Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), 1920-2020

Guide compiled by Ralph Dumain

Note: Čapek’s play R.U.R. which introduced the word ‘robot’ (attributed by Karel to his brother Josef) to the world, was published in 1920 and premiered on January 25, 1921. It was also arguably the first technological dystopia to appear after the conclusion of World War I, and a historic turning point in the perspective on the automaton in popular culture. Čapek followed up with socially critical novels based on science fiction premises, and returned to his original theme in his 1936 novel War with the Newts, this time substituting intelligent salamanders for robots. Even without the device of the robot, the issue of machines becoming more human-like and humans becoming more mechanical was a key theme of the 19th century as the industrial revolution peaked, and while technology has itself evolved in the past century, the issues as Čapek presented them are as fresh as ever. This bibliography is one step in my efforts to promote a centenary celebration of this landmark play. Indented paragraphs are quotations. More can be found on my bibliographical guide to Karel Čapek. — RD

Celebrating 100 years of the ‘robot’: a new version of R.U.R. by 3Ai, 3A Institute, Blog by Ellen Broad, Charlotte Bradley and Genevieve Bell, March 6, 2020

The Word Robot Invented 100 Years Ago, by Sue Gee, i-programmer.info, 26 January 2020

In fact, Asimov’s [author of I, Robot] “Laws of Robotics” (which are discussed here) are explicitly designed to prevent the kind of situation depicted in R.U.R. as they impose a total inhibition against harming human beings or disobeying them.

Gary K. Wolfe Reviews Made to Order: Robots and Revolution, Edited by Jonathan Strahan, Locus,  May 1, 2020 [Made to Order: Robots and Revolution, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (Solaris 978-1781087879, $11.99, 400pp, tp) March 2020.]

Anthologies about robots may be nearly as important in SF history as individual novels and stories, from one of the earliest, Groff Conklin’s 1954 Science-Fiction Thinking Machines (which included Capek’s play, probably presented for the first time in the context of genre SF) to the more recent and playful (such as Dominik Parisien & Navah Wolfe’s Robots vs. Fairies a year or so ago).

Robots of Ages Past by Robert W. Lebling, AramcoWorld, November/December 2019

R.U.R. - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mutual Inspirations Festival 2015 - Karel Čapek (Embassy of the Czech Republic, Washington, DC)

Supplementary Bibliography

Asimov, Isaac. “The Vocabulary of SF” [Asimov's Editorials], Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, September 1979; reprinted as “The Vocabulary of Science Fiction,” in  Asimov on Science Fiction (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1981).

Čapek’s play is, in my own opinion, a terribly bad one, but it is immortal for that one word. It contributed the word ‘robot’ not only to English but, through English, to all the languages in which science fiction is now written.

Demson, Michael; Clason, Christopher R.; eds. Romantic Automata: Exhibitions, Figures, Organisms. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2020.

List of Illustrations
Notes on Contributors and Co-editors
       Michael Demson and Christopher R. Clason
Section I: Exhibitions
   1. The Uncanny Valley: E. T. A. Hoffmann, Sigmund Freud, Masahiro Mori
        Frederick Burwick
    2. The (Re-)Winding of Hoffmann’s Automata: from Offenbach’s 1881 Opera to Powell and Pressburger’s 1951 Film
         Ashley Shams
    3. Wounded Bodies in the Lithographs of Théodore Géricault, 1818-1820
        Peter Erickson
Section II: Figures
   4. Romantic Tales of Pseudo Automata: The Chess-Playing Turk in Hoffmann, Poe, and Benjamin
         Wendy Nielsen
    5. On Toys, Violence, and Automated Gender
         Erin Goss
    6. Automatic for All: Mary Shelley’s Posthuman Passion
         Kate Singer
    7. “A little earthly idol to contract your ideas”: Global Hermeneutics in Phebe Gibbes’s Zoriada, or, Village Annals (1786)
         Kathryn Freeman
Section III: Organisms
   8. Schelling’s Uncanny Organism
         Stefani Engelstein
    9. “it […] lives by dying”: S. T. Coleridge’s Mechanical Life and Colonial Necropolitics
         Lenora Hanson
    10. The Metaphysical Machinery of Mining in Novalis’s Works
         Christina M. Weiler

Engster, Frank; Moore, Phoebe. “The search for (artificial) intelligence, in capitalism,” Capital & Class, Volume 44, Issue 2, June 2020 (Special Issue: Machines and Measure), pp. 201-218. Contents.

