Harun Farocki | Peter Weiss On Display (The Aesthetics of Resistance)



We were visiting Peter Weiss in Stockholm on 17th and 18th June 1979. We talked about his work on the book The Aesthetics of Resistance. Two volumes have already been published and P.W. is currently on the third.

He has been working on it for over ten years and not one sentence is unfounded. Weiss has performed an unbelievable amount of research, studied the lives of people serving as models down to the tiniest detail, and attaches great importance to visiting the scenes of the action. The film gives an impression of his work.

Harun Farocki1979



Harun Farocki: Peter Weiss On Display

a book he is still working on—on the third part
the path of a first-person narrator from berlin in the nazi era
emigration, spanish civil war, sweden
second world war and planned until ’45

document-rich: the pergamon altar, the comintern line,
the social democracy-communism controversy,
spain, the hitler-stalin-pact, a play by brecht,
the life of ossietzky’s daughter, the history of
swedish social democracy gaudí, delacroix and so forth
(the history of montmartre) many inherently political biographies,
one’s own life went differently.
but close acquaintance, a man like hodann, who he
extensively interviewed and whose journal exists.
actually knew brecht.
the writing always conveys first-hand experiences
onto other lives and time periods.
as a working principle: each factual word (date) should be correct.
how far this goes:
sometimes a demolished house is sought, a photo procured,
something looked up.
sometimes very secondary sources:
where münzenberg was born, somber region, enumeration of
names of rulers. sometimes very close: a gesture one
made that finds a use in the book.
working method:
interviews, sources, literary as well, visiting locations.
no set plan, in writing there always arises
another version, out of one chapter another becomes
a lot of reworking, every page 4, 5 times. following ideas of form,
which one cannot describe as abstract. it is important for him
that the book have an even typeface with many
letters on a page. he also uses very large sheets of paper
in order to have an idea of the whole already while working.
the first-person narrator does not experience everything that happens in
the book
directly, there are many “levels of commentary.” so he goes
walking with someone and they discuss something and then comes
a new chapter and there is an essay about something.
however, this commentary also stands in relation to the hero,
to his consciousness. the world becomes consciousness, reflection,
not plot.
what’s with the magic of the locations?
peter weiss’ worldview is opposed to the familiar.
he wants to rescue a disappearing political culture and
therefore works like an archeologist. turns a place
that one otherwise passes by thoughtlessly into an important place.
digs something up, places a small flag.
just like in the title, the subject of aesthetics is thematized in the book.
in spain it is considered that the emblematic and
symbolic in art has to do with a politics of individuals
that is not yet mature. to discover precursors of the proletariat
uprisings in greece; the beautiful can only be beautiful if it
is rooted in necessity, demanded by struggle.
how it is treated like film: not only the importance
of original locations and location sound, the editing
of the particular chapter is also important. two are walking, one goes
into a tent, then something else, he comes out again, and
the scene with the two walking continues.
the simplicity of the metaphors is also like film, a single
action or posture characterizes an entire demeanor.
catalyst for the book was the visit to the altar.
the intellectual shape of the book is determined by events and
experiences brought about by a trip to vietnam.”


because it is something that is crucial to me in every scene—that what is
depicted is completely realistic. that i have a basis for the fantasy—so
that basically nothing is invented. it enriches me—whenever i am at an
authentic place.

for example, rosner who made the comintern newsletter in a sort of cubby-
hole clandestinely in sweden. for four years, hidden with swedish com-
rades. so didn’t take one step out. so he lived here illegally and the police
hunted him, and didn’t find him. and i was unable to find out where this
little room was. the communists, who were here in sweden, who helped
german communists at the time, and harbored them, continued to live, as
long as they were still alive, in the spirit of illegality. so that not a single,
tiny detail would become public. even people who dealt directly with rosner
had suppressed this so much, where he was, that no one could actually tell
me exactly where he had resided.

and the book was already finished and i was so sorry, i had already deli-
vered the text. as i was lying in the hospital and already had the proofs,
i suddenly received a call from a swedish acquaintance who was closely
affiliated with rosner and wehner in those days and who found out where
his room was. i could still go out of the hospital to this house that was
still being rebuilt. and could see the apartment and the bedroom, the size
of the bedroom and could add it to the proofs. that was significant. it may
not be important for a reader where a bedroom in this or that street was
found. but for me it was important to see the courtyard, the entrance and
the size  of the bedroom and the street in front of me.

