Heiner Müller Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Since 1959, Heiner Müller, who began his career as a journalist and editor of a monthly journal on modern art, has devoted himself to the writing of plays, for which he is best known. He has, however, published lyric poetry, prose, and a great number of articles, interviews, and commentaries on the theory of drama. In 1994, Müller published his autobiography under the title Krieg ohne Schlacht: Leben in zwei Diktaturen (war without battle: life under two dictatorships) in which he examined his life under the Nazi dictatorship from 1933 to 1945 and under the dictatorship of the Socialist Unity Party in East Germany between 1949 and 1989.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

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.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Barnett, David. Literature Versus Theater: Textual Problems and Theatrical Realization in the Later Plays of Heiner Müller. New York: Peter Lang, 1998. Monograph dealing with the texts of Müller’s later plays with regard to their literary merits and their production on the stage.

Demetz, Peter. After the Fires: Recent Writing in the Germanies, Austria, and Switzerland. San Diego, Calif.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986. Survey of German literature after 1970 with chapters on individual authors, including Müller.

Demetz, Peter. Postwar German Literature: A Critical Introduction. New York: Pegasus, 1970. Survey of German literature between 1945 and 1970 with chapter on Müller.

Huettich, H. G. Theater in a Planned Society: Contemporary Drama in the German Democratic Republic in Its Historical, Political, and Cultural Context. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1978. Study of theater in the GDR through the 1970’s, including the role of Müller as dramatist.

Kalb, Jonathan. The Theater of Heiner Müller. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Magisterial study of Müller’s plays and their productions, including his plays after 1990.

Silberman, Marc. Heiner Müller. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1980. Report on the state of research on Müller.

Teraoka, Arlene Akiko. The Silence of Entropy or Universal Discourse: The Postmodernist Poetics of Heiner Müller. New York: Peter Lang, 1985. Highly acclaimed assessment of Müller’s plays in terms of postmodernist aesthetics.