Academic journal article German Quarterly

Understanding Durrenmatt

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Understanding Durrenmatt

Article excerpt

Crockett, Roger A Understanding Durrenmatt. Columbia: U of South Carolina P 1998. 220 pp. $29.95 hardcover.

Crockett's book appears in the series "Understanding Modern European and Latin American Literature," which is intended to provide introductions or guides for undergraduate and graduate students as well as for non-academic readers. Appearing eight years after Durrenmatt's death, Crockett's introduction to the life and complete work of the author is a welcome addition to previous English introductions by Peppard (1969), Arnold (1972), Tiusanen (1977), and Whitton (1980, 1990), all of which still offer useful interpretations, but are, of course, incomplete and outdated. Moreover, while Peppard and Arnold organize their analyses more by genre than by chronology, and Whitton treats the plays chronologically ( 1980) and separately from the prose works and essays (1990), Crockett, like Tiusanen, skillfully blends chronological, generic, and thematic approaches with Durrenmatt's life and work.

Like Tiusanen, Crockett seeks to demonstrate that there is not just one, but rather "a host of Durrenmatts" (193), who differ from work to work as well as from genre to genre or version to version, and whose characters often engage in role-playing in games that often turn deadly, because the stakes in choice, responsibility, and justice are so high (ix-x). Among these variables, however, are certain constants that Crockett identifies as "a strong distrust of political ideologies and organized religions, love of the grotesque, loathing of critics, Helvetian satire, and general non-conformity in the realm of theater practice, exemplified by a blurring of the traditional distinction between tragedy and comedy" (193). Crockett sees Durrenmatt as a skeptic and pessimist, who portrays a corrupt world, "where the best that individuals can do is to survive and find personal consolation in small, individual acts" (193), and who allows only "rare moment[s] of grace" in his works, as a result of unconditional love or friendship (194).

In an interview (1976) Durrenmatt told Heinz Ludwig Arnold that literature should "not give comfort," but rather "only disquiet" (53); indeed, Der unbequeme Durrenmatt, the title of a collection of essays published in 1962, remains the best succinct characterization of this author, whose anti-bourgeois, anti-capitalist (but also anti-Communist), and especially anti-Christian stance many American readers or theater audiences would find disturbing, if not objectionable. …

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