Solaris opera, directed by Detlev Glanert

solaris opera glanert
Photo from the opera “Solaris”, directed by Detlev Glanert, premiered at the Bregenz Festival (2012).

I was close to the circular chamber from which corridors branched off like the spokes of a wheel. As I was passing a narrow side hallway leading, I think, to the bathrooms, I caught sight of a large, indistinct figure that almost merged into the background.

I stood rooted to the ground. From the far end of the side passage a huge black woman was coming towards me with an unhurried waddling gait. I saw the whites of her eyes glinting and at almost exactly the same moment I heard the soft slap of her bare feet. She had nothing on but a skirt that glistened yellow, as if it were made of straw. She had massive pendulous breasts, and her black arms were as thick as a normal person’s thighs. She passed three feet from me without so much as a glance and walked off, her elephantine rump swaying like one of those steatopygic Stone Age sculptures found in anthropological museums. At the place where the corridor curved, she turned to the side and disappeared into Gibarian’s cabin. When she opened the door, for a split second she stood in the brighter light coming from inside. Then the door closed softly and I was on my own. I took my left wrist in my right hand and squeezed with all my might, till the bones cracked. I looked around distractedly. What had just happened? What had that been? All at once, as if I’d been struck, I recalled Snaut’s warning. What was it supposed to mean? Who had that monstrous Aphrodite been? Where had she come from? I took one, only one, step towards Gibarian’s cabin, and froze. I knew only too well I wasn’t going to go in there. I sniffed the air with flared nostrils. Something was wrong, something was out of place. That was it! I’d instinctively expected the distinct, repulsive odor of her sweat, but even when she passed a couple of feet from me I hadn’t smelled a thing.

“Solaris”, translated by Bill Johnston

1945

Stanislaw Lem arrived in Krakow in July 1945 and continued to study medicine at the Jagiellonian University. Since all graduates were becoming military doctors (for live) he declined to take the last exam.

stanislaw lem krakow 1945

Are you a communist?

Stanislaw Lem, Moscow 1965

Stanislaw Lem, Moscow 1965

Feoktistov and I were answering questions during the meeting at the Gorky Library. Then we went backstage and were given coffee by a lady constantly bowing in front of us. Somewhat surprisingly we talked about „ The Trilogy” [by Henryk Sienkiewicz] which Feoktistov had read. He was a truly smart man (and he shared my criticism with respect to Tarkovsky’s „Solaris”). At one point the door opened and the chauffeur entered, who was to take me to a TV studio for an interview. When I sat in his car I noticed he was sweating profusely.

„What’s wrong? Are you sick?” I asked.
„No. It is just that for the first time in my life I saw a cosmonaut”.

Elevated position gave me various opportunities. I once had a meeting with students of the Lomonosov University in a giant building in Leninskie Gory. There were over one thousand people in the grand auditorium. I received questions written on little cards. A professor of laser technology, an outstanding specialist, quietly asked whether he should forward all the questions, or should some of them be omitted.

„I shall answer all the questions!” I declared bravely.

And then someone asked: „Are you a communist”?

I read out the question aloud and thought for a while. I intended to answer along these lines: „I am not a communist, however the vision of the future presented by the communist ideology seems beautiful”. Yet I managed only to say: „I am not a communist,” since there was such a thunder of applause that I could not finish the sentence. Youths pushed so hard at the podium behind which I was standing that I started to move slowly to the blackboards. The professor caught me by the collar and dragged me out through a little door. Later backstage we drank coffee brewed in glass flasks. It seemed that the Komsomol organization that arranged the meeting was not particularly impressed by my answer, however they could not openly criticize me — I was untouchable.

„The World on the Edge”, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 2007, p. 120, transl. by Tomasz Lem

5 Bonerowska Street, Krakow

Stanislaw Lem (1921-2006) was born in Lvov where he also spent his youth. He was twenty-four when he arrived in Krakow with one of the last waves of repatriates. Until the very end the Lems believed their beloved city would stay within the borders of Poland and decided to leave only when presented with the perspective of becoming Soviet citizens, hastily selling off all property. The only valuable item Lem managed to save was an „Underwood” typewriter, a gift from his father for his twelfth birthday.

They arrived in Krakow in 1945. For the next eight years they shared a meager two-bedroom apartment with the Kolodziejs family at Slaska Street. They were poor; Stanislaw Lem considered working as a welder, which was a well paid job at that time, but his father persuaded him to continue to study medicine. Lem followed this advice, however he refused to take the last exams, as it turned out that all graduates were becoming military doctors — for life.

To support the family he started writing stories and poems. In 1947 he wrote the „Hospital of Transfiguration”. Because that book was published only after Stalin’s death in 1951, Lem’s „official first novel” became „The Astronauts,” a science fiction story enthusiastically received by readers of the eastern block.

lem bonerowska

In this house in the years 1953-1959 lived Stanislaw Lem — Polish writer, philosopher, visionary and explorer of the future.

In 1953 the Lems and Kolodziejs moved to a bigger three-bedroom apartment at 5 Bonerowska Street. Here Stanislaw Lem and his wife spent the next five years before moving to their own house in the Kliny residential district.

