The chalk circle


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Translator: Pierre Deshusses The Chalk Circle is inspired by a work by Li Xingdao. With this play, which premiered in January 1925 at the Stadttheater in Meißen and then simultaneously in more than a hundred German theaters, Klabund was for a few years the most performed German playwright. This did not leave Brecht indifferent, who drew inspiration from it (along with other poems by Klabund) for his Caucasian Chalk Circle (1948). The difference between the two titles already shows the difference in treatment. If Brecht made it a committed and very precisely situated play, with certain aspects that often bother current directors, a double play that is also divided into two parallel narratives whose distinct heroes only meet at the end, Klabund chose to keep the distant and oriental atmosphere to preserve the value of universality. He also transformed the crude figures of the initial canvas to make them ambivalent, contradictory characters who are not fixed in a role. From public girl to public woman, such could be the layout of the first circle of this play. Haïtang is a young girl whom her mother, suddenly widowed, forces herself to sell as a prostitute in a brothel. The first client who is seduced by her charms is a young man named Pao. But the two young people must quickly interrupt their idyll with the arrival of the rich Ma who buys the young girl and makes her his second wife. The young girl encounters many hardships before the circle comes full circle, imposing the text as a symbol not only of justice but also of love and political and private reconciliation.
The author

Klabund is the pseudonym of Alfred Henschke, a German writer born on November 4, 1891 in Crossen on the Oder and died in Davos on August 14, 1928. The son of a pharmacist, he spent his youth in Crossen. At sixteen, he was stricken with tuberculosis, which earned him many stays in a sanatorium and no doubt influenced his literary production, poetry, novels, prose plays, theatre, adaptations and works of literary history, if only in its magnitude. In fifteen years, in fact, Klabund has built up a body of work that many prolific writers would be proud of. At the secondary school in Frankfurt-on-the-Oder, he became friends with the future poet Gottfried Benn. In 1911, he began studying philosophy and literature in Munich, did not complete them, then went to Berlin and Lausanne and from then on earned his living as a freelance writer between these three cities. His first collection of poetry, Morgenrot! Klabund! Die Tage damn! appeared in 1913 in Munich, thanks to Artur Kutscher and already affirmed an unclassifiable style. Klabund radically breaks with impressionism and particularly ambient naturalism. We already sense this practice of rupture in the discourse and this exacerbated lyricism which will so often evoke the term "expressionism" about him. It was Alfred Kerr who revealed it to the public the same year in his magazine Pan with deliberately provocative erotic poems. Author and publisher will end up in court. Overnight, Klabund is famous. The scandal opened the doors of many newspapers and magazines to him. The Great War marked a profound turning point in Klabund's vision of history and of the world; all his work will be affected by it. In 1914, he was first carried away by the general wave of patriotic enthusiasm. It doesn't take long to change his mind. His fierce honesty and pacifism are expressed in a twisted form in masterful adaptations of Oriental, Persian, Chinese, Japanese poetry. In 1916, in the dark of the conflict, he thus translated Li-Tai-Pe and in 1918, in the heart of the turmoil that followed the defeat, triggered the German Revolution and caused the abdication of the Kaiser, he published the poems of Geisha O-Sen . This "engaged disengagement", which reflects his distancing from national history, to use a term from Bertold Brecht, will be heavily attributed to him later. The latter part of Klabund's life found him absorbed in acting, under the influence of his second wife, actress Carola Neher. He wrote many short plays. In 1925, he published the Caucasian Chalk Circle, based on a poem by Li Xingdao, which earned him immense success and which Brecht, one of those who immediately understood Klabund's genius, would take up. From 1915, Klabund multiplied his provocations and denounced the war: Moreau, which dates from that year, expresses, through the torments of the French general, the aversion of a lucid mind for the murderous populace, and the collections of poems such as Irene oder die Gesinnung, of 1918, and Dreiklang, of 1919, eloquently reflect the tender-hearted loathing for butchery that ushered in the horror of the twentieth century. But he writes, frantically, because the clock is ticking faster for him than for the others. After Moreau, it's Bracke, 1918, Franziskus, 1919, Mohamed, 1921, Piotr, roman d'un tsar, 1923, Borgia, 1928, and many other stories. The imminence of death not only lent Klabund "a pressed pen", it also propelled him to a higher sphere: he no longer inhabits Germany, but the world, history. "My name is Klabund, meaning wandering". The exceptional modernity which is his is due to this irrepressible rejection of his time, because he belongs to the generation which suffered in his youth the suffocation of imperial society, like his compatriot Gottfried Benn (1886-1956), like the 'Austrian Georg Trakl (1887-1914), to whom he is so often so close, like the Praguers Franz Werfel (1890-1945) and Franz Kafka (1883-1924), and like the poetess Else Lasker-Schüler (1869-1945) . His music, because music emerges irresistibly from all his texts, strangely evokes that of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) and his images, that of another victim of imperial totalitarianism, Egon Schiele (1890-1918). The dates are given here not for academic sake, but to emphasize their contemporaneity: they all lived through the horror of the dying Leviathan of imperialisms that were already bleeding the Old World and where poets and writers were exiles from within: their work is the cry of the world's pain. Battlefields, corpses, morgues, hospitals and cities turned into cutthroats are the scene of their anguish. But Klabund is not only a key witness to the "Philosophical History of the West": he is also a master and, despite the convulsions that surround him, he is recognized as such, as much by the psychological depth only by style. He enjoyed a huge reputation in pre-World War II Germany. We recognize his influence on Gottfried Benn, but also on Bertold Brecht and perhaps even Günther Grass, despite the allegiance that the latter declares to another master, Theodor Fontane. No writer will escape it: neither those of Group 47, nor an Ingeborg Bachmann, nor doubtless a Paul Celan. Belletristik rhetoric is slashed in favor of efficiency. In their modernity, their intuition of editing and rhythm, all of Klabund's texts are cinematographic, and he will also try his hand at the script, as in Raspoutine (1928). When he died, at the age of thirty-eight, it was his friend Gottfried Benn who pronounced the funeral oration of the "Heavenly Wanderer" (taking up the title of a poem dating from 1919). "At the antipodes of a utilitarian and opportunistic world", writes the poet, "of a world of assured existences, of functions, of honors and of assured positions, he had for him only his faith and his heart. " Klabund's fame survives throughout the Weimar Republic. But Nazism will obliterate Klabund from the German literary landscape. We can easily guess why on reading the two texts presented here as a "first" to the French public.

128 pages | ISBN: 9782914388283