and homicide in abundance. Comedy until you burst. Juicy melodrama. And the movie actor with his heavy-handed emphases – for example, in a tragic, many-colored story of adultery (in period costumes) – surpasses the hammy Hamlet in heart-gripping effect.
Theaters that want to survive are compelled to think again about what they are doing. Directors must cultivate the pure art of theater. Actors – in contrast to "filmers", or better still "ciners" or "cinekers" – to maintain their reputations, must abandon all tricks and gimmicks. The public that goes to the theater in spite of movies is discriminating and can’t be taken in.
There cannot be too many movies. As a member of the cultural police I would order that half a dozen be opened on every street.
The more people rush into the movies, the more a part of the fraud will become tiresome. Of the hundred thousands who throng the movies, a few hundred every year will return once more to the theater.
The number of theaters in the future will be smaller, but their average quality will be disproportionately better. The incompetent directors, dramatists, and other squabblers, who until now were parasites on the theater, will find in movie-making a place more suited to their capabilities. The many mediocre and bad actors who now help keep prices down and block the way will become wonderful cinikers. A talented shoemaker in the future will not go to theater schools but to film schools. Lispers, cripples, hunchbacks, mutes, and similar handicapped mimes will be able, more easily and more happily, to find relief in the movies.
(The cinema of boundless possibilities…)
But the theater, thanks to the movies free of hindering ballast and harmful influences, will have to return to the sacred dramatic art.
CHAPTER FROM A FRAGMENTARY NOVEL translated by Harry Radford
Doctor Bryller did become a senior teacher after all. A furious enemy of his had predicted such a destiny years ago, in the out-of-date periodical "The Other A". At that time he was deeply distressed about this insight of his enemy, the truth of which, after thinking intensely about it, he could not deny. He wrote an intemperate article which was not accepted for publication anywhere. And one evening he got a little drunk on French sparkling wine, to kill the innate fear which prevented him from beating up his enemy. But his cowardice did not leave him, even in drunkenness. Unspeakably unhappy, he gave up the idea of taking revenge.
Now in earnest he began to live a solitary and transfigured life. He let this be known in an in flammatory manner, just as he had so often done when announcing the agenda of a new trend in art. And with the profoundest solemnity, as though he were at an important funeral. He even exploited his failure in order to feel superior. In point of fact, he lived hardly differently than before. The only change was that he had actually become more hopeless in an emotional sense. Now he had to calm himself with the thought: Even if I could achieve what I wanted to, I would achieve nothing. While previously his line of thinking ran: Unfortunately it is indeed true that I can achieve nothing, but what I can achieve is rather good.
Practically minded as Berthold Bryller was in certain ways, he was able to cast his weaknesses in common human terms, so that the despair, which at first had revealed itself in hysterical attacks of a special kind, soon gave way--except in rare conditions--to a feeling of lofty indifference. He still wrote his impudent and careless letters, which did him considerable harm; he published particularly clever, slightly demented essays in the few journals with whose editors he didn't happen to be quarreling with; he founded both clubs which then expelled him, and periodicals in which he was attacked. Everywhere, and in other ways, he continued to make himself impossible even by his very presence. The uninitiated might interpret his absence from the Café Klößchen as a sign of his inward transformation, if it were not for a poster fixed to the door of the Cafe:
No admittance to Bryller!
which suggested that an argument with the manager was the reason for his absence.
But gradually the hopelessness of his literary existence became inescapable to Doctor Bryller, who was certainly no idiot. In addition, his funds for the foreseeable future were exhausted. So, incapable of killing himself if it were to become necessary, he had to focus his energy on working to earn a living. His writing activity was financially unsuccessful. He would not have the heart to take a permanent literary job--something like an editorship--aside from the fact that no one would take him. What other option did he have but to use the rest of his money to continue his interrupted university training, take the necessary state examinations, and then find himself a secure and pleasant position as a senior teacher. In point of fact, this profession seemed thoroughly comfortable to him. Convinced of the incorrigibility of human imperfection, which he had experienced first hand, and utterly convinced of the complete uselessness of physical and intellectual striving, he gladly gave free rein to any and all base impulse. He could satisfy his cravings for power, his other ambitions, even his erotic needs, most readily as a senior teacher.
