Gunnar Gunnarsson and the Minotaur: Gunnar’s Faith, Part 2

Today, I’d like to welcome Friederich Dürrenmatt (1921-1990), Swiss playwright and crime novelist, especially the former. He and Gunnar should have been friends. They were both energetic writers, both pioneers of criminal novels, and actively wrestled over a long period with ideas of ethics, morality, judgement and faith.
durrenmattToday Dürrenmatt’s old villa above Lac Neuchatel has been turned (on his bequest and with his financing) into a museum of … not his great twentieth century plays or his semi-autobiographical detective novels but his paintings, drawings, etchings and, well, look …

P1230987

Could be cheerier, right? Well, his youth was spent in Switzerland during the Second World War, and just over the border things looked much like that, actually. Worse yet, when he was quite young, he was a member of the Frontier Club, a parallel movement to Nazism within Switzerland. He soon gave it up, but he carried the guilt forward for his whole life, and, as he put it, without a confessor but himself he had no way to expunge it. One of his most profound attempts was through the play The Minotaur. We know the story from Ancient Greece: a creature half-man and half-beast…

P1230850

is imprisoned in a maze …

P1230817

 

… the hero comes to slaughter him …

P1230793

… which makes him into a beast …

P1230809

 

… and the beast into … well, Switzerland portrayed as a Roman Amphitheatre in which lions are eating Christians and the whole works. Either that or sunning on the riviera at Montreaux.

 

P1230896

I made these images in 2010. When I was there in 2008, this amphitheatre was an image of the bankers of Zurich, being caught at a transaction they wanted to keep secret. The maze and amphitheatre was the frame of the image. In two short years, the curators came up with the improved version above. Here it is below (notice the maze of images that surround it. The whole building is the Minotaur’s lair.)P1230894

 

The thing about Dürrenmatt’s play is that he fills the stage with mirrors so that even the audience cannot tell which image before them is the minotaur and which is a reflection of it; one might want to slaughter it, but where does one strike? Perhaps the image slaughters the self. Dürrenmatt was concerned with issues like this. He took protestantism more seriously than protestantism. P1230755

 

His radio play “The Accident” is perhaps most indicative of his method. In it, a travelling salesman suffers a car breakdown in a remote mountain village, on his first day on the job. He is directed to a villa, where a retired judge from Zürich (a foil for Dürrenmatt) and his friends are having dinner. The judge agrees to put the salesman up for the night, in return for his participation in a gentlemanly game. The salesman naively agrees. The game is an interrogation, in which the judges (retired) get to ply their trade by interviewing their guest (the salesman), on the principle that everyone is guilty of something; one only needs to find out what it is, and then absolve the person through sentencing. Well, I won’t give away the plot, but suffice it to say that the salesman’s secret is found, judgement is passed and then trifled with, and ultimately the audience leaves the stage under judgement itself, to argue the nuances away within society, in the bars and night cafés of Zurich. Every one of Dürrenmatt’s plays is a trial. It is the audience that is put on trial. There is no absolution. It is all quite shocking and, for a non Christian, exquisitely Christian, but you see, Neuchatel, where Dürrenmatt lived, actually is home to the minotaur. Sure, the guy is Dürrenmatt, but he is also this (well, androgynous)  guy:

standing

 

We are looking to what is perhaps an 8,000 year old Stele, carved several thousand years later by the Celts (who are the Swiss). This story of a beast becoming a man, which is the human story, takes place in Neuchatel without a break. For Dürrenmatt, a quintessential Swiss, civilization is a process of taming, which sometimes is a process of caging, and when you do it to yourself… what then? Why, you deflect it upon your audience, and send them home to wrestle with the mystery that cannot be resolved. That, I offer, is Gunnar’s story. All that’s different is that he has come to the story before the Second World War, and Dürrenmatt came to it during it, and Gunnar came to it from Nordic prehistory, while Dürrenmatt came to it from Swiss prehistory. For both of them, protestantism was larger than the church. It was  kind of defiance in and of itself — and not necessarily of a negative kind.

Next: Gunnar’s Bind

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s