Caporaletti, Silvana

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Caporaletti, Silvana. "Science as Nightmare: 'The Machine Stops' by E.M. Forster." Utopian Studies (Spring, 1997) <;col1>.

Agrees with the critical consensus on "MS" as a seminal dystopian work, and with Erlich and Dunn on its being the prototypical mechanical hive tale; "To analyze it in order to bring out its thematic implications and show how relevant the issues that it debates are still to us, is the main aim" of SC's essay (1 and 12, n. 2). "Grounded in the fast and exalting progress of science and technology, the strange world of the Machine poses itself as the ultimate development of real scientific premises: notwithstanding its evident diversity, it stems from the same roots as the concrete, familiar world of the reader and is, therefore, hyperbole rather than paradox" (1). In the later classic dystopias of the first half the the 20th century, the "dream of social justice and equality disintegrates in a common nightmare of political violence and of a forced crystallization of society into distinct and leveled classes"; Forster, however, "seems to resolve the paradox" between social order and individual freedom "by placing at the center of his social organization the powerfulness and impersonality of a mechanical engine" (4). To Alexandra Aldridge, "MS" was a "neo-Luddite assault," and she is in company with others "who have interpreted it as an expression of an outdated and reactionary attitude on the part of Forster. Such a view, though, appears simplistic. Forster's reaction is not directed against machines but against the Machine as a negative emblem of human exaggeration; his campaign, that is, is against the blindness of an absurd scientific fundamentalism that prefers to ignore the possible consequences of an excess of mechanization and technology and its inevitable effects on man's life (p. 5; cites Gorman Beauchamp's "Cultural Primitivism as Norm in the Dystopian Novel," Extrapolation 19 [Dec. 1977]: 88-96). Relates "MS" to "The Book of the Machines" section (chs. 23-25) in Samuel Butler's Erewhon, and the danger of machines coming to dominate humans (SC, p. 6). The world of this story "does not stand for our world but is our world at the end of a process of metamorphosis" (10). "Though obsolete in many of its aspects, the mechanical futurism of Forster's world appears threateningly close in others. Fax, e-mail, internet and other forms of telecommunication have rendered physical presence almost superfluous in human interchange […]"—and VR is on its way (11). "The optimistic view of technological development as a positive solution to various social problems […] is quite alive in contemporary thought. […T]he 'utopian' vision that Claude Levi-Strauss expresses in Anthropologie structurelle is of a world in which technological automatization will restore man to the happy condition of a mythical golden era (235). Also Marshall McLuhan and Herbert Marcuse seem to consider the extraordinary technological and electronical progress of our age full of positive potentialities for the future evolution of human life" (14, n. 11); amidst such optimism "MS" remains relevant.

4. LitCrit, RDE, 31/XII/08