The Absolute At Large

by Karel Čapek




CONTENTS
CHAPTER 
PAGE
       
I.   The advertisement 1
II.   The Karburator 10
III.   Pantheism  20
IV.   God in the cellar    31
V.   Bishop Linda 41
VI.   The board-meeting 54
VII.   Developments  64
VIII.   The dredge 72
IX.   The ceremony 86
X.   Saint Ellen 96
XI.   The first blow struck 105
XII.   Doctor Blahous 116
XIII.   The chronicler’s apology 125
XIV.   The land of plenty 134
XV.   Disaster   146
XVI.   In the mountains 158
XVII.   The hammer and star 168
XVIII.   In the night editor’s room 176
XIX.   The process of canonization 186
XX.   St. Kilda 194
XXI.   The telegram  206
XXII.   The old patriot 215
XXIII.   The Augsburg imbroglio 226
XXIV.   The Napoleon of the Mountain Brigade 236
XXV.   The so-called Greatest War 245
XXVI.   The battle of Hradec Kralove  253
XXVII.   A coral island in the Pacific 262
XXVIII.   At Seven Cottages  270
XXIX.   The last battle  278
XXX.   The end of everything 286



Key philosophical excerpts



CHAPTER III: PANTHEISM

"Alas, Bondy," Marek whispered anxiously, "that's just where the trouble is. Listen, and I'll tell you the whole thing. Have you ever read Spinoza ?"

"No."

"No more had I. But now, you see, I am beginning to read that sort of thing. I don't understand it—it's terribly difficult stuff for us technical people—but there's something in it. Do you by any chance believe in God?"

"I? Well, now..." G. H. Bondy deliberated. "Upon my word, I couldn't say. Perhaps there is a God, but He's on some other planet. Not on ours. Oh, well, that sort of thing doesn't fit in with our times at all. Tell me, what makes you drag that into it?"

"I don't believe in anything," said Marek in a hard voice. "I don't want to believe. I have always been an atheist. I believed in matter and in progress and in nothing else. I'm a scientific man, Bondy; and science cannot admit the existence of God."

"From the business point of view," Mr. Bondy remarked, "it's a matter of indifference. If He wants to exist, in Heaven's name, let Him. We aren't mutually exclusive."

"But from the scientific point of view, Bondy," cried the engineer sternly, "it is absolutely intolerable. It's a case of Him or science. I don't assert that God does not exist; I only assert that He  ought  not to exist, or at least ought not to let Himself be seen. And I believe that science is crowding Him out step by step, or at any rate preventing Him from letting Himself be seen; and I believe that that is the greatest mission of science."

"Possibly," said Bondy calmly. "But go on."

"And now just imagine, Bondy, that——But wait, I'll put it to you this way. Do you know what Pantheism is? It's the belief that God, or the Absolute, if you prefer it, is manifest in everything that exists. In men, as in stones, in the grass, the water—everywhere. And do you know what Spinoza teaches? That matter is only the outward manifestation, only one phase of the divine substance, the other phase of which is spirit. And do you know what Fechner teaches?"

"No, I don't," the other admitted.

"Fechner teaches that everything, everything that is, is penetrated with the divine, that God fills with His being the whole of the matter in the world. And do you know Leibniz? Leibniz teaches that physical matter is composed of physical atoms, monads, whose nature is divine. What do you say to that?"

"I don't know," said G. H. Bondy. "I don't understand it."

"Nor do I. It's fearfully abstruse. But let us assume, for the sake of argument, that God is contained in all forms of physical matter, that He is, as it were, imprisoned in it. And when you smash this matter up completely, He flies out of it as though from a box. He is suddenly set free. He is released from matter as illuminating gas is from coal. You have only to burn one single atom up completely, and immediately the whole cellar is filled with the Absolute. It's simply appalling how quickly it spreads."



