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Peter Weiss (1982)

Peter Ulrich Weiss (November 8, 1916 – May 10, 1982) was a German writer, painter, and artist of adopted Swedish nationality. He is particularly known for his play Marat/Sade and his novel The Aesthetics of Resistance.



Weiss was born in Nowawes (now part of Potsdam-Babelsberg), Brandenburg, to a Hungarian Jewish father and Christian mother. At age three he moved with his family to Bremen, and then during his adolescence to Berlin where Weiss began training for a career as a visual artist. In 1934 he emigrated with his family to Chislehurst, near London, England, where he studied photography at the Polytechnic School of Photography, and then in 1937-1938 attended the Prague Art Academy. After the German occupation of the Sudetenland in 1938, his family moved to Sweden, and Weiss himself removed to Switzerland. In 1939 he again emigrated to Stockholm, Sweden, where he lived for the rest of his life. He became a Swedish citizen in 1946.

Weiss was married three times: to the painter Helga Henschen, 1943; to Carlota Dethorey, 1949; and to Gunilla Palmstierna, 1964. He was politically active as a member of the Communist Party of Sweden, and in 1967 participated in Bertrand Russell's tribunal against the Vietnam War in Stockholm.

In 1970 Weiss suffered a heart attack. During the following decade his writing turned away from plays and focused on his three part novel, The Aesthetics of Resistance. He died in Stockholm in 1982.

Art and literature

Marat/Sade production at the University of California, San Diego, 2005 (Directed by Stefan Novinski)
Production of The Investigation at the Staatstheater Nuremberg, 2009 (Directed by Kathrin Maedler) (photography: Marion Buehrle)

Weiss' first art exhibition took place in 1936. His first produced play was Der Turm in 1950. In 1952 he joined the Swedish Experimental Film Studio, where he made films for several years. During this period, he also taught painting at Stockholm's People's University, and illustrated a Swedish edition of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. Since the early 1950s, Weiss also wrote prose. His work consists of short and intense novels with Kafkaesque details and feelings, often with autobiographical background. Among the short films by Weiss The Studio of Doctor Faust (1956) shows a persisting link of the emigrant Weiss to a German cultural background. One of the better known films made by Peter Weiss is the experimental production The Mirage (1959). In Paris, Weiss directed another film together with Barbro Boman called Play Girls or The Flamboyant Sex (Schwedische Mädchen in Paris or Verlockung in German) in 1960.

Weiss' best-known work is the play Marat/Sade (1963), first performed in West Berlin in 1964, which brought him widespread international attention. The following year, legendary director Peter Brook staged a famous production in New York City. The play examines the power in society through two extremely different historical persons, Jean-Paul Marat, a brutal hero of the French Revolution, and the Marquis de Sade, for whom sadism was named. In Marat/Sade, Weiss uses the technique of presenting a play within a play: "Our play's chief aim has been to take to bits great propositions and their opposites, see how they work, and let them fight it out."

In 1965, Weiss wrote the documentary play The Investigation (Die Ermittlung) on the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials. A translation of Weiss' The Investigation was performed at London's Young Vic theater by a Rwandan company in November 2007. The production presented a dramatic contrast between the play's view on the Holocaust and the Rwandan actors' own experience with their nation's genocide.

Between 1971 and 1981 Weiss was working on his three part novel on the European resistance against Nazi Germany, The Aesthetics of Resistance.

Weiss was honored with the Charles Veillon Award, 1963; the Lessing Prize, 1965; the Heinrich Mann Prize, 1966; the Carl Albert Anderson Prize, 1967; the Thomas Dehler Prize, 1978; the Cologne Literature Prize, 1981; the Bremen Literature Prize, 1982; the De Nios Prize, 1982; the Swedish Theatre Critics Prize, 1982; and the Georg Büchner Prize, 1982.

Selected works

All works were originally written in German unless otherwise noted. English translations are in parentheses.


  • 1949 Der Turm (The Tower)
  • 1952 Die Versicherung
  • 1963 Nacht mit Gästen (Night with Guests)
  • 1963/5 Die Verfolgung und Ermordung Jean Paul Marats dargestellt durch die Schauspielgruppe des Hospizes zu Charenton unter Anleitung des Herrn de Sade (The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade) - generally known as Marat/Sade
  • 1963/8 Wie dem Herrn Mockinpott das Leiden ausgetrieben wird (How Mr. Mockinpott was cured of his Sufferings)
  • 1965 Die Ermittlung (The Investigation)
  • 1967 Gesang vom lusitanischen Popanz (Song of the Lusitanien Bogey)
  • 1968 Diskurs über die Vorgeschichte und den Verlauf des lang andauernden Befreiungskrieges in Viet Nam als Beispiel für die Notwendigkeit des bewaffneten Kampfes der Unterdrückten gegen ihre Unterdrücker sowie über die Versuche der Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika die Grundlagen der Revolution zu vernichten (Discourse on the Progress of the Prolonged War of Liberation in Viet Nam and the Events Leading up to it as Illustration of the Necessity for Armed Resistance against Oppression and on the Attempts of the United States of America to Destroy the Foundations of Revolution) - generally known as Viet Nam Diskurs
  • 1969 Trotzki im Exil (Trotsky in Exile)
  • 1971 Hölderlin
  • 1974 Der Prozeß - adaptation of Franz Kafka's novel
  • 1982 Der neue Prozeß (The New Trial)


