Peter Weiss  

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"[The Aesthetics of Resistance] . . . which [Peter Weiss] began when he was well over fifty, making a pilgrimage over the arid slopes of cultural and contemporary history in the company of pavor nocturnus, the terror of the night, and laden with a monstrous weight of ideological ballast, is a magnum opus which sees itself . . . not only as the expression of an ephemeral wish for redemption, but as an expression of the will to be on the side of the victims at the end of time."--On the Natural History of Destruction (1999) by W. G. Sebald

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Peter Ulrich Weiss (8 November 1916 – 10 May 1982) was a German writer, painter, graphic artist, and experimental filmmaker of adopted Swedish nationality. He is particularly known for his plays Marat/Sade and The Investigation and his novel The Aesthetics of Resistance.

Peter Weiss earned his reputation in the post-war German literary world as the proponent of an avant-garde, meticulously descriptive writing, as an exponent of autobiographical prose, and also as a politically engaged dramatist. He gained international success with Marat/Sade, the American production of which was awarded a Tony Award and its subsequent film adaptation directed by Peter Brook. His "Auschwitz Oratorium," The Investigation, served to broaden the debates over the so-called "Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit" (or formerly) "Vergangenheitsbewältigung" or "politics of history." Weiss' magnum opus was The Aesthetics of Resistance, called the "most important German-language work of the 70s and 80s." His early, surrealist-inspired work as a painter and experimental filmmaker remains less well known.


Selected works

All works were originally written in German unless otherwise noted. English translations and, where applicable, place of publication, publisher and date of English language publication, are in parentheses.


  • 1949 Der Turm (The Tower. New York: Dutton, 1967, pp. 315–48)
  • 1952 Die Versicherung
  • 1963 Nacht mit Gästen (Night with Guests. In: The Best Short Plays 1968. Philadelphia New York London: Chilton, 1968. 131-58.)
  • 1963/5 Die Verfolgung und Ermordung Jean Paul Marats dargestellt durch die Schauspielgruppe des Hospizes zu Charenton unter Anleitung des Herrn de Sade (The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat As Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of Monsieur de Sade [Marat/Sade]. In: Peter Weiss: Marat/Sade, The Investigation, and The Shadow of the Body of the Coachman. New York: Continuum, 1998. 41–114.)
  • 1963/8 Wie dem Herrn Mockinpott das Leiden ausgetrieben wird (How Mr. Mockinpott was Cured of his Sufferings. In: The Contemporary German Theater. New York: Avon, 1972, 163–211.)
  • 1965 Die Ermittlung (The Investigation. Oratorio In 11 Cantos. In: Peter Weiss: Marat/Sade, The Investigation, and The Shadow of the Body of the Coachman. New York: Continuum, 1998. 117–296.)
  • 1967 Gesang vom lusitanischen Popanz (Song of the Lusitanian Bogey. In: Peter Weiss. Two Plays. New York: Atheneum, 1970. 1–63)
  • 1968 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 (Discourse on the Progress of the Prolonged War of Liberation in Viet Nam and the Events Leading up to it as Illustration of the Necessity for Armed Resistance against Oppression and on the Attempts of the United States of America to Destroy the Foundations of Revolution [Viet Nam Discourse]. In: Peter Weiss. Two Plays. New York: Atheneum, 1970. 65–249.)
  • 1969 Trotzki im Exil (Trotsky in Exile. New York: Atheneum, 1972.)
  • 1971 Hölderlin (Hölderlin. London New York Calcutta: Seagull Press. 2010.)
  • 1974 Der Prozeß – adaptation of Franz Kafka's novel
  • 1982 Der neue Prozeß (The New Trial. Durham: Duke UP, 2001.)

Prose Fiction

  • 1944 Från ö till ö (From Island to Island; written in Swedish; German: Von Insel zu Insel)
  • 1948 De besegrade (The Conquered; written in Swedish; German: Die Besiegten)
  • 1948 Der Vogelfreie (published as Dokument I in Swedish (1949) and in German as Der Fremde under the pseudonym Sinclair)
  • 1951 Duellen (The Duel; written in Swedish; German: Das Duell)
  • 1952 Der Schatten des Körpers des Kutschers (The Shadow of the Body of the Coachman. In: Peter Weiss: Marat/Sade, The Investigation, and The Shadow of the Body of the Coachman. New York: Continuum, 1998. 1–39.)
  • 1956 Situationen (The Situation; written in Swedish; German: Die Situation)
  • 1960 Abschied von den Eltern (Leavetaking. In: Peter Weiss, Exile. New York: Delacorte, 1968, 1–88)
  • 1961 Fluchtpunkt (Vanishing Point. In: Weiss, Exile. New York: Delacorte, 1968. 89–245.)

