Votum separatum

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Digg thisEmail this to someone

Whatever positive things we can say about our civilization, we can be sure of one thing: its development has certainly not been harmonious.

Stanislaw Lem Summa Technologiae 2013 … we are talking about Intelligence! Yet it would have been impossible to reach the Atomic Age without the Age of Coal and the Age of Electricity that preceded it. Or a different environment would have at least required a different sequence of discoveries, which would have involved more than just rearranging the calendars of Einsteins and Newtons from other planets. In an environment with a high degree, of disturbance that exceeds the regulatory capacity of a society, Intelligence can manifest itself not in an expansive form, as a desire to take control over the environment, but rather as a desire to subjugate itself to that environment. I am referring here to the emergence of biological technology prior to physical technology: creatures inhabiting such a world transform themselves to function in a given environment, instead of transforming that environment so that it serves them—the way humans do. “But this is not intelligent behavior any more; this is not Intelligence!” we hear in response. “Every biological species behaves in this way in the course of evolution …”

Continue reading

Lack of humor

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Digg thisEmail this to someone

Lack of humor is no less frightening than lack of mercy.

Stanislaw Lem letters to Michael KandelCertain elements of my work inevitably come from the „Zeitgeist”: in our era the baroque seems more appropriate than radical new ideas. In other words things should be more complicated: persiflage, parodistic, ironic and grotesque variations of already present themes, settled for good in art, annexed a long time ago, are required. My rage at science fiction results inter alia from the fact that the same motifs without humor (mit tierischem Ernst) are repeated over and over again, which should (but doesn’t) result in a storm of laughter. For me lack of sense of humor is not less frightening than lack of mercy. The KIND of humor present in SF (if present at all) seems related to — I fear to say — Nazism and its concept of a „sense of humor”. Hence the grotesque in my texts has been simply forced upon me by Genius Temporis. One could write speculative volumes on where this Geist comes from and why, full of hypotheses, since nothing certain is known. (In the introduction to „Imaginary Magnitude” you may find what I think about the subject…)

Fame and Fortune. Stanislaw Lem’s letters to Michael Kandel 1972-1987

Chlorian Theoreticus the Proph

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Digg thisEmail this to someone

cyberiadStanislaw Lem’s works can be roughly divided into fiction, essays, apocrypha (texts about non-existent texts) and complains about the literary critique. It may seem strange that a popular writer, whose books have been published all over the world, grieved that reviews did not do him justice. Over time, on both sides of the Iron Curtain enthusiastic, in-depth, competent articles started to appear, such as the extensive texts of „The New York Times Book Review”. However there were few general overviews combining elements shared by a number of works and presenting universal attributes of Lem’s literary output. Most lemologists — usually humanists — were somewhat crestfallen by the spectrum of knowledge and erudition of an author who „like an intellectual bulldozer with astonishing ease dug through all possible fields of human cognition”1. Lem’s reception was also disturbed by the stigmatizing „science fiction” label.

Chlorian Theoreticus the Proph, a character from Lem’s „Tale of the Three Storytelling Machines of King Genius,” is an ironically bitter self-portrait2 of the author himself — a writer and thinker ignored and underestimated by his contemporaries. The unfortunate Chlorian created works of art „saturated with the absolute,” brilliant masterpieces reaching the very core of the essence of things. After the (self) publication of his first book the philosopher expected to be welcomed by enthusiastic crowds:

As soon as this treatise appeared in print (at my own expense), I rushed out into the street, certain that the people would lift me up on their shoulders, crown me with garlands, shower me with gold, but no one, not even so much as a lame cybernerian, approached with words of praise.

Continue reading

Tale of the Three Storytelling Machines of King Genius

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Digg thisEmail this to someone

imageOne day king Genius, a monarch with a philosophical bent, commissioned from Trurl the constructor three story-telling machines that were to amuse him. Their multi-layered stories within stories, „One Thousand and One Nights” of the cybernetic age, grotesque and philosophical at the same time, are woven of encrypted clues, allusions, literary references and scientific hypotheses. One of them features Karl Marx, hidden from the censorship of then- communist Poland under the name of Malapusticus Pandemonius. The result of putting Malapusticus’ social utopias into practice results in — quite expectedly — „chaos and carnage, and a devastating decline in the vital voltage, an enervated emf and energy dissipation everywhere.”

For in the Beginning there was naught but Formless Darkness, and in the Darkness, Magneticity, which moved the atoms, and whirling atom struck atom, and Current was thus created, and the First Light… from which the stars were kindled, and then the planets cooled, and in their cores the breath of Sacred Statisticality gave rise to microscopic Protomechanoans, which begat Proteromechanoids, which begat the Primitive Mechanisms. These could not yet calculate, nor scarcely put two and two together, but thanks to Evolution and Natural Subtraction they soon multiplied and produced Omnistats, which gave birth to the Servostat, the Missing Clink, and from it came our progenitor, Automatus Sapiens…

After that there were the cave robots, the nomad robots, and then robot nations. Robots of Antiquity had to manufacture their life-giving electricity by hand, that is by rubbing, which meant great drudgery. Each lord had many knights, each knight many vassals, and the rubbing was feudal hence hierarchical, progressing from the lowly to the higher-up. This manual labor was replaced by machine when Ylem Symphiliac invented the rubberator, and Wolfram of Coulombia, the rubless lightning rod. Thus began the Battery Age, a most difficult time for all who did not possess their own accumulators, since on a clear day, without a cloud to tap, they had to scrimp and scrounge for every precious watt, and rub themselves constantly, else perish from a total loss of charge. And then there appeared a scholar, an infernal intellectrician and efficiency expert, who in his youth, doubtless owing to some diabolical intervention, never had his head staved in, and he began to teach and preach that the traditional method of electrical connection—namely parallel—was worthless, and they all ought to hook themselves up according to a revolutionary new plan of his, that is in series. For in series, if one rubs, the others are immediately supplied with current, even at a great distance, till every robot simply bubbles over with ohms and volts. And he showed his blueprints, and painted paradises of such parameters, that the old circuits, equal and independent, were disconnected and the system of Pandemonius promptly implemented.

from The Cyberiad, translated by Michael Kandel