Max Frisch (May 15, 1911 – April 4, 1991), was a Swiss architect, playwright and novelist, one of the most representative writers of the German literature after World War II. In his creative works Frisch paid particular attention to issues relating to problems of personal identity, morality and political commitment. His use of irony is a significant feature of his post-war publications.
Max Frisch was born in 1911 in Zurich; his father was an architect. He enrolled at the University of Zurich in 1930 and began studying German literature, but had to abandon due to financial problems after the death of his father in 1932. Instead, he started working as a journalist and columnist for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), one of the major newspapers in Switzerland. With the NZZ he would entertain a lifelong ambivalent love-hate relationship, for his own views were in stark contrast to the conservative views promulgated by this newspaper. In 1933 he travelled through eastern and south-eastern Europe, and in 1935 he visited Germany for the first time.
From 1936 to 1941 he studied architecture at the ETH Zurich. His first and still best-known project was in 1942, when he won the invitation of tenders for the construction of a public swimming bath right in the middle of Zurich (the Letzigraben).
In 1947, he met Bertolt Brecht in Zurich. In 1951, he got a grant of the Rockefeller Trust and spent one year in the U.S.. After 1955 he worked exclusively as a freelance writer. His experience of postwar Europe is vividly described in his Tagebuch 1946-1949, that includes the first sketches for later fictional works.
During the 1950s and 1960s Frisch created some outstanding novels that explored problems of alienation and identity in modern societies. These are I'm Not Stiller (1954), Homo Faber (1957) and Wilderness of Mirrors/Gantenbein (1964). In addition, he wrote some highly intelligent political dramas, such as Andorra and The Fireraisers. He continued to publish extracts from his diaries. These included fragments from contemporary media reports, and paradoxical questionnaires, as well as personal reflections and reportage.
Max Frisch died of cancer on April 4, 1991 in Zurich. Together with Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Max Frisch is considered one of the most influential Swiss writers of the 20th century. He had been awarded honorary doctoral degrees of the Philipps University in Marburg, Germany, in 1962, Bard College (1980), the City University of New York (1982), the University of Birmingham (1984), and the TU Berlin (1987). He also won many important German literature prizes: the Georg-Büchner-Preis in 1958, the Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels in 1976, and the Heinrich-Heine-Preis in 1989.
Some of the major themes in his work are the search or loss of one's identity; guilt and innocence (the spiritual crisis of the modern world after Nietzsche proclaimed that "God is dead"); technological omnipotence (the human belief that everything was possible and technology allowed humans to control everything) versus fate (especially in Homo faber); and also Switzerland's idealized self-image as a tolerant democracy based on consensus, critizising it as illusion and portraying people (and especially the Swiss) as being scared by their own liberty and being preoccupied mainly with controlling every part of their life.
Max Frisch has always been a political man, and many of his works make reference to (or, as in Jonas und sein Veteran, are centered around) political issues of the time.
List of works
- Stiller (1954, I'm Not Stiller)
- Homo faber (1957)
- Mein Name sei Gantenbein (1964, A Wilderness of Mirrors)
- Erinnerungen an Brecht (1968)
- Dienstbüchlein (1974)
- Montauk (1975)
- Tryptichon. Drei szenische Bilder (1978)
- Der Mensch erscheint im Holozän (1979, Man in the Holocene )
- Blaubart (1982, Bluebeard )
- Blätter aus dem Brotsack (1939)
- Tagebuch 1946-1949 (1950)
- Tagebuch 1966-1971 (1972)
- Nun singen sie wieder (1945)
- Santa Cruz (1947)
- Die Chinesische Mauer (1947, The Chinese Wall)
- Als der Krieg zu Ende war (1949, When the War Was Over)
- Graf Öderland (1951)
- Biedermann und die Brandstifter (1953), The Firebugs (US)/The Fire Raisers (UK)
- Don Juan oder Die Liebe zur Geometrie (1953)
- Andorra (1961)
- Biografie (1967)
- Jonas und sein Veteran (1989)
- Butler, Michael (1976) The Novels of Max Frisch (London)
- Butler, Michael (1985) The Plays of Max Frisch (London)
- Butler, Michael (1994) Andorra, Grant and Cutler Study Guide, 2nd edition, London
- Kieser, Rolf, ed. (1989) Max Frisch: Novels, Plays, Essays, The German Library Series, Continuum, New York