Chapter 25 – The Greatest War Ever (as they called it)
The chronicler explains why this war “really was, I swear it, quite easily the greatest war ever.”
Chapter 26 – The Battle of Hradec Králové
The chronicler uses the Battle of Hradec Králové, where the forces of General Hampl gathered to overthrow Mayor Skočdopole, as a reflection of world events on a smaller scale.
Chapter 22 – An Elderly Patriot
As Czech reporter Cyril Kéval and his fellow journalists wade through endless reports of minor conflicts, skirmishes, and riots from around the country and the world, Kéval happens upon a letter from an “Elderly Patriot” calling for national unity.
Chapter 18 – Night Time in the Editing Room
As religions and governments all over the world embrace the Absolute, Bishop Linda berates the editor of a Catholic Journal for continuing their invective against Him.
Chapter 19 – The Canonisation Process
The Catholic Church goes through the long, unprecedented procedure of welcoming the Absolute into the church as its God.
Only one chapter today, because the next three chapters work well as a block, and I didn’t want to split them up. So, three chapters next Sunday, and just one chapter today—though it’s a very fun chapter.
Chapter 12 – The Private Tutor
The learned Doctor Balhouš sets out to write an academic paper regarding recent episodes of religious fervor and fanaticism, and does so all day long, and through the night.
Chapter 10 – The Blessed Elen
Mr. Bondy ponders the state of the world as he walks the streets, and has a chance encounter with his once love, Elen.
Chapter 11 – The First Conflict
A carousel fitted with a carburator becomes a divine sanctuary, and its owner a spiritual leader, but there is friction when the carousel starts touring near the holy dredger.
It is one of a few works by Karel Čapek that is in the public domain and has a translation (which you can read here) that is under a creative commons license. Karel Čapek was a Czech science fiction writer from the early 20th century. Today he’s most well known as the originator of the word “robot”—which he introduced in his 1920 play R.U.R. The Absolute at Large was his first novel, after he’d written some plays and short stories. It’s a novel that begins in a very familiar, classic sort of way—a businessman sees an advertisement for an invention, realizes the inventor is an old friend, and goes to pay him a visit. It turns out that this invention (called a “carburator”) is a furnace that consumes matter entirely. It destroys it on an atomic level, releasing massive amounts of energy, and leaving nothing behind—at least, nothing physical. This is where the story turns away from typical hard sci-fi, and goes ahead toward something fantastic.
The inventor, Rudolph Marek, says that he has been reading about pantheism—the idea that god is in everything. This theory explains why when people go near the carburator, they feel a sense of awe—of holiness—all around them. By destroying matter completely, the carburator not only releases energy, it releases God—or, the Absolute.
The book continues to follow Marek and G.H. Bondy, the businessman, as Bondy purchases the invention and gets his company to start mass-producing them. As carburators are installed throughout the world, more and more instances of miracles occur, and the people near the carburators grow more and more spiritually fanatic. Groups of worshippers and cult leaders spring up all around these carburators, and eventually the Earth throws itself into a world war much more fractured, vicious, and global than the first one.
The fact that the Absolute manifests itself in every aspect of society means that Čapek’s satire has free reign. The absurd fanaticism inspired by the Absolute is a way to look at actual fanaticisms with a critical eye—communism, capitalism, and nationalism being chief among them. The book is short, but it is epically satirical.
This book is awesome, and I am recording an audiobook of it. I’ll release episodes every Sunday and Tuesday, on youtube and on podomatic.
In my writing class we had an assignment to write an essay about some place in Iowa City with cultural or historic significance. This is the essay I wrote:
The Starbucks Coffee House
During my first visit to Iowa City, after a day full of walking tours and departmental presentations, my mom and I stumbled across a café at the edge of downtown. At the corner of Clinton and Burlington, where close-knit brick edifices give way to expansive parking lots and construction projects, sat the Starbucks coffee house. Since this is a rather obscure café, I’ll explain that it isn’t owned by a person named Starbuck, but rather the name refers to a character in Moby Dick. We entered the handsome little square building, and were embraced by an aura of inspiration and nurture. Of handcraftedness and innovation. Of intimacy and charm. It was the spirit of the Starbucks coffee house. I ordered a cappuccino and my mom ordered a chai tea latte, and I new I’d found a home away from home.
Half a year later, I return to the café regularly, knowing that there I can find tradition, hospitality, and a good cup of joe. The whole building is permeated with these qualities, from the dark woodgrain countertops (and tabletops and paneling and flooring and bathroom doors), to the news stand with chalked-on prices, to the burlap sacks displaying POP! Gourmet Popcorn—almost as if the Lite Salt popcorn bags had come fresh from the harvest just minutes ago. Sepia-tone photographs on the walls display Iowa’s rich agrarian heritage in various images, such as fields, a man putting wheat into a machine, and other fields.Read More »