These two pieces (Leavetaking & Vanishing Point) were published in English (from a translation by Christopher Levenson) in 1966 and published by Calder & Boyars

  • 1962 Das Gespräch der drei Gehenden (Conversation of the Three Wayfarers. In: Peter Weiss, Bodies and Shadows, New York: Delacorte, 1969. 59–120.)
  • 1975–1981 Die Ästhetik des Widerstands, 3 vols., I: 1975; II: 1978; III: 1981. (The Aesthetics of Resistance. Vol. I. Durham: Duke UP, 2005. Vol. II. Durham: Duke UP, 2020)

Other writings

  • 1956 Avantgarde Film (written in Swedish)
  • 1964 "Meine Ortschaft" ("My Place." In: German Writing Today. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967. 20–28.)
  • 1965 "10 Arbeitspunkte eines Autors in der geteilten Welt." ("The Necessary Decision. 10 Working Theses of an Author in the Divided World." Chalk Circle, vol. 1, 1 (April–May)/1966, 3–7.
  • 1966 "I Come out of my hiding place." The Nation, 30 May 1966, pp. 652, 655. (Written in English by Peter Weiss.)
  • 1968 Rapporte (Collected essays)
  • 1968 Notizen zum kulturellen Leben der Demokratischen Republik Viet Nam. (Notes on the Cultural Life of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. London: Calder & Boyars, 1971.)
  • 1968 "Notizen zum dokumentarischen Theater" ("Notes on the Contemporary Theater." In: Essays on German Theater. New York: Continuum, 1985. 294–301.)
  • 1970 Rekonvaleszenz
  • 1971 Rapporte 2 (Collected essays)
  • 1981 Notizbücher 1971–1980 (Notebooks 1971–1980, 2 vols.)
  • 1982 Notizbücher 1960–1971 (Notebooks 1960–1972, 2 vols.)


  • 1952 Studie I (Uppvaknandet) Sweden, 16mm, 6min)
  • 1952 Studie II (Hallucinationer) / Study II (Hallucinations) (Sweden, 16mm, 6min)
  • 1953 Studie III / Study III (Sweden, 16mm, 6min)
  • 1954 Studie IV (Frigörelse) / Study IV (Liberation), (Sweden, 16mm, 9min)
  • 1955 Studie V (Växelspel)/Study V (Interplay),(Sweden, 16mm, 9min)
  • 1956 Ateljeinteriör / Dr. Fausts Studierstube(Atelierinterieur) (Sweden, 10 min)
  • 1956 Ansikten I Skugga / Faces in the shadow (Sweden, 13 min)
  • 1957 Enligt Lag / According To Law (co-dir. Hans Nordenström, Sweden, 16mm, 18 min)
  • 1958 Vad ska vi göra nu da? / Was machen wir jetzt? (Sweden, 20min)
  • 1959 Hägringen / Fata Morgana (Sweden, 81min) Starring: Staffan Lamm and Gunilla Palmstierna.
  • 1961 Svenska flickor i Paris / Swedish Girls in Paris (co-director)

Published correspondence

  • 1992 Peter Weiss. Briefe an Hermann Levin Goldschmidt|Hermann Lewin Goldschmidt und Robert Jungk 1938–1980. Leipzig: Reclam.
  • 2007 Siegfried Unseld, Peter Weiss: Der Briefwechsel. Hrsg. von Rainer Gerlach. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
  • 2009 Hermann Hesse, Peter Weiss. "Verehrter großer Zauberer" – Briefwechsel 1937–1962. Hrsg. von Beat Mazenauer und Volker Michels. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
  • 2010 Diesseits und jenseits der Grenze. Peter Weiss – Manfred Haiduk. Der Briefwechsel 1965–1982. Hrsg. von Rainer Gerlach und Jürgen Schutte. St. Ingbert: Röhrig.
  • 2011 Peter Weiss – Briefe an Henriette Itta Blumenthal. Hrsg. von Angela Abmeier und Hannes Bajohr. Berlin: Matthes und Seitz.


  • Alvarez, A., "The Truths That are Uttered in a Madhouse." The New York Times, 26 December 1965, Section X, p. 3, 14.
  • Clausen, Oliver, "Weiss/Propagandist and Weiss/Playwright." The New York Times Magazine, 2 October 1966, pp. 28–29, 124–34.
  • Gray, Paul, "A Living World: An Interview with Peter Weiss." Tulane Drama Review 11.1 (1966).
  • Roloff, Michael, "An Interview with Peter Weiss." Partisan Review 32/1965, 220–32.
  • Shepard, Richard F., "Peter Weiss, Visiting Here, Talks About his Auschwitz Trial Play." The New York Times, 22 April 1966, S. 30.
  • Wager, Walter, "Peter Weiss", in: Wager (ed.), The Playwrights Speak, New York, Delacorte 1967, 189–212.



Further reading

  • Robert Cohen: Understanding Peter Weiss. Trans. Martha Humphreys. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.
  • Peter Weiss. Rainer Gerlach (ed.). Frankfurt/Main, 1984.
  • Peter Weiss. Leben und Werk. Gunilla Palmstierna-Weiss and Jürgen Schutte (eds.). Frankfurt/Main 1991.
  • Manfred Haiduk: Der Dramatiker Peter Weiss. Berlin, 1977.
  • Rethinking Peter Weiss. Jost Hermand and Marc Silberman (eds.). Peter Lang, 2000.
  • W.G. Sebald. "The Remorse of the Heart: On Memory and Cruelty in the Work of Peter Weiss." On the Natural History of Destruction. Trans. Anthea Bell. Alfred Knopf, 2003.

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