Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Peter Weiss

I've been reading Joachim Neugroschel's translation of vol. 1 of Peter Weiss's enormous novel Die Ästhetik des Widerstands, and while reading Fredric Jameson's introductory essay was struck by the numerous influences of Swedish literature on Weiss's work. The second and third volumes of the novel, which I hope to read soon in the German original, actually feature the personality as well as the work of Karin Boye, whose poetry I've translated into English. In the 1940s Weiss wrote two volumes of poetry in Swedish: the prose poems of Från ö till ö, and De besegrade. Although Weiss appears not to have been too happy about writing in Swedish, and soon returned to German - in Understanding Peter Weiss Robert Cohen says that "The two texts... did not lay to rest the doubts about his new language" - this early work with its expressionism and psychoanalytic explorations provides a unique way into Weiss's oeuvre. Cohen writes that "his lack of interest in ideology and attempts at explaining fascism rationally... fit into the conservative and restorative tendencies of the time..."

Weiss's contacts with the fyrtiotalister, the literary modernists who were grouped around the magazine 40-tal, seem to have been fairly extensive. Cohen again:
There was a basic kinship to this group of artists: for the painter and emerging filmmaker Weiss had just discovered surreaiism for himself, and his interest in psychoanalysis had been stirred by the exiled physician and psychiatrist Max Hodann. Especially with Ekelöf and Dagerman, Weiss seems to have entertained close relationships.
Hodann, of course, is one of the central characters in Die Ästhetik des Widerstands, and in conjunction with Karin Boye he provides a lead into Weiss's relation to Ekelöf and other fyrtiotalister.

I'll write about my reading of Weiss from time to time - among many other things, he seems an interesting and neglected link between German and Swedish modernism and their political and existential meaning, one that deserves wider and deeper investigation.

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