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||Max Frisch (1911-1991)|
Swiss novelist, playwright, diarist, and essayist, who began his career as an architect before achieving fame with the play When the War Was Over in 1949. However, Frisch's first books appeared in the 1930s. In his early works Frisch dealt with the post-war guilt and origins of Nazism, and continued with existential questions of identity and personal freedom. Frisch's best-known plays include Andorra (1961) and Biedermann and die Brandstifter (1958). In his novels Frisch has often brought to the fore the difference between the narrator's world and the reader's interpretation of it.
"Ein Mann hat eine Erfahrung gemacht, jetzt such er die Geschichte dazu - man kann nich leben mit einer Erfahrung, die ohne Geschichte bleibt, scheint es, und manchmal stellte ich mir vor, ein andrer habe genau die Geschichte meiner Ergahrung..." (from Mein Name sei Gantenbein, 1964)
Max Frisch was born in Zürich, the son of Franz Bruno Frisch, an architect and real estate agent, and Karolina Bettina (Wildermuth) Frisch. From 1924 to 1930 Frisch attended the Kantonale Realgymnasium of Zürich. While still at school, Frisch started to read Ibsen and write plays. In 1930 he entered the University of Zürich, where he studied German literature and art history. After his father suddenly died in 1932, Frisch left his studies and worked as a free-lance journalist to support himself and his mother.
Frisch wrote for Neuen Zürcher Zeitung and Zürcher
specializing on travel and sports articles. With his Jewish girlfriend,
Käte Rubensohn, Frisch visited Germany on different occasions; their
relationship ended in 1938. Later in Montauk
(1975), a fictionalized memoir, Frisch revisited past and present loves
and his personal failures.
Like many German-speaking intellectuals at that time, Frisch drew a line in his journalistic pieces between high German culture and Nazi culture: "That is the question: whom do we finally find the more credible, the popular speaker or the poet, and what is more authentic for us, the screaming crowd or the individual who is, admittedly, powerless but nevertheeless makes history, at leat the history of ideas?" (The Miracle of Life,' translated by Kenneth Northcott, in Travels in the Reich, 1933-1945: Foreign Authors Report from Germany, edited by Oliver Lubrich, 2010, p. 66) Jürg Reinhart (1934), Frisch's first novel, was awarded the Conrad Ferdinand Meyer Prize. Its revised edition, J'adore ce qui me brûle; oder, Die Schwierigen, was published in 1943. From 1936 Frisch studied architecture at the Eidgenössisch Technische Hochschule in Zürich, receiving his diploma in 1941.
During World War II Frisch served periodically in the Swiss army – the country remained neutral during the war – and recorded his daily observations as an artillery man in a diary entitled Blätter aus dem Brotsack (1940, Leaves from My Knapsack). In 1942 he married Gertrud Constanze von Meyenburg; they had two daughters and one son. Between the years 1942 and 1954 Frisch ran his own architectural practice. He started to write plays in 1944 and in 1945 the Zürcher Schauspielhaus produced Nun singen sie wieder (Now They Sing Again). Other plays followed – Die chinesische Mauer (prod. 1947), Als der Krieg zu Ende war (1949), and Graf Öderland (1951).
Throughout the late 1940s Frisch traveled in Europe. Tagebuch 1946-1949
(1950, Sketchbook 1946-1949) dates from the period when he was working
on the construction of a large municipal swimming pool in Zürich; it
was his first major architectural project.
The Chinese Wall, written in 1946, was set in a fictional China. Historical figures, such as Cleopatra, Columbus, and Napoleon, comment in a masked ball upon events in history, destroying at the same time the dramatic illusion. The Contemporary, an intellectual, warns about the atomic bomb. A turning point in Frisch's career as a playwright came in 1947 when he met Bertolt Brecht, whose concept of the epic theatre influenced his dramas. Brecht gave him the manuscript of his book, Kleines Organon für das Theater (A Short Organum for the Theatre), in which he presented theory and technique of the "Verfremdungseffekt" – subsequently, Frisch employed the "alienation effect" in his own stage productions. For a time Brech urged Frisch to write a Tell drama, but it took almost a quarter of a century before he treated the subject in Wilhelm Tell für die Schüle (1971, William Tell for school instruction). Noteworthy, Frisch did not share Brecht's political views and in his essays he constantly opposed totalitarianism and all establishments. His friendship with Brecht he depicted in the diaries (Tagebuch 1946-1949 and Tagebuch 1966-1971) and in Erinnerungen an Brecht (1968).
