UBC Lectures, Seminars, and Symposia

Bertolt Brecht's Me-ti or the Aesthetics of Translation : Universal Love, Mutual Benefits, and Transience Zhang, Chunjie; Malakaj, Ervin


Bertolt Brecht’s Me-ti. Buch der Wendungen (1965, Me-ti. Book of Transformation and Usage) is allegedly Brecht’s own German “translation” of Mozi, a book of ancient Chinese philosophy of Mohism, from an English translation. Yet Brecht’s self-ascribed role as the German translator and the alleged English translation of Mozi turn out both to be fictive. Then the issue of translation, which hasn’t been properly addressed in Me-ti scholarship, promises to take us to different contexts and yield a deeper understanding of Brecht’s textual and contextual practice. I argue that Brecht’s aesthetics of “translation” is situated between ancient Mohism and contemporaneous Marxism, between theory and practice, and between art and reality. Me-ti evinces an intertextuality inflecting both the ancient Mohist teaching and Brecht’s own reflection on universal love, mutual benefit, and the dialectic of the transience of things. Brecht did not translate Mozi from English into German. Yet he translated the content and the spirit of Mozi from its ancient context into the twenty-century setting of the international communist movement. Hence translation is not merely an action from one language to another but also a trans-situational movement between historical periods, ideological orientations, and civilizations. It is also a political or an ideological translation, an engagement that stresses the practical and ethical function of literature in intellectual debate and political movement. Brecht’s self-styling as the German “translator” and his imitation of the aphorismic style of Mozi reveal his translation as transliteration, moving beyond linguistic, historical, ideological, national, cultural, and class boundaries. Me-ti represents a form of world literature that is translation and transliteration both in form and content. Moderated by Dr. Ervin Malakaj Assistant Professor of German Studies at UBC.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International