Monday, September 04, 2017

24. R.U.R (Rossum's Universal Robots) by Karel Capek

Okay, this is actually a play and only takes an hour or two to read, but I am counting it, damnit!  I read this for the G+ Tabletop Roleplayers Book Club, so if you really want to see some nerds in action, you can check out the discussion on this book at the community there.

I loved The War with the Newts and was happy to have another chance to read something else by Capek.  I am grateful as well that reading this play spurred me to read about the man himself, who was an interesting and important European intellectual in the first half of the twentieth century.  He died in 1938 due to complications from pneumonia due to a lifelong spinal cord problem, but maybe he was lucky as he was #2 on the Nazi's list of people to suppress in Czechoslovakia. When they discovered he was already dead in occupied Czechoslovakia, they interrogated his wife.  Later, his brother, a successful artist and collaborator with Karel, died in a concentration camp.  10 years ago, it seemed easy to write whatever you want in North America and atrocities like what happened to the Capek's and others seem in the distant past.  With today's climate of growing populist fascism, the choices one makes about what one writes down for others to see becomes slightly more real.  It is good to reminded of that.

I was a bit disappointed in the play.  I do appreciate that an actual interpretation on stage would have filled in a lot that is implied in the text.  As it stands on paper, I found it too abstract and simplistic.  What I loved about The War with the Newts was that while it also dealt in big ideas and there weren't any real characters to connect with, the events were so detailed that it all felt very realistic.  With R.U.R. we really are in the realm of theatre and allegory and it is all a bit distancing for me.  The characters are representations of their area of work or their role in society, so there is the inventor, the accountant, the mechanic and so on.  The only women, Helena, who is central to the story is also just that, a woman.  All the other men are in love with her immediately.

As a story, it did not move me much.  I would love to see it performed one day, as I suspect a lot of richness that is lacking in the text (probably deliberately) would be filled in.  And the ideas it does touch on our quite interesting.  It's funny as well.  Here is a good example:

It was a great thing to be a man. There was something immense about it.
From man's thought and man's power came this light, our last hope.
Man's power! May it keep watch over us.
Man's power.
Yes! A torch to be given from hand to hand, from age to age, forever!
The lamp goes out.

It is well worth reading and since it is in the public domain and is very short, you can do so right now!  Here is a handy link to a pdf of the play.

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