One has just been sent out as a biblical dove, has found nothing green, and slips back
into the darkness of the ark -- Kafka

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Max Frisch's "Montauk"

Rereading some books is like reading them for the first time. Anyway, I've abandoned Bishop's letters and Zbigniew Herbert's poetry (I'll be back) for a quick reread of the master. Montauk is not an easy book to find (I got it once from the library in Long Beach, and I have a good chunk of it in a Frisch reader), but an e-version was released on March 31. A short read. Already at about 40%.


Montauk is a story by Swiss writer Max Frisch. It first appeared in 1975 and takes an exceptional position in Frisch's work. While fictional stories previously served Frisch for exploring the possible behavior of his protagonists, in Montauk, he tells an authentic experience: a weekend which he spent with a young woman at the American East Coast. The short-run love affair is used by Frisch as a retrospective on his own biography. In line with Philip Roth he tells his "life as a man," relates to the women with whom he was associated, and the failure of their relationship. Further reflections apply to the author's age and his near-death and the mutual influence of life and work. Also, the story is about the emergence of Montauk: in contrast to his previous work Frisch describes his decision to document this weekend's direct experience without adding anything. Montauk met with strongly polarized reception. The former partners of Frisch faced by the open descriptions of their past were duped. Some readers were embarrassed by Frisch's self exposure. Other critics hailed the story as his most important work and praised the achievement to make a literary masterpiece of his own life. Marcel Reich-Ranicki adopted Montauk in his Canon of German literature.

Biographical Background

In April 1974 Frisch traveled to the United States, to receive honorary membership of the Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Institute of Arts and Letters. On this occasion, his American publisher Helen Wolff organized a book-signing tour for Frisch. She put to his side the young Alice Locke-Carey who in Montauk was named Lynn. Except this name changing the facts of Frisch's stay in America do concur.

Shortened only is the name of his friend of youth W., the art collector Werner Coninx, whose collection is now presented in -- Coninx Museum. Although the story largely discloses its autobiographical background claiming authenticity over fiction it stays open whether this story is a roman à clef. Some critics stressed that it would be a misunderstanding to read Montauk a kind of key narrative to understand his live and work. Some see the Max Frisch from Montauk, however, as an "art piece", whose desires finally did not produce sincerity but a beautiful story. From his secrets Frisch has disclosed nothing.

The question of truth and falsehood is made a subject of discussion in Montauk itself, as the story abruptly jumps from the He-I - Form: "He looks, to check whether his tenderness really refers to Lynn ... Or lie I here?" Elsewhere Frisch makes Lynn exclaim: "Max, you are a liar." Unlike in Montauk the real affair between Frisch and Locke-Carey Ahad an aftermath. After Frisch researched in vain at a following U.S. tour for that young woman, she herself called the author after the release of the American translation of "Montauk" in the summer of 1976. After the divorce of Frisch's second marriage in 1979 he met Locke-Carey again in May 1980. From that point on Frisch and Locke-Carey lived together a few years alternately in New York and Berzona.

[From Wikipedia:]

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