Although in 1970, in his critical introduction to postwar German literature, Peter Demetz named Peter Hacks as Bertolt Brecht’s most sophisticated disciple, the American critic changed his mind when he assessed the problems of German theater in 1986, rating Heiner Müller’s achievements as among the most important on the German stage. Müller is the only German playwright who has been able to combine his commitment to socialism with an avant-garde, if not postmodernist, consciousness. In the West German press of the early 1980’s, he was named as the most famous East German dramatist since Brecht, who was, although successful abroad, most controversial at home. In terms of the theory and practice of drama, Arlene Akiko Teraoka, in her 1985 study of Müller’s postmodernist poetics, regarded him as “the most significant playwright since Brecht to emerge out of East Germany, if not out of any of the German-speaking countries of postwar Europe.”
By deconstructing both bourgeois and orthodox socialist models of drama, history, and revolution, Müller has gone beyond the conventions of dramatic action of individual characters in conflict with history or fate and has created a new form of dramatic discourse that includes the anonymous voices of the oppressed, the nonrational, the nonmale, and the nonwhite of the Third World. In his ideology and dramatic idiom, Müller has traveled a long distance from Brecht, toward Jean Genet and Antonin Artaud, and has intersected with the postmodernist forms of Samuel Beckett, Edward Bond, Richard Foreman, and Robert Wilson. He has created a theater composed of the anarchic forms of montage, ritual, pantomime, comic-strip scenes, and street-theater demonstrations of terror, cruelty, and obscenity.
In 1979, Müller received the Drama Prize of the Mülheim Theater in West Germany. In 1985, he was awarded the West German Büchner Prize and in 1986 the East German National Prize. In 1990, he received the Kleist Prize.