Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Pact and the Poet

I've found the remaining part of volume 2 of Peter Weiss's novel The Aesthetics of Resistance something of a mixed bag, as it deliberately avoids settling down into one main stream of narrative. The sections on Engelbrekt seem a little contrived, as though the author were spinning material to fill out space, especially when one learns that Brecht himself has lost track of the project and the narrator is left alone with his research on the subject. Of more interest are the extensive deliberations on the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which is now providing all sorts of headaches for the various radicals, including Rosner, who continues to try to find some justification for the nefarious agreement, engaging in a Kafkaesque series of arguments in which the Pact becomes the basis for an "understanding" between the working classes of Germany and Russia. Weiss makes it perfectly clear that he regards the situation as patently absurd, and the characters of the novel appear trapped and helpless in the face of a historical conundrum that goes against all they have worked and fought for.

Brecht's preparations to leave for Finland, and the dismantling, disposal and transporting of his vast private library of world literature (the authors and titles are listed over several pages, take up most of the narrative. There is a nice concluding scene in which Brecht leans out as the Swedish secret police depart after searching the contents of the library for "subversive" literature. "You've forgotten the thrillers!" he shouts to them, and then throws his copies of books by Edgar Wallace, Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Sayers, etc. out of the window down to the garden below.

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