Despite his moodiness and frequent peculiar behaviour, Doctor Bryller was one of the most popular teachers at the Horror High School. The small pupils idolized him, the bigger ones clung to him passionately. Of course there also were pupils who didn't like him. For example, the second-year pupil Max Mechenmal whose face he had slapped a few times without obvious reason. This could have had the most unpleasant consequences for Doctor Berthold Bryller. On the occasion of the teacher meeting called by director Rudolf Richter after the highly indignant complaint of the pupil, a large majority of the colleagues, unlike the pupils, turned out to have unfriendly feelings for the Doctor. When he, questioned about why he had pupil, smilingly replied that Mechenmal displeased him, they wanted to recommend to the authorities, following the suggestion of the respected colleague Lothar Laaks, that he be removed for a considerable time for the purpose of mental recovery in a sanatorium. Only the happenstance that the aggrieved pupil Mechenmal was hated equally by teachers and pupils, because of his overfriendly awkwardness and his malicious secret rabble-rousing, impeded such a decision. Although colleague Laaks--the only one who found words of appreciation for Mechenmal--advocated it heatedly with the use of much dirty dialectic. The colleagues were content to warn Doktor Bryller of the inappropriateness of his behavior.
One day, about a half year before the final incarceration of Berthold Bryller for life, in an insane asylum subsidized by the state, a yelling arose in the schoolyard of the Horror High School. A crowd of mostly smaller pupils surged behind a dwarfish, care-worn, lop-sided boy whose back showed the slight beginnings of a hump. They teased him cheerfully and spitefully--the words were unintelligible because of the noise but surely malicious. He was pushed so that he stumbled. Many older high school pupils looked on, amused at the lively rough-housing. Even senior teacher Laaks, who was supervising, failed to suppress an amused smile. In a window was the motionless face of Doctor Bryller.
The malformed boy continued walking without defending himself. With bent head. Often he had to wipe his eyes with his hand. Only once, when one of most impudent youths – who else but the second-year pupil Mechenmal--spat into his face while the others raucously clapped approval, did he throw himself sobbing deeply against the attacker, who immediately ran away. Through the middle of the shrieking crowd, which blocked his way in all directions, the crying humpback pursued his schoolmate. Perhaps he would have reached Mechenmal if the perennial fourth-year pupil Spinoza Spass hadn't suddenly grasped his hump as if with a hook. Spinoza Spass grinned comfortably and maliciously into the monkey-shaped, longingly apathetic face, as he propelled the little despairing Kohn like a weight slowly through the sunny spring air. By this heroic deed he became one of the most famous fourth-year pupils of the Horror High School.
Some sympathetic older high school pupils put an early end to the strange spectacle. The gaunt, pale senior Paulus snatched the tiny unfortunate boy from the venemously peering Spass and threatened to beat up anyone who annoyed the lop-sided little Kohn further. For fear of Paulus and some other like-minded boys, they left the flushed humpback in peace--at least for the time being. He walked along, pressing himself against the gray walls. And would have most happily sunk into the ground. When the school bell rang, he was glad to disappear into the classrooms.
The senior Peter Paulus was already walking along the somewhat dark corridor to the spacious room in which the parish priest Leopold Lehmann gave Hebrew lessons to the pupils in the upper classes, when the senior teacher Laaks caught up with him, called to him, and engaged him in a mysterious, very excited conversation. Laaks was apparently reprimanding Paulus. It was strange, however, that he didn't look like a teacher chastising a pupil, but rather like a mistrustful relative who believes himself taken advantage of in an inheritance matter. The behavior of the senior was also by no means the behavior of a subordinate...
The discussion between the two must have lasted a very long time. For when Peter Paulus entered more pale than usual and explained that his late arrival was caused by an official conversation, the priest Lehmann had long since concluded the topic of that day’s curriculum. He was engaged in a religious discussion which, following the modern trend, he linked regularly to the Hebrew lesson. They were speaking at the moment about God and the nature of student life, but came, after a few unimportant discussions, to the main topic: abortion and the inner life, which gave them pause. The discussion was triggered by a report in an art journal that someone had cut out and brought for the purpose of discussion. The priest read out loud:
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