Peter Weiss Weiss, Peter (Vol. 15)

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Weiss, Peter 1916–

German-born playwright, novelist, filmmaker, and translator, Weiss left Germany during the Nazi regime. He resides in Sweden but continues to feel a sense of exile. The positive critical acclaim received by his play Marat/Sade was the high point of his career. Criticism was less favorable in response to the Marxist political stance of his later documentary dramas. Many critics claimed that his interpretations of such subjects as colonialism in Angola, Vietnamese history, and the Auschwitz trials were weakened by the lack of narrative tension and credible characterization. (See also CLC, Vol. 3, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 45-48, rev. ed.)


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Because I'm] isolated, not belonging to any country, any city and any language—I have to find a place where I can just be alive as much as possible. And this, I think, the theatre stage makes possible, because there everything immediately is alive. If I write a book, I still sit in my room and it's an expression of my isolation and of the feeling that I don't belong to anybody. But as soon as it's on the stage I feel alive….

I don't think it's enough just to write, and it's not enough to write my individual stuff. I think it's absolutely necessary to write with the point of trying to influence or to change society. (p. 18)

[Marat/Sade] is very personal. On one side, I'm the individual who thinks it's hopeless to change anything in society, that we can't do anything and its just like hell anyhow; whatever we do is just doomed to be a disaster. That's the point of Sade. He says: "Well, I do my art and do it as well as I can, and I don't bother what's going to happen around me." And then there is the other point of view: we are in between other people and we want to change something, our lives and perhaps the lives of the others too; that's the point of the socialist and of Marat. And those two absolutely different points of view, they always get together and try to find some solution. (p. 19)

Personally, of course, I am for Marat because I think the things he says are the right things to do. And I understand Sade because Sade has the pessimistic view and because Sade, in a sort of visionary way, can see already Stalin in the things Marat says. Therefore he is pessimistic; he doesn't believe in the ideal socialism Marat preaches. (p. 20)

[On the other hand, perhaps I'm not a political writer despite my intentions] because as soon as I get involved with political conflicts, I get in touch with the mad world we are living in. When I read the speeches of the politicians they are very close to madness to me, and then I reach a point where I don't understand it any longer. And at the same time now I have to understand, I have to find out what they are meaning because it's their world I'm living in. And so my solutions very often are not clear because the world I live in is not clear. It's mad and it's too difficult for me to understand….

[As an artist I can't produce a world created and ordered by me. My] only alternative is that I give my doubt, that I show my situation of doubtfulness and the great difficulties I undergo to find some way out of it. That's the only thing I can reach. (p. 21)

Peter Weiss, "Peter Weiss in Conversation with A. Alvarez," in Encore, Vol. 12, No. 4, July-August, 1965, pp. 16-22.

Hans-Bernhard Moeller

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A play of high caliber has finally ended [the postwar sterility of German Theater]. Time for unreserved applause arrived in May 1964 with the Berlin premiere of Peter Weiss' [Marat/Sade]. (p. 163)

Critics found themselves praising an author hardly expected to father the new masterwork of the German stage. They considered Peter Weiss a novelist….

The autobiographical novels Leavetaking and Flight-point had rendered in a calm, easy-flowing prose an individual's stormy un-shelling from society, family, and guilt-feelings, an exhausting tearing-loose from what is both wanted and rejected, as affiliation and chain, home base and prison…. What Weiss' novels of formation...

(The entire section is 6,893 words.)