In a museum in Berlin in 1937, three young communists the unnamed narrator and his friends Coppi and Heilmann contemplate the Pergamon Frieze. The narrator then returns to his own apartment and talks to his father or remembers conversations with him about his experiences as an activist; they have taken different sides in the divide between Communists and Social Democrats. A discussion of the narrator's family's books and the problems facing workers trying to study and appreciate art. A letter from Heilmann returns the narrator to the myth of Heracles; while the International Brigades are being disbanded he looks back to Phocaea, the ancient Greek colonies and mines in Spain, and the history of Spain down to the present. And, as the narrator prepares to leave Spain, he and a friend Ayschmann explore Picasso's Guernica and paintings by Delacroix and Géricault and Goya; he also looks back at some of the paintings his father educated him with, contrasting the work of Menzel and Koehler. (Weiss uses paragraph breaks only to divide sections, which are the only divisions within each part.) And here's a brief interlude in the discussion of painting towards the end: "But, asked Ayschmann, did you not always feel your disadvantage vis-à-vis the people who could pursue their studies unhindered. Similarly with the communist hierarchy: there's only a glimpse of the International Brigades' leader André Marty, the prosecutors in the Moscow Trials, or the military police. A fifty page introduction by Fredric Jameson sets Weiss in the context of post-war German literature, provides details of his life and background, and offers a sometimes abstruse theoretical analysis. Elements of The Aesthetics of Resistance are autobiographical: Weiss was of the same generation as his narrator, his parents also left Czechoslovakia for Sweden (though they were bourgeois rather than working class), and he too was mentored by Hodann. Weiss was not a communist as a youth, however his late conversion to Marxism came in the 1960s and he didn't fight in Spain, so his narrator is perhaps a vision of himself as he might have been.
What he offers is not only an "historical novel" centered around the aesthetic education of 3 working class students coming of age in the tumultuous and politically volatile onset of WWII, it also provides a granular view of the populist clash between Communism, Socialism and Fascism, both political and psychological.
Set amidst the rise of fascism in Germany and the Spanish Civil War, 'The Aesthetics of Resistance' follows not just the lives, the political work, and intellectual discussions of a young German communist and his militant comrades. by putting together a breathtaking mix of biographies of communists (both really-existing or otherwise), histories of the proletarian movements and the class struggles in Germany and Spain, powerful critiques of literary and artistic artifacts (from Heracles to Kafka to Picasso), and engaging discussions on the formation of a revolutionary aesthetics and culture.
then off a cliff into the abyss that is Communist/Marxist bullshit...
The art and poetry of resistance, rebelling against the existing order, supplanting the prevailing thoughts with progressive notions, ideas. One could consider it a hybrid of philosophical categories: a manual on Marxist literary criticism, a guide to the appreciation of proletarian art, a manifesto of aesthetic revolution, a treatise on the history and philosophy of political art.
Peter Weiss, on his birthday November 8 Surrealist-Absurdist narratives of Kafka-esque nightmares, the theatrical techniques of Brecht, Artaud, Ionesco, and Beckett, and a prose aesthetic developed from Genet, Robbe-Grillet, and Queneau, with a vast intellect and command of history and culture; Peter Weiss has created treasures of world literature and theatre whose power to motivate change and transform meaning will endure forever. In it he argues that art prolifically generates new forms of resistence to authority, having a defensive function like a shell protecting our humanity. It's been compared to Ulysses as a sea of words, and is among the most important novels of the Second World War and European history in general, but its also some of the most compelling writing about the value and meaning of art, literature, and culture I've ever read.
Make sure you peruse the index in the back which describes who all of the names actually are (apparently there are only like 3 fictional characters in the entire book filled to the brim with them).
I must add that this book (part of a trilogy) is in some ways hard to read.
He is particularly known for his play Marat/Sade and his novel The Aesthetics of Resistance. One of the most known films made by Peter Weiss is an experimental one, The Mirage (1959) and the second one - it is very seldom mentioned - is a film Weiss directed in Paris 1960 together with Barbro Boman, titled Play Girls or The Flamboyant Sex (Schwedische Mädchen in Paris or Verlockung in German). Weiss' best-known work is the play Marat/Sade (1963), first performed in West Berlin in 1964, which brought him widespread international attention.