Bertolt Brecht's War Primer, first published in 1955, is a collection of what Brecht termed “photo-epigrams.” These consist of a photograph—usually one cut from the illustrated press—mounted on a black background and accompanied by a four-line poem by Brecht. The theme of the book is World War II. Critics have tended to view the War Primer as a didactic piece that offers a Marxist corrective to “Western” histories of the war. This article, however, argues against this view. By contextualizing the work in terms of Brecht's and Benjamin's writings on photography in the 1920s and 1930s and taking into account not merely the relationship between photograph and quatrain but all of the numerous paratexts (original newspaper captions, titles, explanatory notes, foreword, jacket copy, title page, and author's signature), the article argues that the diverse modes of address constructed by the text preclude communication of a unitary ideological message.

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