From a Paris Review interview with Max Frisch, author of I’m Not Stiller:
INTERVIEWER: Many of your heroes after I’m Not Stiller are technocrats, or men who are not self-reflective, who give a very flat testimony of their lives.
FRISCH: Yes, that’s especially the case with Homo Faber. That was the point, that a man is giving an interpretation that is flat, flatter than life is. Walter denies he has experiences because he’s very helpless in expressing his emotions. So he describes himself as flatly as possible. He has the arrogance to say nothing. He realizes too late that he was engaged emotionally in many, many things. I think Stiller is much more telling about his feelings.
INTERVIEWER: In Bluebeard, too, Herr Schaad says, “What helps is billiards.” He never says, “I’m suffering.”
FRISCH: That’s perfectly true. Actually, it has to do with my own personality, probably. I have very strong feelings but I don’t like to describe them. There are other ways to show them—body language, or silence—that can be very strong. And maybe, too, one has a distrust of words; one fears that they won’t be interpreted correctly. It’s very difficult to describe a feeling and not to lie a little bit, to put it on a higher level or to blind yourself. So I don’t trust myself to describe my feelings, but I like to show them by a piece of art. And as a reader I’m the same, I don’t like it if the author tells me what I have to feel. He has to urge the reader to get a feeling of shame or of hope. So there’s a lot of feeling, there’s a lot of emotion, but . . . not expressed in words.
INTERVIEWER: In that sense your writing hasn’t been given over to the prevalent mode of confessional writing, the writing of what one might call “psychoanalytic culture.”
FRISCH: Yes, I hate that in literature. I have a good friend who is excellent at that, but I always feel as if I’m sitting in a therapy session with him.
INTERVIEWER: When did you first decide to create the flat, cold, “affectless” hero we have been discussing?
FRISCH: Hard to know. I think I made it not all at once, but slowly; gradually it felt more and more comfortable. Just now I think—I don’t know if it’s right or wrong—that if you describe emotions, or the hero describes his emotions, as in the work of Dostoyevsky, for instance, or Melville, or other great writers, the danger that you will fall into the conventional is very great. It was Goethe who told us how we feel if we are in love with a girl—there are forms for that. But suppose you try to establish a situation, a movement, to show gestures and faces, and not talk about it. This is closer to film than old literature was. We have learned a lot from movies about what can be expressed without words. I would be proud or happy if a reader could feel the essential situation of, say, the man in Man in the Holocene, to feel how it is to be wet in your pants, how it’s getting colder, the feeling of growing tired, of melancholy or despair. That you get without using all those words. That you feel sensually and see with your eyes. I want to give that, or I try, anyway.
INTERVIEWER: By creating these flat characters you’re also giving them the freedom to express themselves metaphorically, through objects. “What helps is billiards,” to come back to that phrase.
FRISCH: That’s right. If Herr Schaad would write a letter to a friend, “Now I am free, I can do what I want and I’m perfectly depressed, I’m desperate, and I’m poor,” I’d say, “Well, come on over, have a drink.” But if all he says is “The only thing that helps is billiards”—that’s desperation. If a friend phoned me and said something like that I’d say, “I have to go, I have to have a look at him.”