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8 - “Writing in order to be a stranger to oneself”: Max Frisch's Stiller

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2013

Olaf Berwald
Affiliation:
Associate Professor of German and Chair of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures at the University of North Dakota
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Summary

Frisch's novel stiller (1954) begins with an exclamation: “Ich bin nicht Stiller!” (I'm not Stiller!) The novel's protagonist, Anatol Stiller, a Swiss sculptor who has taken on a new identity and moved to the United States and then to Mexico, returns to his home country and is arrested upon his arrival after an altercation with a Swiss border guard who questions the validity of his identification papers. The novel consists of two parts, a journal that Stiller writes in a series of notebooks while in pre-trial confinement, and an account in which the district attorney, who had become a friend of Stiller's, outlines Stiller's life after his release. Throughout Stiller's notebooks, the prisoner claims that his name is not Stiller, but James White, a position that he continues to insist on even when his wife confronts him. Like many of Frisch's works, the novel negotiates conflicts between subjective and external reality and questions the stability of selfhood. The notebooks display a clear structure. Segments on Stiller's wife Julika and on the district attorney Rolf and his wife Sibylle alternate with reflections, dialogues, and stories that Stiller/White invents for his prison guard in order to entertain him while at the same time revealing a lot of himself.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2013

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