“Switzerland – A Prison?” Literary and Pictorial Reactions to the Swiss Narrowness

  • Maurizio Basili Università degli Studi di Roma Tor Vergata
Keywords: Swiss Literature, Schweizer Enge, Dürrenmatt, Swiss artists, Ucronia, Alternative History


The border is not just a line; it's a space which shows a sense of belonging to a community and to a region. Swiss borders appear extremely strict and insurmountable if we consider the essay by Friedrich Dürrenmatt Die Schweiz: ein Gefängnis (1990) in which he compares the small country to a prison: the Swiss themselves choose this detection because only in this prison they feel safe from outward aggression. Neutrality is a source of suffering and has an ambivalent connotation: it makes sure to be free from the worldwide conflicts but, at the same time, it makes prisoners because it limits the freedom to act. What emerges from the words of one of the most important Swiss writers of the twentieth century and from the most part of the Swiss intelligentsia is the indication of a deep identity crisis, a desire to escape the narrowness Paul Nizon wrote about in 1973 in his essay Diskurs in der Enge, in which he also implies a lack of freedom in Swiss Literature: in Swiss daily life nothing happens. The Swiss writer could describe his daily life, but he would be obvious, meaningless or simply boring. Narrowness is therefore the main precondition for a Swiss artist and it causes the escape. Escape and isolation are recurring themes in the art of painting (for example in the works of Giacometti and Meret Oppenheim) too.


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Author Biography

Maurizio Basili, Università degli Studi di Roma Tor Vergata

è cultore della materia (Letteratura Tedesca) presso l'Università degli Studi di Roma Tor Vergata. Si occupa di letteratura svizzera in lingua tedesca, francese e italiana. Ha pubblicato una monografia sullo scrittore elvetico Thomas Hürlimann dal titolo Thomas Hürlimann drammaturgo, narratore e saggista e articoli su Robert Walser, Alberto Moravia e sul romanzo dell'extrême contemporain.


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How to Cite
Basili, M. (2011). “Switzerland – A Prison?” Literary and Pictorial Reactions to the Swiss Narrowness. Between, 1(1). https://doi.org/10.13125/2039-6597/110
Writing and Visions: Threshold Crossings