In the early 1950s Frisch spent a year in the United States on
Rockefeller grant. He also visited Mexico and lived for a time in a
ghetto in San Francisco. Much of the play Don
Juan oder die Liebe zur Geometrie
was written in 1952. Basically a comedy, it tells about the identity
crisis of a rationalist who wants to contemplate the geometry of
Nature, but whose fame condems
him to the role of lover and seducer. "Sex is the inescapable
irrationality. But Don Juan must make himself as comfortable in the
shoddy human world as in humanly possible." ('Max Frisch and Don Juan oder die Liebe zur Geometrie' in The Theatre of Don Juan: A Collection of Plays and Views, 1630-1963, edited with a commentary by Oscar Mandel, 1963, p. 697) Frisch was often compared with Friedrich Dürrenmatt,
whose plays were staged in the same theaters. For a period they were
friends. "I suppose we both began to tire of it, and we began to look
for an excuse to break the relationship. So when a few silly statements
were made, it was very easy to say, "I don't want to see you anymore
because you said this and this."" ('Max Frisch Interviewed' by Jon Barak, The New York Times, March 19, 1978)
After the collapse of his first marriage, which officially ended in 1959, and the success of his plays and the second novel Stiller (1954), Frisch devoted himself entirely to writing and setted in Uetikon, near Zürich. Frisch also sold his architect's office which made him financially independent.
The protagonist of Stiller is a man, Jim White, who is arrested on the border because of a fake passport. While in prison he writes his story for the public prosecutor; but it is not the story which is his true identity, if there is any. White claims that he is not Anatol Ludwig Stiller, a failed sculptor and husband, who had been suspected of espionage and had escaped for some years to the United States. Gradually the reader realizes that White's stories are untrue, he is a typical unreliable narrator, whom Frisch used in some of his other novels, including Homo faber (1957) and Mein Name sei Gantenbein (1967). After to weeks, the mysterious narrator is released from the jail as Stiller and in the postscript the public prosecutor, Rolf, gives further details of Stiller's doomed life and death.
'"Sie schreiben einfach die Wahrheit", sagt mein amtlicher Verteidiger, "nichts als die schlichte und pure Wahrheit. Tinte könnte Sie jederzeit nachfüllen lassen."' (from Stiller, 1954)
Homo faber, a version of the Oedipus myth, tells the story of a middle-class UNESCO engineer called Walter Faber, who believes in rational, calculated world, ruled by technology. Strange events undermine his security – an emergency landing in a Mexican desert against all odds, his friend Joachim hangs himself in the Mexican jungle, and he falls in love with a woman who dies of a concussion, he has an incestuous affair. Finally Faber becomes ill with stomach cancer, but it is too late for him to change his life. Frisch's style is unsentimental and laconic, completely in tune with the character of Faber. "Life is form in time. Hanna admits that she can't explain what she means. Life is not matter and cannot be mastered by technology. My mistake with Sabeth lay in repetition. I behaved as though age did not exist, and hence contrary to nature."
Frisch was awarded in 1958 the prestigious Georg-Büchner Prize. In the same year Frisch met the Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann in Paris; their relationship ended in the early 1960s. "Her independence was part of her radiance. Jealousy was the price I had to pay for it, and I paid it in full." (in Montauk). Frisch lived in Rome with Bachmann and wrote during this period one of his most famous plays, Andorra. The novel Mein Name sei Gantenbein (A Wilderness of Mirrors), published after the breakup, begins with an apparent suicide. A man leaves his pipe on the table before walking out of a bar, and is later found dead in his car, with the engine running. At the end a corpse floats down a river, "As a suicide plunges into the water, I plunge myself vertically down into the world, but I find in the world not death but life." In 1965 Frisch moved back to Switzerland. He married in 1968 the translator Marianne Oellers; they divorced in 1979.
