Max (Rudolf) Frisch 1911–
Swiss dramatist, novelist, diarist, and journalist.
Frisch is considered among the most prominent contemporary writers of German literature. His work is influenced thematically and stylistically by the German Expressionists, particularly dramatist Bertolt Brecht. Like the Expressionists, Frisch informs his plays and his novels with disjointed time sequences and shifting senses of reality. In doing so, he examines the existentialist idea that the course of one's life depends upon personal decisions and actions. Frisch suggests that although each person has the potential to be unique, individual identity cannot be realized until one acts upon that potential. In lieu of personal identity, Frisch implies, individuals who fail to act are doomed to adopt the definitions placed upon them by society. In all his work Frisch emphasizes the importance of establishing identity and exerting will over fate. In his plays he also explores the issue of social responsibility by questioning the degree to which intervention is required to prevent totalitarianism.
Like his countryman, dramatist Friedrich Dürrenmatt, to whom he is often compared, Frisch interprets Swiss neutrality during World War II as a reluctance to take a moral stand. Many of his plays are attempts to explain why the Holocaust was not prevented and examine the feelings of guilt experienced by observers who might have intervened. A parable play, Biedermann und die Brandstifter (1958; The Firebugs), concerns a hypocritical industrialist who, feigning liberalism, allows two hoodlums to occupy his household. The pair proceed unhindered to burn down an entire town, even after they have stated their intent and stored fuel in the industrialist's attic. Similarly, another parable play, Andorra (1961), examines citizens of a fictional village who use their prejudices to justify a murder. Implicit in these as well as his other plays is the idea that the individual's acceptance of stereotypical, socially defined roles is the basic cause of modern corruption and alienation.
Frisch further develops this theme in his fiction. His most widely read novel, Stiller (1954; I'm Not Stiller), is the story of an unsuccessful sculptor who attempts to change the course of his life by adopting a new identity. Frisch's acclaimed novel Mein Name sei Gantenbein (1964; A Wilderness of Mirrors) also concerns a man who experiments with various identities but fails to express his true personality. In Blaubart (1982; Bluebeard), a falsely accused murderer grows to doubt his innocence and believe the prosecution's accusations. Michael Butler notes that in Bluebeard Frisch again reveals his "life-long obsession with the problem of identity and the fatal propensity of human beings to thrust crippling definitions on each other." Frisch offers little hope for improving the bleak situations he portrays. Some of his works, in fact, suggest an inclination toward human self-destruction. Frisch's play Die chinesesche Mauer: Eine Farce (1947; The Chinese Wall) and his novel Homo Faber (1957; Homo Faber: A Report) depict intellectuals unable to prevent disasters brought on by technological advancements.
Frisch's nonfiction is also considered important to his work as a whole. During the 1940s, when he interrupted his career as a writer to work as an architect, Frisch wrote several newspaper articles concerning urban planning. These are considered significant because they project his socialist views. Also of interest are Frisch's diaries, which include Tagebuch, 1946–1949 (1950; Sketchbook, 1946–1949) and Tagebuch, 1966–1971 (1972; Sketchbook, 1966–1971). These diaries reflect many of Frisch's literary themes and artistic ideals.
(See also CLC, Vols. 3, 9, 14, 18 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85-88.)