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The Bookaholics' Guide to Book Blogs: "Mark Thwaite ... has a maverick, independent mind"

Monday 03 October 2005

Peter Weiss

Peter Weiss (1916-1982), probably best known for his play Marat/Sade, and posthumous winner of the Georg Büchner Prize, has recently had the first volume (of three) of his The Aesthetics of Resistance, translated by Joachim Neugroschel and with an introduction by Fredric Jameson, released by Duke Univesity Press.


A major literary event, the publication of this masterful translation makes one of the towering works of twentieth-century German literature available to English-speaking readers for the first time ... The first volume, presented here, was initially published in Germany in 1975; the third and final volume in 1981, just six months before Weiss's death. Spanning from the late 1930s into World War II, this historical novel dramatizes anti-fascist resistance and the rise and fall of proletarian political parties in Europe. Living in Berlin in 1937, the unnamed narrator and his peers—sixteen and seventeen-year-old working-class students—seek ways to express their hatred for the Nazi regime. They meet in museums and galleries, and in their discussions they explore the affinity between political resistance and art, the connection at the heart of Weiss's novel. Weiss suggests that meaning lies in the refusal of humans to renounce resistance, no matter how intense the oppression, and that it is in art that new models of political action and social understanding are to be found. The novel includes extended meditations on paintings, sculpture, and literature.


"[M]ajor literary event" it may be, but I've seen no reviews in any British papers or journals. In the Oct/Nov issue of BookForum Mark M. Anderson reviews it, but the piece isn't available on the net. Online I can only find the review at the matchless complete-review and also Noah Isenberg's review in The Nation. Isenberg says:


Arguably one of the most demanding works of modern German literature, Weiss's tome has no linear narrative development, no clear beginning, middle or end, no chapter breaks, few paragraph breaks and no clear plot lines. While it shares some of the stock features of the classic Bildungsroman (it tracks, in part, the character formation of the nameless first-person narrator) and, even more, of the 1950s nouveau roman of Alain Robbe-Grillet and Nathalie Sarraute, it ultimately resists such categories, as one might expect. Indeed, one very basic element of "aesthetic resistance," perhaps envisioned as a formal irritant, is the novel's self-conscious disavowal of its own genre.


Duke Univesity Press seem to be being coy about a schedule for the coming volumes, but it is wonderful to see this volume out at last. (See also the complete-review's Weiss page and Internationale Peter Weiss Gesellschaft.)

Posted by Mark Thwaite

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