Weiss, Peter

views updated May 21 2018

WEISS, Peter

Nationality: Swedish (originally German: immigrated to Sweden, 1939, granted Swedish citizenship, 1949). Born: Nowawes, 8 November 1916; spent most of childhood in Bremen; fled Germany with family to England, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, and finally Sweden, 1934-39. Education: Polytechnic School of Photography, London; Prague Art Academy, 1937-38; Stockholm Art Academy. Family: Married 1) Helga Henschen in 1943 (divorced), one daughter; 2) Carlota Dethorey in 1949 (divorced), one son; 3) Gunilla Palmstierna in 1962, one daughter. Career: Correspondent, Tidningen, Stockholm; worked as a commercial artist; joined the Swedish Experimental Film Studio, 1952; painting teacher, People's University, Stockholm, 1950s. Awards: Prague Art Academy award, 1938, for his painting Gartenkonzert; Charles-Veillon prize, 1963; Lessing prize (Hamburg), 1965; Heinrich Mann prize, 1966; Carl Albert Anderson prize, 1967; Thomas Dehler prize, 1978; Cologne literature prize, 1981; Georg Büchner prize, Bremen literature prize, De Nios prize, and Swedish Theatre Critics prize, all in 1982. Died: 10 May 1982.



Dramen. 1968.

Dramen. 1 (includes Der Turm ; Die Versicherung ; Nacht mit Gästen ; Mockinpott ; Marat-Sade ). 1968.

Dramen. 2 (inlcudes Die Ermittlung ; Lusitanischer Popanz ; Viet Nam Diskurs ). 1968.

Gesang vom Lusitanischen Popanz und andere Stücke (includes Gesang vom Lusitanischen Popanz ; Nacht mit Gästen ; Die Versicherung ). 1969.

Peter Weiss Werke in sechs Bänden, edited by Gunilla Palmstierna-Weiss. 1991.

  1. Band, Prosa I (includes Von Insel zu Insel ; Die Besiegten ; Der Fremde ; Das Duell ). 1991.
  2. Band, Prosa 2 (includes Der Schatten des Körpers des Kutschers ; Abschied von den Eltern ; Fluchtpunkt ; Das Gespräch der drei Gehenden ; Rekonvaleszenz ). 1991.
  3. Band, Prosa 3 (includes Die Ästhetik des Widerstands ). 1991.
  4. Band, Dramen 1 (includes Der Turm ; Die Versicherung ; Nacht mit Gästen ; Mockinpott ; Marat/Sade ). 1991.
  5. Band, Dramen 2 (includes Die Ermittlung ; Lusitanischer Popanz ; Viet Nam Diskurs ). 1991.
  6. Band, Dramen 3 (includes Trotzki im Exil ; Hölderlin ; Der Prozess ; Der Neue Prozess ). 1991.

Marat/Sade; The Investigation; and The Shadow of the Coach-man's Body, edited by Robert Cohen. 1998.


Der Turm (produced 1949). In Dramen. 1, 1968; as The Tower, 1968.

Die Versicherung (produced Germany, 1952). In Dramen. 1, 1968.

Nacht mit Gästen (produced Berlin, 1963). 1966; as Night with Guests (produced 1968).

Die Verfolgung und Ermordung Jean Paul Marats dargestellt durch die Schauspielergruppe des Hospizes zu Charenton unter Anleitung des Herrn de Sade (Marat/Sade ) (produced Berlin, 1964). 1964; as The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat As Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade (produced New York, 1965), 1965.

Wie dem Herrn Mockinpott das Leiden ausgetrieben wird (produced 1963). 1968; as How Mr. Mockinpott Was Cured of His Sufferings (produced 1972).

Die Ermittlung (produced Germany, 1965). 1965; as The Investigation, 1966.

Gesang vom lusitanischen Popanz (produced 1967). In Gesang vom Lusitanischen Popanz und andere Stücke, 1969; translated as Song of the Lusitanien Bogey and published with Discourse on the Progress of the Prolonged War of Liberation in Viet Nam, 1970.

Diskurs über die Vorgeschichte und den Verlauf des lang andauernden Befreiungskrieges in Viet Nam als Beispiel für die Notwendigkeit des bewaffneten Kampfes der Unterdrückten gegen ihre Unterdrücker sowie über die Versuche der Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika die Grundlagen der Revolution zu vernichten (Viet Nam Diskurs) (produced Frankfurt am Main, 1968). 1967; translated as Discourse on the Progress of the Prolonged War of Liberation in Viet Nam and published with Song of the Lusitanian Bogey, 1970.

Trotzki im Exil (produced Düsseldorf, 1970). 1969; as Trotsky in Exile, 1971.

Hölderlin (produced Stuttgart, 1971). 1971.

Der Prozeß, adaptation of the novel by Franz Kafka (produced 1974). 1979.

Der neue Prozeß (produced Stockholm, 1982). 1982; as The New Trial (produced Duke University, 1998), 2001.


FrÅn ö till ö. 1947.

De Besegrade. 1948.

