Cultivating the art of living: the pleasures of Bertolt Brecht's philosophising theatre pedagogy

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In this article, I explore Bertolt Brecht's philosophy of education with particular reference to his notion of the Verfremdungseffekt (estrangement effect) as brought to life in the art of gestic acting (Gestus). Giving examples from the 1960 Mother Courage DEFA film version of the play, I demonstrate how Brecht's philosophising theatre is brought forth in Helene Weigel’s gestic acting when portraying the play’s controversial protagonist. The actor's conduct of careful observation and imitation of contradictory human behaviour, are shown to be akin to the practical philosophising stance that Brecht’s wishes to hone in his theatre audiences. Here, Brecht shares a common focus with Aristotle: for both, mimesis is the plausible imitation of human action, and pleasure is mimesis' ultimate aim. But Brecht and Aristotle also differ as to their understanding of what constitutes the plausibility of an imitation; and why and how pleasure is to occur in the audience. Through the practice of a joyfully estranged mimesis, Brecht invites his actors and audiences to philosophise: as to what kind of actions and what kind of theory/theorising (and vice versa) might nourish, or stifle, or human capacity to live a flourishing life together, in the human theatre. In other words, his philosophical theatre, through the art of Gestus in particular, becomes a pedagogical space that seeks to cultivate the art of living in us.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)653-668
Number of pages16
JournalStudies in Philosophy and Education
Issue number6
Early online date27 Sep 2022
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022


  • theatre education
  • Bertolt Brecht
  • philosophy of education
  • acting
  • Gestus
  • theatre pedagogy
  • Verfremdung


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