Science Fiction Though the Decades

Friday, May 25, 2012

1921: Voyage to Faremido & Capillaria (Karinthy, Frigyes)

Gulliver's wanderlust finds precarious realms (5/5)

Frigyes Karinthy is an early 20th century Hungarian satirist, playwright, and journalist. His parody and humor were once well-known in the Hungarian literature circles, but his international fame was more subdued. Best known for his autobiographical neurological journey of his experience with a brain tumor, its affects on him, and his anesthetic-less surgery, A Journey Round My Skull was first published in 1939 and later reprinted in 2008.

The twin novels Voyage to Faremido & Capillaria were written in Hungarian in the years 1916 and 1921, respectively. They weren't translated until 1965, when they were published in Hungarian, translated to English (by Paul Tabori), and later published in 1966 (with the Living Book publisher) and 1978 (with New English Library). The two novels are Karinthy's literary extension to Jonathan Swift's four-part Gulliver's Travels (1726). These fifth and sixth journey's of Gulliver's are some of the earliest examples of the continuation of Swiftian literature.

Rear cover synopsis:
"First there is Faremido- a planet peopled by machines who regard organic life as a disease. Gulliver is held to trial as a representative of the most corrupt disease in the universe--the disease of humanity.
Then there is Capillaria- an underwater world where the men are nutritious delicacies and the women rule like gods. Gulliver is mysteriously saved from drowning but his respite is short-lived when his dreaded sex is discovered..."


Voyage to Faremido (1916, 33pgs) - 5/5

Promising to never travel again after his four adventures, Gulliver gives in to his wanderlust and signs on to the navy as a surgeon. The ship he's on is struck by a mine and as the boat sinks, the captain saves him in a hydrofoil, which flies into the air. Regaining consciousness, Gulliver realizes the captain is dead and the hydrofoil is now thousands of feet into the frigid atmosphere... when a metallic craft captures him.

The first being he approaches intones the notes "F D E C" which is the name of the planet he now strides upon--Fa-Re-Mi-Do, or Faremido. During the next eighteen months of his stay, he befriends the race of intelligent machines which gave "the impression of simplicity and of a self-evident inevitability" and were "a masterpiece of economical and perfect technology." (28) Being an educated man, Gulliver wishes to speak of epistemology and technology while envying the god-like beings, but the mechanical aliens have their viewpoints about organic lifeforms such as Gulliver, himself. Organic beings are seen as tumorous, infectious, malodorous, parasitic, pathogenic germs; a transitory phenomenon. For what of a better place in the universe, Gulliver convinces the machines to make him more machine-like, a process which would see him as part-organic, part-machine. To get a glimpse of his post-humanism to come, Gulliver is injected with an inorganic substance (nanites?) that alters his perceptions and sensations to a temporary omniscient level.

There are a number of progressive elements from the era found in this story which reflect the progress man has made and Gulliver's eagerness to pronounce such accomplishments to the robots of Faremido. Psychoanalysis was a science in its early years at the time Karinthy penned the novel and Gulliver mentions concepts revolving around consciousness and ego, something which is seen as a sickness to the purely inorganic robots. The robots, themselves, use a technology which was being pioneered around 1916--the assembly line. Gulliver mentioned the effectiveness of the system and the division of individual labor.

Karinthy sees a post-human world where man can transcend death through evolution into a bodily vessel, surpassing "the corruptibility of the organic body" into one composed of "inorganic, enduring, imperishable elements." (50) Also, a brief philosophy on technology and mankind is given when Gulliver reflects on the state of the art:
In the course of centuries science and art naturally became more perfect. [...] Finally we reached a stage where the machines not only aided men in all their labour and multiplied their strength--but carried out their work far more perfectly than this could have been done by our frail human bodies, [...] they surpassed Man; they became more perfect, and soon we reached the point where, if he wanted to be perfect, Man was forced to imitate the machines and works which has once imitated him. (32)


Capillaria (1921, 66pgs) - 4/5
Promising to never travel again after his five adventures, Gulliver gives in to his wanderlust, again, and signs on to the navy as a surgeon, again. Struck by a U-boat torpedo, the ship sinks and Gulliver is inexplicably rescued from drowning by the shell-shaped gills surrounding his ears. On the seabed Gulliver has no use for his lungs as the artificial gills provide sufficient oxygen for his body. Without using his lungs (?) he is still able to produce speech when he speaks with the pulchritudinous denizens of the deep: the Oiha. The ever-chivalrous gentleman Gulliver, a philosopher and well-read individual, orates to the babylonianesque women about the nature of the role of sexes on terra firma.

Gulliver witness the atrocious act of cannibalism but accepts the cultural oddity because of his wide experience in such counterculture matters while abroad on his travels. The women are lackadaisical gadflys, sucking the "blood" of productivity from male contingent; the smaller, inferior men are incomprehensible to the woolgathering women, whose air-headed language consists "entirely of interjections and ejaculations". (78) Their life goal is the pursuit of pleasure, "in the eternal pursuit of pleasure, the search for and enjoyment of artfully selected physical sensations." (79) His eighteen months under the sea are devoted, not to the physical serving of the scores of women, but to the oration of terra firma human philosophy of the human sexes to the queen. During an excitation in audience with the queen, his true sex is revealed, thence he is banished to the male enclave where his size quickly brings him favor to the industrious men.

I wasn't sure if Karinthy was (1) expressing his own viewpoints on the dichotomous nature of the social function of the two human sexes, or (2) viewing the same functions through the eyes of Swift, a man of the eighteenth century, or (3) peniing the entire novel as written satire... which is actually the widely held belief. Some of the misogyny is hard hitting stuff:
* the female as supporting wife (pages 61 and 94)
* the female preoccupation to physical beauty (pages 88, 95,and 96)
* the female vacuous mind (pages 74, 77, and 88-89)
* female success based on seduction or position (pages 90 and 94)
* aggrandizement of singularly male achievement (pages 101-102)

Page 102 proved to be the most conversational (well, internal monologue debate) with the topic of "The problem of women":
I had endeavoured to prove the inferiority of the female mind, the mental poverty of women by the fact that they were unable to define or describe themselves--so that in order to have a proper idea about them the genius of man was needed because women had no independent conception of their own souls. (102) 
I had admitted to myself [...] that women had a far greater preference for feminine men than men for masculine women--what else was this but a striving towards a uniform, unisexual type of humanity, a longing for 'debasement', 'degeneration', 'feminization'. (102)

Even in Karinthy's fantasy creation of an underworld, the sexes still maintain the same roles as they would on terra firma. Either this clearly shows a lack of imagination, which isn't the case, or a twisting stab at satire in order to awaken the inequality of women in modern society. Karinthy was an anti-war advocate but he wasn't noted for his feminism. One last paraphrase about this feminism from the same controversial page 102: "feminists" are "just degenerate men." You have to keep reminding yourself this is a satire!


The two stories aren't linked in any way besides simply being stated as the "fifth voyage" and "sixth voyage" of Gulliver. The post-human injection Gulliver received from the Faremido robots never materialized in Capillaria and the events which took place on Faremido were never recalled while under the sea.

Lastly, I found it a quaint comfort to read the lines "I found my wife and children in good health" (55) and "I found my wife and family in the best of health" (124) at the conclusion of the respective stories.

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