Defective God – reflections on two audio books

Recently I started listening to audio books. What I like to do is to listen to books I have already read, as I have discovered that while listening to a book I notice a lot more details. This is because I tend to rush through books, especially when the story is interesting. In addition, and somewhat surprisingly, some scenes stand out much more when they are read aloud.

In the past two months I listened to two books: “Solaris” by Stanislaw Lem and “The Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad. I have read both of these books few times before – in fact I wrote about “Solaris” in this blog.

While listening to “Solaris” I noticed one scene that really stood out when read aloud. It was a conversation between two characters, in which Kelvin – the main character in “Solaris” – asks if there was ever a faith that believed in  “a defective God”. Here is what he said:

“I mean a God whose deficiencies don’t arise from the simple mindedness of his human creators, but constitute his most essential, immanent character. This would be a God limited in his omniscience and omnipotence, one who can mistakes in foreseeing the future of his works, who can find himself horrified by the set of events he has set in motion. This is… a cripple God, who always desires more than he’s able to have, and doesn’t always realize this to begin with.”

This theme occurs in other works by Lem – perhaps most explicitly in a story called “Non Serviam” – but also in “Star Diaries” and related stories.

But surprisingly I found the idea a “defective God” resonating when I listened to “The Heart Of Darkness”, as it applied to the character of Mr. Kurtz. As we find out though Marlowe, the narrtor of the story, Mr. Kurtz was highly educated, cultured and idealistic man – who not only went into Africa to act as an agent bringing ivory from the depths of the Congo, but also to exert a civilized influence on the native population.

However, when he went into the wilderness things went wrong. Kurtz found himself among peoples who took him for a god – who could strike people dead with thunder (his firearm). He was seduced by the power he held over the primitive tribes and proceeded to exploit it – an action at one time he would have considered immoral.

Here is how Marlow described the last moments of Kurtz’s life:

(…) It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that ivory face the expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror — of intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, some vision – he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath: “The horror! The horror!”

Kurtz became a defective god, horrified by events he had set in motion.

Ted Nelson’s “Computers for Cynics”

You may not have heard of Ted Nelson, but he is the guy who first imagined hypertext back in the late 1950s.  Recently I stumbled upon a series of short videos called “Computers for Cynics” in which Ted Nelson talks about what is wrong with computers and particularly with user interfaces.

Perhaps the observation I liked most was when he said that the WYSIWIG interface (invented at XEROX PARC and popularized by Apple) was just a way to simulate paper on computers. After all WYSIWIG stands for “What You See Is What You Get” ….. after you print!

Anyway here is a link to these videos on YouTube. Enjoy!