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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Die Situation

Peter Weiss

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To purchase Die Situation

Title: Die Situation
Author: Peter Weiss
Genre: Novel
Written: 1956
Length: 260 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: Die Situation - Deutschland
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Wiebke Ankersen
  • Swedish title: Situationen
  • Though written in 1956, Situationen was never published in Swedish. The 2000 publication of the German translation, Die Situation, marks the first publication of this work anywhere.

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid, though of greater biographical than literary interest

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Der Tagesspiegel B+ 1/7/2000 Ulrike Baureithel

  From the Reviews:
  • "Über die literaturhistorische Bereicherung der Weiss-Forschung hinaus aktualisiert dieser nachgelassene Text jedoch die auch heute nicht erledigte Frage nach der Rolle und Aufgabe der Kunst und ihrer Produzenten in der Gesellschaft." - Ulrike Baureithel, Der Tagesspiegel

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Peter Weiss is considered a German writer, and most of his best-known works were written in his mother tongue. However, Weiss lived in Sweden for most of his life, becoming a Swedish citizen in 1946. He vacillated between the two languages for some time, writing several works of fiction in Swedish between 1944 and 1956 while never completely abandoning German (writing The Shadow of the Body of the Coachman (see our review) in German in 1952, for example).
       The Swedish fiction (and the early German efforts) are Weiss' most experimental work. A number of these Swedish works appeared in German translation in the early 1980s, among them De Besegrade (1948, German: Die Besiegten) and Duellen (1951, German: Das Duell). Situationen was the last (and longest) of Weiss' Swedish works of fiction, written in 1956. Despite some critical acclaim for his previous efforts he had been unable to find a publisher for it when he completed it. Unlike his other work, he also did not try to get it published in German after he had achieved world-wide renown. Fortunately, Suhrkamp Verlag has now finally published the work.
       As Wiebke Ankersen says in her afterword, this is probably the most Swedish of Weiss' texts. Whereas his previous efforts also focus on the struggle of the artist and the search for identity here the extraneous world intrudes to a far greater extent -- with the Hungarian uprising, for example, or the Suez crisis. There is already some distance from the devastation and horror of World War II (which naturally dominates De Besegrade -- a portrait of "the vanquished"), and Sweden offers an apparently safe harbour. There is an advanced welfare system and relative comfort, but the Cold War reality and global unease cast a shadow even here.
       Die Situation consists of three parts: "Night", "Day", and "Night" -- covering a typical day in the lives of his characters. It centers around a group of characters who are not fully integrated into society -- exiles, outsiders, and artists. They write, direct, paint. They interact -- with each other, with lovers, with children -- but there is always a distance between them.
       The novel has many strong autobiographical elements. Weiss was still trying to establish himself in 1956, when this novel was written. He was forty that year, and he has his characters voice many of his concerns (and offer reassurances). One mulls:

Ich bin vierzig Jahre. Ich habe noch nicht begonnen. (...) Ich bin vierzig Jahre und sitze in einem Café am Rande der Welt.

(I am forty years old. I haven't begun yet. (...) I am forty years old and I'm sitting in a café at the edge of the world.)
       Age itself is not at issue: Weiss recognizes that an artist's greatest works can come to fruition late in life -- but he understands that the seeds must be there, from the beginning. Often he feels the potential -- and at other times he feels instead: "Ich bin gefüllt mit Sand" ("I'm filled with sand"). (The potential was, of course, there in Weiss, a spectacular late bloomer.)
       Die Situation shifts between third person and first person narrative. Where much of the third person narrative fixes on description, the first person voices are reflective:
Wie ehrlich kann ich mir selbst gegenüber sein ? Wie weit wage ich, in der Selbsterkenntnis zu gehen ?

(How honest can I be vis-à-vis myself ? How far do I dare go in recognizing my self ?
       The artists recognize that they stand apart, a situation they feel ambivalent about, half ashamed and half proud.
Was für ein sonderbares Dasein, welch eigenartige Beschäftigung, hier in Zurückgezogenheit zu sitzen, in einer Muschel, in ein Kokon, und Worte hervorzuspinnen und sie auf Papier zu fixieren, während draußen Menschen und Maschinen in einer gewaltsamen Aktivität brodeln.

(What an odd existence, what a peculiar occupation, to sit here in seclusion, in a shell, in a cocoon, and to spin out words and fix them on paper while outside people and machines boil with vigorous activity)
       Weiss makes much of the struggle of the artist in the modern world. His characters are also uncertain of what there art should accomplish, and what form it should take. Paul the theatre director, Fanny the writer, Leo the painter, and Ossian (four faces for the many-faceted artist Weiss himself) each try different approaches -- while constantly questioning these (and themselves). The arguments are familiar, but Weiss weaves them neatly into the text. Even ideas that border on the cliché -- Leo announcing of his painting: "Ich werde noch mehr abstrahieren, ich werde abstrahieren, bis alles Außenwerk eliminiert ist, bis nur Farbflächen bleiben" ("I will abstract even more, I will continue to abstract until everything external is eliminated, until only areas of colour remain.") -- are presented convincingly, incidental in complex scenes.
       The characters also struggle with their personal needs for the comfort of human company and intimacy. There are attempts to break out of their isolation, but these are only of limited success.
       Weiss' writing is rich and dense. There is a great deal of painstaking attention to detail (as in The Shadow of the Body of the Coachman), a focus on what is (and can be) perceived. There is occasionally a surfeit of description. Weiss frequently lists objects, as well as books and authors, focussing on depicting the reality of those that populate his novel. He also describes physical acts in unusual (and slightly discomforting) detail -- including lovemaking and defecation.
       Stylistically Die Situation is a curious mix of Weiss' other efforts from this time. Both realistic and contemplative it is still emphatically experimental, with Weiss exploring what he can do with prose. One can see the lessons learnt here applied in his later works -- the autobiographical fiction and then especially in the triumphant Die Ästhetik des Widerstands (see our review).
       Though more specifically localized (it is very much a novel of the Sweden of the 1950s), Die Situation is not too dated. Most of Weiss' fiction is quite timeless; indeed, if anything appears dated about this work it is the style, currently not en vogue. Still, Weiss is a fine writer and Die Situation an accomplished effort, worthwhile as a novel about the struggles and the role of the artist in the modern world.
       Die Situation is also an interesting biographical document, as many of the conflicts and concerns in it mirror those from Weiss' own life. Much of Weiss' writing from the 1940s to the early 1960s was heavily autobiographical, with most of the earlier works overshadowed by the culminating two volumes Abschied von den Eltern (1961, Leavetaking) and Fluchtpunkt (1962, Vanishing Point). Nevertheless, Die Situation does offer further insight, a useful complement to the other novels.
       An impressive work, deserving more than just to be considered a curiosity. Weiss' early prose is often underestimated, and Die Situation proves again that more attention should be paid to it.

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Die Situation: Reviews: Peter Weiss: Other works by Peter Weiss under Review: Works about Peter Weiss under Review:
  • Werner Schmidt's biography, Peter Weiss: Leben eines kritischen Intellektuellen
Other books of interest under review:
  • See also the Index of German literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Peter Weiss (1916-82) was born in Germany. A remarkable artist, he was a talented painter who then turned to writing. Only slow to achieve recognition with his fiction he burst onto the international scene with the stunning success of his play, Marat/Sade. Winner of many West and East German literary prizes, he was also the author of Die Ästhetik des Widerstands, the most important German novel since The Tin Drum.

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