Ernst Peter Fischer on Max Delbruck: Literary Interests
  Ernst Peter Fischer     Biography    
Recorded: 23 Jun 2000

So Delbruck could always play a little trick like this on you. But with respect to his reading, I mean, as you may know he loved Samuel Beckett. And he was very happy to—when he heard that Samuel Beckett got the Nobel Prize with him, but then he was very disappointed because Beckett didn’t show up in Stockholm for the ceremony.

But Max told me later that he admired Beckett—shortly afterwards—because he had seen the telegram that Beckett had sent to Stockholm. And it said, “Dear Nobel Committee, Thank you for the prize. But I don’t come to the ceremony. Samuel Beckett”

He said, “You know, what’s important? Everybody I’ve asked would have said, “I don’t come because I am doing something—because I have an important date—no, Beckett said, “I don’t come, thank you very much.”

So this is courageous. You have to just say oh no, that’s it! But he loved reading Beckett and he actually has written a very nice essay called Homeo-scientificus according to Beckett because he thinks that in Beckett’s novels the scientific spirit that is innate in man is expressed in literary forms. And I think one should take a closer look at this because Max is right.

Actually he took he tried very hard to meet Beckett and he tried to find out if Becket agrees to his interpretation of his main characters and eventually he met it. He had a friend who had a friend who knew somebody that knew Beckett was doing his work when he was in Berlin, Max was in Berlin so they arranged. And eventually one day in the late 70s Max Delburuck and Samuel Beckett met in Berlin. And Max looked at—as he told me later on, I mean, I don’t know exactly what happened—but Max said he asked Beckett, “When you wrote Molloy. And you talk about the way he is handling the stones at the beach. Do you think about people doing science? Could this be the model for a scientific person? Becket looked at him and said NO. And that was it.

This is so to speak, the great _________, the letdown, so you think you understood what a great mind like Beckett has thought while he wrote this novel. And you ask him and he say’s No. Well.


He was always a literary person. He knew about all this—the developments in the arts and science and he knew it very well.

Ernst Peter Fischer, Professor of the History of Science at the University of Constance since 1994. He studied mathematics and physics in Cologne and biology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. He earned Ph.D. in biology and qualified as a professor in the history of science.

He has published biographies of Max Delbrück, Niels Bohr, Wolfgang Pauli and James D. Watson and received several awards for his scientific publications. Fischer is an author of such books as "Die andere Bildung", "Selling science - The history of Boehringer Mannheim" and "Das Genom" - an introduction into modern genome research.

He has been honoured with the Heinrich-Bechold-Medaille (1980), Preis der wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft Freiburg (1981); Lorenz-Oken-Medaille (2002), Treviranus-Medaille (2003) and Eduard-Rhein-Kulturpreis (2003).