In 1981 Max Frisch gave two poetry lectures that were published in 2008 under the title “Schwarzes Quadrat” by Suhrkamp. Reading this booklet moved me greatly – and reminded me of the claims of the Karlshochschule.
In our lecture “Introduction to Scientific Research Methods”, we try to develop a perspective of economic and entrepreneurial trades with the students, that goes beyond monocausal explanations, mechanistic laws and trivial model formations. We are concerned about sense, about meaning, about understanding.
"What is important is what cannot be said, the white space between the words. The words themselves always express the incidentals, which is not what we really mean. What we are really concerned with can only, at best, be written about, and that means, quite literally, we write around it. We encompass it. We make statements which never contain the whole true experience: that cannot be described. All the statements can do is to encircle it, as tightly and closely as possible: the true, the inexpressible experience emerges at best as the tension between these statements.
What we are presumably striving to do is to state everything that is capable of expression. Language is like a chisel, which pares away all that is not a mystery, and everything said implies a taking away. We should not be deterred by the fact that everything, once it is put into words, has an element of blankness in it. What one says is not life itself; yet we say it in the interests of life. Like the sculptor plying his chisel, language works by bringing the area of blankness in the things that can be said as close as possible to the central mystery, the living element. There is always the danger that in doing so one might destroy the mystery, just as there is the danger that one might leave off too soon, might leave it as an unshaped block, might not locate the mystery, grasp it, and free it from all the things that could still be said; in other words, that one might not get through to its final surface.
This surface at which all that it is possible to express becomes one with the mystery itself has no substance; it exists only in the mind and not in nature, where there is also no dividing line between mountain and sky. Is it perhaps what one means by form, a kind of sounding barrier?" (Max Frisch, Lecture at CCNY, November 1981)
In his second poetry lecture at City College of New York on November 4, 1981, Max Frisch tells an anecdote of a Swiss ambassador in Leningrad:
“As an Ambassador, who had just signed a trade agreement with the Soviet Union, he allowed himself a wish. He wanted to see the art known to be hidden in the hermitage, which is not shown to the public. Work of the old Russian avantgarde. A functionary, a woman who is a connaisseur, showed him this and that. His last wish the Black Quadrangle by Malewitsch. Why is that? Because it exists, said the ambassador. And it’s here at the hermitage. But they didn’t want to fetch it out of the cellar. The Black Quadrangle.
Everybody knows. No secret. Finally the ambassador was allowed to look at it for a couple of minutes. A Black Quadrat. And the two of them stood, thrilled, before Malewitsch. But I understand, the ambassador said, I understand this wouldn’t mean a thing to the Soviet people. Just as it wouldn’t mean anything to the Swiss. A quadrangle, and black, and nothing else. Why don’t you go and hang it right next to the painters of social realism, in which the Soviet people recognize themselves at work for the society. And people would see Malewitsch. Nonsense. The lady listened. Seriously, said the ambassador. You don’t have to hide Malewitsch in the cellar. Nobody would look at it. The lady laughed. You are wrong. People won’t understand the point of the Black Quadrangle. But they would see that there is something else existing besides the society and the state.
THAT SOMETHING ELSE EXISTS.
That is the irritant.” (Max Frisch, Lecture at CCNY, November 1981)
A heartfelt welcome to the website of Karlshochschule.
Prof. Dr. Michael Zerr