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The absolute at large by Karel Čapek
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The absolute at large (original 1922; edition 1922)

by Karel Čapek

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121499,547 (3.79)1 / 10
Member:DieFledermaus
Title:The absolute at large
Authors:Karel Čapek
Info:Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, c2005.
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:Czech, 20th Century, Sci Fi

Work details

The Absolute at Large by Karel Čapek (1922)

  1. 00
    The Futurological Congress by Stanisław Lem (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Central European authors imagine science fiction scenarios involving mass-induced transcendental experiences
  2. 00
    The Place of the Lion by Charles Williams (bertilak)
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FINAL REVIEW

“Everyone has the best of feelings towards mankind in general, but not towards the individual man. We'll kill men, but we want to save mankind. And that isn't right, your Reverence. The world will be an evil place as long as people don't believe in other people.”
― Karel Čapek, The Absolute at Large

As the Robots take over the world in Karel Čapek’s R.U.R., so the Absolute, that is, the God of Spinoza, the God imminent in all of nature, escapes and explodes from entrapment in gross material form by means of a newfangled invention, the Karburator, to take over the minds of all the humans on the face of the earth.

Where will this God-infused human experience lead? As a way of answering this question, below are a number of the novel’s philosophical moments. And please keep in mind Karel Čapek’s stance of acceptance and pluralism, a recognition that each person has their own version of the truth, however slight that truth might be, and no one person possesses, however air-tight their logic might appear, access to the whole truth.

The owner of a kid’s merry-go-round, a man by the name of Jan Binder, is overtaken by the effects of the Kaburator and founds his own mystical sect. I have a strong sense the author was thinking of another Jan, Czech mystic Jan Hus who rebelled against the Church one hundred years prior to Martin Luther and was subsequently burned at the stake for heresy. There’s also a Mr. Rejeck, whose beliefs and revelations echo 14th century Flemish mystic Jan van Ruusbroec. All in all, Karel Čapek doesn’t overlook many opportunities to portray the dire consequences of people and society lacking a grounding in mutual respect and tolerance.

All varieties of religious phenomenon bursts out: illumination, miracles, levitations, and above all, religious faith. As history has proven, especially during those times of strong religious belief such as the Protestant Reformation in Europe during the 16th century, bloodshed is all too common. But, since this novel takes place in the 20th century, religious belief is linked in subtle and not so subtle ways to Fascism and Communism. At one point, one of the main characters refers to “mystical Communism.”

In one chapter, a scholar links the Karburator’s influence to various religious phenomenon throughout history: animism, shamanism, the 16th century Anabaptists, superstition, witchcraft, occultism, mysticism and necromancy, the medieval Flagellants, the Crusaders and Millenarians. Thus, devastating violence is inevitable since it is one thing to have your own religious experience but when you try to force your beliefs on others – watch out! Put another way, if everybody is certain they have exclusive access to the absolute truth . . . well, is it any wonder this Karel Čapek features world-wide war. This short sci fi novel is a lively read and one I would highly recommend.
( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
In The Absolute at Large, a machine releases an invisible, spiritual power as a byproduct, leading to religious frenzy and global war, but somehow Čapek maintains a frenetic, comic tone as well as a loose, almost metafictional structure. He sometimes narrates the battles with a succinct journalist’s eye, then moves on to a chapter describing the myths surrounding the new Napoleon of France, then checks in with some villagers concerned with the price of food. It’s not quite cinematic cuts or a panoramic view of society, but rather Čapek deciding he’s going to be wonderfully weird and do what he wants (in fact he mentions this, saying he’s just following his preferences and checking in with carousel operators and dredge dwellers). The narrator often intrudes, in one instance apologizing for the unlucky thirteenth chapter.

Čapek wrote the novel in 1920 and it is set in the future, in 1943. Some things he predicted accurately – the development of atomic power – but others aren’t, as Russia is again a tsarist country. G.H. Bondy, a petty, greedy(but still rather amusing) industrialist, sees an advertisement for a new invention and, recognizing the inventor, goes to meet his old employee Marek. Marek is eager to give Bondy his Karburator and soon it’s revealed why – the machine, which destroys matter completely, releases a powerful spiritual force or the “Absolute”. Based on both the atomic theory of the day as well as philosophy which, in short, says God is in everything, the novel takes these ideas to the extreme. The released Absolute makes those around it blissfully pious and generous and also works miracles. Bondy is all too eager to make use of the Karburator and soon they are being sold around the world. Old atheist Marek and Bondy, who only worships money, make efforts to avoid Absolute contamination and Čapek checks in with them from time to time, but others try to harness the Absolute for their own purposes or fall under its spell.

The discussions of the Absolute and its devastating effects are filled with comedic bits – Bondy wonders whether they can negotiate with the Absolute, the bishop denounces the Absolute as a fraud but then later decides that the Church has to get in on it, one chapter is devoted wholly to the delivering of a telegram, there’s a ridiculous analysis of a ridiculous prophecy. Čapek has some obvious targets - religious hypocrisy, ridiculous extremism - but also depicts some more convoluted negative effects of the Absolute – the miracles performed include factories constantly being run with no human input, leading to enormous quantities of material. However, what with the owners and workers either off preaching or giving away everything, there’s no distribution and there are huge shortages of the materials. The religious parts sometimes read as if they were written by an old atheist like Marek but Čapek’s warm humanism fills every page. In the end, his characters sigh about how “people are always getting back just where they used to be” and bemoan how “Everyone believes in his own superior God, but he doesn’t believe in another man, or credit him with believing in something good…Everyone has the best of feelings towards mankind in general, but not towards the individual man. We’ll kill men, but we want to save mankind.” ( )
11 vote DieFledermaus | Jan 6, 2013 |
I read an abridged version in a Damon Knight anthology. Impressive. ( )
  bgbooks | Aug 6, 2006 |
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Gentlemen, in the name of Heaven, do not imagine that the Church brings God into this world. The Church merely confines Him and controls Him.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0803264593, Paperback)

In this satirical classic, a brilliant scientist invents the Karburator, a reactor that can create abundant and practically free energy. However, the Karburator’s superefficient energy production also yields a powerful by-product. The machine works by completely annihilating matter and in so doing releases the Absolute, the spiritual essence held within all matter, into the world. Infected by the heady, pure Absolute, the world’s population becomes consumed with religious and national fervor, the effects of which ultimately cause a devastating global war. Set in the mid-twentieth century, The Absolute at Large questions the ethics and rampant spread of power, mass production, and atomic weapons that Karel Capek saw in the technological and political revolutions occurring around him. Stephen Baxter provides an introduction for this Bison Books edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:18 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"In this satirical classic, a brilliant scientist invents the Karburator, a reactor that can create abundant and practically free energy. However, the Karburator's superefficient energy production also yields a powerful by-product. The machine works by completely annihilating matter and in so doing releases the Absolute, the spiritual essence held within all matter, into the world. Infected by the heady, pure Absolute, the world's population becomes consumed with religious and national fervor, the effects of which ultimately cause a devastating global war." "Set in the mid-twentieth century, The Absolute at Large questions the ethics and rampant spread of power, mass production, and atomic weapons that Karel Capek saw in the technological and political revolutions occurring around him. Stephen Baxter provides an introduction for this Bison Books edition."--Jacket.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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