Der Vogelfreie. 1948.

Dokument I. 1949.

Duellen. 1951.

Der Schatten des Körpers des Kutschers. 1960; as The Shadow of the Coachman's Body, in Bodies and Shadows: Two Short Novels, 1969.

Abschied von den Eltern. 1961; as Leavetaking, 1968.

Fluchtpunkt. 1962; translated as Vanishing Point and published with Leavetaking, 1968.

Das Gespräch der drei Gehenden. 1962; as The Conversation of the Three Wayfarers, in Bodies and Shadows: Two Short Novels, 1969.

Die Ästhetik des Widerstands. 1975; as The Aesthetics of

Resistance, 1996.

Volume I. 1975.

Volume II. 1978.

Volume III. 1981.

Die Situation. 2000.


Avantgarde Film, edited by Beat Mazenauer. 1956.

Rapporte. 1968.

Meine Ortschaft. 1968; as My Place, 1978.

Rekonvaleszenz. 1970.

Rapporte 2. 1971.

Notizbücher 1971-1980. 1981.

Notizbücher 1960-1971. 1982.

Briefe, edited by Beat Mazenauer (correspondence). 1992.


Film Adaptations:

Marat/Sade, 1966.

Critical Studies:

Peter Weiss: A Search for Affinities by Ian Hilton, 1970; Peter Weiss by Otto F. Best, 1976; Metaphors of Evil: Contemporary German Literature and the Shadow of Nazism by Hamida Bosmajian, 1979; The Theme of Alienation in the Prose of Peter Weiss by Kathleen A. Vance, 1981; Patterns of Ritual and Symbols in the Plays of Jean Genet, Peter Weiss, and Edward Bond (dissertation) by Miriam Yahil-Wax, Stanford University, 1983; "Aesthetics and the Revolutionary Struggle: Peter Weiss's Novel The Aesthetics of Resistance " by Peter Horn, in Critical Arts, 3(4), 1985, pp. 7-54; "Auschwitz and Its Function in Peter Weiss' Search for Identity" by Jurgen E. Schlunk, in German Studies Review, 10(1), February 1987, pp. 11-30; Peter Weiss in Exile: A Critical Study of His Works by Roger Ellis, 1987; The Mother in the Work and Life of Peter Weiss by Åsa Eldh, 1990; Understanding Peter Weiss, 1993, and "The Political Aesthetics of Holocaust Literature: Peter Weiss's The Investigation and Its Critics," in History & Memory: Studies in Representations of the Past, 10(2), 1998, pp. 43-67, both by Robert Cohen; "I Have Arrived Twenty Years Too Late' The Intertext of Peter Weiss' Investigation into Auschwitz" by Gunther Pakendorf, in Acta Germanica: Jahrbuch des Germanistenverbandes im Sudlichen Afrika, 23, 1995, pp. 69-78; Not of This Time, Not of This Place: Diasporic Imagination in Peter Weiss, Nelly Sachs, and Paul Celan (dissertation) by Katja Garloff, University of Chicago, 1998; Rethinking Peter Weiss, edited by Jost Hermand and Marc Silberman, 2000.

* * *

The impossibility of representing Auschwitz on the stage led German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno in his radio lecture Engagement oder künstlerische Autonomie (published in Noten zur Literatur III, 1965) to launch a massive attack against images of a reality. He claimed that the very process of the depiction of these images by means of the artistic shaping of naked corporeal pain softened the impact of this reality and contained the potential "to yield pleasure." Nevertheless, in his Negative Dialektik Adorno justified the survival of art after Auschwitz, claiming that "perennial suffering" has the right to be expressed. This right means that oblivion or forgetfulness cannot be accepted. The "drastic guilt of him who was spared death"—who experiences his escape as guilt at evading the death sentences of the SS—causes Adorno to doubt whether life is worth living after Auschwitz. For him every form of bearing witness is made possible only through the distance of time that separates the survivors from the victims of the death camps.

Painter, film director, novelist, and playwright Peter Weiss—born near Berlin in 1916—was also tormented by guilt for, as he said, "not having been one of those who had had the number of devaluation branded on their flesh." He was spared death thanks to the foresight of his mother, an actress who worked with Austrian theater director Max Reinhardt, and his Jewish father. The family members, Czech citizens, fled Germany in 1934, emigrating via England and Czechoslovakia to find refuge in Sweden in 1939. Weiss studied at the Polytechnic School of Photography in London and at the academy of arts in Prague as well as at the Art Academy in Stockholm before he started his career as a painter and writer. In 1949 he received Swedish state citizenship. His attempt to be integrated into Swedish society proved difficult although he received benevolent reviews and public orders for his paintings and exhibitions. In his first book, FrÅn ö till ö , written in 1944 in Swedish and published in 1947, he draws up the utopia of the art in the picture of the island, which is threatened by a decayed outside world.

