Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada

the Complete Review
the complete review - dialogue / drama


Heiner Müller

general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Heartpiece

Title: Heartpiece
Author: Heiner Müller
Genre: Dialogue
Written: (1983) (Eng. 1984)
Length: 1 page
Original in: German
Availability: in: Hamletmachine - US
in: Hamletmachine - UK
in: Hamletmachine - Canada
in: Germania Mort à Berlin - France
Herzstück - Deutschland
in: Lo stakanovista e altri testi - Italia
in: Germania Muerte en Berlín - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • German title: Herzstück
  • First performed in 1981; published in 1983
  • Translated by Jack Zipes as Heart Play (in Theater 14 (1983)); by Carl Weber as Heartpiece (in Hamletmachine (1984)); and by Marc von Henning as Heartplay (in Theatremachine (1995))

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

A+ : a near-perfect work

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

[Note: This review is based on the German original, though two (of the three) English translations are also taken into account.]

       Heiner Müller's Herzstück is just over a hundred words in length in the original, a dialogue of fourteen lines, a simple back and forth between two figures identified only as 'One' and 'Two'. It can be considered -- and has often been treated -- as a theater (i.e. performance) piece, though what action there is -- one character cuts out the heart of another, and the heart turns out to be a brick -- is, of course, absurd (and, at the very least, difficult to adequately (much less realistically) portray on stage or in film/video). For all its concision, it is, however, an entirely full-fledged -- and full-bodied -- work.
       Remarkably, there have been many staged and filmed adaptations of it -- see the links below for just some of those available on the internet --, attesting to how much the text allows for, but also showing, in the inadequacy of any performance (beyond, perhaps, a simple reading), that Herzstück truly shines simply as text, as a literary work of the imagination.
       Herzstück is a kind of love-poem, 'One' not simply pouring out their heart but actually wishing to lay it at the feet of 'Two', making of it even a physical offering; the heart, once cut free, turns out not to be a human organ but rather the ultimate of inanimate objects, a building block -- a brick, after all -- but nothing more -- and yet 'One' can say of their offering: "But it beats only for you".
       Müller's simple back and forth is both shocking in its brutal calmness -- a chest is cut open here with a penknife, after all, without fuss or complaint -- and yet so touching; it captures, in this simple exchange, the complexity of love as well as any poem.
       Line- and word-perfect, there's drama and tension here, and all the while a great sense of beauty. There's a sense of satisfaction with a job well done -- 'There we have it' ("So, das hätten wir"), as 'Two' says after operating successfully -- reversals and turns (not least, the seeming let-down of the heart proving to be simply a brick), and the brilliant, impossible concluding line, the brick-heart as offering that 'beats just for you'. (In the German original the overall effect is even more pronounced in that the two speakers address each other formally, as 'Sie' (rather than the familiar 'Du').)
       The richness of the short text, all the potential in it, can also be gauged by the large number of interpretations and adaptations that already exist; so also, it has been published in three translations into English already (by Jack Zipes as Heart Play (1983); by Carl Weber as Heartpiece (1984); and by Marc von Henning as Heartplay (1995)). I have not seen the Zipes translation; the other two are decent enough, but can't quite equal the power of the original. (Weber's -- the more readily obtainable one -- is unfortunately the weaker: "I'll take it out by surgery", for example, is a poor reflection of: "Ich werde es Ihnen herausoperieren", and: "We'll see to that", while an interesting alternative here, isn't correct for: "Das werden wir ja sehn".)
       'My heart is pure', 'One' states early on, and so it is -- so is the whole little dialogue. Incredibly compact yet layered and full, Herzstück is a near perfect work of art -- one that has tempted many artists (performers and directors, especially) to take it up and try to realize their own vision of it. In necessarily falling short they also show it to be in its perfect form in the written original, a theater-piece/dialogue/prose-poem or what you will best played out simply in the mind's eye -- the ultimate kind of reading-piece.

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 October 2022

- Return to top of the page -


Heartpiece (Herzstück): Audio/video recordings: Reviews: Heiner Müller: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       East German author Heiner Müller lived 1929 to 1995.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2022 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links