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Peter Weiss
at the
complete review:

biographical | bibliography | quotes | pros/cons | our opinion | links


Name: Peter WEISS
Nationality: German /Swedish
Born: 8 November 1916
Died: 10 May 1982
Awards: Lessing Prize, 1965
Heinrich Mann Prize, 1966
Georg Büchner Prize, 1982

  • Attended Prague Art Academy
  • Painter, filmmaker, novelist, and dramatist

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Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

  • Från ö till ö - fiction, 1944 (written in Swedish -- German: Von Insel zu Insel)
  • De besegrade - novel, 1948 (written in Swedish -- German: Die Besiegten)
  • Der Vogelfreie - novel, 1948 (published as Dokument I in Swedish (1949) and in German as Der Fremde under the pseudonym Sinclair (1980))
  • Der Turm - drama, 1949 (The Tower, trans. Michael Benedikt and Michel Heine, 1967)
  • Duellen - novel, 1951 (written in Swedish -- German: Das Duell)
  • The Shadow of the Body of the Coachman - novel, 1952 (Der Schatten des Körpers des Kutschers, trans. E.B.Garside (1969)))
  • Die Versicherung - drama, 1952
  • Avantgarde Film - non-fiction, 1956 (written in Swedish)
  • Die Situation - novel, 1956 (Situationen, written in Swedish, trans. by Wiebke Ankersen (2000))
  • Leavetaking - novel, 1960 (Abschied von den Eltern, trans. E.B.Garside, Alastair Hamilton, and Christopher Levenson (1968))
  • Vanishing Point - novel, 1961 (Fluchtpunkt, trans. E.B.Garside, Alastair Hamilton, and Christopher Levenson (1968))
  • The Conversation of the Three Wayfarers - novel, 1962 (Das Gespräch der drei Gehenden, trans. Rosemarie Waldrop)
  • Nacht mit Gästen - drama, 1963 (Night with Guests, trans. Laurence Dobie, 1968)
  • Marat/Sade - drama, 1963 (Marat/Sade, trans. Geoffrey Skelton, 1964)
  • Wie dem Herrn Mockinpott das Leiden ausgetrieben wird - drama, 1963 (How Mr.Mockinpott was cured of his Sufferings, 1972)
  • Inferno - drama, 1964 (first published 2003)
  • The Investigation - drama, 1965 (Die Ermittlung, trans. Jon Swan and Ulu Grosbard (1966), and trans. Alexander Gross (1966))
  • Gesang vom lusitanischen Popanz - drama, 1967 (Song of the Lusitanien Bogey, trans. Lee Baxandall)
  • Viet Nam Diskurs - drama, 1968 (Viet Nam Discourse, trans. Geoffrey Skelton, 1970)
  • Rapporte - non-fiction, 1968
  • Trotzki im Exil - drama, 1969 (Trotsky in Exile, trans. Geoffrey Skelton, 1972)
  • Rekonvaleszenz - autobiographical, 1970
  • Rapporte 2 - non-fiction, 1971
  • Notizbücher 1960-1971 - diaries
  • Hölderlin - drama, 1971 (Hölderlin, trans. Jon Swan, 2010)
  • Der Prozeß - adaptation, 1974
  • Notizbücher 1971-1980 - diaries
  • Briefe - letters, 1938-1980
  • Die Ästhetik des Widerstands - novel, 1975-81 (Volume I-1975, II-1978, III-1981)
  • The New Trial - drama, 1982 (Der neue Prozeß, trans. James Rolleston and Kai Evers)

Please note that this bibliography is not necessarily complete.

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What others have to
say about
Peter Weiss:

  • "Repelled and attracted by images of sickness, flagellation, torture, and death, and darkly obsessed by the awareness of his own past failure to combat inhumanity, Weiss has tried harder than any of his contemporaries to fight the introspective middle-class bohemian in himself by concentrating his energies on social aims independent of his vulnerable sensibility; nobody else has gone so far as to write himself a scenario for a new life, down to the last rented room in the Stockholm suburbs." - Peter Demetz, After the Fires (1986)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

  • Enormous breadth, sweep, and variety of work
  • Moral voice
  • Risky approaches to difficult questions
  • Excellent theatrical sense
  • Interest and awareness of a great variety of issues

  • Though much of Weiss' work has been translated into English almost none of it is readily available
  • The magnum opus, Die Ästhetik des Widerstands, has not been published in English
  • Much of Weiss' work is political, and of a bent that is no longer popular
  • Some of the fiction can seem ponderous
  • Some of the fiction can seem overly self-absorbed

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the complete review's Opinion

     Peter Weiss was a remarkable artist. He was a talented painter and a filmmaker, but it is, of course, his writing that he will be best remembered for. At least two of his plays -- Marat/Sade and The Investigation -- are theatrical landmarks that continue to be performed regularly, while his culminating work of fiction, Die Ästhetik des Widerstands, stands as one of the most significant German novels of the second half of the 20th century. It is these works that Weiss is perhaps best known for, but there is an astonishing wealth of material beside them.
     Weiss wrote in both Swedish and German before finally settling on his mother-tongue. The ultimate exile, he lived only briefly in Germany. The defining locales in his life were war-threatened Prague (where he studied painting), England (where his family initially fled to), and finally Sweden, which became his home.
     Weiss chose his métier as carefully as he chose the language he would work in, studying painting (and becoming an accomplished painter) and also experimenting with film. All the while he also wrote, trying a variety of approaches. Many of the earliest texts are primarily of biographical interest, but Weiss' qualities already shine through. The experimental texts The Shadow of the Body of the Coachman and The Conversation of the Three Wayfarers remain influential works, while the breakthrough autobiographical novels, Leavetaking and Vanishing Point, impressed a larger audience.
     It is the plays that have made the greatest mark, the remarkable Marat/Sade winning international acclaim and making Weiss' reputation. The Investigation is also a significant work dealing with World War II.
     Weiss was always a political writer, and many of the later plays were apparently too obviously so to be of continued interest, sinking -- at least in the English-speaking world -- without a sound from sight. This is regrettable, because Weiss' presentation of ideas continues to impress, even in works that may appear dogmatic. But Weiss was never simply a "Marxist writer". The collections of essays and especially the diary-notebooks give further insight into his interests, struggles, and concerns, and many of these pieces are notable in their own right.
     The great novel, Die Ästhetik des Widerstands, is certainly the most imposing and likely the most impressive effort, an aesthetic summa for our times.
     Weiss' varied writings are almost invariably interesting, ranging from surreal literary experiments to realistic autobiographical accounts to literary reworkings of political issues (whether dealing with the so-called Third World or German history). He is a remarkable writer, and must be counted among the most important European authors of the 20th century.

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Peter Weiss: Peter Weiss' Books at the complete review: Works about Peter Weiss under Review:
  • Werner Schmidt's biography, Peter Weiss: Leben eines kritischen Intellektuellen
See also:

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