Sketchbook, 1946-1949/Sketchbook, 1966-1971 Critical Essays

Max Frisch


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

For many writers such as Max Frisch, the diary as literary form replaces the novel in an age when an omniscient narrator is suspect, if not ridiculous. Many critics consider Frisch’s Blatter aus dem Brotsack (1940; papers from my mess kit), his third work, to be a conventional diary, that is, an autobiographical account of his military service at the outset of World War II. With the revision and expansion of his Tagebuch mit Marion as the beginning of Sketchbook, 1946-1949, however, scholars have noted the development of a unique idea of the contemporary diary, a model Frisch has followed in subsequent works: In the traditional diary form, the reader receives the impression that he or she is reading something spontaneous and private, thus credible and true. Frisch plays on these traditional expectations, though he creates a structured work of art at once as fictional as the most imaginative novel. Thus, Frisch may give his reader the impression that these sketchbooks are, in fact, personal diaries. In reality, they are tightly structured works of literature, works of fiction, which have from the outset been composed with publication in mind.

As a professional architect during the 1940’s, Frisch simply had no time to write expansive works. The brief sketches, ideas, and literary fragments which characterize the first sketchbook are a symptom of this shortage of time, though the strict composition of the final version belies this casual tone. In a 1961 interview, Frisch drew the distinction between his private diaries and those written for publication, emphasizing three volumes to be considered under the latter category: Blatter aus dem Brotsack and the two sketchbooks. Moreover, he considered two of his novels, Stiller (1954; I’m Not Stiller, 1958) and Homo Faber (1957; Homo Faber: A Report, 1959), diaries. With this in mind, the scholar Horst Steinmetz has gone so far as to assert that indeed all Frisch’s works—be they...

(The entire section is 821 words.)