Once you remove subject matter, plot, and character from a political drama — that is, the explicit politics of it — what is left?
In a short text called “Brecht out of fashion,” Elfriede Jelinek writes:
I am very interested in fashion. And since now even the hippie look of the late sixties has become fashionable again as grunge, and has naturally also disappeared the way fashion always does, I ask myself whether misery, poverty, and exploitation as literary subjects can come into and go out of fashion just as well. Brecht’s leather coat, for example, this icon in the photographs, a piece of clothing deliberately sewn together crookedly (so that the collar would nicely stick out!), proves to me that appearance — that which is “put on” the literary subject matter — was very important to Brecht. But if the tireless naming of victims and their exploiters remains something strangely external to his Didactic Plays, something like a sewn-on collar (even though the naming of perpetrators and victims is really the main point), one could say that the work of Brecht, just like fashion and its zombies, very visibly bears the date stamp of his time. It is, however, exactly in the disappearance of the opposites, which are exposed as mere externals (misery and luxury, poverty and wealth), that the differences, strangely, come ever more irrefutably to the fore; and that is precisely what Brecht wanted! The basic tension, namely the gap between the real and what is said, is incessantly thematized by Brecht. Language fights against its subject matter, which is put on it like clothing (not the other way around!), a subject matter which is a piece of fashion; but how is one to describe fashion now? One can’t. Thus the opposites master/servant etc., not unlike clothing, elude any description — even mock the very attempt at it. The real truth about these appearances we have to regain, time and again, from the codes of the externals by which the members of class societies are catalogued like pieces of clothing. That is to say, we have to look for the opposites behind the subject matters. Since we will not succeed, as little as Brecht could ever have succeeded in producing such a description (because the description would have used up everything that there might have been as its own raw material), there remains, even in Brecht’s Didactic Plays, which seemingly are entirely congruent with their function, an ineffable, indescribable residue about which nothing can be said. And it is only about this residue that one can now talk. (Translation: Jorn Bramann)
This residue also has an erotic dimension. If all language does, the language of Brecht’s didactic plays is so affected. I wrote about Brecht’s 1930 The Decision (aka The Measures Taken) several years ago; that short note is below.
The tragedy of commitment. Among Brecht’s plays the Lehrstücke are the most radically experimental in form and radically political in content; the best-known, The Decision (also known as The Measures Taken), is a spare austere revelation of individual sacrifice for a social ideal. Four Communist agitators from the West travel to China to incite revolution; along the way, they gain another party functionary, the Young Comrade. In China the functionary, in demonstrating compassion and anger at the inhumanity he witnesses, makes a series of “mistakes” — including his attempts to alleviate individual suffering. Finally, on the run from the police, at risk of arrest and execution themselves, they shoot the Young Comrade and toss his body into a lime pit, with his acquiesence:
THE CONTROL CHORUS:
Was that the only answer?
THE FOUR AGITATORS:
With so little time we could think of no other.
Like an animal helping an animal
We too would gladly have helped him who
Fought for our cause with us.
For five minutes, in the teeth of our pursuers, we
Considered if there was any
So what we decided was straightaway
To cut our own foot away from our body. It is
A terrible thing to kill.
But not only others would we kill, but ourselves too if need be
Since only force can alter this
Murderous world, as
Every living creature knows.
It is still, we said
Not given to us to kill. Only on our
Indomitable will to alter the world could we base
This decision. 
As in many tragedies, the story of The Decision is either well-known to its audience or telegraphed to the audience in the first scene or two; the rest is the journey to the tragic end. The dedication to a radical progressive point of view constitutes the bizarre motive for the murder/suicide; and because the Young Comrade’s death is mentioned in the second line of the play (“We have to report the death of a comrade. … We killed him. We shot him and threw him into a lime pit”), mortality hovers over the events of all the successive scenes.
It is a curious piece of agit-prop, even more curious in its production. Brecht’s notes insist that the Young Comrade be performed by each of the Four Agitators, each Agitator playing the Young Comrade from scene to scene; and it’s also noted that the play is a learning play not necessarily for the audience but for the performers instead. In a 1956 letter to Paul Patera, who planned a production of the play in Sweden, Brecht wrote: “The Decision was not written for an audience but exclusively for the instruction of the performers. In my experience, public performances of it inspire nothing but moral qualms, usually of the cheapest sort. Accordingly, I have not let anyone perform the play for a long time.” (Editor John Willett notes that Patera apparently planned an anti-Communist production of the play.)
The discomfort that Brecht describes, those “moral qualms,” arise from a variety of sources in the play: the Young Comrade demonstrates a compassion and willingness to act that are absent from the Four Agitators’ activities; the nature of his death (shot, then thrown into a lime pit, in which his skin melts away from his body — a painful fleshed sensuousness of violence); and, despite the rationalizations offered, the explanations do not fully suffice. Designed for performance before an audience of local political activists, this is a play written for community performance that manages to alienate that very community from its ideological goals.
And yet the play remains powerful, and its conflicts and dynamics are tragic: it is an inner compulsion to individual compassion that the Young Comrade cannot ignore, and all the calls to ideological discipline fail to move him; it is this compassion that leads to his voluntary death. Even now, decades after the fall of Soviet-style Communism, the play retains considerable power and interest, not least because it speaks to every attempt to place the progressive community above the individual. In its austerity and performance practice (the performers are to experience most intensely the stresses and anxieties of the play, rather than the audience; indeed, the performers themselves are the ideal audience), The Decision still suggests an avenue for the exploration of a dramatist- and actor-centered erotic tragedy as well. For the Four Agitators, in taking the role of the Young Comrade individually, experience themselves the extremes of the Young Comrade’s imaginative life and share in his death. The story of the Young Comrade also bears echoes of the other great Western tragedy of an individual man, who voluntarily was nailed to a cross and died for his beliefs, betrayed by his comrades.