i'm just a literary tease, my reputation's on its knees.

Will This Machine Ever Stop?

February 03, 2005

I love the story The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster. What is nifty-est (it's been a long day!) about the piece is the relevance to today's society! This story was written in 1909, loooong before computers were even imagined and here I am in 2005, writing about this story on the modern day equivalent of "The Machine." Super.

What caught my attention through the story was the lack of sensory experiences that the people in this world felt in their day to day lives. This sentence in particular caught my attention:

"The imponderable bloom, declared by a discredited philosophy to be the actual essense of intercourse, was rightly ignored by the Machine, just as the imponderable bloom of the grape was ignored by the manufactuers of artificial fruit. Something 'good enough' had long since been accepted by our race."

In other words, the very humanity of the beings had been stripped away!

I'll use the infamous "rose" example (you know, a rose by any other name... the bard is always with us):

You can read a paragraph about a rose. You can see a picture of a rose on the computer screen, dew drops and all. But you don't really "know" what a rose truly is until you "experience" the rose, or in this case, until you get down and smell the damn thing!

In this society of The Machine, true sensory experience has been completely stripped away! These people aren't living.. the people -are- the machine. The air is artificial - the scents are computer generated and pumped in. When Vashti
leaves her cell, she complains of the smell:

"For one thing it smelt - not strongly or unpleasantly, but it did smell, and with her eyes shut she should have known that a new thing was close to her."

She has been so withdrawn from the world that she experiences a "horror of direct experience."

hmm... sounds familiar...

As smell is chemically enhanced, so too is taste. The grape juice isn't made from grapes, but it's "good enough" for them. How many of you drink juices from actual fruit as opposed to *fake* juice? Just a thought...

And hearing? The hum of The Machine fills the ears of the inhabitants from birth so that when The Machine stops, as of course it must, the silence actually kills people.

How silent it must have been before the advent of the industrial revolution.

One of the things that struck me initially about New York City when I visited in December of last year was the ever present hum and buzz, that sound of thousands of people talking all at the same time, the living breathing murmur of a city that never sleeps.

By the time I came home, I scarely even noticed it.

What of touch? Well...

"When Vashti served away from the sunbeams with a cry, she [the attendent]behaved barbacially - she put out her hand to steady her."

The only sense that these people still use is of sight and everything that they see is The Machine. These beings have been stripped of their very humanity and of any possiblity of pleasure in their lives - I would argue that all pleasure is is an enjoyable sensory moment in time. With no senses to speak of, pleasure has been totally abolished.

"Then she generated the light, and the sight of her room, flooded with radiance and studded with electric buttons, revived her. THere were buttons and switches everything - buttons to call for food for music for clothing. There was the hot-bath button, by pressure of which a basin of (imitation) marble rose out of the floor, filled to the brim with a warm deodorized liquid. There was the cold-bath button. There was the button that produced literature, and there were, of course, the buttons by which she communicated with her friends. The room, though it contained


, was in touch with all that she cared about in the world."


Whew... heady stuff. If I weren't so freaking exhausted I could go on forever!

Moira at 09:50 PM :: Comments (1) :: « :: »

Mysterious is a good way of describing the great Gatsby. He is like an elephant that can’t be found in a room. Somewhat evasive even though everyone knew who he was. Elaborate social gatherings at his abode amplified his popularity. He thought daisy, his long lost fairytale princess, would somehow show up at one of these events.

Posted by: lanre at February 11, 2005 11:19 AM
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