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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 708

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Although the English word “sketchbook” in many ways describes the seemingly random and tentative jottings in these volumes, Max Frisch employed the German term Tagebuch, or diary, to hint at its spontaneous and private nature, with the further implication that he would discuss issues of the day, that is, contemporary political topics, social problems, and world events. In a preface to the first volume, Frisch insists that his authority to write such a book derives not from his person but from his qualification as a contemporary. Though a citizen of a neutral country spared the destruction of World War II, Frisch does not consider himself an isolationist, or even a Swiss nationalist, but a thoughtful, politically engaged citizen of Europe. Significantly, Frisch has published sketchbooks which encompass the two most challenging periods in the second half of the twentieth century. His first volume covers the period directly following World War II, when Europeans had a unique opportunity to confront the mistakes and crimes of their immediate past and, more important, to reconstruct Europe along new designs. The second volume covers the six years of political and social upheaval surrounding the conflict in Vietnam, the Israeli-Egyptian war, the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops, the imposition of a military dictatorship in Greece, as well as the attendant student revolts in Europe and the United States.

These so-called diaries are seldom presented in strict chronological order. In Sketchbook, 1946-1949, dated entries of his many travels are frequently interrupted for long stretches by essays, reports on the construction of an architectural project, discussions with acquaintances, or literary sketches. Nevertheless, the careful reader will discover that the various entries are grouped with subtlety to form distinct themes or situations. In the preface mentioned above, Frisch requests that his book, despite its fragmentary appearance, be read from beginning to end, thereby explicitly reinforcing its thematic nature. This composition is especially apparent in the second volume, where various and distinct typefaces illuminate categories of entries—some purportedly factual, as if taken directly from newspapers or wire services; some obviously literary fiction; and still others which seem distinctly personal. In their groupings, these entries contrast with or complement one another to present a multifaceted picture of a specific event, issue, or person.

Each volume is formally divided according to the years under consideration. Sketchbook, 1946-1949 contains a table of contents which lists each individual entry, ranging from frequent cafe visits in peaceful Zurich to Frisch’s European journeys to such war-ravaged cultural centers as Genoa, Milan, Florence, Prague, Vienna, Paris, Warsaw, Munich, Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Berlin, Hamburg, and Stuttgart. Important elements of the remainder of Sketchbook, 1946-1949 include his meetings with the dramatist Bertolt Brecht as well as Frisch’s work as architect and dramatist. The style is predominantly essayistic.

Sketchbook, 1946-1949 was originally published in 1950, three years after the initial appearance of his Tagebuch mit Marion (1947; diary with Marion) which was incorporated in the first part as the entries up to fall, 1947. The sections concerning Marion emphasize the importance of puppetry for Frisch; he sees this as the only form of modern theater which allows distance between the play and its audience, since in the puppet play there is no direct relation to real life; the play occurs beyond the bounds of reality. This encourages the viewer’s imagination and gives added emphasis to speech.

In the second sketchbook, representing the years from 1966 to 1971, his chosen topics range from those of world politics, such as the use or abuse of power, exploitation, political indoctrination or concealment, to the more mundane and personal, such as aging, marriage, or the enjoyment of life within a tedious daily routine. Especially noteworthy are such rhetorical devices as the “questionnaires” and “interrogations”—closely structured formats which attempt to involve the reader in specific topics, including love, death, humor, happiness, hope, marriage, friendship, home, money, possessions. Yet another thoughtful fiction is that of the “Voluntary Death Association” and its attempt to lower the earth’s population and median age by the voluntary suicide of its members over the age of sixty. Again, his numerous travels are interspersed with fictive fragments, while his style becomes increasingly notational, that is, composed of lists or of stories with individual sentences highlighted for effect.


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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 52

Butler, Michael. Frisch: Andorra, 1985.

Peterson, Carol. Max Frisch, 1987. Translated by Charlotte La Rue.

Publishers Weekly. “Max Frisch Wins Twenty-Five-Thousand-Dollar Neustadt Prize.” CCXIX (April 11, 1986), p. 23.

Steinmetz, Horst. “Frisch as a Diarist,” in Perspectives on Max Frisch, 1982. Edited by Gerhard F. Probst and Jay F. Bodine.

World Literature Today. LX (Autumn, 1986). Special Frisch issue.


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