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Psychosocial revolutionary

Peter Weiss: A life as a critical intellectual
Forfatter: Werner Schmidt
Forlag: TankeKraft förlag (2016)
Peter Weiss' political horizon has no topicality. But he was one of the greatest writers of the 1900 century.


Werner Schmidt:
Peter Weiss: A life as a critical intellectual
TankeKraft publisher, 2016


Peter Weiss (1908 – 1982) is one of the few intellectuals in the 1900's who has some of Karl Marx's versatility. He should still read. Then you start with the main work, the romantic trilogy Resistance aesthetics (1975 – 81), which was originally banned in the GDR to which Weiss had sworn his loyalty. The work sums up Weiss' many lessons from a long life in the service of politics and art. It's a sparkling polyphonic novel about an art-interested collective of workers and their anti-fascist struggle. The work can bring to mind Jacques Rancières La Nuit des proletaires (1981), where the French philosopher writes of the first organized socialist workers a hundred years earlier. The philosopher Herbert Marcuse emphasized Resistance aesthetics as one of our few examples of truly revolutionary art.

Also The murder of Marat (1962-65) is a lifelong drama to this day, although Inger Hagerup's 1966 translation gives a somewhat old-fashioned impression. It was with the production of this play at Schillertheater in West Berlin in 1964 that Peter Weiss made his international breakthrough. Weiss was known all over the world abruptly. Ingar Bergman wrote the play, and in 1967 it was filmed by Peter Brook under the title Marat / Sade. Weiss had become "the new Brecht". The play is anything but a solid historical drama. Rather, it is eruptive and borderline psychotic. Weiss himself must have said that in the drama he tried to combine Brecht ("epic theater") with Artaud ("theater of cruelty"). The subtitle is The persecution and murder of Jean Paul Marat by patients at Charenton Hospital under the leadership of Mr. de Sade. Put another way: The piece is one part The Twelve Shillings Opera, part Cuckoo's Nest.

Somewhere in the play, Markis de Sade says: “In a society of criminals / I grossed out the criminal in myself / and explored him to explore the time / I lived in.» The quote makes it easy to sense the similarity between Peter Weiss and a poet like Georg Johannesen. And as Johannesen is one of the greatest Norwegian writers of the 1900th century, Peter Weiss is one of the greatest German. And thus one of the world's largest.

Exile. In the introduction to Georg Johannesen's latest book Exile (2005) states: "The reading of Dante gave me an Italian rule: Formation always occurs and only in exile." Dante was also a very important poet for Peter Weiss. In Weiss' drama Trotsky in exile (1970) Trotsky at one point refers to Dante's exile: it is the exile that makes Dante's work not appear as bound by his time. Peter Weiss undoubtedly thought of his own exile as he wrote this. When he first met his German colleagues Group 1962 in 47, Weiss felt that it was "the first time I left my artistic exile". Weiss had been in de facto exile in Sweden since 1938, because he was half Jewish. Weiss chose Sweden as his country of residence, despite the fact that he perceived the country as "politically sleepy". Throughout his writing, Weiss thematizes the struggle to overcome the feeling of exile.

After the war, Peter Weiss said he "hated everything German," to the extent that he refused to speak German when he traveled to Germany in 1947, for the first time since 1938. He barely talked to people, and pretended to be Swedish! Such information can make an impression, but is also a sign of peculiarity, a peculiarity that can also be seen in Weiss's partly autobiographical novels of 1961 and 1962, Farewell to the parents og Fluchtpunkt. The two novels are clearly psycho-
analytically inspired. But they also testify to a bourgeois background, and to an attitude of discretion that stands in stark contrast to the will of political rebellion. A paralysis of action prevails.

Traditionally, this solipsistic apathy has been seen as representative of a first period in Weiss's writing: a subjectivist period. The murder of Marat represents a turning point, at which Weiss' writing goes into his second period, the explicitly political one. Also in Resistance aesthetics the self-narrator describes his isolation and loneliness, but these feelings are at the same time something he is not alone in: The possibility of a community has manifested itself.

It is a distinctly intellectual biography. The authorship is given more attention than life.

Psychoanalysis. I The second manifestation of Surrealism it says: “Marx says – change the world. Rimbaud says – change your life. For us, these two passwords are one and the same. ” Such a program – where a mental and a social revolution coincides – can be said to link the early Weiss to the latter. For Weiss never completely abandoned the psychoanalytic inspiration, not least represented by Max Hodann (who operates in Fluchtpunkt under the name Max Hoderer, but as in Resistance aesthetics acting under his own name): Hodann was a German Karl Evang, who provided sexual information for the working class during the Weimar Republic. He then lived in exile in both Norway and Sweden, and Weiss became acquainted with him in Stockholm in 1941.

The experience of sexual liberation is described in Fluchtpunkt, concentrated in a striking image: the transition from Franz Kafka to Henry Miller as a literary and intellectual model. In the American 1961 edition of The crusher reversal (originally published in 1934) Miller had otherwise placed an epigraph, a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that opens in this way: "Novels will eventually lose in battle against diaries and autobiographies." Such a prediction about "reality literature" was probably noticeable already when it came to Miller's novels.

Even the late Weiss hinted at Brecht's concept of "soul-lubrication" (soul cheese) to review his earlier works. But the reader does not have to pay attention! For Weiss' works from the early 1960s are novels that have retained their freshness. When literatures are concerned today with the genealogy of reality literature, Weiss' autobiographical novels, with their mercilessly honest portrayals, should also be taken into account.

