Monday, 30 August 2010

Peter Weiss - 4

As I pointed out in an earlier post, unlike the main body of the text, the extensive footnotes in Jan Christer Bengtsson's examination of the films of Peter Weiss often contain rather controversial material. A further example of this is provided by the long note that accompanies a consideration of the negative reception by Swedish critics of Weiss's full-length feature film Hägringen (The Mirage, 1959). Here the focus is directed on an aspect of Weiss's personality which seems to derive from an inner masochism. The conclusions Bengtsson draws from this are, at first glance, surprising - yet I believe that they are worthy of serious consideration.

Observing that in Weiss's response to his critics it is possible to discern a form of pre-emptive self-harm, Bengtsson notes that the response is typical of avant garde artists, and that it comprises the three distinct elements of sacrifice, struggle and exemplariness:
For the present is he who is the victim that is being sacrificed. The exemplariness consists in an apparent David-and-Goliath struggle, the result of which is an unspecified dreamed-of victory. The latter is attained through faith - faith in an artistic achievement that is placed above the ordinary. And this will later appear in a faith in certain specific political solutions.
Än så länge är det han som är den utsatte och som offras. Det förebildliga ligger i en skenbar David-Goliat-kamp och resultatet i en drömd odefinierbar seger. Det sista uppnås genom tro ― tron på en konstutövning stadd ovanför det vanliga. Och detta skulle längre fram dyka upp i en tro på vissa särskilda politiska lösningar.
Bengtsson now turns to a passage in a 2002 monograph by the literary critic Arnd Beise (who is chairman of the International Peter Weiss Society), and in a summary of Beise's intepretation of what he perceives to be the aesthetic and moral rationale underlying much of Weiss's work, quotes the following, pointing to
a poetics which provides a reply to one of the still open questions of the Marquis de Sade and Trotsky. Is it worthwhile to subordinate individual needs such as love, friendship or family to the demands of the struggle for a better society? Yes, because [...] there is a poetry of memory, which preserves the sacrifices and efforts of those who [...] fought or still fight the oppression, even if this struggle was or is in vain. Again and again the memory of this struggle [...] will eventually bring forth a revolution that puts an end to all coercive orders. This also explains why Marat, Trotsky and Hölderlin are increasingly to be seen as martyrs.
eine Poetik, die auf eine der offen gebliebenen Fragen des Marquis de Sade und Trotzkis eine Antwort gibt. Lohnt es sich, individuelle Bedürfnisse wie Liebe, Freundschaft oder Familie den Forderungen des Kampfs für eine bessere Gesellschaft unterzuordnen? Ja, weil [...] es eine Poesie der Erinnerung gibt, die die Opfer und Mühen derjenigen aufbewahrt, die die Unterdrückung [...] bekämpften oder noch bekämpfen, selbst wenn dieser Kampf vergeblich war oder ist. An diesen Kampf zu erinnern, immer wieder [...] werde irgendwann doch eine Revolution hervorbringen, die alle Zwangsordnungen beendet. Das erklärt auch, warum Marat, Trotzki und Hölderlin in steigendem Maß als Märtyrer zu verstehen sind.
Some 30 pages further on in this book, in an analysis of Weiss's play Viet Nam Diskurs (1968), Beise quotes a remark by a contemporary Communist Party member, referring to this person as "Parteigenosse des Viet Cong". As Bengtsson points out, the use of the word "Parteigenosse" was strictly confined to a single historical and semantic context - the Lingua Tertii Imperii (LTI) designates it as being used solely within the German Nazi Party (NSDAP) to refer to its members, usually in the abbreviated form "Pg."

Bengtsson says that he assumes that this somewhat ambiguous use of the term - an ambiguity that in Beise's text is clearly deliberate, and according to Bengtsson not disclaimed by Beise himself  -  is intended to suggest  that
Weiss, in the political positions he took throughout his life, wandered from the one big ideology of struggle to the other, and that Beise, well aware of this and of what can and should be said today regarding Weiss, has expressed this fact in a somewhat cryptic manner.

Weiss i sina politiska ställningstaganden under livets gång vandrat från den ena stora kampideologin till den andra och att Beise väl medveten om detta förhållande och vad som kan och bör sägas idag rörande Weiss på ett något kryptiskt sätt uttryckt detta förhållande.
If we recall the life and work of Karin Boye (who features as a character in the last volume of the Aesthetics), her single moment of overt and personal fascination with Nazism, and her sustained attack on it and on herself in her dystopian novel Kallocain (1940), this passage of Bengtsson's ceases to be so surprising, and one begins to see Weiss's later left-wing radicalism in a new light, as an outgrowth of his political development during the 1930s. In a future post, I hope to examine this question further.

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