(From Vladimir Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading)
Max Frisch writes of imprisonment in his remarkable novel, I’m Not Stiller.
My cell – I have just measured it with my shoe which is a trifle less than twelve inches long – is small, like everything in this country, so clean one can hardly breathe for all the hygiene, and oppressive precisely because everything is just right. Frisch’s book focuses not so much on physical imprisonment as the meta:
How can anyone prove who they really are? I can’t. Do I know myself who I am? That is the terrifying discovery I have made while under arrest. I have no words for my reality. And the impossibility of understanding one another:
As soon as I feel that I am alone with a simple self-evident truth I lose sight of its self-evidence, blurring it with hasty similes that are supposed to help the other person understand me, but in reality only confuse what was originally a clear realization, and finally defending what I ruined with arguments that are sheer nonsense. This novel is akin to the loss of identity found in other great works, such as Vladimir Nabakov’s Invitation to a Beheading, Gunter Grass’ Tin Drum and the journeys of K throughout much of Franz Kafka’s work. Similarly the issue of identity is addressed much as it is in The Return of Martin Guerre and Luigi Pirandello’s The Late Mattia Pascal. Frisch is direct on this very issue throughout the narrative:
You can put anything into words, except your own life. It is this impossibility that condemns us to remain as our companions see us and mirror us, those who claim to know me, those who call themselves my friends, and never allow me to change simply so they can say” I know you.”