Jones-Imhotep, Edward. “The ghost factories: histories of automata and artificial life,” History and Technology, volume 36, Issue 1, 2020, pp. 3-29.

Kakoudaki, Despina. Anatomy of a Robot: Literature, Cinema, and the Cultural Work of Artificial People. New Brunswick, NJ; London: Rutgers University Press, 2014.

Kang, Minsoo. Sublime Dreams of Living Machines: The Automaton in the European Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.

Paul, Jean [Johann Richter, 1763-1825]. Jean Paul: A Reader, edited, with an introductory essay and commentary, by Timothy J. Casey; translations by Erika Casey. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Riskin, Jessica. The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument Over What Makes Living Things Tick. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Riskin, Jessica, ed. Genesis Redux: Essays in the History and Philosophy of Artificial Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

List of Contributors ix
List of Illustrations xiii
Acknowledgments xvii
1 Introduction: The Sistine Gap / Jessica Riskin 1
ONE Connections
2 The Imitation of Life in Ancient Greek Philosophy / Sylvia Berryman 35
3 The Devil as Automaton: Giovanni Fontana and the Meanings of a Fifteenth-Century Machine / Anthony Grafton 46
4 Infinite Gesture: Automata and the Emotions in Descartes and Shakespeare / Scott Maisano 63
5 Abstracting from the Soul: The Mechanics of Locomotion / Dennis Deschene 85
6 The Anatomy of Artificial Life: An Eighteenth-Century Perspective / Joan B. Landes 96
TWO Emergence
7 The Homunculus and the Mandrake: Art Aiding Nature versus Art Faking Nature / William R. Newman 119
8 Sex Ratio Theory, Ancient and Modern: An Eighteenth-Century Debate about Intelligent Design and the Development of Models in Evolutionary Biology / Elliott Sober 131
9 The Gender of Automata in Victorian Britain / M. Norton Wise 163
10 Techno-Humanism: Requiem for the Cyborg / Timothy Lenoir 196
11 Nanobots and Nanotubes: Two Alternative Biomimetic Paradigms of Nanotechnology / Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent 221
12 Creating Insight: Gestalt Theory and the Early Computer / David Bates 237
THREE Interactions
13 Perpetual Devotion: A Sixteenth-Century Machine That Prays / Elizabeth King 263
14 Motions and Passions: Music-Playing Women Automata and the Culture of Affect in Late Eighteenth-Century Germany / Adelheid Voskuhl 293
15 An Archaeology of Artificial Life, Underwater / Stefan Helmreich 321
16 Booting Up Baby / Evelyn Fox Keller 334
17 Body Language: Lessons from the Near-Human / Justine Cassell 346
Index 375

Tresch, John. The Romantic Machine: Utopian Science and Technology after Napoleon. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.

Voskuhl, Adelheid. Androids in the Enlightenment: Mechanics, Artisans, and Cultures of the Self. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press, 2013.

On this site

Karl Marx on automatons, machinery, capital & labor

Maŝinaro kaj granda industrio (Ĉerpaĵoj ) de Karlo Markso, trad. V. Lutermano (in Esperanto)

Peter Swirski & artificial intelligence: the last gasp of bourgeois reason by Ralph Dumain

Karel Čapek: Selected Bibliography & Web Links

Frigyes & Ferenc Karinthy in English

Cybernetics & Artificial Intelligence: Ideology Critique

Science Fiction & Utopia Research Resources: A Selective Work in Progress

Studies in a Dying Culture radio program / podcast series (5/10/10 - ) by R. Dumain: See programs:

11/18/17 Dialectic and Dystopia: A Century Before and After the Russian Revolution Through Literature (transcript)
05/07/16 Frigyes Karinthy: the Hungarian Swift & his musical robots
05/06/12 The Utopian Vision of Sándor Szathmári
05/06/14 Science Fiction, Utopia, and the End of Imagination (1)

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