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They were friends. Yet they had their differences. They first met in 1924 and for ten years they would meet up, play chess and share projects, holidays and exiles. They couldn’t have been more dissimilar however, at the same time, they were allies and had many shared affinities. The Benjamin und Brecht. Denken in Extremen exhibition has resulted from exhaustive research in the archives of both authors, on deposit at the Akademie der Künste, and includes comments by contemporary authors such as Theodor W. Adorno, Ernst Bloch, Ruth Berlau and Hannah Arendt.
Through rigorous documentation and an impeccable mise en scène, the show at the Akademie der Künste reveals the more human side of both writers and the essence of their thinking.
Structured in sixteen sections that act as tags, it allows for statements by B&B on subjects ranging from chess, the radio, crisis and criticism, to Fascism, Kafka and Marx, among others, that enable us to draw parallelisms with the present.
Together, they planned to write a detective story, although Benjamin liked to delve into the nineteenth century, while Brecht preferred the analytical approach of the Arthur Conan Doyle tales. The novel was never completed, but the reflections that accompanied its process deserve being revisited here and now:
‘In times of terror, when everyone is something of a conspirator, everyone will be in a situation where he has to play detective.’ Benjamin
‘This process of making observations, drawing conclusions from them, and thereby coming to decisions, provides us with all sorts of satisfaction, for the simple reason that everyday life seldom permits our thought processes to proceed so effectively, and usually many obstacles intervene between observation and conclusion as well as between conclusion and decision. In most cases we are simply not in a position to utilise our observations; whether we make observations or not has no influence on the course of our relationships. We are neither masters of our conclusions, nor masters of our decisions.’ Brecht
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)