  • 1944 Från ö till ö (From Island to Island; written in Swedish; German: Von Insel zu Insel)
  • 1948 De besegrade (The Conquered; written in Swedish; German: Die Besiegten)
  • 1948 Der Vogelfreie (published as Dokument I in Swedish (1949) and in German as Der Fremde under the pseudonym Sinclair)
  • 1951 Duellen (The Duel; written in Swedish; German: Das Duell)
  • 1952 Der Schatten des Körpers des Kutschers (The Shadow of the Coachman's Body)
  • 1956 Situationen (The Situation; written in Swedish; German: Die Situation)
  • 1960 Abschied von den Eltern (Leavetaking)
  • 1961 Fluchtpunkt (Vanishing Point)
  • 1962 Das Gespräch der drei Gehenden (The Conversation of the Three Walkers)
  • 1975-1981 Die Ästhetik des Widerstands (Published in 3 volumes, I: 1975; II: 1978; III: 1981) (The Aesthetics of Resistance)

Other writings

  • 1956 Avantgarde Film (written in Swedish)
  • 1968 Rapporte
  • 1970 Rekonvaleszenz
  • 1971 Rapporte 2
  • 1971-1980 Notizbücher


  • 1952 Studie I (Uppvaknandet) Sweden, 16mm, 6min)
  • 1952 Studie II (Hallucinationer) / Study II (Hallucinations) (Sweden, 16mm, 6min)
  • 1953 Studie III / Study III (Sweden, 16mm, 6min)
  • 1954 Studie IV (Frigörelse) / Study IV (Liberation), (Sweden, 16mm, 9min)
  • 1955 Studie V (Växelspel)/Study V (Interplay),(Sweden, 16mm, 9min)
  • 1956 Ateljeinteriör / Dr. Fausts Studierstube(Atelierinterieur) (Sweden, 10 min)
  • 1956 Ansikten I Skugga / Faces in the shadow (Sweden, 13 min)
  • 1957 Enligt Lag / According To Law (co-dir. Hans Nordenström, Sweden, 16mm, 18 min)
  • 1958 Vad ska vi göra nu da? / Was machen wir jetzt? (Sweden, 20min)
  • 1959 Hägringen / Fata Morgana (Sweden, 81min) Starring: Staffan Lamm and Gunilla Palmstierna.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Against Nature's silence I use action
In the vast indifference I invent a meaning
I don't watch unmoved I intervene...

Peter Weiss (1916-11-08 - 1982-05-10) was a German-born Swedish writer, painter and filmmaker.


  • I could buy myself paper, a pen, a pencil and a brush and could create pictures whenever and wherever I wanted. ... That evening, in the spring of 1947, on the embankment of the Seine in Paris, at the age of thirty, I saw that it was possible to live and work in the world, and that I could participate in the exchange of ideas that was taking place all around, bound to no country.
    • Vanishing Point (1962)
  • In Dante the hero would rather flee
    and renounce the tempting embrace
    instead of yielding to his desires
    and enduring the attendant dangers.
    • Dante (written 1963, published 2003)
  • Only in his poetry did he have the courage to love.
    • Dante (written 1963, published 2003)

Marat/Sade (1963)

Full title: The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat As Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade (Die Verfolgung und Ermordung Jean Paul Marats dargestellt durch die Schauspielgruppe des Hospizes zu Charenton unter Anleitung des Herrn de Sade) English version by Geoffrey Skelton. Verse adaptation by Adrian Mitchell. Music by Richard Peaslee. Atheneum, 1981, ISBN 0-689-70568-9
  • We've got rights the right to starve
    We've got jobs waiting for work
    We're all brothers lousy and dirty
    We're all free and equal to die like dogs
    • Patients, act 1, scene 6 (p. 11)
  • Charlotte Corday walked alone
    Paris birds sang sugar calls
    Charlotte walked down lanes of stone
    through the haze of perfume stalls
    Charlotte smelt the dead's gangrene
    Heard the singing guillotine
    • Singers, act 1, scene 10 (p. 19)
  • Don't soil your pretty little shoes
    The gutter's deep and red
    Climb up climb up and ride along with me
    the tumbrel driver said

    But she never said a word
    never turned her head

    Don't soil your pretty little pants
    I only go one way
    Climb up climb up and ride along with me
    There's no gold coach today