The third point of view. November 8, 2016, it was a hundred years since Peter Weiss was born. To this end, Werner Schmidt's biography of him was published in Swedish, in the cinema's own translation from German. It is a distinctly intellectual biography. The authorship is given more attention than life. Little attention is also paid to that part of Weiss's non-literary art. For Weiss he was a multi-artist: Throughout the 1950s he alternated between acting as an art painter, film director and writer. The biography has no illustrations, other than on the front page.

Schmidt's great strength is his familiarity with everything Peter Weiss may have found in writing. But when it comes to the first 30 years of Weiss's life, he turns them away on 25 out of a total of 400 pages. It is clear by the cinema that we will continue to refer to Weiss as an internationally known author, and as a figure in the Cold War. It is also a fascinating story.

In the documentaries he made or contributed to in the period 1957–60, Weiss had shown an increasing awareness of social problems. As early as 1960, he was a convinced socialist, but realized that he did not want to live under oppression in the Eastern bloc. At the same time, he experienced that the newfound socialism in the Scandinavian countries had already been decisively marked by a form of bourgeoisie. In 1964, Weiss wrote something many of Ny Tid's most loyal readers will probably recognize: "I represent the third point, which I myself do not like very much."

But on September 1, 1965, Weiss published "Ten Points of Work (for an Author) in a Shared World" in Dagens Nyheter. The following day, the same text was printed in Neues Deutschland, the main body of the East German Communist Party. Weiss had now chosen the side: He explicitly supported the Eastern bloc over the capitalist West. Although Weiss later criticized the DDR regime's treatment of the poet and show singer Wolf Biermann, he continued to regard the GDR as a de facto socialist country.

Further in the 1960s, Weiss wrote three so-called documentary dramas. The works may bring to mind Heiner Müller, who, like Weiss, has been appointed Brecht's successor in the 1900th century. East German Müller was a great admirer of Weiss. The investigation from 1965, the starting point of the so-called Auschwitz processes in Frankfurt the same year. Songs of Lusitan Pop (1967) is about Portuguese colonialism. The third of these works, Viet Nam Discourse (1968), Yngve Finslo in his 1981 dissertation on Weiss is called "one of the most compelling works of 60s documentaryism" and "perhaps the most significant of the many aesthetic solidarity markings for Vietnam".

Weiss' real-life literature will hopefully live on, though his political stance – orthodox real socialism – has gone out of history forever.

Truth and fiction. There are many details in Werner Schmidt's biography. Not least, much room is spent on reproducing Weiss' beliefs, doubts and tactical maneuvers towards the Eastern Bloc and the Third World. But by all means, it's interesting reading. Also interesting are the border raises Schmidt draws between Weiss and characters such as Hans Marius Enzensberger, Günther Grass, Olof Lagercrantz, Jean-Paul Sartre and Christa Wolf.

The end of Schmidt's biography is essentially a paraphrase of Weiss' main work Resistance aesthetics. It can be defended slowly, all the time the work of Yngve Finslo is called "Weiss' third autobiographical novel". According to Weiss himself, it was a "wish biography" (Wish autobiography): It rendered Weiss's life the way he wished it had been, including a proletarian rather than bourgeois family background! Several such indications can lead one to suspect Weiss of being one who deliberately distorts the truth. However, I do not experience him this way. Rather, he was a poet who saw no contradiction between the quest for truth and fictionalization. Weiss' real-life literature will hopefully live on, though his political stance – orthodox real socialism – has gone out of history forever.

Two autobiographical novels

Farewell to the parents (1961) and Fluchtpunkt (1962) was Weiss' breakthrough as a writer in West Germany. In Swedish, the novels have the titles Diagnosis og Focus. Both are translated by Benkt-Erik Hedin, and already published in 1963 and 1964. In 1996, the two works were published in a joint Swedish edition under the title Exile. They do not exist in Norwegian.

Diagnosis deals with childhood and adolescence. Puberty's sexuality is portrayed without the embrace. The clash between the bourgeois family background and the experience of working people is described without sentimentality. When Weiss' character writes to Harry Haller (the protagonist of Herman Hesses Steppe
), it is in the desire to break out of the narrow conventions and become a kind of revolutionary. The parallels to Sven Lindqvist's The myth of Wu Tao-tzu (1967) is striking.

I Focus we follow the narrator in Sweden during and after the war. As in Diagnosis the precise descriptions are unmatched. The experience is sometimes synthetic. And at the same time, life is hard in highly conventional ways, as in the description of the time as a forest worker. Here the artist's soul is broken against the indifference of the workers, and Focus becomes to a considerable extent an artist's novel.

As with Karl Ove Knausgård, it is easy to get hung up on the question of truth – but the question becomes whether it works as literature, true or false.

At the same time, the relationship between poetry and truth in these works has become problematic: For example, Weiss dates his political awakening at the end of Fluchtpunkt to 1947 and place it in Paris, while scientists believe that Weiss did not visit Paris until 1950.

As with Karl Ove Knausgård, it is easy to get hung up on the question of truth – but the question becomes whether it works as literature, true or false. In common with Knausgård, Weiss has in these books the impressive – in fact quite impossible – ability to reconstruct memories down to their smallest constituents. Weiss is absolutely crude about descriptions of sensory experiences, the whole palette of senses unfolding. He is a master of sensuality in prose.

Norwegian publishing houses should make up for a fifty-year-old omission sin and look to translate Peter Weiss's autobiographical novels!

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