Monday, October 24, 2005

Reason's Idols

Vaucanson's brass duck and flautist, the Baron von Kempelen's chess playing Turk, the clockwork idols, automata made of wheels and gears, speaking heads, wax figures animated by "mécaniciens d'autrefois," are nothing but delightful, seedy fairground mannequins, circus diversions in comparison to the cruel robots conceived by the Bohemian author Karel Capek in the drama R.U.R.. (Rossum's Universal Robots, 1929) "Robot," android, artificial labourer, a Czech term, which Capek derives from "robota," that is corvée, overworked.

These automata belong to the same species as the Golem and, although constructed on a distant island, have their roots in humus, in the sorcery of Prague. The Golem has his origin in clay animated by the "shem," the paper inscribed with the name of God. Similarly, the robots are not constructed of springs and pistons, as are the baroque automata, but kneaded out of a chemical substance like protoplasm, an "organic gluten" in the words of Joseph Capek, - a substance discovered by the philosopher-scientist Rossum ("rozum" = reason), an "extravagant old man," a "fantastic lunatic," of the type of mad scientist which prospered in expressionism.
- Ripellino, Praga Magica

US: work harder, get poorer, drop dead.

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