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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 Becoming Fiction explores the damage caused by Dürrenmatt’s inability to express his most central beliefs through the outdated, deceptive modes of linguistic thought and tradition.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 4: Labyrinth Turmbau. Stoffe I–IX


· 4 · labyrinth turmbau. stoffe i–ix · 4.1 · der winterkrieg in tibet Der Winterkrieg in Tibet ist […] nicht ein Modell des Zweiten Weltkrieges, auch wenn er sich nach dem Dritten Welkrieg abspielt, sondern ein Gleichnis dessen, was ich in ihm sah, und was sich ankündigte, der Ausgangspunkt einer innerli- chen Rebellion gegen eine falsche Welt. —Dürrenmatt Winterkrieg in Tibet (193) When they are induced, past impressions that have settled deeply into the subconscious can return as vivid emotions. Locating these past impressions and bringing them to life was Dürrenmatt’s main motive for writing the Stoffe. However, past impressions return as filtered memories that have fused with years of experiences. Though Dürrenmatt’s attempt was to return home to relive the moments, and ultimately to overcome the pain, the outcome was inev- itably different from the objective. The narrator of the Stoffe discloses from the onset that this undertaking was about his attempt, “sein eigenes Leben zu beschreiben” (Winterkrieg 11), yet he also understood that this was impossible: “Ich halte das Unterfangen für unmöglich, wenn auch für verständlich” (11). So begins Winterkrieg in Tibet, the first chapter in the Stoffe collection. The narrator sets the stage by stating that it is important “Bilanz zu ziehen” (11) and, although he warns the reader that it is impossible to do so, states that he will attempt it. He assures the reader that he will try to return home 90 becoming fiction not by recounting a history of...

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