Newts & the international language

In my junior year of high school 40 years ago I had an eccentric English teacher who bypassed the standard curriculum and taught what he wanted to teach. So he taught a novel we never heard of, called War with the Newts (1936), by Czech author Karel Čapek, creator of the concept and our word "robot" (in the play R.U.R.: Rossum's Universal Robots, 1921). This novel is a terrific dark satire of the end of the world, mocking the news, the fads, trends, politics, culture, and everyday life of society blindly following its trivial pursuits and myopic perspectives as civilization teeters on the brink of destruction, a theme that ought to resonate today as it did in the 1930s. Book Two of this novel, an excerpt of which is now on my site, is written with running footnotes from page to page, such that the main narrative is constantly being broken up by footnotes that run for pages at a time, a technique which highlights both the fragmented experience of modern life and the futile attempts of the average person to come to terms with it.

The novel centers around the discovery of a hitherto unknown, intelligent species of salamander—the newts—that is then incorporated into human civilization and penetrates every aspect of culture, eventually perpetrating an apocalyptic crisis (which occurred also in R.U.R.).

Well, by the time I had read this, I had already taught myself Esperanto a couple of years earlier, and in this same school year I translated Sandor Szathmari's short story "Vincenzo" from Esperanto into English as a project for the same English class. (I got an "A".)

Among many many other social and cultural trends, Čapek satirized one trend that had surfaced in popular culture—the quest for a universal language, along with the habit of constantly inventing new ones. Naturally, I noted his references to Esperanto, Basic English, and the language problem. I photocopied the relevant section of Book Two many years ago and am now making it available on the web:

War with the Newts (Excerpt on the Language Problem) by Karel Čapek

"Fascism has awakened a sleeping world to the realities
of the irrational, mystical character structure
of the people of the world."

— Wilhelm Reich

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