Now They Sing Again: Attempt of a Requiem (Nun Singen Sie Wieder: Versuch Eines Requiems)

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NOW THEY SING AGAIN: ATTEMPT OF A REQUIEM (Nun singen sie wieder: Versuch eines Requiems)

Play by Max Frisch, 1972

The surrealistic play Now They Sing Again by Max Frisch was finished in January 1945 and premiered at the Schauspielhaus in Zurich in March of the same year. The play's title derives from the recurring leitmotiv of a song that is sung by 21 killed hostages whenever an injustice is committed. The first four parts of the requiem deal with the inhumanity of the war, in which there is no victor. The last three parts depict the attempt and inability of the dead to communicate their newly gained truth to the living, leaving the audience with a feeling of sadness that derives from the senselessness of killing.

The play reveals the futility of humanistic endeavors. Herbert, one of the protagonists, is a cynical German officer who orders the shooting of the hostages, not because he did not receive a humanistic education but because he only learned the classical form without internalizing the humanistic message. He does not believe in the world of Platonic ideals but in reality, which for him is a valueless abyss, the Nothing. As he faces his former professor, whom he ordered to be shot, he asserts that all humanistic values, as taught in school, are lies. Otherwise, why would his best pupil order his old teacher to be executed? The right to live and the dignity of the individual have no value for Herbert. Frisch addresses here a question that baffled many people after 1945: How was it possible that a cultured nation such as Germany could commit such atrocities? Although Frisch does not directly refer to the Holocaust in the requiem, he does point out the flaw in a humanistic education, which equates aesthetics and ethics.

Frisch also addresses the question of personal and collective guilt. The play indicates a few times that flight is taken into collective guilt; the responsibility for the committed atrocities does not rest with the individual but with the superiors who gave the orders. Obedience was an existential question because noncompliance with an order meant certain death. This is shown clearly in the fate of the soldier Karl, who defies the order to execute hostages. Karl asks his father the question haunting him: Who is guilty in the killing of innocent women and children? His father's reply is that this was not his fault because his superiors had ordered it. Karl, however, does not accept this "flight into obedience." His conscience tells him that responsibility cannot be passed on; it rests with the individual.

The question of guilt and individual responsibility is a recurring theme in the postwar Trümmerliteratur , literally "the literature of the rubbles," referring to material possessions as well as the spirit. This was first taken up by Wolfgang Borchert in his Man Outside (1947), then in the short stories by Heinrich Böll. Frisch, despite the nihilistic tone of his requiem, suggests that men and women have the freedom to refuse an order to murder innocent people, even if it means that one pays for this heroic deed with one's own life.

—Gerd K. Schneider

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Now They Sing Again: Attempt of a Requiem (Nun Singen Sie Wieder: Versuch Eines Requiems)

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