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Becoming Fiction

Reassessing Atheism in Dürrenmatt's «Stoffe»


Olivia Gabor-Peirce

Becoming Fiction: Reassessing Atheism in Dürrenmatt’s Stoffe sets forth a clarification of the importance of Friedrich Dürrenmatt, modern Swiss dramatist, essayist, novelist and self-proclaimed atheist (1921–1990), and offers new insights into the ways in which his father’s vocation as a Protestant minister, along with Dürrenmatt’s own decision as a young man to pursue a career in writing rather than religion, shaped his world view and, in particular, made necessary a final, desperate attempt to fictionally recast his own life through revisions and amplifications of many of his earlier works when he created his final prose volume, Stoffe. Dürrenmatt devoted immense energy in his writings to wrestling with his father’s God as a way of seeking self-identity. That perceived loss of his father’s esteem became the motor behind his works. After earlier successes, the icy reception of his most ambitious play, Der Mitmacher, in 1976, left the author in such a frustrated state of disappointment that he reached a point of linguistic breakdown. This book contends that Dürrenmatt’s loss of voice forced the author to a new kind of writing: a ‘re-turn’ home. Becoming Fiction explores the damage caused by Dürrenmatt’s inability to express his most central beliefs through the outdated, deceptive modes of linguistic thought and tradition. Consequently, the book argues, at the point of that breakdown of rigid linguistic and theological concepts, a space was forced open, and the Stoffe reveal a Divine presence.


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Chapter 1: Introduction: Searching for Home


· 1 · introduction Searching for Home Dichtung: das kann eine Atemwende bedeuten. Wer weiss, vielleicht legt Dichtung den Weg […] um einer solchen Atemwende willen zurück? Vielleicht gelingt es ihr […] hier, zwischen Fremd und Fremd zu unterscheiden, […] für diesen einmaligen kurzen Augenblick? Vielleicht wird hier, mit dem Ich – mit dem hier und solcherart freigesetzten befremdeten Ich, – vielleicht wird hier noch ein Anderes frei? —Paul Celan Der Meridian (225) EIN DRÖHNEN: es ist die Wahrheit selbst unter die Menschen getreten, mitten ins Metapherngestöber. —Paul Celan Atemwende (159) In his essay Zusammenhänge. Essay über Israel: Eine Konzeption (1976), the modern Swiss dramatist and novelist Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921–1990) described a pure form of communication that reveals an inexpressible sense of the presence of the divine. While flying above the desert on his way home from Israel (1974), Dürrenmatt recalled: “Der Gott der Wüste […] lässt sich nur erleben in der Erschütterung, so dass denn Glauben nicht in Für-wahr-Halten, sondern ein Erschüttertsein bedeutet, das durch nichts bewiesen werden kann 2 becoming fiction und das auch nicht bewiesen werden muss” (175).1 The author could not verbalize that unsettling experience. Though well known as a dramatist at that time, he realized that God needs nothing “Theatralisches” “weil, wer ist, keinen Schein braucht, um sein Sein zu beweisen” (14–15). Such comments reveal what Dürrenmatt understood already in the early 1970s: the divine does not follow manmade rules and does not need to prove its...

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