Wednesday, 25 November 2009

House of the Čapek Brothers, Prague 10

Prague is a city full of stories of artificial human beings, from the Golem, a mud-man devised by the 16th century Rabbi Loew to protect the Jewish community, to the bizarrely mummified remains of Klement Gottwald, the first communist president of Czechoslovakia. But perhaps the most important automata appeared in the play R.U.R, written by Karel Čapek in 1921.

The play gives us a scary glimpse into a society where mass-produced biologically-engineered servants rebel against their human inventors, a plot which became the blueprint for many later works of science fiction. Originally the servants were to have been called 'labourers', but Karel's brother, the artist Josef Čapek, made an alternative suggestion, one that would go down in history: these creatures performed unpaid labour - 'robota' -  they should be called 'robots'. And so a word, and an entire modern concept, was born.

Karel Čapek's output was extensive. As well as collecting Czech fairy-tales, he was the friend and biographer of Tomáš Masaryk, first president of the Republic; he wrote satirical plays such as 'The Insect Play' and 'The Makropoulos Case', a drama on the theme of immortality which was turned into an opera by fellow Czech Leoš Janáček; and he was the author of the novel 'The War with the Newts', which provides, like R.U.R. a satirical overview of human society.

Today's picture shows the villa in Vinohrady which was home to Josef and Karel, as well as the meeting place of their literary society, the Friday Club. The road in which this peaceful house stands has been renamed 'Bratří Čapků' - the Brothers Čapek - in their honour. It was getting dark when I arrived at the house, but a single lamp was on, affording a view into the lives of two talented artists, of whom more tomorrow.

'Mechanically they are more perfect than we are, they have an enormously developed intelligence, but they have no soul. Have you ever seen what a Robot looks like inside?' Karel Čapek

2 comments:

Kate said...

This is a very attractive photo; very well balanced composition and attractive facade.

Antjas said...

The story about the Brothers Capek made the photo all the more interesting.

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