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Let's hear it for Peter Weiss:'The important thing is to pull yourself up by your own hair'

Peter Weiss 
By coincidence -- within the world wide webbliness of the online universe -- I came upon the accompanying video (below) of Justin Bond singing Homage to Marat.

The song is among many in Peter Weiss' 1963 play The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.

This long title is usually shortened to Marat/Sade. 

Weiss' play is an extraordinary theatrical event but its stand out dramaturgy has been obscured, I think,  by the Peter Brook/Royal Shakespeare  production that many may be familiar with as  a filmed play.

As a precursor to his later plays -- which were more realistically historical -- the   Marat/Sade is a political dialogue about the imperative of revolutionary change and the  lure of personal indulgence. In the Brook production, and the accompanying translation, this theme was confused, I think, by what was an Artaudian Theatre of Cruelty indulgence .

Now, almost fifty years later as the the demands of neo-liberalism bite deeper, the themes in Weiss' play  still echo.

.
Marat we're poor
And the poor stay poor
Marat don't make
Us wait anymore
We want our rights and we don't care how
We want our revolution now    (Full lyrics)
Justin Bond's interpretation of the song takes us back to the core aspiration in the play.

Over the years I've  adopted Weiss  and read as much  of his work as I can in translation. He was an artist -- painter, film maker, novelist and playwright -- who was fed by seemingly contradictory influences: Surrealism, Marxism, and the angst driven nhilism of Franz Kafka. To add to the mix, his life long best friend was the Hippies' favorite counterculture idealist, Herman Hesse.

Weiss never performs to expectations and this mix of  inspirations shows in the Marat/Sade. For a play that is such a firecracker of ideas and theatrics, it still is extremely personal -- the most personal of his plays. Like the Marat/Sade -- his other plays are intensely historical studies relying on primary resources. For instance, his The Investigation, relies solely and completely on the actual evidence given at the Frankfurt War Crimes trials, concerning the Nazi slaughter at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Unlike the Marat/Sade most of  Weiss'  playwrighting is documentary drama and Weiss served his apprenticeship as a dramaturg for Erwin Piscator  who probably was the 20th century's keenest and most creative exponent of epic theatre.

Bertolt Brecht pinched his epic theatre methods (and others) from Piscator and patented it.

All that aside -- and I could go on and on about a favorite topic -- if you follow a careful reading -- or watching -- of the Marat/Sade and open yourself up to the exchange primarily carried between the real historical figures of Jean Paul Marat and the Marquis de Sade  -- Weiss very personal philosophical debate will register.
Our play's chief aim has been to take to bits
Great propositions and their opposites,
See how they work, and let them fight it out,
To point some light on our eternal doubt.
Marat and I both advocated force
But in debate each took a different course.
Both wanted changes, but his views and mine
On using power never could combine.
On the one side, he who thinks our lives
Can be improved by axes and knives,
Or he who, submerged in the imagination,
Seeking a personal annihilation.
Sade, epilogue
I first read the play in 1967 -- and its relevance (its personal relevance)  still impresses me. Despite what opposites may plague us, I nonetheless hope I chose an active course.
Against Nature's silence I use action
In the vast indifference I invent a meaning
I don't watch unmoved I intervene
and say that this and this are wrong
and I work to alter them and improve them
The important thing
is to pull yourself up by your own hair
to turn yourself inside out
and see the whole world with fresh eyes
Marat, act 1, scene 12



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