Critical Context

Homo Faber was published at the end of the first decade of the East-West nuclear confrontation, when the possibility that the ingenious inventions wrought by the human race could be used to destroy their creators became an urgent concern. Some scientists were cautioning against the divorce of technological sophistication from ethical deliberations, and the English physicist and novelist C.P. Snow was bemoaning the development of “two cultures,” the fact that scientists and humanists had become unintelligible to each other.

From the time he earned his degree from the Technical University of Zurich in 1941 until literary success freed him to concentrate on his writing in 1954, Max Frisch was an architect, a profession which links art to technology. He has, along with Friedrich Durrenmatt, become one of the two most widely respected contemporary Swiss authors, and he has attracted more scholarly attention than has any other author writing in German since World War II.

Like Homo Faber, many of Frisch’s most highly regarded works—the novels Stiller (1954; I’m Not Stiller, 1958), Mein Name sei Gantenbein (1964; A Wilderness of Mirrors, 1965), and Der Mensch erscheint im Holozan (1979; Man in the Holocene, 1980), and plays such as Andorra (1961; English translation, 1964) and Biedermann und die Brandstifter (1958; The Firebugs, 1963)—concentrate on a solitary man confronting the marginality of his individual existence. Perhaps this theme is a product of the author’s vantage point in Switzerland, a fragmented society peripheral to the centers of contemporary cultural power. Yet Frisch’s fictions have successfully embodied the anxieties of many who have had to learn to live in postindustrial society and cope with the ambiguous benefits of a triumphant civilization.