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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Vanishing Point

Peter Weiss

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To purchase Fluchtpunkt

Title: Vanishing Point
Author: Peter Weiss
Genre: Novel
Written: 1962 (Eng. 1966)
Length: 157 pages
Original in: German
Availability: in Exile - UK
Fluchtpunkt - Deutschland
  • German title: Fluchtpunkt
  • Translated by E.B.Garside, Alastair Hamilton, and Christopher Levenson
  • Published, together with Leavetaking (see our review), as Exile

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Our Assessment:

A- : impressive autobiographical novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The first of Weiss' explicitly autobiographical novels, Leavetaking (see our review), describes his childhood and youth until 1940. At that point he essentially claimed his independence and set out to become an artist. In fact, true success only came some twenty years later, with the writing of these two fictionalized memoirs shortly after the final leavetaking from his parents with their deaths in the late 1950s.
       Vanishing Point is considerably longer than Leavetaking, and it is also presented differently -- instead of being written in one uninterrupted paragraph, Vanishing Point is a text of almost fragmentary nature, with blocks of shorter passages relating episodes set apart from one another. It covers a much shorter span than the first volume, describing Weiss' life in Sweden (basically in Stockholm) from 1940 to 1947. It begins November 8, 1940 (the author's birthday), with the narrator set to become an artist.
       Given the times it is an almost hopeless ambition. But Weiss is able to show his education -- in both harsh everyday reality as well as the art he comes in contact with -- which makes for his transformation into a true artist. From becoming politicized due to the collapse of continental Europe (and the constant threat even in Sweden) to the interaction with other artists as well as with literature Weiss becomes a more rounded and more adult figure. The realities of life -- even in this surreal world -- are used by Weiss, and become the foundation of his work.
       Questions of identity -- specifically his nominally Jewish identity -- are explored, and his feelings about his Jewish background are, in particular, heightened when he sees a film of Auschwitz after the war. His identification with those that suffered and perished under the Nazis would also figure prominently in numerous later works, from the short essay Meine Ortschaft to his magnum opus, Die Ästhetik des Widerstands (see our review).
       Literary influences are listed as the narrator escapes into this world. The roll-call is a familiar and predictable one for the time, ranging from Hesse to Stendhal, and even Galsworthy, as well as Wassermann, Musil, and Mann. And, he writes: "Only for two books in brown bindings, The Castle and The Trial, could I find no room." Eventually, of course, he is finally ready to read these as well, another step in the process of his artistic maturation.
       Vanishing Point is strongly autobiographical, with many of Weiss' friends recognizable figures in it. It also describes his real-life romances, as well as the birth of his first child. And still, throughout, the emphasis is on coming to terms with himself, and of finding his place in the world. By the end of the books he comes to the famous conclusion:

I could buy myself paper, a pen, a pencil and a brush and could create pictures whenever and wherever I wanted. (...) That evening, in the spring of 1947, on the embankment of the Seine in Paris, at the age of thirty, I saw that it was possible to live and work in the world, and that I could participate in the exchange of ideas that was taking place all around, bound to no country.
       Released from geography and nationality he would continue with his art, finally turning completely to writing. The process of becoming an artist was a long and drawn-out one for Weiss, but he presents a fascinating picture of it in this volume (and the preceding one).
       A rich and fascinating work. Recommended.

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Vanishing Point: Peter Weiss: Other works by Peter Weiss under Review: Works about Peter Weiss under Review:
  • Werner Schmidt's biography, Peter Weiss: Leben eines kritischen Intellektuellen
Other books of interest under review:
  • See also the Index of Drama at the complete review
  • See also the Index of German literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Peter Weiss (1916-82) was born in Germany. A remarkable artist, he was a talented painter who then turned to writing. Only slow to achieve recognition with his fiction he burst onto the international scene with the stunning success of his play, Marat/Sade. Winner of many West and East German literary prizes, he was also the author of Die Ästhetik des Widerstands, the most important German novel since The Tin Drum.

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