Brecht’s “The Life of Galileo” – Encountering Conflict

Brecht’s “The Life of Galileo” – Encountering Conflict

This not a new text in VCE but had been previously used as part of the Literature course, almost 15 years ago. Already, I can hear the sound of pattering feet heading off to the book list, searching for a study guide that will help give you some seminal reading of the play script. Equally, you may be searching on the Internet for the “The Life of Galileo” by Bertholt Brecht in the number of different guises – the search terms matter as you will find literally hundreds of thousands of sites unless you are quite direct in your search. So what are you looking for and why?

Advice? Some pre-thinking does help, but so does some “unalienated reading” – I use that term for a reason, as Brecht’s own reading of his works comes with the proviso that the current and prevailing historical context defines how you will respond to the play.

So …

  1. Don’t run to the study guide first … do that last!
  2. Read the play script first and make your own set of notes as you read through.
  3. Seek out questions to ask both of yourself and of others, but do record your thoughts.
  4. Highlight passages of interest, identify phrases that catch your attention – focus on “conflict”; issues that have a clear narrative and ontological tension.
  5. Annotate the margins of your own text, remembering that you are in the 21st Century and that you have a voice and a mind that can see and respond to the narrative as you see it, not necessarily as a “study guide” would see it!
  6. Search the Internet once you are finished.

You might like to know that Google has:

Some 727,000 references to “The Life of Galileo” (December 2012). Remember that these “numbers” are simply an indication the quantity and not “quality” of resources available:

  • “The Life of Galileo” “VCE” – 420
  • “The Life of Galileo” “VCE English” – 52
  • “The Life of Galileo” “VCE” “Encountering Conflict” – 6
  • “The Life of Galileo” “Brecht” – 337,000
  • “Life of Galileo” “Brecht” – 684,000
  • “Life of Galileo” “Brecht” “study guide” – 295,000
  • “Life of Galileo” “Script” “Brecht” – 253,000
  • “Life of Galileo” “Scene Summary” “Brecht” – 25
  • “Life of Galileo” “Brecht” “Synopsis” – 352,000
  • “Brecht’s Galileo” – 13,700
  • “Brecht” “Galileo” “Analytical essay” – 642
  • “Brecht” “Encountering Conflict” – 204
  • “Galileo” “Encountering Conflict” – 689
  • Etc., etc., etc.

So what does some preliminary research tell you as a VCE student?

Trying to cope with limited experience, “encountering conflict” in the vast array of information that is available about Galileo Galilei, his trials and tribulations, his importance to science, the myths about the man, about “his” cosmology …

And now a play, a fiction set explicitly by Brecht to educate, entertain and force the reader or watcher to draw their own conclusions, about just how a time of technological change can uproot existing belief systems and individual ethics and bring all that we know into doubt.

Where “new truth” may be demonstrated to be the antithesis of  “belief”and “faith” in things past or already held “true”; a pragmatic “truth” determined simply as a means of individual survival, rather than a needless sacrifice. A journey to find a fixed point, a stasis in a natural world which offers only flux and chaos, in which the benefit of hindsight continually rewrites any presupposed immutable truth or knowledge as though it was plastic in service of some prevailing and dominant world view.

A “life of Galileo” is not simply one of idealized conflict, but one open to imagination, re-interpretation, political compromise, secular pragmatism and a desire (perhaps a very human one) to hold onto something that appears “pure” and unadulterated, even though we know that time must change all things, even “the truth”.

Perhaps, Brecht asks his audience to consider the most telling of all “conflicts”:

When is it wrong to tell the truth?


When is it right to tell a lie?

Brecht may himself have answered those questions – “Grub first, then ethics.”