The more technology develops, the more palpable the conflict between logic and faith becomes. Centuries ago people couldn’t explain to themselves phenomena, which to us now seem absolutely obvious. So they chose to believe – in faith, in miracles, in numerous Gods guiding and determining their lives. 14 years in the 21st century there is scarcely anything we still don’t have answers to. Excluding what happens after death or how exactly the universe was created, we more or less can find an answer to any sensible or stupid question we might have. It would seem then that faith in the supernatural, in something beyond reason and logic should be on its way to extinction. And yet that is not what popular culture shows us. Opposites tend to nurture each other – the more science and reason prevail in the battle of explaining the world, the more the supernatural insists on flourishing. At the end I wonder which one is better. For starters, living without the concepts of miracles and karma seems the healthier choice – for what you do is what you are going to get. And yet I can’t help but think that logic doesn’t necessarily make you happy. To quote an awesome show I just finished watching last week:
“If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward then, brother, that person is a piece of sh*t. And I’d like to get as many of them out in the open as possible. You gotta get together and tell yourself stories that violate every law of the universe just to get through the goddamn day? What’s that say about your reality?”
Homo Faber by the Swiss author Max Frisch explores the damaging conflict between rationality and irrationality. Walter Faber, a scientist working with turbines, is a creature of technology. He has spent his entire life living in and with the present – for him the future is a mere function of our choices today and of chances rather than of faith. Fascinated with machinery, Walter worships the idea of a robot. The robot can and will be a better version of the human being, stripped from unnecessary emotions and fallacies. Within reason and logic everything is and should be possible – beyond that a man is subjected to chance. Chance, though, cannot and should not be perceived as karma – it’s a simple fact for Walter that probability includes within itself the concept of improbability and that the improbable doesn’t in itself include the intervention of some higher and inexplicable power. It seems Walter Faber has found his safety net in technology – he has no other spiritual beliefs. No higher power is guiding him – beyond the world of science there is nothing that could possibly excite him.
Throughout the first part of the novel (that is before he meets fate) I often wondered whether I envy or I pity the protagonist. Deemed Homo Faber, he is one idea too wise, one idea too down to earth and one idea too cynical. Rejecting destiny or karma, Walter embraces the materialistic world until a chance occurrence (or fate) threatens to shatter his beliefs. The plot of the novel itself could hardly matter – midway throughout we are told explicitly what to expect. On a journey taken by a whim Walter meets and falls in love with a young girl – only to realize she is his daughter of which existence he never even suspected. The incest in itself is neglected and merely mentioned – what is more important remains the journey of a man, whose beliefs are scattered into pieces. Meeting the mother (and probably his only true love) Walter is awoken to the greatest difference between machinery and people. However much we might want to, we cannot control every single thing that happens to us. And sometimes irrationality and fate play a bigger role than we want to admit.
Walter (Homo) Faber was probably never meant to be a likable character. We recognize far too many of our contemporary traits in him. The pure obsession with logic and rationality has degraded the human being to a machinery that can be controlled and sometimes manipulated. And for the sake of argument, living within the recognizable and rational saves you from actually having to experience the world in its beautiful and strange weirdness:
…about technology (according to Hanna) as the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it. The technologist’s mania for putting the Creation to a use, because he can’t tolerate it as a partner, can’t do anything with it; technology as the knack of eliminating the world as resistance, for example, of diluting it by speed, so that we don’t have to experience it.
What Faber experiences at the end may be defined as a catharsis – and in the spirit of Greek drama he doesn’t have a lot of time to cherish the fruits of his discoveries. Nevertheless, Max Frisch poses the inevitable question – how far do we want to go with our admiration with technology – is there a boundary moment beyond which we cease to be amazed with the world and we stop being in love with life? A moment where we become so guided by reason and logic that we forfeit the opportunity to be surprised by a miracle?
‘You don’t treat life as form, but as a mere addition sum, hence you have no relationship to time, because you have no relationship to death.’ Life is form in time. Hanna admits that she can’t explain what she means. Life is not matter and cannot be mastered by technology. My mistake with Sabeth lay in repetition. I behaved as though age did not exist, and hence contrary to nature. We cannot do away with age by continuing to add up, by marrying our children.
Being alone is the only possible condition for me, since I don’t want to make a woman unhappy, and women have a tendency to become unhappy.
It is coldest just before sunrise.