Walter, Homo Faber by Max Frisch
Escher Wyss Areal, 18:00, 8th of April 2018
I’m walking around the Escher Wyss Areal that now looks completely different from when I was a child. And it must look totally different from when Walter worked here. When he was young man, right after his studies at the ETH, he was starting to work for the Escher Wyss company, which exported its machines and so concurred the world. I sat down, looking at the old Escher Wyss building, at the pale yellow brick facade and I thought about Walter:
He is a tall and slender man. He wears a greyish suit and with a red tie in which he looks quite fashionable however it’s not his decision to wear that suit. He just wears it because it’s à la mode in his circles and by the way he has also the money to be able to afford it. On his wrist a watch, a quite expensive watch. A watch which not only tells time but also the date. He is always on time, nearly always.
He has a prominent face, marked with wrinkles that he got while working late hours and traveling all over the world. He has a stressful lifestyle and like every man in his age and time he smokes to ease the pain.
His angular and masculine face is covered by a sun hat. Underneath his large hat one can see his pale and freshly shaved face. He likes it shaved. It makes him feel secure. On his nose he wears horn-rimmed glasses. The glasses are only one of his many tools that he uses to perceive and exert a view on his surrounding; on other people or on nature. Furthermore he uses his camera to capture and his hermes baby writing machine to summarise otherwise transitory moments and make them, against their nature, persistent.
Faber can be translated form the latin word “faber” and means smith or maker. He defines himself through his job. Walter is a technician, an engineer that is used to seeing things like they are, he says. He says a lot about his work. For him work is very important and he often idealises it. Walter equates his work often with strength and masculinity to also sometimes cover his own deficiencies. He praises the robot as a calculated and callous form of ”being”, which is solely focused on working efficiently. Although he supports and often lives a very solitary lifestyle, focused on working and devoted to seeing things rationally, after all doesn’t like being alone. That’s one of his main desires. He can be narrow minded and cold, rejecting social encounters and preferring to stay alone. Ivy, his girlfriend describes him as a brute.
His work influences the way he acts and thinks. Based on a modern ideology of growth, efficiency and development, he travels around the world for the UNESCO to help less developed regions to grow, to industrialise. He does that with the help of the latest technology; Walter travels in airplanes and exports turbine engines so that remote people can have electricity. If he is surrounded by modern machinery, electricity and modern gadgets that help to control his nature and the one surrounding him, he feels secure. Exposed to it, he feels insecure and often disgusted by it.
In his life the relation to nature is a central theme. Let’s say that nature is every phenomenon that exists, be it organic or inorganic, that develops itself without the influence or without the conscious control of a human being. So every natural phenomenon, from an accidental occurrence to his own sweat makes Walter feel insecure, sometimes even loose his rationality and his coolness.
Whereas at the beginning he tries everything possible to control his and the nature surrounding him, at the end of his life has to give give in, like in every tragedy, to his own faith his own nature, realising that his life will eventually be transitory. Walter Faber transforms and deforms himself throughout his life, every time that he comes in contact with the love of his life Hanna or their daughter Elisabeth. They seem to be the complete opposite of him. He rejects everything that is connected to nature or art, which can not be explained by reasoning. He is provoked by the statement of Sabeth, that a human being is not a machine: That moment marks the point where Walter shows his ambiguity and succumbs to the influence of Sabeth. He starts to appear more human and shows interests in nature and art; especially in other people and cultures.
We have to be aware that we know Walter through a report he wrote to justify and defend himself, stating his responsibility for the death of his daughter. At first he wants to appear strong and rational but fails to explain rationally why everything happened, why he fell in love with his own daughter and why she died.
Throughout the book Walter Faber gives away his professional responsibilities and takes, for the first time in his life, social responsibilities. We see that Walter is not a machine, he is more human than we thought. And at the end he has to give in to his own nature; he has a gastric cancer and he dies.