Wednesday, 8 September 2010


The third volume of Peter Weiss's The Aesthetics of Resistance opens with a tribute to the narrator's parents, who have succeeded in fleeing to Sweden. The tribute is also one of mourning for his mother - though still alive, she is ill and has withdrawn into a silence from which she cannot be recalled.

Imperceptibly, the image of the mother merges with the image and memory of another female character, that of her friend and colleague, the Swedish poet and novelist Karin Boye, who like other women in the novel is referred to solely by her last name. Boye's suicide, and her own rationale and explanation for it, form the subject of the early part of volume 3.

The novel's sharp focus on the life and work of Boye and the acute attention the narrator devotes to her indicate that for Weiss this author and poet had a more personal significance for Weiss than was the case with Brecht, for example. One wonders if Weiss had met Boye in Sweden - after all, in 1938 his family took up residence in Alingsås, West Gotland, where Boye herself moved in the following year in order to be close to Anita Nathorst. A meeting does not seem improbable.

Some of Weiss's account of Boye's life and of her final months appears to be drawn at least in part from the biography by Margit Abenius (Drabbad av renhet, 1950)- yet there are also some details that may derive from actual contacts with the poet. In particular, Weiss is at pains to analyse Karin Boye's existential, political, artistic, sexual and personal situation in 1941, describing it through the words of the psychoanalytically-trained doctor Max Hodann. Hodann says that in her moment of surrender to Goering at a mass rally in 1932, Boye had made it impossible for her to forgive herself or receive forgiveness, and had consciously and unconsciously abandoned hope. Her novel Kallocain (1940), which depicts the merciless and inhuman conflict in a world that is divided into two opposing blocks, is the testament not only to her own despair but to the despair of a generation. Hodann sees a continuation of Boye's fatal inner and outer dilemma in the inability of the radical German youth of the 1930s and 40s to avoid either a collapse into Nazism or an embrace of Stalinist Communism:
Ich gab Boyes Schilderung wieder, wie sie sich hatte betören lassen dem Mann mit dem bleichen Hysterikergesicht auf der Tribüne in der überfüllten Sporthalle, und wie sie zu spät erst das Ruchlose seiner Reden begriffen habe. Viele von uns, sagte Hodann, immer noch, und oft grade, wenn es um Entscheidendes gehe, wie Kinder, wir ließen uns beherrschen von Hoffnungen, deren Ursprung eingebettet sei in der Erinnrung an das Ertasten der Mutterbrust, im Aufgehn in einer Harmonie, die es für uns nicht mehr gebe. Auch Boye müsse, wie wir alle, nach der Mutter, dem Vater in sich gesucht, und diese, in wachsendem Maß, und durch andre Gestalten ersetzt haben... Ich möchte behaupten, sagte er, daß unsre Generation mehr gezeichnet ist von dem Unheil, das die Sowjetunion ergriff, als von den Verheerungen durch den Faschismus, denn an dem Arbeiterstaat hingen wir mit unserm ganzen kindlichen Glauben, während uns von Anfang an bekannt war, was in Deutschland aufkam.
I'll return to this subject in another post.

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