It is my opinion that Stanislav Lem’s The Cyberiad is wonderful. That is,it fills me with wonder. An absurd blend of sci-fi and fantasy, stirred up by indulgent wordplay and incomprehensible mathematical propositions that are so jumbled and matter-of-fact that you can’t help but accept them. For goodness’s sake! It even uses probability to explain the questionable existence of dragons! I don’t know what I was expecting –after reading Solaris I suppose I was geared up for some profound, somewhat clichéd, creepy space saga. How pleasantly surprised I was!
I love this style of writing. I am a huge fan of the absurd. I was gleefully tickled by the ridiculous characters and machines, the unabashedly intricate wordplay (more on that later), but at the same time I could not help noticing a smattering of subliminal messages. Whether they were, in fact, subliminal or actually so obvious that they only seemed so, I have not yet decided. I look forward to discussing this in class.
This is a series of stories that could be thoroughly enjoyed by small children. As a reluctant adult, I found myself doing just that. But I also found myself pondering the implications of various elements of the stories. The machines raised a multitude of questions and concerns. At a few instances Lem makes it unquestionably clear that The Cyberiad takes place in our world, or an extremely similar one, but centuries/millennia in the future. Trurl, the constructor, is obviously a genius, above par even in his time and place. Yet nobody seems stunned by the humanity of his machines –frustrated, certainly, but not surprised. Every single machine develops a mind of its own, if it is not created with one. Just listen to the sass dished out by the n-machine in the first story! But what about the machine that can synthesize a world, replicating history from its conceptions (not without a glitch here and there)? A machine that can produce poetry more emotive and more profound than any poet? A machine that can make passionate love? And what of the man who creates these machines, who can tweak and calibrate them at his whim? I don’t want to answer these questions here, I just want to pose them. I would much rather bring them up in class discussion and hear what others have to say and use that input to develop my thoughts because, in fact, this adorable collection of fantastical stories has quite flustered me in its suggestions about human uniqueness and the power of machines, or the power of the few who are able to create them.
One last thing I would like to discuss a bit, which has less to do with the content of the stories but rather their form. Like I said, I find this is my favorite style of writing. This ridiculous wordplay and the absurd situations have a childlike appeal, but can be used to convey quite profound messages (I am thinking in particular of works such as Catch-22). In reading The Cyberiad I was constantly reminded of Jame’s Thurber’s The Wonderful O, which looks basically like a writer having fun and just playing around with the english language, experimenting with alliteration, assonance, etc. Then I remembered that Lem wrote in Polish, and this is actually a translation (a brilliant one, in my opinion, but I know nothing about the art of translation and could very well be mistaken). But the puns lend themselves so well to English! In fact, many of them seem to necessitate english. Could it be that the polish translates perfectly into the english –I have trouble believing that. How much, then is lost in translation? How much license must have been taken by Michael Kandel, the translator? How much of this english translation is by Lem, and how much by Kandel?
I am very excited for the class discussion on The Cyberiad. I am only halfway through, but I can already think of lots to talk about!