in spain too, this cueva la potita house where hodann had his original
first-aid station, i had to invent this in an earlier draft. and just after
we found out where this was, which in itself was an enormous trip,
which would be worth a chapter in itself, depending on coincidences,
and acquaintances with people who suddenly remember, it is like a jour-
ney of discovery. and only after we now stood in spain beyond albacete in
front of this house and then attempted to find the key to enter the house,
to climb in, everything was still the same. the house still stood there as if
it had been uninhabited since the civil war. the red flags were still hanging
from the roof and old radio still stood there and the player piano, and
the rolls that one put in the piano.

the red flags were still hanging there?
yes, it had been closed, it belonged to one of these big landowners who
have six, eight or ten such properties and he hadn’t visited it since the
civil war. it was completely decayed, old, but one could completely orient

in this way possibilities arise of describing the course of the river, júcar,
which is buried very deep, the sharp coast the poplars and the surrounding
foggy atmosphere.

– where did you get the idea for münzenberg always climbing onto scaffol-
ding while speaking?

– that is in fact an idea that is connected to this character. i never saw
münzenberg  in person, but it is connected in some way, in his books
he always talks about hiking. he was always hiking. and what hodann de-
scribes in his journal: this enormously expansive personality, these are
things that are connected to one’s own imagination. i imagined this man who
must always have big views, perspectives before him that are connected
to his plan. this is no couch potato. this is someone who is really always
traveling, hiking, on the move, active.

i was able to imagine this, after i had been in paris and saw where he lived,
and he actually lived directly next to the parc d’expositions, next to the
porte de versailles, and he always followed this path. the house he lived in
was one of the new constructions in the thirties and he must have always
passed it, so it was possible that while speaking he would suddenly go in
there, in the park where there is scaffolding. these are pictorial, sometimes
filmic ideas.

also in my personal life spaces always affect me. when i’m writing a stage
play, it is clear to me from the beginning how the people stand next to each
other, rarely can i imagine a chamber play where people sit in trash cans
and only talk to each other. there is always the image that there is a world
outside. that there is never an entirely self-absorbed person who is sitting
there and dealing with a problem, but it is unmistakable that there is al-
ways an entire world that is being effected. with endless ramifications that
of course often make writing difficult, because i come upon hundreds of
thousands and must always cut away more.




Source: Harun Farocki Institut
HaFI 003: Harun Farocki: On Display: Peter Weiss



Let’s open the book: pages 278 and 279 in Peter Weiss’ The Aesthetics of
Resistance, volume two. On the left page appears the name Branting, on
the right the name Rogeby. Branting is the name of the brigade from which
the Swedish volunteers in the Nestler come and Rogeby—who in the
Nestler makes a political assessment of the Spanish war—makes a political
assessment of Swedish social democracy in the Weiss.

Peter Weiss: I’ve encountered many people, especially during my years in
Sweden when i was working in factories and working in the woods, where,
following the daily, tiring work, the problem arose of still carrying on
studies and reading and researching. And I connected those who were there
and who I got to know with the idea of people in the scientific era cha-

racterized by Brecht. I describe them as people who are keen and above all
who cannot live, cannot exist if they are not constantly engaged in intel-
lectual activity. And to whom work is an entirely alienating and alienated
object if they don’t create a counterbalance to it…. A man like the Swedish
worker Rogeby, who I had a very close relationship with in the later years,
becomes very vivid.


(From an interview conducted on 6.17.79 in Stockholm)
Filmkritik, September 1979, “Films by Peter Nestler”

Peter Weiss |  Die Ästhetik des Widerstands
Die Neue Berliner Edition / The New Berlin Edition
Herausgegeben mit einem editorischen Nachwort
von Jürgen Schutte
Full book:  PDF


Peter Weiss | The Aesthetics of Resistance, Volume I
Translator: Joachim Neugroschl
Contributer: Fredric Jameson
Duke University Press


Peter Weiss | The Aesthetics of Resistance, Volume II
Translator: Joel Scott
Duke University Press


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