CHAPTER IV: GOD IN THE CELLAR

"It is indeed," said Marek sorrowfully. "Gradually I began to see that it wasn't gas, but the Absolute. The symptoms were terrible. I could read people's thoughts, light emanated from me, I had a desperate struggle not to become absorbed in prayer and preach belief in God. I tried to clog the Karburator up with sand, but I was seized with a bout of levitation. That machine won't let anything stop it. I don't sleep at home nowadays. Even in the factory there have been several serious cases of illumination among the workmen. I don't know where to turn, Bondy. Yes, I've tried every possible isolating material that might prevent the Absolute from getting out of the cellar. Ashes, sand, metal walls, nothing can keep it back. I've even tried covering the cellar with the work of Professor Krejci, Spencer, Haeckel, and all the Positivists you can think of: would you believe it, the Absolute goes calmly through even that stuff! Even papers, prayer-books, Lives of the Saints, Patriotic Song-books, university lectures, best-sellers, political treatises, and Parliamentary Reports, present no obstacle to it. I'm simply desperate. You can't shut it up, you can't soak it up. It's mischief let loose."

"Oh, but why?" said Mr. Bondy. "Does it really mean such mischief? Even if all this were true... is it such a disaster?"

"Bondy, my Karburator is a terrific thing. It will overturn the whole world, mechanically and socially. It will cheapen production to an unbelievable extent. It will do away with poverty and hunger. It will some day save our planet from freezing up. But, on the other hand, it hurls God as a by-product into the world. I implore you, Bondy, don't underrate what it means. We aren't used to reckoning with God as a  reality. We don't know what His presence may bring about—say, socially, morally, and so on. Why, man, this thing affects the whole of human civilization!"

"Wait a minute!" said Bondy thoughtfully. "Perhaps there's some charm or other that would exorcise it. Have you called in the clergy?"

"What kind of clergy?"

"Any kind. The denomination probably makes no difference in this case, you know. Perhaps they could do something to stop it."

"Oh, that's all superstition!" burst out Marek. "Leave me alone with your parsons! Catch me giving them a chance to make a miraculous shrine out of my cellar! Me, with my views!"

"Very well," declared Mr. Bondy. "Then I'll call them in myself. You never can tell.... Come, it can't do any harm, anyway. After all, I haven't anything against God. Only He oughtn't to interfere with business. Have you tried negotiating with Him in a friendly spirit?"

"No," admitted the engineer.

"That was a mistake," said Bondy dryly. "Perhaps you could come to some agreement with Him. A proper formal contract, in something like this style: 'We guarantee to produce You discreetly and continuously to an extent to be fixed by mutual agreement; in return for which You pledge yourself to refrain from any divine manifestations within such and such a radius from the place of origin.' What do you think—would He consider these terms?"

"I don't know," answered Marek uneasily. "He seems to have a decided inclination in favour of becoming independent of matter once more. Still, perhaps . . in His own interests... He might be willing to listen. But don't ask me to do it."



CHAPTER V: BISHOP LINDA

"Oh, some Bishop by the name of Linda, quite a sensible man in other respects. You see, I took him up  there  as an expert, to inspect the wonderworking Absolute. His inspection lasted a full three hours, and he spent the whole time in the cellar, and..."

"He got religion?" burst out Marek.

"Not a bit of it! Perhaps, he's had too long a training with God, or else he's a more hard-baked atheist than you; I don't know. But three days later he came to me and told me that from the Catholic standpoint God cannot be brought into the matter, that the Church absolutely rejects and forbids the pantheistic hypothesis as heresy. In short, that this isn't any legal, duly recognized God, supported by the authority of the Church, and that, as a priest, he must declare it false, perverse, and heretical. He talked very reasonably, did his Reverence."

"So he wasn't conscious of any supernatural manifestations down there?"

"He underwent them all: illuminations, miraculous powers, ecstasy, everything. He doesn't deny, either, that these things happen there."

"Well, then, tell me, how does he explain it?"