Andorra dealt with racial prejudices and conformism. The drama is set in town called Andorra, not to be confused with the Pyrenees country of the same name. The town is in conflict with its neighbor, the country of the Blacks. Andri is the offspring of a liaison between a Black Señora and an Andorran schoolteacher, but he is "adopted" by his father as a Jew. Andorrans are proud of their country's traditional Christianity, but although generally a peaceful country, hatred against Jews begins gradually grow. Andri becomes obsessed with his background and is finally executed by the Blacks, although he is told the truth of his origin. Both Andorra and The Firebugs (1958) were staged in New York in 1963 but failed there.
Herr Biedermann und die Brandstifter (The Firebugs) was first written as a radio play and then rewritten for television and stage. In the dark comedy a town is victimized by arsonists. Biedermann lets two stranger move into his attic, although they have oil drums. He even gives them matches. Frisch states the basic question: when the victims are accomplices to their own a disaster? Der Mensch erscheint im Holozän (1979) dealt with the last days of a retired engineer, Mr. Geiser, who thinks that there is "no knowledge without memory." Geiser embarks on a lonely fight against nature, time, and oblivion by starting to construct a pagoda of crispbread, and then a cathedral of knowledge. At the end there is nothing to say, the nature don't need the memories of Mr. Geiser.
to his political opinions, Frisch was under surveillance by the Swiss
secret service. In one of his late essayistic prose works, the
'Fragebogen' Frisch asked: "Are you sure you are really interested in
the preservation of the human race, once you and all the people you
know are no longer living." As an
Frisch dealt mostly Swiss matters but he also depicted such fellow
writers as Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brech, and Günter
Grass, and such politicians as Henry Kissinger, with whom he had a
lunch in the White House and who refused to speak German with him, and
Helmut Schmidt, with whom he made a trip to China.
In 1987, Frisch was invited to deliver a speech in the "Forum
for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons and the Survival of Mankind" in
Moscow; the congress was hosted byMikhail Gorbachev. After a period of withdrawal, he published Schweiz ohne Armee? Ein Palaver
(Switzerland without an Army? A Conversation); it became a bestseller.
This work, which contributed to the debate on the referendum of 1989
seeking to abolish the Swiss army, was written in the form of a
dialogue between an old man and his grandson. Its stage version, Jonas und sein Veteran (Jonas and His Veteran) was performed in the Zürich Schauspielhaus and in Lausanne.
Frisch divided his time in the 1980s between Switzerland and New York, from where he had bought an apartment. "I HATE IT / I LOVE IT / I HATE IT / I DON'T KNOW / I LOVE IT / etc." he said of the city in Entwürfe zu einem dritten Tagebuch (2010). Frisch's fashionable apartment in his home country sat high on a hill overlooking Lake Zürich in the suburb of Kusnacht. In 1986 he was awarded the Neustadt Literature Prize. Max Frisch died on April 4, 1991, in Zürich. He had suffered from cancer for several years.
For further reading: Max Frisch, Alfred Andersc : eine widersprüchliche Freundschaft by Angela Weber-Hohlfeldt (2016); A Companion to the Works of Max Frisch, edited by Olaf Berwald (2013); Kazuo Ishiguro and Max Frisch: Bending Facts in Unreliable and Unnatural Narration by Zuzana Fonioková (2015); Mysticism as Modernity: Nationalism and the Irrational in Hermann Hesse, Robert Musil and Max Frisch by William Crooke (2008); Play is Play by Peter Yang (2000); Max Frisch: Das Werk by Walter Schmitz (1985); Max Frisch: Das Spätwerk by Walter Schmitz (1985); Max Frisch by Alexander Stephan (1983); Max Frisch, ed. by G.P. Knapp (1979); The Novels of Max Frisch by M. Butler (1976); Max Frisch: das literarische Tagebuch by R. Kaiser (1975); Max Frisch: die Dramen by M. Jurgensen (1968); Max Frisch by E. Stäube (1967); Frisch und Dürrenmatt by H. Bänziger (1960)