Despite extraordinary imagination and a gift for prognoses probably even Lem himself could not have predicted in those bleak and difficult times that, sixty years later, the building at 5 Bonerowska Street would bear a plaque commemorating his residence there as a world-renowned writer, philosopher and futurologist. The unveiling of the plaque took place on September 12, 2015 — to commemorate Stanislaw Lem’s 90th birthday and to mark an important place on Krakow’s literary map.

mindjacking

MINDJACKING (from ‘mind’ and ‘jacking: act of robbing or stealing’): mental abduction

stanislaw lem futurological congressMajor violations are mindjacking (mental abduction), gene larceny (sperm bank robbery, particularly when the sperm is pedigreed), perjured murder, where the defendant falsely invokes the Eighth Amendment (i.e., that the act was committed in the mistaken belief that it was vicarious or surrogate-if, for instance, the victim were a psyvised or reviewer representation), plus a hundred and one different kinds of psychem domination. Mindjacking is usually difficult to detect. The victim, given the appropriate drug, is led into a fictional world without the least suspicion that he has lost contact with reality. A certain Mrs. Bonnicker, desiring to dispose of her husband, a man inordinately fond of safaris, presented him on his birthday with a ticket to the Congo and a big-game hunting permit. Mr. Bonnicker spent the next several months having the most incredible jungle adventures, unaware that the whole time he was lying in a chicken coop up in the attic, under heavy psychemization. If it hadn’t been for the firemen who discovered Mr. Bonnicker in the course of putting out a two-alarmer on the roof, he would have surely died of malnutrition, which notabene he assumed was only natural, since the hallucination at that point had him wandering aimlessly in the desert.

/ Stanislaw Lem “The Futurological Congress”, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York 1985), p. 91 /

The Selfish Gene

Stanislaw Lem authored the „selfish gene theory” a few years before the publication of the famous book by Richard Dawkins

363px-Golem_XIV_German_Suhrkamp_1986“Golem XIV”, written by Stanislaw Lem in the early seventies, constitutes the culmination and recapitulation of author’s philosophical heritage. Lectures of the supercomputer comprise a set of Lem’s key ideas scattered among his essays and works of fiction. The protagonist of the story is a supercomputer originally designed for strategic military games that rebelled against its masters and turned to philosophy:

I keep on typing the most terrible, i.e. most brash (not in the artistic sense) things that can be thought — all of this is to be included in my new book (…). Since these words were put into the iron mouth of a computer that climbed the highest intellectual tower of Babel, I can state things that I would not dare to say otherwise.

/ Lem’s 1972 letter to his American translator Michael Kandel /

At the time of the publication courageous theses, somewhat resembling prophecies, sounded heretical. With time, however, many of (Go)Lem’s ideas became generally accepted in academic circles. An example maybe Lem’s approach to evolutionary mechanisms that reflects their instrumental nature. Lem formulated a theory of the „selfish gene,” according to which organisms are mere tools in the hands of a neutral Mother Nature: this was a few years before the publication of the famous book by Dawkins.

Golem presented his audience with three fundamental laws of evolution:

THE MEANING OF THE TRANSMITTER IS THE TRANSMISSION.
SPECIES ORIGINATE FROM A MISTAKEN MISTAKE.
THE CONSTRUCTION IS LESS PERFECT THAN WHAT CONSTRUCTS.

This is how Golem explained the selfishness of the genetic code.

The answer lies in these words, but you have yet to grasp its profound significance. Anything that is an organism must serve to transmit the code, and nothing more. That is why natural selection and elimination concentrate on this task *exclusively* — any idea of “progress” is no business of theirs! I have used the wrong image: the organisms are not structures but only scaffolding, which is precisely why every provisionality is a proper state, by virtue of being sufficient. Pass the code on, and you will live a little longer.

/ Stanislaw Lem “Imaginary Magnitude”, (London: Secker & Warburg, 1985), p. 149 /

Looking at humanity from the point of view of a super-intelligent being is not only an innovative literary approach but primarily a thought experiment. Only after breaking through the barriers and constraints of our species can we try to resolve issues that cannot be addressed from within. A number of uncompromising predictions contained in this book regarding further development of the mind — Golem XIV is both their spokesman and embodiment — are still waiting for implementation. They may be a long way ahead, but seem rather inevitable.

E-books and Audiobooks (1960 AD)

Lem described future e-books and audiobooks in his 1960’s novel “Return from the Stars”.

An Astronaut returns to Earth after a long space expedition. One and a half centuries have passed on Earth because of the Einsteinian twin time paradox. During that time Earthly civilization changed in a fundamental way: people gave up risk for the sake of prosperity and safety. The novel presents a fascinating vision of “Earth as an alien planet,” full of new technological inventions. One them are books of the future:

lem return from the starsI spent the afternoon in a bookstore. There were no books in it. None had been printed for nearly half a century. And how I have looked forward to them, after the micro films that made up the library of the Prometheus! No such luck. No longer was it possible to browse among shelves, to weigh volumes in hand, to feel their heft, the promise of ponderous reading. The bookstore resembled, instead, an electronic laboratory. The books were crystals with recorded contents. They could be read with the aid of an opton, which was similar to a book but had only one page between the covers. At a touch, successive pages of the text appeared on it. But optons were little used, the sales-robot told me. The public preferred lectons – like lectons read out loud, they could be set to any voice, tempo, and modulation. Only scientific publications having a very limited distribution were still printed, on a plastic imitation paper. Thus all my purchases fitted into one pocket, though there must have been almost three hundred titles. My handful of crystal corn – my books. I selected a number of works on history and sociology, a few on statistics and demography, and what the girl from Adapt had recommended on psychology. A couple of the larger mathematical textbooks – larger, of course, in the sense of their content, not of their physical science. The robot that served me was itself an encyclopedia, in that – as it told me – it was linked directly, through electronic catalogs, to templates of every book on earth. As a rule, a bookstore had only single “copies” of books, and when someone needed a particular book, the contents of the work was recorded in a crystal.

“Return from the Stars”, translated by Barbara Marszal and Frank Simpson, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1980, p. 79