"He simply doesn't. He said that the Church does not explain, but merely prescribes or prohibits. In short, he definitely refused to compromise the Church with any new and untried God. At least, that's what I understood him to mean. Do you know that I've bought that church up on the White Mountain?"

* * * * *

"Well, then, in a word, the whole scandal. His Eminence declares that from the standpoint of both reason and faith there can be nothing more offensive than this godless and blasphemous perversion of the laws of Nature...."

"I beg your pardon!" Marek broke out disgustedly. "Would you mind leaving the laws of Nature to us? After all, we don't interfere with your dogmas!"

"You are mistaken," cried the Bishop gaily. "Quite mistaken. Science without dogma is only a heap of doubts. What is worse, your Absolute opposes the laws of the Church, It contradicts the doctrine of the holy sacraments. It does not regard the traditions of the Church. It seriously violates the doctrine of the Trinity. It pays no attention to the apostolic succession. It does not even submit to the rites of exorcism. And so on. In short, it behaves itself in a manner which we must severely discountenance."

"Come, come," suggested Bondy propitiatingly. "Up to the present its behaviour has been very... dignified."

The Bishop raised his finger warningly.

"Up to the present; but we don't know how it will behave next. Look here, Mr. Bondy," he suddenly said in a confidential tone, "it is to your interest that there should be no unpleasantness. To our interest, too. You would like to settle it quickly, like a practical business man. So should we, as the representatives and servants of the Lord. We cannot permit the rise of some new God or possibly a new religion."

"Thank Heaven," Mr. Bondy sighed with relief. "I knew we should come to an agreement."

"Splendid!" cried the Bishop, his eyes sparkling with happiness through his spectacles. "An agreement, that's the thing. The venerable Consistory decided that in the interests of the Church it would place your... er... Absolute provisionally under its patronage. It would attempt to bring it into harmony with Catholic doctrine. It would proclaim the premises in Brevnov known as No. 1651 a miraculous shrine and place of pilgrimage...."

"Oho!" growled Marek, and leaped to his feet.

"Permit me," said the Bishop with an imperious motion. "A miraculous shrine and place of pilgrimage—with certain conditions, of course. The first condition is that on the aforesaid premises the production of the Absolute should be limited to the smallest possible quantity, and that it should be only weak, almost innocuous, very much diluted Absolute, whose manifestations would be less uncontrollable and more irregular, rather as at Lourdes. Otherwise we cannot assume the responsibility."

"Very well," agreed Mr. Bondy. "And what else?"

"Further," continued the Bishop, "it is to be manufactured only from coal obtained at Male Svantovice. As you know, there is a miraculous shrine of the Virgin in that district, so that with the aid of this particular coal we might establish at No. 1651 Brevnov a centre for the worship of Our Lady."

"Undoubtedly," assented Mr. Bondy. "Anything more?"

"In the third place, you must bind yourself not to manufacture the Absolute at any other place or time."

"What?" cried G. H. Bondy, "and our Karburators——"

"—Will never come into operation, with the exception of the one at Brevnov, which remains the property of the Holy Church, and will be under her management."

"Nonsense," protested G. H. Bondy. "The Karburators  shall  be manufactured. In three weeks' time ten of them will be erected. In the first six months there will be twelve hundred. In the course of a year, ten thousand. Our arrangements have gone as far as that already."

"And I tell you," said the Bishop quietly and sweetly, "that at the end of that year not a single Karburator will be running."

"Why not?"

"Because mankind, whether believers or unbelievers, cannot do with a real and active God. We simply cannot, gentlemen. It is out of the question."

"And I tell you," Marek interposed vehemently, "that the Karburator  shall  be made. I'm in favour of them myself now. I mean to have them precisely because you don't want them. In spite of you, my Lord Bishop, in spite of all superstition, in spite of all Rome! And I mean to be the first to cry—" here the engineer took breath, then burst out with unmelodious enthusiam—"Success to the Perfect Karburator!"

