A Distant Place: A Journey to Distant History and Closer History with the Aesthetics of Peter Weiss. Andreas Wutz


Peter Weiss (1916-82), a Swedish-German painter, filmmaker and writer, often felt confused by the political occurrences of his city, his country and the world. He was uncertain of how to understand them in their full complexity. It seemed to be an impossible task. 

Today, we still know of this impossibility or difficulty in recognising complex contexts. We know of it; but perhaps do not know of Peter Weiss or one of his novels, in which he develops a solution to the problem of understanding the lack of clarity or, to use an almost Habermasian term, Unübersichtlichkeit. This highly characteristic modern dilemma determines the main concept of his novel The Aesthetics of Resistance, which was written in the last ten years of his life.

The Aesthetics of Resistance is a chronicle of real historical occurrences, and also a fictional or constructed autobiography. It deals with the period from 1937 to 1945, of the Spanish Civil War and World War II, and the anti-fascist resistance and international workers’ movement. The vast complexity of these contexts is obvious; the threads of its socio-political weave reach us today, where we find ourselves with the same problem as Peter Weiss: to try to read and fully understand this complexity and its interweavings.

While the content of the novel, “resistance”, seems clear, it is not so apparent what the “aesthetics” in the title might be referring to. What can aesthetics have to do with resistance and history, particularly with such a complicated history? This, precisely, is the focal point of my talk. We will be looking at Volume I of the novel, where Peter Weiss reflects the situation in Spain during the Civil War.

Peter Weiss, the surrealist, made several documentaries on reality in the fifties. After this, he began to carry out extensive research, consulting archives and visiting original locations, compiling the documentary foundations for his great novel. His life journey had taken him through the countries and places his novel would take place in, all except for one country: Spain. In 1974, he set off on a journey with a Spanish poet and translator friend of his. They travelled from Stockholm to Albacete, to the headquarters of the International Brigades. But this was not the site that really aroused Weiss’ interest; he was drawn to a different, more distant place. This place, in the outskirts of Albacete, is where my talk begins.

To take part in this session and be sent the texts for reading, please contact bulegoa@bulegoa.org

Andreas Wutz (Munich, 1962) is an independent artist who graduated in painting and installation, having focused since on photography, installation and film. His work is based on strategies drawn from the documentary, art, and experimental film; and is driven by a profound interest in political and social themes and in different historical references. From 2013 to 2015 he lectured in Audio-visual Art at the Instituto Europeo de Diseño, Barcelona, and the University of California, San Diego. He currently lives and works in Bilbao.