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The centenary of Swiss writer Max Frisch

Max Frisch spent his entire life brooding. Whatever direction he took in life, he always questioned whether he had taken the right decision. He first studied literature but turned to journalism in 1933, only to start studying architecture three years later, successfully completing his course in 1941.


He began writing his first stories while he was still a student and later while working as an architect. In An Answer from the Silence, written in 1937, a young man, deliberating between a life as an artist and a conventional career, risks his life during a mountain hike. In the end, he arrives at the conviction that even the most tedious life is worth living – an interesting realisation that Max Frisch came to at the age of only 26.

From 'Who am I?' to 'Who could I be?'

The state of being emotionally torn is a topic that Frisch returned to in his well-known novels I'm Not Stiller and Homo Faber. In his later novel Gantenbein, he became interested in an entirely new question: What would it be like if, in addition to your real existence, you were to create another fictional one, or even several? By playing with different identities, Max Frisch takes an unsparing yet affectionate look at modern society, in which everyone tries to present themselves in the best possible light while other people see through their efforts but pretend they were none the wiser.

Max Frisch was not prepared to let people get away with this kind of hypocrisy, however, any more than he would tolerate it in himself. So he devised questionnaires – ten in total – dealing with the subjects of marriage, women, hope, humour, money, fatherhood, home, property, death and preservation of the human race. The 25 questions in each questionaire are directed at the reader him- or herself; some of them appear simple, while others are completely incomprehensible. 'Are you sure you are really interested in the preservation of the human race beyond your own lifetime and that of all the people you know?' is one of the questions. Logically, the next question is: 'State briefly why.'

A doubter

Max Frisch died in 1991, but the philosophical approach of his work makes it more relevant today than ever. It is also his profound sense of humour and his love for others, despite their failings, that make him a great writer.

Many of the questions Max Frisch asked are still relevant today and provide plenty of food for thought. If you would like to answer some of his questions in the Community and discuss them with other members of the CULTURE group discussion forum.


June 2011

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