"We shall see," said the Bishop with a sigh. "You gentlemen will live to be convinced that the venerable Consistory was right. In a year's time you will stop the manufacture of the Absolute of your own accord. But, oh, the damage, the devastation it will bring to pass in the meantime! 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—but your modern society," cried the Bishop with a mighty voice, "that will pay the price!"



CHAPTER VIII: THE DREDGE

"It's easy to mock and talk about superstition," said Kuzenda. "Brothers, if anyone had told me about miracles and God before this, I should have laughed at him. That's the kind of man I was. When we got this new machine that runs without fuel for the dredge, all our dirty heavy work ceased. Yes, Mr. Hudec, that was the first miracle that happened here—this Karburator, that does everything by itself, as though it had a mind. Even the dredge floats by itself wherever it ought to go. And look how steady it is. Do you notice, Mr. Hudec, that the anchors aren't down? It stands still without being anchored, and floats off again when it's needed to clear the river-bed; it starts itself and stops itself. We, that's Brych and me, don't have to touch a single thing. Will anyone dare tell me that isn't a miracle? And when we saw all this, we began to think it over, didn't we, Brych, until it all became clear to us. This is a sacred dredge, it is an iron church, and we are only here as its priests. If in old times God could appear in a well or in an oak-tree, and sometimes even like a woman, as with the ancient Greeks, why should He not appear on a dredge? Why should He shun machinery? A machine is often cleaner than a nun, and Brych keeps everything here as bright and shining as if it was on a sideboard. However, that's by the way. And let me tell you, God is not so infinite as the Catholics assert. He is about six hundred metres in diameter, and even then is weak towards the edges. He is at His strongest on the dredge. Here He performs miracles, but on the bank He only does inspirations and conversions, and in Stechovice, with a favourable wind, you only notice a kind of holy fragrance. Not long ago some oarsmen from the Czech Rowing Club were paddling by in the Lightning, close to us, and grace descended on all of them. Such is His power. And what this God wishes us to do, one can only feel here within," Kuzenda declared, with an emphatic gesture towards his heart. "I know that He cannot bear politics and money, intellect, pride, and self-conceit. I know He dearly loves both men and beasts, that He is very glad when you come here, and that good deeds are pleasing to Him. He is a thorough democrat, brethren. We, Brych and me, that is, feel that every penny burns us until we've bought coffee for everybody. One Sunday recently, there were several hundred people here, even sitting on both banks of the river, and behold, our coffee multiplied itself so that there was enough for everybody... and what splendid coffee it was! But such things, brethren, are only outward appearances. The greatest miracle is the influence He has on our feelings. It is so intensely beautiful that it fairly makes one shiver. Sometimes you feel as if you could die of love and happiness, as if you were one with the water below, with all the animals, with the very earth and stones, or as if gigantic arms were holding you embraced; oh, words cannot utter what you feel. Everything around you is sounding and singing, you understand the speech of voiceless things, the water and the wind, you see deep into everything, how one thing is linked with another and with you; at one stroke you grasp everything better than if you had read it in print. Sometimes it comes upon one like a fit, so that one foams at the mouth; but often it acts quite slowly and penetrates to one's tiniest little vein. And now, brothers and sisters, do not be afraid; two police officers are just coming across in a boat to 'disperse' us because we are holding an unauthorized assembly. Just keep calm and have faith in the God of the dredge."



CHAPTER X: SAINT ELLEN

"And I," said Mr. Bondy to himself, "am a patriot. I will not let our country be brought to ruin. Besides, there are our own establishments here. Very well, from to-day onward we will cancel all orders from Czechoslovakia. What has been done is done; but from this moment not a single Karburator shall be set up in the land of the Czechs. We'll flood the Germans and the French with them; then we'll bombard England with the Absolute. England is conservative, and won't have anything to do with our Karburators. Well, we'll drop them on her from airships like big bombs. We'll infect the whole industrial and financial world with God, and preserve only our own country as an island of civilization and honest labour free from God. It is a patriotic duty, so to speak, and besides, we have our own factories to consider."

