Peter Weiss  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

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



Weiss was born in Nowawes (now part of Potsdam-Babelsberg), Brandenburg, to a Hungarian Jewish father and Christian mother. At age three he moved with his family to Bremen, and then during his adolescence to Berlin where Weiss began training for a career as a visual artist. In 1935 he emigrated with his family to Chislehurst, near London, England, where he studied photography, and then in 1937-1938 attended the Prague Art Academy. After the German occupation of the Sudetenland in 1938, his family moved to Sweden, and Weiss himself removed to Switzerland. In 1939 he again emigrated to Stockholm, Sweden, where he lived for the rest of his life. He became a Swedish citizen in 1946.

Weiss was married three times: to the painter Helga Hen, 1943; to Carlota Dethorey, 1949; and to Gunilla Palmstierna, 1964. He was politically active as a member of the Communist Party, and in 1967 participated in Bertrand Russell's tribunal against the Vietnam War in Stockholm.

In 1970 Weiss suffered a heart attack. He wrote little after that, and died in Stockholm in 1982.

Art and literature

Weiss' first art exhibition took place in 1936. His first produced play was Der Turm in 1950. In 1952 he joined the Swedish Experimental Film Studio, where he made films for several years. During this period, he also taught painting at Stockholm's People's University, and illustrated a Swedish edition of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. Until the early 1960s, Weiss also wrote prose. His work consists of short and intense novels with Kafkaesque details and feelings, often with autobiographical background. One of the most known films made by Peter Weiss is an experimental one, "The Mirage" (1959) and the second one - it is very seldom mentioned - is a film Weiss directed in Paris 1960 together with Barbro Boman,a film with the title "Play Girls" or "The Flamboyant Sex" ("Schwedische Mädchen in Paris" or "Verlockung" in German). The last one was a film about it lately is said in an advertisement "that even Paris was shocked"! Among the short films by Weiss "The Studio of Doctor Faust" (1956) shows the extremely strong link of Weiss to a German cultural background.

Weiss' best-known work is the play Marat/Sade (1963), first performed in West Berlin in 1964, which brought him widespread international attention. The following year, legendary director Peter Brook staged a famous production in New York City. It studies the power in society through two extreme and extremely different historical persons, Jean-Paul Marat, a brutal hero of the French Revolution, and the Marquis de Sade, for whom sadism was named. In Marat/Sade, Weiss uses a technique which, to quote from the play itself, speaking on the play within a play within itself (and no, that is not a confused statement): "Our play's chief aim has been to take to bits great propositions and their opposites, see how they work, and let them fight it out." The play is considered a classic, and is still performed, although less regularly.

Weiss was honored with the Charles Veillon Award, 1963; the Lessing Prize, 1965; the Heinrich Mann Prize, 1966; the Carl Albert Anderson Prize, 1967; the Thomas Dehler Prize, 1978; the Cologne Literature Prize, 1981; the Bremen Literature Prize, 1982; the De Nios Prize, 1982; the Swedish Theatre Critics Prize, 1982; and the Georg Büchner Prize, 1982.

A translation of Weiss' L'instruction is being performed at the Young Vic theatre by a Rwandan company in November 2007. The production presents a dramatic contrast between the play's dealing with the themes of the Holocaust and the experiences of the Rwandan actors, each having experienced their country's own genocide. These will be the only UK performances.

Selected works

All works were originally written in German unless otherwise noted. English translations are in parentheses.


  • 1949 Der Turm (The Tower)
  • 1952 Die Versicherung
  • 1963 Nacht mit Gästen (Night with Guests)
  • 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 the Marquis de Sade) - generally known as Marat/Sade
  • 1963/8 Wie dem Herrn Mockinpott das Leiden ausgetrieben wird (How Mr. Mockinpott was cured of his Sufferings)
  • 1964 Die Ermittlung (The Investigation)
  • 1967 Gesang vom lusitanischen Popanz (Song of the Lusitanien Bogey)
  • 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) - generally known as Viet Nam Diskurs
  • 1969 Trotzki im Exil (Trotsky in Exile)
  • 1971 Hölderlin
  • 1974 Der Prozeß - adaptation of Franz Kafka's novel
  • 1982 Der neue Prozeß (The New Trial)


  • 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 Coachman's Body)
  • 1956 Situationen (The Situation; written in Swedish; German: Die Situation)
  • 1960 Abschied von den Eltern (Leavetaking)
  • 1961 Fluchtpunkt (Vanishing Point)
  • 1962 Das Gespräch der drei Gehenden (The Conversation of the Three Walkers)
  • 1975-1981 Die Ästhetik des Widerstands (Published in 3 volumes, I: 1975; II: 1978; III: 1981) (The Aesthetics of Resistance)

Other writings

  • 1956 Avantgarde Film (written in Swedish)
  • 1968 Rapporte
  • 1970 Rekonvaleszenz
  • 1971 Rapporte 2
  • 1971-1980 Notizbücher


  • 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.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Peter Weiss" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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