The Absolute at Large – Karel Capek

I bought this book during my trip to Toruń to see the exhibition of David Lynch, the museum’s bookshop had a pretty decent fiction section and had several Czech books in translation, which is rare in Poland, so I grabbed this one to expand my shamefully small knowledge of Czech literature.

This book is a complete riot, it is feast of absurd, it actually is the absolute at large. I will fall back on the Goodreads blurb:

In this satirical classic, a brilliant scientist invents the Karburator, a reactor that can create abundant and practically free energy. However, the Karburator’s superefficient energy production also yields a powerful by-product. The machine works by completely annihilating matter and in so doing releases the Absolute, the spiritual essence held within all matter, into the world. Infected by the heady, pure Absolute, the world’s population becomes consumed with religious and national fervor.

In 150 pages Capek manages to dismantle humanity, by showing how humanly absurd we and our behaviours are. I was laughing all the time, this is the kind of humour I’ve been missing for a while, but also underneath it there lurks a horrible premonition – as funny as it all sounds it is not at all impossible. Actually it is very possible, because that’s how we react, how easily we are manipulated, that’s how humanly irrational and stupid we can be. And it really is hilarious…until it’s true. It is a book that achieves one of the most difficult feats: it will make you laugh and it will make you think.

I read the book in Polish, so I’ll had to find online some quotes to share with you:

There came into the world an unlimited abundance of everything people need. But people need everything except unlimited abundance.

You can have a revolution wherever you like, except in a government office; even were the world to come to an end, you’d have to destroy the universe first and then government offices.

Gentlemen, in the name of Heaven, do not imagine that the Church brings God into the world. The Church merely confines Him and controls Him. And you two unbelievers are loosing Him upon the earth like a flood. The ship of Peter will survive even this deluge; like the Ark of Noah, it will ride out this inundation of the Absolute

Everyone has the best of feelings towards mankind in general, but not towards the individual man. We’ll kill men, but we want to save mankind. And that isn’t right, your Reverence. The world will be an evil place as long as people don’t believe in other people.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska 

5 thoughts on “The Absolute at Large – Karel Capek

    1. Yes, I read Vonnegut when I was in the university. I enjoyed his books a lot then, but when I tried to reread Slaughterhouse-Five I just could not get into the rhythm of his prose, it felt too dark, almost manic. Capek felt a bit more careless, as if he perceives the hopeless state of humanity but cheerfully accepts it, while Vonnegut despaired… or maybe I came across Capek at the right time.

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