* * * * *

"Then listen to me, Ellen," said Bondy. "I can tell you everything, for you'd read it in me in any case. I could never marry a woman who would be able to read my thoughts. She could be religious to her heart's content, boundlessly charitable to the poor; I'm able to afford it, and besides, it's good publicity. I'd put up even with virtue, Ellen, for love of you. I'd put up with anything. I have loved you after my fashion, Ellen. I can tell you so because you can read it for yourself. But, Ellen, neither business nor society is possible without thoughts that are not disclosed. And marriage, above all things, is impossible without thoughts that are not disclosed. It is unthinkable, Ellen. And even if you find the holiest of men, don't marry him as long as you can read his thoughts. A little illusion is the only bond between mortals that never breaks. Saint Ellen, you must not marry."

"Why not?" said Saint Ellen in soft tones. "Our God is not opposed to nature; He only sanctifies it. He does not ask us to mortify ourselves. He bids us live and be fruitful. He wants us to..."

"Stop," Mr. Bondy interrupted her. "Your God doesn't understand. If He takes away our illusions He is doing something confoundly opposed to nature. He's simply impossible, Ellen, utterly impossible. If He were a reasonable being, He would realize it. He's either wholly inexperienced or else completely and criminally destructive. It's a great pity, Ellen. I haven't anything against religion, but this God doesn't know what He ought to want. Depart into the wilderness. Saint Ellen, with your second sight. You are out of place among us mortals. Farewell, Ellen; or rather—good-bye for ever."



CHAPTER XII: DOCTOR BLAHOUS

Blahous's article did not cause any stir, for it was overshadowed by other events. Only that youthful savant, Dr. Regner, Lecturer in Philosophy, read it with immense interest and afterwards proclaimed in various places: "Blahous is impossible. Utterly impossible. How on earth can a man have the nerve to pose as an expert on religion when he actually believes in God?"



CHAPTER XIV: THE LAND OF PLENTY

It has often happened to the chronicler (and surely to many of his readers) that when for any reason whatever he has gazed at the night sky and the stars, and realized with mute amazement their prodigious number and their inconceivable distance and dimensions, and told himself that each of those glittering dots was a gigantic flaming world or a whole living planetary system, and that there were possibly billions, say, of such dots; or when he has looked down to a far horizon from a high mountain (it happened to me in the Tatras), and has seen beneath him fields and woods and mountains, and right in front of him dense forest and grass lands, all of it more than luxuriant, running riot, life exuberant and alarming in its richness—and when he has noted in the grass myriads of blossoms, tiny beetles, and butterflies, and has mentally multiplied this mad profusion by the vast expanses stretching away before him to Heaven knows where, and has added to these expanses the millions of other expanses equally crowded and luxuriant, which compose the surface of our earth; at such a moment it has often happened that the chronicler has bethought him of the Creator, and has said to himself: "If someone made or created all this, then we must admit that it is a terrible waste. If anyone wanted to show his power as a Creator, there was no need to create such an insane quantity of things. Excess is chaos, and chaos is something like insanity or drunkenness. Yes, the human intellect is staggered by the over-profusion of this creative achievement. There is simply  too much  of it. It's boundlessness gone mad. Of course, He who is Infinite from His very birth is accustomed to huge proportions in everything, and has no proper standard (for every standard implies finiteness) or, rather, has no standard whatsoever."

I beg you not to regard this as blasphemy; I am only endeavouring to set forth the disproportion between human ideas and this cosmic superabundance. This wanton, purposeless, well-nigh feverish excess of everything that exists appears to the sober human eye more like creativeness run wild than conscientious and methodical creation. That is what I wish to say, with all due respect, before we return to our story.

You are already aware that the process of perfect combustion invented by Marek practically proved the presence of the Absolute in every form of matter. One might put it this way (only as a hypothesis, of course), that before the creation of all things the Absolute existed in the form of an Infinite Free Energy. For some cogent physical or moral reason, this Free Energy began to be creative. It became Working Energy, and following the laws of inversion, it was transformed into a state of Infinite Imprisoned Energy. It lost itself somehow in its own handiwork, i.e. in created matter, and remained there latent, as if under a spell. And if this is hard to understand, I cannot help you.

And now, apparently as a result of the perfect combustion effected by Marek's atomic motors, this imprisoned energy was liberated, freed of the fetters of matter which had held it fast. It became once more Free Energy or active Absolute, as free as it was before the Creation. It was the sudden release of that same inscrutable and unresting power which had already manifested itself once in the Creation of the World.

If the whole cosmos at once were to undergo complete combustion, the first act of creation might be repeated; for that would indeed be the end of the world, a complete liquidation which would make possible the establishment of a new world-firm, Cosmos the Second. Meanwhile, as you know, Marek's Karburators were only burning up the material world by kilogrammes at a time. Being thus released in small quantities only, the Absolute either did not feel sufficiently strong to begin creating again at once, or perhaps did not wish to repeat itself. Anyhow, it decided to express itself in two ways, one of them to some extent traditional and the other distinctly modern.

* * * * *

You can well imagine how the workmen in such a factory were startled by the performances of the new motive power. For them it was a case of wholly unexpected and unfair competition, something that made their labour altogether superfluous; and they would quite rightly have protected themselves against this assault of the capitalism of the Manchester School on the working classes by at least demolishing the factory and hanging its proprietors, if the Absolute had not surprised and overpowered them by its first method of attack, religious illumination of every form and degree. Meantime they experienced levitations, prophecies, miracle-working, visions, supernatural cures, sanctification, love for their neighbours, and other conditions equally unnatural, not to say miraculous.

* * * * *

Thus there ruled in the world a state of boundless plenty of all that men could need. But men need everything, everything but boundless plenty.



CHAPTER XVI: IN THE MOUNTAINS

Marek sat down. "Wait a bit, Bondy," he said. "I've been thinking a good deal about it up here in the mountains. I've been following up everything and comparing the signs. I tell you, Bondy, I don't even give a thought to anything else. I certainly don't know what He is aiming at, but I do know this, Bondy, that He's following no particular plan. He doesn't know Himself what He wants and how to get it. Possibly He wants to do something big, but doesn't know how to set about it. I'll tell you something, Bondy. So far He's only a force of Nature. Politically, He's a fearful ignoramus. In the matter of economics He's a simple savage. After all, He ought to have submitted to the Church; she has had experience.... You know, He sometimes strikes me as being so childish...."

"Don't you believe it, Rudy," G. H. Bondy returned heavily. "He knows what He wants. That's why He plunged into large-scale industry. He is far more up to date than we ever thought."

"That is only His play," urged Marek. "He only wants something to occupy Himself with. Don't you see, there's a sort of god-like boyishness about it. Wait, I know what you want to say. As a worker He is tremendous. It is simply amazing what He can bring off. But, Bondy, it is so senseless that there can't be any plan in it."

"The most senseless things in history were systematically prosecuted plans," declared G. H. Bondy.

"My dear Bondy," said Marek quickly. "Look at all the papers I have here. I follow up every step He takes. I tell you that there isn't a scrap of consistency about them. They're all merely the improvisations of omnipotence. He performs tremendous tricks, but at random, disconnectedly, confusedly. His activity isn't organized a scrap. He came into the world altogether too unprepared. That's where His weakness lies. He impresses me, but I see His weak points. He is not a good organizer, and perhaps never has been. He has flashes of genius, but He is unsystematic. I'm surprised that you haven't got the better of Him, Bondy, a wide-awake fellow like you."

