Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Discovery

**read previous post first**

Previously I explored the difference between prose and poetry through optics, taking cues from Stein and Zukofsky. In Zukofsky’s poetics he not only dealt with the idea of poetry as an optical lens, he also responded to the necessity of labor in poetry. As anyone reading my collection (as it is presented here) should have noticed, there is a reoccurring figure—the robot.

What actually prompted me to finally look up the history of the word *robot* was an episode of Doctor Who (Pyramids of Mars). Tom Baker’s doctor goes back in time to 1911 where/when an ancient evil Egyptian god is using robots wrapped up in mummy costumes and mind control to free himself from his imprisonment. The Doctor points out that the local gentleman from 1911 would not know the word robot. I decided to find out when the word robot was born. As it turns out, the word Robot was not invented until 1921, and not imported into the English language until 1923—of course, the Doctor was right.

What was even more interesting to me than the date of the word’s origins was the root words that have been merged to create the word Robot.

The history of the word reads like this:
Robot is a word that is both a coinage by an individual person and a borrowing. It has been in English since 1923 when the Czech writer Karel Capek's play R.U.R. was translated into English and presented in London and New York. R.U.R., published in 1921, is an abbreviation of Rossum's Universal Robots; robot itself comes from Czech robota, “servitude, forced labor,” from rab, “slave.” The Slavic root behind robota is orb-, from the Indo-European root *orbh-, referring to separation from one's group or passing out of one sphere of ownership into another. This seems to be the sense that binds together its somewhat diverse group of derivatives, which includes Greek orphanos, “orphan,” Latin orbus, “orphaned,” and German Erbe, “inheritance,” in addition to the Slavic word for slave mentioned above. Czech robota is also similar to another German derivative of this root, namely Arbeit, “work” (its Middle High German form arabeit is even more like the Czech word). Arbeit may be descended from a word that meant “slave labor,” and later generalized to just “labor.”

Like Zukofsky, I have incorporated the nature of labor—the robot—and the nature of physics/optics into the proverbial batter of poetry.

I wanted to share this discovery first, before digesting it thoroughly. Perhaps some discussion will prompt me towards some conclusion.

No comments: