notgettingenough 's Reviews > The Machine Stops

The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster
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Jan 28, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: modern-lit, science-fiction
Read in July, 2009

I was straightforwardly gobsmacked when I first read this story last year. Wow. Here is our world, described one hundred years before it happens. These are just a few samples that particularly appealed to me. I don’t want to give away the story and there are lots of other interesting ideas about the future, including, indeed, the idea of the idea that I will leave you to discover for yourselves,


"Who is it?" she called. Her voice was irritable, for she had been interrupted often since the music began. She knew several thousand people, in certain directions human intercourse had advanced enormously. But when she listened into the receiver, her white face wrinkled into smiles, and she said: "Very well. Let us talk, I will isolate myself. I do not expect anything important will happen for the next five minutes-for I can give you fully five minutes, Kuno.


Modern life indeed.

On the subject of us accepting what is inferior but convenient, interpolating the machine in our relationships with each other.


In this world all people live in isolation in their rooms with technology supplying everything. Kuno is her son and wishes to see her. When she exclaims that he is seeing her, he replies:

“I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you. I hear something like you through this telephone, but I do not hear you. That is why I want you to come."


And


The clumsy system of public gatherings had been long since abandoned; neither Vashti nor her audience stirred from their rooms. Seated in her armchair she spoke, while they in their armchairs heard her, fairly well, and saw her, fairly well.


On globalisation:


Few travelled in these days, for, thanks to the advance of science, the earth was exactly alike all over. Rapid intercourse, from which the previous civilization had hoped so much, had ended by defeating itself. What was the good of going to Peking when it was just like Shrewsbury? Why return to Shrewsbury when it would all be like Peking? Men seldom moved their bodies; all unrest was concentrated in the soul.


On modern selection of foetuses, which shall live and which shall die, a process during which we believe ourselves to be morally correct:


By these days it was a demerit to be muscular. Each infant was examined at birth, and all who promised undue strength were destroyed. Humanitarians may protest, but it would have been no true kindness to let an athlete live; he would never have been happy in that state of life to which the Machine had called him; he would have yearned for trees to climb, rivers to bathe in, meadows and hills against which he might measure his body. Man must be adapted to his surroundings, must he not?


And, close to my heart, on the nature of the revision of history according to the contemporary mores of the revisionist:


“And even the lecturers acquiesced when they found that a lecture on the sea was none the less stimulating when compiled out of other lectures that had already been delivered on the same subject. "Beware of first- hand ideas!" exclaimed one of the most advanced of them. "First-hand ideas do not really exist. They are but the physical impressions produced by live and fear, and on this gross foundation who could erect a philosophy? Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element - direct observation. Do not learn anything about this subject of mine - the French Revolution. Learn instead what I think that Enicharmon thought Urizen thought Gutch thought Ho-Yung thought Chi-Bo-Sing thought LafcadioHearn thought Carlyle thought Mirabeau said about the French Revolution. Through the medium of these ten great minds, the blood that was shed at Paris and the windows that were broken at Versailles will be clarified to an idea which you may employ most profitably in your daily lives. But be sure that the intermediates are many and varied, for in history one authority exists to counteract another. Urizen must counteract the scepticism of Ho-Yung and Enicharmon, I must myself counteract the impetuosity of Gutch. You who listen to me are in a better position to judge about the French Revolution than I am. Your descendants will be even in a better position than you, for they will learn what you think I think, and yet another intermediate will be added to the chain. And in time" - his voice rose - "there will come a generation that had got beyond facts, beyond impressions, a generation absolutely colourless, a generation

seraphically free
From taint of personality,


which will see the French Revolution not as it happened, nor as they would like it to have happened, but as it would have happened, had it taken place in the days of the Machine."


On the modern loss of silence:


Then she broke down, for with the cessation of activity came an unexpected terror - silence.
She had never known silence, and the coming of it nearly killed her - it did kill many thousands of people outright.

