The aesthetics of resistance

The Aesthetics of Resistance (German: Die Ästhetik des Widerstands, 1975-1981) is a three-volume novel by the German-born playwright, novelist, filmmaker, and painter Peter Weiss.

Spanning from the late 1930s into 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 the refusal to renounce resistance, no matter how intense the oppression, and that it is in art that new models of political action and social understanding are to be found. 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 three volumes of the novel were originally published in 1975, 1978 and 1981.


"[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

Visual artists such as Hubertus Giebe and composers such as Kalevi Aho or Helmut Oehring have taken up motives from The Aesthetics of Resistance in their paintings and compositions. The novel has been adapted for the stage by Thomas Krupa and Tilman Neuffer at Grillo-Theater Essen in May 2012. The band Rome was inspired by the novels when making their album trilogy Die Æsthetik Der Herrschaftsfreiheit.[1]

Editions in print

  • Peter Weiss: The Aesthetics of Resistance, Volume 1: A Novel. Durham, NC: Duke University Press 2005.
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