Notes
September 23, 2020

The Machine Stops

E. M. Forster
Reading Time: 3 Minutes

Forster On Free Will

  • I did not fear that I might tread upon a live rail and get killed. I feared something far more intangible – doing what was not contemplated by the machine.

  • Kuno had lately asked to be a father, and the Committee had refused his request. His was not a type that the Machine desired to hand on.

  • 'Beware of first-hand ideas!' exclaimed one of the most advanced of them. 'First-hand ideas do not exist. They are but the physical impressions produced by love and fear, and on this gross foundation who could erect a philosophy? Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element–direct observation.

  • After an unsuccessful lecture, she would sometimes ask for Euthanasia herself. But the death-rate was not permitted to exceed the birth-rate, and the Machine had hitherto refused it to her.

Forster On Humanity

  • The clumsy system of public gatherings had long since abandoned; neither Vashti nor her audience stirred from their rooms. In her armchair, she spoke, while they in their armchairs heard her, fairly well, and saw her, fairly well.

  • People never touched one another. The custom had become obsolete, owing to the machine.

  • Humanitarians may protest, but it would have been no genuine kindness to let an athlete live. He would never have been happy in that state of life to which the machine had called him; he would have yearned for trees to climb, rivers to bathe in, meadows and hills against which he might measure his body.

  • We have lost a part of ourselves.

  • Man's feet are the measure for distance. His hands are the measure for ownership. His body is the measure for all that is lovable and desirable and strong.

  • And in time - there will come a generation that had got beyond facts, beyond impressions, a generation colourless, a generation 'seraphically free from the taint of personality'. It will see the French Revolution not as it happened, nor as they would like it to have happened, but as it would have happened, had it taken place in the days of the machine.'

  • But Humanity, in its desire for comfort, had over-reached itself. It had exploited the riches of nature too far. It was sinking into decadence, and progress meant progress of the machine.

  • She had never known silence, and the coming of it nearly killed her – it did kill many thousands of people outright.

Forster On Machines

  • The machine is much, but it is not everything.

  • She could not be sure, for the machine did not transmit nuances of expression. It only gave a general idea of people – an idea that was good enough for all practical purposes, Vashti thought.

  • 'You are beginning to worship the machine,' he said coldly.

  • We created the machine to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now. It has robbed us of the sense of space and the sense of touch. It has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act. It has paralysed us, and now it compels us to worship it.

  • The machine develops – but not on our lines. The machine proceeds - but not to our goal.

  • No one confessed the machine was out of hand.

  • If she was hot or cold or dyspeptic or at a loss for a word, she went to the book, and it told her which button to press. The Central Committee published it.

Forster On Screens

  • I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you. I hear something like you through this telephone, but I do not hear you speak.

  • The room, though it contained nothing, was in touch with all the things that she cared about.

Forster On Travel

  • Few travelled in these days, thanks to the advance of science, the earth was alike all over.

  • 'We have advanced, thanks to the machine,' repeated the attendant, and hid the Himalayas behind a metal blind.