Understanding Peter Weiss examines the life and work of the playwright and novelist whose literary stature places him among Böll, Grass, and Frisch as one of the leaders of postwar German literature. Arguing that it is impossible to understand the artist without first understanding the experiences and epoch that formed—and deformed—him, Robert Cohen analyzes each play and novel written by Weiss during an eighteen-year career, and he identifies the motivations and influences that prompted Weiss to write such widely acclaimed but stylistically divergent plays as Marat/Sade and The Investigation as well as his monumental novel, The Aesthetics of Resistance.
Tracing the influences on Weiss's literary style, Cohen points to Hermann Hesse, Kafka, Henry Miller, Beckett, Brecht, and Dante and to Brueghel, Picasso, and the French surrealist painters as powerful forces. Cohen charts the changing fortunes of Weiss's literary popularity, from an initial surge following Marat/Sade through a dramatic plunge after his 1965 embrace of Marxism to a final rebound a few years after the publication of The Aesthetics of Resistance.
Robert Cohen is adjunct associate professor of German literature at New York University where he specializes in exile literature written from 1933 through 1945. He has published three books on Peter Weiss.