Tonight, thanks to my automatic lottery robot which procured free tickets, I went to see Max Frisch's Stiller in a production at the Basle theatre. Stiller was first published in 1954 as a pretty fat (440 pages) novel, so this 50th anniversary is a good reason for producing it on stage. And the house was practically sold, which is not really surprising since the novel has basically become staple diet of German literature classes at high school level. Thus, many people do have a personal connection to Stiller - not least myself: I did my German orals in it.

Nonetheless, asked yesterday, I couldn't remember what it was all about! But when I saw the play unfold today, it came back very quickly. Just to summarise: A man entering Switzerland is arrested because he is identified as the missing Anatol Stiller, which he denies vehemently. Prosecutor, defense attorney, ex-wife and ex-lover all try to convince him to basically admit to his identity. Eventually the court states that he is in fact Stiller.

From this, it is a safe bet that a lot of existentialist philosophy is put into action here. And this transported me back to my high school days when I was a sucker for that kind of thing. I don't think I ever really understood it, though - it was just fashionable at the time. By now, Kierkegaard is a very powerful soporific for me. You see, I am much more interested in the tragic art of Friedrich Dürrenmatt.

Actually, not too long ago, I've seen the abstract of an essay positing that as a function of age, it's typical to progress from existentialist Frisch, who also goes in and out of fashion, to tragic & stable Dürrenmatt. My case would certainly confirm that. Unfortunately I cannot find the reference to that article now - your help is highly appreciated!

Anyway, it was good to revisit old times, and the on stage production of the novel is certainly very authentic. My next visit to the theatre however will be for even older times: Les Paladins by Jean-Philippe Rameau. From existentialism to tragedy to baroque opera - talk about regression, eh.

Exceptionally, soundtrack of the post: Elgar's Enigma Variations.

P.S. If someone has been to an earlier performance or is going to a later one, could they please confirm whether the national existentialism implicit in sawing a Swiss cross into the stage design is recurring or work in progress? Thanks!

P.P.S. Here is a rather enlightening article (in German) on the genesis of Stiller - enlightening in many respects.

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