"You can't do anything with Him," Bondy asserted. "He attacks you in your innermost soul, and you're done for. When He can't convince you by reason, He sends miraculous enlightenment upon you. You know what He did with Saul."

"You are running away from Him," said Marek, "but I am running after Him, and I'm close at His heels. I know a bit about Him already, enough to get out a warrant for Him! Description: infinite, invisible, and formless. Place of residence: everywhere in the vicinity of atomic motors. Occupation : mystical Communism. Crimes for which He is wanted: alienation of private property, illegal practice of medicine, offences against the Public Assemblies Act, interference with officials in the execution of their duty, and so forth. Distinguishing marks: omnipotence. In short, have Him arrested."

"You're making fun of it," sighed G. H. Bondy. "Don't do it. He has beaten us."

"Not yet!" cried Marek. "Look here, Bondy. He doesn't know how to govern yet. He has got into a fearful muddle with His new undertakings. For instance, He has gone in for over-production instead of first building up a miraculous railway system. Now He's in the mire Himself—what He produces has no value. That miraculous profusion of everything was a fearful fiasco. In the second place, He turned the brains of the authorities with His mysticism and upset the whole machinery of Government, which otherwise He could now be using to maintain order. You can make revolutions anywhere else you like, but not in the Government offices; even if the world's to be brought to an end, the thing to do is to destroy the universe first and take the Government offices afterwards. That's how it is, Bondy. And in the third place, like the crudest of doctrinaire Communists, He has done away with the currency and thereby with one stroke paralysed the circulation of commodities. He did not know that the laws of the market are stronger than the laws of God. He did not know that production without trade is utterly senseless. He knew nothing whatever. He behaved like... like a... well, to put it shortly, as if He would destroy with one hand what He made with the other. Here we have miraculous profusion, and along with it disastrous shortage. He is all-powerful, yet He's achieved only chaos. I believe that He once did really create the laws of Nature, the primordial lizards, the mountains, and anything else you like. But business, Bondy, our modern industry and commerce, that I swear He did not create, for He simply doesn't know a thing about it. No, Bondy, industry and commerce are not of God."

"Hold on," said G. H. Bondy. "I know that the consequences of His acts are calamitous... immeasurable.... But what can we do about it?"

"For the time being, nothing. My dear Bondy, I just study and compare. It is a second Babel. Here, for instance, you have the Roman Catholic publications expressing the suspicion that 'the confusions of these times of religious excitement are being deliberately organized with Satanic subtlety by the Freemasons.' The Nationalist Press blames the Jews, the Socialists of the Right blame those of the Left, the Agrarian party attacks the Liberals; it's killing. And mind you, we're not really in the whirlpool yet. In my opinion, the whole thing is only just beginning to get into a tangle. Come here, Bondy, I want to tell you something."

"Well?"

"Do you think that He... you know what I mean... that He's the only one there is?"

"I don't know," replied Bondy. "And is it of any special importance?"

"Immense importance," Marek answered. "Come closer, Bondy, and prick up your ears."



CHAPTER XXVII: A CORAL ISLAND IN THE PACIFIC

"Look, here, sir," he said after a while, "what are they squabbling about over there, anyway? Some boundary or other?"

"Less than that."

"Colonies?"

"Even less than that."

"Commercial treaties?"

"No. Only about the truth."

"What kind of truth?"

"The absolute truth. You see, every nation insists that it has the absolute truth."

"Hm," grunted the Captain. "What is it, anyway?"

"Nothing. A sort of human passion. You've heard, haven't you, that in Europe yonder, and everywhere in fact, a... a God, you know... came into the world."

"Yes, I did hear that."

"Well, that's what it's all about, don't you understand?"

"No, I don't understand, old man. If you ask me, the true God would put things right in the world. The one they've got can't be the true and proper God."

"On the contrary," said G. H. Bondy (obviously pleased at being able to talk for once with an independent and experienced human being), "I assure you that it  isthe true God. But I'll tell you something else. This true God is far too big."