It would be hard to imagine something more apposite for people now to read. You can find it here: http://archive.ncsa.illinois.edu/praj...
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message 1: by Manny (last edited Jan 29, 2010 04:36AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Manny I'd forgotten
Seraphically free
from taint of personality
Such a wonderful couplet!

Now, in accordance with the principles you quote in your review, I hope that we can have a long thread, in which several people who haven't read the book can object to criticisms that other people post concerning this comment. Needless to say, each of us sitting alone in front of our separate computers. No, I repeat NO face-to-face conversations will be permitted.




notgettingenough Manny wrote: "I'd forgottenSeraphically free
from taint of personalitySuch a wonderful couplet!

Now, in accordance with the principles you quote in your review, I hope that we can have a long thread, in which several people who haven't read the book can object to criticisms that other people post concerning this comment. Needless to say, each of us sitting alone in front of our separate computers. No, I repeat NO face-to-face conversations will be permitted...."


Oh yes, I like that. Only people who haven't actually read the book can comment. And it opens the field up wide as well.


notgettingenough "Beware of first- hand ideas!" exclaimed one of the most advanced of them. "First-hand ideas do not really exist. They are but the physical impressions produced by live and fear, and on this gross foundation who could erect a philosophy? Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element - direct observation. Do not learn anything about this subject of mine - the French Revolution. Learn instead what I think that Enicharmon thought Urizen thought Gutch thought Ho-Yung thought Chi-Bo-Sing thought LafcadioHearn thought Carlyle thought Mirabeau said about the French Revolution.

This has so many modern applications. Obviously goodreads itself, where people read and vote on reviews without having read the books. It's taken me months to get into the swing of this.

More importantly, what about Google Books? Geoff Nunberg, in Language Log, wrote this about the quality of data in Google Books a few months ago:


This is almost certainly the Last Library, after all. There's no Moore's Law for capture, and nobody is ever going to scan most of these books again. So whoever is in charge of the collection a hundred years from now — Google? UNESCO? Wal-Mart? — these are the files that scholars are going to be using then. All of which lends a particular urgency to the concerns about whether Google is doing this right.

My presentation focussed on GB's metadata — a feature absolutely necessary to doing most serious scholarly work with the corpus. It's well and good to use the corpus just for finding information on a topic — entering some key words and barrelling in sideways. (That's what "googling" means, isn't it?) But for scholars looking for a particular edition of Leaves of Grass, say, it doesn't do a lot of good just to enter "I contain multitudes" in the search box and hope for the best. Ditto for someone who wants to look at early-19th century French editions of Le Contrat Social, or to linguists, historians or literary scholars trying to trace the development of words or constructions: Can we observe the way happiness replaced felicity in the seventeenth century, as Keith Thomas suggests? When did "the United States are" start to lose ground to "the United States is"? How did the use of propaganda rise and fall by decade over the course of the twentieth century? And so on for all the questions that have made Google Books such an exciting prospect for all of us wordinistas and wordastri. But to answer those questions you need good metadata. And Google's are a train wreck: a mish-mash wrapped in a muddle wrapped in a mess.

Start with dates. To take GB's word for it, 1899 was a literary annus mirabilis, which saw the publication of Raymond Chandler's Killer in the Rain, The Portable Dorothy Parker, André Malraux' La Condition Humaine, Stephen King's Christine, The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf, Raymond Williams' Culture and Society, Robert Shelton's biography of Bob Dylan, Fodor's Guide to Nova Scotia, and the Portuguese edition of the book version of Yellow Submarine, to name just a few.


This is just a small taste of a long critique. What happens when we supplant primary sources with secondary ones, which is in effect Google Books?

I guess it would be funny if it weren't so appalling.





Alan I can't comment because I've read the story in an anthology. I had forgotten who wrote it (the story), until about a year ago when Manny put me right on some thread (about Huxley?). Read it in 1969 (at school in a fantastic collection that included Conrad's The Secret Sharer, Mansfield's Daughters of the Colonel, Greene's The Destructors etc).


Alan found the thread. http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...
I'll stop my geekiness now (I am a librarian).. besides got to go and do some work..


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