    But she never said a word
    never turned her head

    • Singers, act 1, scene 10 (pp.19-20)
  • Every death even the cruellest death
    drowns in the total indifference of Nature
    Nature herself would watch unmoved
    if we destroyed the entire human race
    I hate Nature
    this passionless spectator this unbreakable iceberg-face
    that can bear everything
    this goads us to greater and greater acts
    • Sade, act 1, scene 12 (p. 24)
  • Against Nature's silence I use action
    In the vast indifference I invent a meaning
    I don't watch unmoved I intervene
    and say that this and this are wrong
    and I work to alter them and improve them
    The important thing
    is to pull yourself up by your own hair
    to turn yourself inside out
    and see the whole world with fresh eyes
    • Marat, act 1, scene 12 (pp. 24-25) Wikiquote-logo.svg QOTD 2007·11·08 Sound file
  • And the priests looked down into the pit of injustice
    and they turned away their faces and said
    Our kingdom is not as the kingdom of this world
    Our life on earth is but a pilgrimage
    The soul lives on humility and patience
    at the same time screwing from the poor their last centime
    They settled down among their treasures
    and ate and drank with princes
    and to the starving they said
    Suffer as he suffered on the cross
    for it is the will of God
    • Marat, act 1, scene 13 (p. 28)
  • So the poor instead of bread made do with a picture
    of the bleeding scourged and nailed-up Christ
    and prayed to that image of their helplessness
    • Marat, act 1, scene 13 (pp. 28-29)
  • We're all so clogged with dead ideas
    passed from generation to generation
    that even the best of us don't know the way out
    We invented the Revolution
    but we don't know how to run it
    Look everyone wants to keep something from the past
    a souvenir of the old regime
    This man decides to keep a painting
    This one keeps his mistress
    He [pointing] keeps his garden
    He [pointing] keeps his estate
    He keeps his country house
    He keeps his factories
    This man couldn't part with his shipyards
    This one kept his army
    and that one keeps his king
    • Marat, act 1, scene 15 (p. 34)
  • Singers: We've got nothing always had nothing
    nothing but holes and millions of them
    Kokol: Living in holes
    Polpoch: Dying in holes
    Cucurucu: Holes in our bellies
    Rossignol: and holes in our clothes
    • act 1, scene 16 (p. 35)
  • Once and for all
    the idea of glorious victories
    won by the glorious army
    must be wiped out
    Neither side is glorious
    On either side they're just frightened men messing their pants
    and they all want the same thing
    Not to lie under the earth
    but to walk upon it
    without crutches
    • Roux, act 1, scene 19 (p. 45)
  • Marat
    Today they need you because you are going to suffer for them
    They need you and they honour the urn which holds your ashes
    Tomorrow they will come back and smash that urn
    and they will ask
    Marat who was Marat
    • Sade, act 1, scene 20 (p. 46)
  • And now Marat
    now I see where
    this revolution is heading
    To the withering of the individual man
    and a slow merging into uniformity
    to the death of choice
    to self denial
    to deadly weakness
    in a state
    which has no contract with individuals
    but which is impregnable
    • Sade, act 1, scene 20 (p. 49)
  • Don't be deceived
    when our Revolution has been finally stamped out
    and they tell you
    things are better now
    Even if there's no poverty to be seen
    because the poverty's been hidden
    even if you ever got more wages
    and could afford to buy
    more of these new and useless goods
    which these new industries foist on you
    and even if it seems to you
    that you never had so much
    that is only the slogan of those
    who still have much more than you
    • Marat, act 1, scene 23 (p. 55)
  • What has gone wrong with
    the men who are ruling
    I'd like to know who
    they think they are fooling
    They told us that torture
    was over and gone
    but everyone knows
    the same torture goes on
    • Singers, act 1, scene 24 (p. 58)
  • Long ago I abandoned my masterpiece
    a roll of paper thirty yards long
    which I filled completely with minute handwriting
    in my dungeon years ago
    It vanished when the Bastille fell
    it vanished as everything written
    everything thought and planned
    will disappear
    • Sade, act 2, scene 28 (p. 82)
  • What's the point of a revolution
    without general
    copulation copulation copulation
    • Chorus, act 2, scene 30 (p. 92)
  • Fight on land and sea
    All men want to be free
    If they don't
    never mind
    we'll abolish all mankind
    • Singers and Patients, act 2, scene 31 (p. 98)
  • We can say what we like without favour or fear
    and what we can't say we can breathe in your ear
    • Singers, act 2, scene 33 (p. 100)
  • Our play's chief aim has been to take to bits
    Great propositions and their opposites,
    See how they work, and let them fight it out,
    To point some light on our eternal doubt.
    Marat and I both advocated force
    But in debate each took a different course.
    Both wanted changes, but his views and mine
    On using power never could combine.
    On the one side, he who thinks our lives
    Can be improved by axes and knives,
    Or he who, submerged in the imagination,
    Seeking a personal annihilation.
    • Sade, epilogue
  • I've twisted and turned them every way,
    And can see no ending to our play.
    • Sade, epilogue

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