"Do you think so?"

"I do indeed. He is infinite. That's just where the trouble lies. You see, everyone measures off a certain amount of Him and then thinks it is the entire God. Each one appropriates a little fringe or fragment of Him and then thinks he possesses the whole of Him. See?"

"Aha," said the Captain. "And then gets angry with everyone else who has a different bit of Him."

"Exactly. In order to convince himself that God is wholly his, he has to go and kill all the others. Just for that very reason, because it means so much to him to have the whole of God and the whole of the truth. That's why he can't bear anyone else to have any other God or any other truth. If he once allowed that, he would have to admit that he himself has only a few wretched metres or gallons or sack-loads of divine truth. You see, suppose Dash were convinced that it was tremendously important that only Dash's underwear should be the best on earth, he would have to burn his rival, Blank, and all Blank's underwear. But Dash isn't so silly as that in the matter of underwear; he is only as silly as that in the matter of religion or English politics. If he believed that God was something as substantial and essential as underwear, he would allow other people to provide themselves with Him just as they pleased. But he hasn't sufficient commercial confidence in Him; and so he forces Dash's God or Dash's Truth on everybody with curses, wars and other unreliable forms of advertisement. I am a business man and I understand competition, but this sort of..."

"Wait a minute," interrupted Captain Trouble, and aimed a shot into the mangrove thicket. "There, I think that's one less of them."

"He died for his faith," whispered Bondy dreamily. "You have forcibly restrained him from devouring me. He fell for the national ideal of cannibalism. In Europe people have been devouring each other from time immemorial out of idealism. You are a decent man, Captain, but it's quite possible that you'd devour me on behalf of any fundamental principle of navigation. I've lost confidence even in you."

"You're quite right," the Captain grumbled. "When I look at you, I feel that I'm..."

"...a violent anti-Semite. I know. That doesn't matter, I had myself baptized. But do you know, Captain, what's got hold of those black idiots? The night before last they fished out of the sea a Japanese atomic torpedo. They've set it up over there under the coco-nut palms, and now they are bowing down before it. Now they have a God of their own. That's why they must devour us."


SOURCE: Čapek, Karel. The Absolute at Large. London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1927. viii, 294 pp.
Reprint: New York; London: Garland Publishing Co., Inc., 1975. (The Garland Library of Science Fiction)
(Original Czech publication, 1922)
Original edition online.

Alternative translation by David Wyllie: The Absolute at Large (2012)


War with the Newts (Excerpt on the Language Problem) by Karel Čapek

Pri kvin panoj” de Karel Čapek (en Esperanto)

Ikonoklasmo” de Karel Čapek

Dystopia west, dystopia east: the vanishing of speculative fiction under Stalinism by Erika Gottlieb

Karel Čapek: Selected Bibliography & Web Links

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

Sciencfikcio & Utopia Literaturo en Esperanto / Science Fiction & Utopian Literature in Esperanto: Gvidilo / A Guide

Futurology, Science Fiction, Utopia, and Alienation in the Work of Imre Madách, György Lukács, and Other Hungarian Writers: Select Bibliography

Doubt & Skepticism: A Directed Minimal Bibliography & Web Guide

Offsite:

Čapek translations by David Wyllie: includes The Absolute at Large (2012)

The Absolute at Large - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Absolute at Large (1927) by Karel Capek: reviews: UNZ

Karel Čapek Energies: The Absolute at Large as Proto-Cli-Fi Literature (Episode 7: Retrospective futures), by Andy Hageman, Deletion, October 6, 2014

The Absolute at Large, by Karel Capek, Reviewed by Stuart Aken, 18 May 2012

Lit Novelist Confesses Nerd Love For Sci Fi Classic: Cara Hoffman, All Things Considered, April 20, 2011

Čapek en Esperanto

Karel Čapek @ Ĝirafo


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