Max Frisch


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Swiss playwright and novelist. He was appointed Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1985.

Born in Zürich, Frisch studied architecture and practised as an architect for a number of years before deciding in 1954 to devote himself full-time to his literary work. He wrote two novels and one successful play and published the first volume of his continuing literary diary before producing his first characteristic play, Die chinesische Mauer (1947; translated as The Chinese Wall, 1961). Showing the influence of Brecht, the play attacks totalitarian politics in the intellectual hero's attempt to demonstrate, to an uncomprehending audience, man's irrational pursuit of power. Only the emperor of China understands his argument – and makes him his court jester. Graf Öderland (1951; translated as Count Oederland, 1962) examines the ironic result of the protagonist's wish to break out of the deadening round of his life to some form of individual freedom.

Frisch's international fame rests on his next two plays: Biedermann und die Brandstifter (1958; translated as The Fire Raisers or Biedermann and the Firebugs, 1962), in which the threat posed by the fire-raisers goes unchecked because of a complacent failure to confront it; and Andorra (1961; translated 1962), which again deals with the failure to confront a reality, in this case antisemitism. In both plays Frisch's concern is not unlike Brecht's: the powerful illusions or images of language (or art) distance or distort reality or create a complacency that corrupts and prevents action. Autobiographical elements and a concern with the idea of personal identity form a major part of Frisch's work, as in his best-known novel Stiller (1954; translated as I'm Not Stiller, 1958) – in which the protagonist, against all the evidence from his past, insists that he is not the person he is said to be – and also in Biographie (1967) and Montauk (1975). Among Frisch's other works are Homo Faber (1957), Mein Name sei Gantenbein (1964; translated as A Wilderness of Mirrors, 1965), Der Mensch erscheint im Holozän (1979; translated as Man in the Holocene), and Blaubert, eine Erzählung (1982). Some of his important diaries have been translated as Sketchbook (1974).

Subjects: Literature.

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