Max Frisch’s questionnaires

I’ve found a very useful piece of context for my questionnaire. It’s a book by the playwright Max Frisch called
'Sketchbook 1966-1971'. It features a series of questionnaires that pose some quite challenging questions. There are nine or ten of these questionnaires in the book and each one takes on a different theme. These questionnaires were quite highly acclaimed when the book was released. I can’t help but feel a lot of them are quite reductive though. A lot of it seems to be a Socratic form of argument with Frisch bullying people into sharing his beliefs.

Each questionnaire consists of twenty five questions. Here’s a sample of questions from the different questionnaires:

The human condition in general

  • Are you sure you are really interested in the preservation of the human race once you and all the people you know are no longer alive? State briefly why.
  • If you had the power to put into effect things you consider right, would you do so against the wishes of the majority (yes or no) Why not if you think they are right?
  • What in your opinion do others dislike about you, and what do you dislike about yourself? If not the same thing, which do you find it easier to excuse?

Marriage

  • What problems are solved by a happy marriage?
  • How long on average can you live with your partner without losing your self- integrity (meaning that you no longer venture even in secret to hold views that could shock your partner)?
  • What induced you to marry:
  1. a desire for security?
  2. a child?
  3. the social disadvantages of an irregular union, for example, difficulties in hotels, gossip or the tactlessness of others, complications with officials or neighbours?
  4. custom?
  5. simplification of household arrangements?
  6. consideration for your families?
  7. the experience that irregular unions can equally lead to habit, boredom, disenchantment etc?
  8. the prospect of an inheritance?
  9. a trust in miracles?
  10. the feeling that it is only a formality anyway?

Feminism

  • If with women you are always having the same experience, do you think this is due to the woman? That is to say, do you in consequence consider yourself a connoisseur of women?
  • Can you imagine a woman’s world?
  • Why must we not understand women?

Hope

  • How often must a particular hope (say, a political one) fail to materialise before you give it up, and can you do this without immediately forming another hope?
  • Assuming you cherish the ultimate hope (Brecht’s vision of man as man’s helper) and have friends who cannot share your hopes, does this diminish your friendship or your hopes?
  • When you regard a dead person, which of his hopes seem in vain to you, those he left unfulfilled?

Humour

  • What does humourous affinity demonstrate:
  1. similarity of intellect?
  2. that two or more people can be alike in their imagination?
  3. an identical sense of shame?
  • Why are revolutionaries so averse to humour?

Money

  • If you meet a man in swimming trunks about whom you know nothing, how is it that after a few words (not about money) you know he is a rich man?
  • What is the present cost of a pound of butter?
  • Are you frightened of the poor? Why not?

Friendship

  • Do you think one can measure the value of a friendship (even when broken) by its duration?
  • Which do you fear more, the judgement of a friend or the judgement of enemies?
  • Are you friends with yourself?

Home

  • Assume that you are an object of hatred at home. Can you deny that is nevertheless your home
  • Why are there no displaced right wing intellectuals?
  • To the extent that home is both in a social and a scenic sense, the place you were born and brought up, it is not interchangeable. Are you grateful for this?

Property

  • Can you remember from what age it seemed natural to you to possess something, alternatively not to possess it?
  • To whom, in your opinion (for instance) does the air belong?
  • Assume you have bought a plot of land: How long does it take for you to believe that the trees on this plot belong to you, that is to feel happy or at least confident that you have the right to have them cut down?

Death

  • Do you fear death and if so, at what age did you begin to fear it?
  • Would you rather die in full awareness, or be cut off suddenly by a falling brick, a heart attack, an explosion etc?
  • If you love someone, why do you not wish to be the one left behind, but prefer leaving the sorrow to your partner?

Too often I get the feeling that these questions were designed to make people feel cornered. I often find myself feeling that he restricts you to two options, neither of which help me to think about his subject or come close to expressing my real feelings about it. I find this irritating. With several of the questions I find myself asking ‘…and how is this massively presumptuous judgement relevant?’ He’d make an utterly appalling therapist.

On the upside of the questionnaires, I really like the way the questions are rooted in the minutiae of everyday life. That really forces me to question the smaller corners of my life. That is a good thing. I want to get people to do that. Some of my questions must be focused toward that end.

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