The Absolute at Large

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Čapek, Karel. The Absolute at Large (Czech, Továrna na absolutno, "Factory for the Absolute" — W. E. Harkins, with phrase appearing passim in English text). 1922. English Trans., New York: Macmillan, 1927. Rpt. Westport, CT: Hyperion P, 1974. Introd. William E. Harkins. In the series Classics of Science Fiction, series ed. Sam Moskowitz.

In Harkins's formulation, The Absolute at Large is a comic satire where the target is "man's search for a utopian order guaranteed to solve all his problems and bring him happiness," similar to R. U. R., with perfect atomic fission replacing robots as the SF premise ([unnumbered p. 3 of Introd.]); there's also a frequently relevant satire of fanatical enthusiasms, primarily religious, leading to the slaughter of "the Greatest War." In the story, Baruch Spinoza, Gustav T. Fechner, and Gottfried W. Leibniz were correct: the material world is composed of matter plus God, the Absolute (22-23).

An inventor's "Karburator" machine converts matter entirely into energy, leaving only, and releasing into the world, the Absolute (chs. 2-3 f., "The Karburator" and "Pantheism"). "As a result of its complete disintegration of matter, my Perfect Karburator," says the inventor, "manufactures a by-product: […] God in a chemically pure form. At one end, so to speak, it emits mechanical power, and at the other, the divine principle. […] It acts […] as a factory for the Absolute," which provides an unlimited source of physical power, plus such powers as prophecy and miracles (25-26 and passim; ch. 4, "God in the Cellar," where the first god-machine is). God can apparently participate in all sorts of machinery, but whether He is best in-mechanated in a dredge or a merry-go-round is a matter for violent debate (chs. 8 and 11). Once released in small quantities into the modern world, the Absolute "took its place at the machines" and "flung itself into manufacture. It did not form something out of nothing, but it made finished goods out of raw materials," on vast scales (113-14), giving a second meaning to "Factory for the Absolute," also, potentially, raising political and economic issues of unfair competition, with radical fury overcome—in this instance—only by the felt presence of God (116-17; ch. 14, "The Land of Plenty).

Discussed and placed into its historical and literary contexts in ch. 5, "From the Somme and Verdun to Hiroshima and Nagasaki" in I. F. Clarke's Voices Prophesying War, p. 152.

(RDE, 11/09/06)