The Aesthetics of Resistance, Volume I

A Novel

The Aesthetics of Resistance, Volume I

Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: Published: June 2005

Author: Peter Weiss

Translator: Joachim Neugroschel

Contributor: Fredric Jameson

European Studies, History, Literature and Literary Studies > Fiction

A major literary event, the publication of this masterly translation makes one of the towering works of twentieth-century German literature available to English-speaking readers for the first time. 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, presented here, 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 antifascist 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.


“[The Aesthetics of Resistance] gives a rich reward. There are many novels which convey the bitter experience of Europe’s twentieth century, but few which range so widely or reflect so deeply on that history.” — Brian Hanrahan, Open Democracy

“One of the most powerful books of contemporary German literature, this sprawling, sprited work is a novel masquerading as history masquerading as a novel as. . . . The story, magnficently translated by Joachim Neugroschel, is splendid, experimental, and absolutely gripping.” — The Tempest

“The novel has long enjoyed a prominent place in the German intellectual left. Now that the first volume is finally available from Duke University Press in a superb English translation by Joachim Neugroschel (with a readable and engaging foreword by Fredric Jameson), Weiss’s work can finally emerge into the wider public sphere where it deserves to occupy a prominent space.” — Inez Hedges, Socialism and Democracy

"The Aesthetics of Resistance writes those who have been culturally and historically excluded back into the story of their time and demands—as modernism does—that we learn to read in a new way. . . . The monuments of modernism today rise like Ozymandias’ statue in the sand: Ulysses, Proust, Beckett, Pound’s Cantos, The Making of Americans, The Waste Land. At last, we have an English translation of a work that stands alongside them." — Robert Buckeye, Review of Contemporary Fiction

"[O]ne of the most significant works of postwar German literature. . . . The novel feels like an endless soliloquy on a bare stage, but one that takes the audience on the most amazingly imaginative time-and-space journey, with the narrative perspective cutting like a movie director's camera from one intensely rendered visual detail to the next. . . . [E]xhilaratingly strange, compelling, and original. Readers who dare to enter this demanding verbal landscape will not come away empty-handed." — Mark M. Anderson, Bookforum

"[S]ome of the most gripping—and most beautiful—passages of Weiss's novel appear in detailed examinations of classic paintings by Delacroix, Goya, Brueghel, Géricault, Munch and others, and their bearing on contemporary struggles. . . . Weiss's project has another, deeper aim than advancing the socialist revolution, namely to give voice to fascism's victims, and to preserve the memory of their lives and example—hence the archival nature of his work, with its painstaking attention to the names of fallen comrades." — Noah Isenberg, The Nation

"This excellent translation of the first volume of this formidable, convoluted masterpiece makes Weiss's autobiographical novel, one of the major works of literature of the 20th century, available in English for the first time. . . . Essential." — R.C. Conard, Choice

"For the right reader, The Aesthetics of Resistance offers unique rewards. The West’s literary memory of twentieth- century communism was largely shaped by ex- and anti-Communist writers like Arthur Koestler, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Czeslaw Milosz, and George Orwell, who saw it as inimical to spiritual and intellectual life. Weiss makes a passionate case to the contrary, arguing that for the poor and oppressed, communism offered a key to spiritual and intellectual realms from which they had been historically excluded. But he is also acutely aware that the humanistic, emancipatory communism of his dreams had a foe in the actual Soviet Communist Party, with its demand for total submission to an ever-changing ideological line. Balancing hope against reality, Weiss’s novel tries to carry out the critique-from-within he outlined in his 'Ten Working Points' essay." — Adam Kirsch, New York Review of Books

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

“[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, author of On the Natural History of Destruction


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Peter Weiss (1916–1982) was a German playwright, novelist, filmmaker, and painter. His works include the plays The New Trial, also published by Duke University Press, and Marat/Sade and the novels The Shadow of the Body of the Coachman and The Conversation of the Three Walkers. He received West Germany’s most important literary award, the Georg Büchner Prize, posthumously in 1982.

Joachim Neugroschel (1938-2011) was the translator of some two hundred books, including works by Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, and Thomas Mann. He won three PEN translation awards and a French-American Foundation Translation Prize.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreward: A Monument to Radical Instants / Fredric Jameson vii

The Aesthetics of Resistance, volume I 1

Glossary / Robert Cohen 319
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3546-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3534-4