Weiss went back to Germany as a correspondent of a Swedish daily in 1947. In one of his Sechs Reportagen aus Deutschland ("Six Reports from Germany"), he describes his dismay upon reading Eugen Kogon 's book Der SS-Staat ("The SS State"). Kogon's publication revealed to him the first really clear picture of the extremely complicated organized inferno, in which sadism was transformed to science and the hangmen became the truest representatives of the time. Weiss interpreted his visit to Germany as the beginning of his own politicization. Traces of this politicization, however, cannot be found in his publications De Besegrade (1948) and Der Vogelfreie (1948) nor in the play Der Turm (1949; The Tower ).

Weiss failed in his attempt to get the Suhrkamp publishing house to publish his novel Der Vogelfreie. Swedish publishing houses also refused the publication of his texts, so he decided to publish them in his own publishing house. The year 1952 proved to be a crisis year for him due to missing artistic recognition. He therefore devoted himself to shooting films and recorded successes with some of his movies, which are both surreal experiments and socially inspired documentary movies. The death of his parents at the end of the 1950s caused Weiss to write a self-critical autobiographical novel, Abschied von den Eltern (1961; Leavetaking , 1968). His following publication, Fluchtpunkt (1962; "Vanishing Point "), is also decisively influenced by experiences of his own life. In this novel the narrator, who is identical with Weiss, discusses the question of guilt in his youth: He unsuccessfully tried to rescue his girlfriend Lucie Weisberger out of the concentration camp in 1941 by marrying her. Weiss's serious self-accusation for having failed to rescue Weisberger led to an increasing politicization in his literary activity. With his play Marat/Sade (1964)—a play within a play, which combines historical facts of the French Revolution with dramatic fantasy—the engaged intellectual Weiss succeeded in his worldwide breakthrough. After this success Weiss dealt with the further-reaching repression of fascism. He went to the place of the destruction, Auschwitz, and he attended the Frankfurt am Main Auschwitz trial to be able to write his short prose text Meine Ortschaft (1968; My Place, 1978) and the play Die Ermittlung (1965; The Investigation, 1966). Weiss's work on the Auschwitz material intensified his interest in Marxism. Instead of realizing his plan to write a canto about colonialism, racism, conquest, robbery, and murder, he thematized with his play Viet Nam Diskurs (1968) the Vietnamese struggle for liberation, in which Weiss—in the meantime declaring his belief for socialism—saw a new quality of human engagement. In his 10 Arbeitspunkte eines Autoren in der geteilten Welt (September 1965), he announced that the guidelines of socialism contained the intellectual truth for him. Some months before, in March, he had announced that the acceptance of truth consists of doubts and contradictions. The failure of the Prague Spring—Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia over the night of 20-21 August 1968—caused him to have sharp criticism of the politics of the socialist states. Weiss increasingly dissociated himself from socialism during the 1970s while writing his magnum opus, the one thousand-page novel Die Ästhetik des Widerstands (1975; The Aesthetics of Resistance, 1996).

Weiss, who died in 1982, discusses his moral political problem of guilt in multiple ways in his oeuvre, in which the victims of national socialism and also of the postwar period have got the right to express their "perennial suffering."

—Olav Schröer

See the essay on The Investigation.

Weiss, Peter

views updated Jun 08 2018


WEISS, PETER (1916–1982), German playwright and author. A half-Jew, Weiss, who was born near Berlin, left Germany in 1934, spending two years in England and two more in Prague, before settling in Sweden in 1939. There he made his career as a painter, film producer, and writer. At first he wrote stories such as Der Schatten des Koerpers des Kutschers (1960) and Abschied von den Eltern (1961; Leavetaking, 1966), but broadened his scope in the novel, Fluchtpunkt (1962; Vanishing Point, 1966; together with Leavetaking as Exile, 1968). This last is an autobiographical work of passionate intensity covering the career and successive exiles of the hero from the age of 18 until his 30th year. The book reveals the young art student's rebellion against middle-class conformity, and the anguish of a Jewish manufacturer's son who, on his mother's side, belongs to the nation of the persecutor. As a dramatist, Weiss gained international fame with his play, Die Verfolgung und Ermordung Jean Paul Marats … (1964; The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, 1965). In his Die Ermittlung (1965; The Investigation, 1966), Weiss made use of the documentation produced at the Frankfurt trial of the Nazi war criminals responsible for the brutalities at Auschwitz.

His other works include Der Gesang vom lusitanischen Popanz ("Song of the Lusitanian Bogey," 1966), Diskurs ueber die Vorgeschichte und Verlauf des lang andauernden Befreiungskrieges in Viet Nam (1968), and, in Swedish, Sangen om Utysket ("The Song of the Scarecrow," 1968), and Trotskij i exil ("Trotsky in Exile," 1970).


L. Kahn, Mirrors of the Jewish Mind (1968), 232–6.

Weiss, Peter

views updated Jun 11 2018

Weiss, Peter (1916–82) Swedish dramatist, b. Germany. His reputation was established with The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade (1964), more commonly known as Marat/Sade. Other plays include The Investigation (1965) and Trotsky in Exile (1970). His final play was The New Investigation (1981).