To measure, for profit (2) : (science) fiction

26 Jun

Just as with books, so with travels: the good ones always provide also a good starting point for further explorations. My visit to Prague a couple of months ago has been the occasion for me to undertake a voyage of discovery into 20th Century Czech literature.

Being imaginative power, which makes reading such a thrilling activity, at all times related to who I am (professionally, among other things), the imaginative reader and the information specialist go hand in hand through almost any book I happen to be reading. This explains why even such a theatre classic as Karel Čapek‘s Rossum’s Universal Robots (the book to which we owe the meaning of ‘robot’) and an undeservedly less known Holocaust-inspired novel as Jiří Weil‘s Mendelssonh is on the roof (masterly in its combination of surrealist irony and violent tragedy), could provide the following two quotes to my ‘information specialist’s’ side, just at the time I was writing the previous post about the measurability of ‘lucrative’ higher education.

RURplayStageing of Rossum’s Universal Robot (source)

«DOMIN: […] A diesel engine needs no tassels and other fripperies, Miss Glory. And manufacturing artificial workmen is just like manufacturing diesel engines. Their production should be kept as simple as possible and the end product ought to be the best in purely practical terms. What do you reckon? What workman is the best in purely practical terms? HELENA: The best? Perhaps one who’s… who… provided he’s honest – and loyal… DOMIN: No, no, the cheapest. The one with the fewest needs. Young Rossum invented a workman with the fewest needs possible. He had to keep him simple. He jettisoned everything that didn’t contribute directly to the work process, and in so doing he effectively did away with the man and created the Robot» (quote from Hesperus Press edition of Čapek’s classic, p. 12).

weil «Finally Schlesinger had an idea. ‘Go around the statues again and look carefully at their noses. Whichever one has the biggest nose, that’s the Jew.’ Schlesinger was taking a course called World View, where they gave lectures on ‘racial science’ and showed slides. The slides showed a lot of noses, with measurements next to them. Every nose had been carefully measured. It was a very deep and complicated science, but its findings were simple. The upshot was that the biggest noses belonged to the Jews» (quote from Daunt Books English translation of Weil’s book, p. 6).

Cover of Weil’s original Czech text (source)


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