Peter Weiss

The Aesthetics of Resistance - Novel

originally published in three volumes (1975, 1978, 1981)
(German title: Die Ästhetik des Widerstands)
ca. 1195 pages
Peter Weiss
Foto: Peter Weiss
© Andrej Reiser

Peter Weiss (1916–1982) was a German writer, painter, graphic artist, and experimental filmmaker. He is best known for his plays “Marat/Sade” and “The Investigation,” as well as the monumental three-volume historical novel The Aesthetics of Resistance. Born in Germany in 1916, he began his career as visual artist, studying at the Prague Art Academy in the late ’30s. After the German occupation of the Sudetenland, his family moved to Sweden, where Weiss would spend the rest of his life, becoming a Swedish citizen. His work won many major German literary awards, including the Buchner and Mann Prizes, and Peter Brook’s production of “Marat/Sade” received the Tony Award for Best Play. Weiss died in 1982.

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100th anniversary of Peter Weiss in November 2016

2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the original publication of Volume 1 of the Aesthetics of Resistance


The three-volume novel The Aesthetics of Resistance is the crowning achievement of Peter Weiss, the internationally renowned dramatist best known for his play Marat/Sade. The first volume was initially published in Germany in 1975; the third and final volume appeared in 1981, just six months before Weiss’s death.

Spanning the period from the late 1930s to World War II, this historical novel dramatizes anti-fascist resistance and the rise and fall of proletarian political parties in Europe. Living in Berlin in 1937, the unnamed narrator and his peers sixteen- and seventeen-year-old working-class students seek ways to express their hatred for the Nazi regime. They meet in museums and galleries, and in their discussions they explore the affinity between political resistance and art, the connection at the heart of Weiss’s novel. Weiss suggests that meaning lies in embracing resistance, no matter how intense the oppression, and that we must look to art for new models of political action and social understanding. The novel includes extended meditations on paintings, sculpture, and literature. Moving from the Berlin underground to the front lines of the Spanish Civil War and on to other parts of Europe, the story teems with characters, almost all of whom are based on historical figures. The Aesthetics of Resistance is one of the truly great works of postwar German literature and an essential resource for understanding twentieth-century German history. (book description from the English edition by Duke University Press)


»Weiss’s novel belongs among the great books of this century. It is – a solemn word – his actual legacy, still widely undiscovered and yet not to be disregarded as long as we use literature as a means of communicating ourselves.« from Spiegel-magazine’s obituary 1982

»The Aesthetics of Resistance is centrally important to any kind of assessment of twentieth-century German history.« James Rolleston, editor of A Companion to the Works of Franz Kafka — N/A

»[The Aesthetics of Resistance] [...] which [Peter Weiss] began when he was well over fifty, making a pilgrimage over the arid slopes of cultural and contemporary history in the company of pavor nocturnus, the terror of the night, and laden with a monstrous weight of ideological ballast, is a magnum opus which sees itself . . . not only as the expression of an ephemeral wish for redemption, but as an expression of the will to be on the side of the victims at the end of time.« W. G. Sebald, On the Natural History of Destruction — N/A

»A great novel [...] Weiss’s account takes us through familiar territory by new routes, so that we see the landmarks as we have never seen them before.« The Hudson Review

»Must be counted among the most important European authors of the 20th century.« The Complete Review

»Yes, The Aesthetics of Resistance is intimidating. But it is also exhilaratingly strange, compelling, and original. Readers who dare enter this demanding verbal landscape will not come away emptyhanded.« Bookforum

Other publications

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 (1968)

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Die Ermittlung/The Investigation (1965)

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Abschied von den Eltern/Leavetaking (1961)

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