Plan of Attack
- Office of International Programs
- Monday’s Stuff
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
- Another Improbability Drive scene
- Move on to something else…
More Questions than Answers
Don’t forget to refer back to what you are and aren’t learning from last class. Remember, you’re not here to find the answer…just what the question about “the meaning of life, the universe, and everything” actually is (Chapter 28, p. 181). That’s easy. We’ll jump back to where we left off on “the burden of proof” and then move on to key interpretations.
- The Burden of Proof (if needed)
- Interpreting The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The Absurdity of Life
Ever wonder why we do what we do? Let me phrase it this way: What motivates our beliefs, practices, and knowledge pursuits? You’ve probably been in a few situations where you’ve thought, “What in the galaxy is going on? This is ludicrous!” Adams’s novel is an absurd piece of science fiction, but it’s also commenting on absurdity–specifically the stories we tell ourselves about life, the universe, and everything. Here’s a great quotation to start us off:
- “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”
–Voltaire [S.G. Tallentyre (ed.), Voltaire in His Letters. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1919. p.232]
Basically, this quote means that we don’t like not having all the answers, having doubt; however, if we had all the answers, having certainty, we’d be in a ridiculous frame of mind. It’s absurd to think one has ALL THE ANSWERS.
In the novel, before Deep Thought starts its 7.5 Million year process to come up with the answer to the question “What is the meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything” (Chapter 25, p. 170), the philosophers–Majikthise and Vroomfondel–protest because such a quest “is quite clearly the inalienable prerogative of your working thinkers,” and “[they] demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty” (Chapter 25, p. 172). Philosophy and rhetoric are based on the condition of doubt in life.
Major characters in the novel
- Arthur Dent
- Ford Prefect
- Zaphod Beeblebrox
- Tricia McMillian/Trillian
- Marvin–the depressed robot
- The Vogons
Interpreting the Novel
Instead of writing out all the interpretations, I’m going to put up one to model my approach and list some others that we’ll talk about until time runs out. Speaking of time running out…just three weeks left, and one week is Thanksgiving Break.
Major Themes to Interpret
Zaphod Beeblebrox–the playboy president, figurehead, and powerless leader. Zaphod loves himself. He really loves himself: “If there’s anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now” (Chapter 12, p. 97). He’s an example of an exaggerated politician/celebrity who thinks he’s extremely important. Power and fame will do that to a person (it never went to my head…), but politicians don’t do well if they make it known that they’re megalomaniacs. One thing that I’ve been surprised about in my years of observing politicians is that they get into scandals that seem outrageous. I want to ask, “how’d you think you were going to get away with that?” You might recall the issues with tax scandals and hiring undocumented housekeepers by some politicians several years back. There’s arrogance to thinking one’s above the law, but it’s absurd arrogance thinking you won’t get caught when you’re under so much scrutiny.
Another one that comes to mind is the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Again, why’d he think he’d get away with it? Well, he actually did get away with it because, even though he was impeached, he still served out his term in office. What’s even more absurd are two of his biggest political enemies (Newt Gingrich and Bob Barr) called for his resignation. Guess what? Those political leaders also had rumors of sex scandals that would scream hypocrisy. When someone (like a celebrity or politician) is under so much scrutiny from the media and investigators, it baffles the mind why they would think they’d get away with wrongdoing.
Of course, Adams isn’t directly talking about Bob Barr, Gingrich, or any specific politicians or celebrities. His book uses exaggerated circumstances and characters with exaggerated quirks in order to comment on a type. In this case, arrogant politicians. Is this the only interpretation? No. It’s an interpretation, and like all interpretations, you need to have a plausible argument. Of course, you could say I’m biased–predisposed to see this interpretation because I have such a low opinion of…
Nutri-Matic Machine–developed by Sirius Cybernetics (a joke, perhaps), this machine produces food/drink depending on the user’s taste buds, but “it invariably delivered a cupful of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely like tea” and “no one knew quite why” (Chapter 17, p. 122). Also, Arthur presses a button and the console informs him NOT to do that again (Chapter 11, p. 93). This connects with our discussion on the fact that we rely on technologies that we don’t understand the science or technology behind.
- Instant food and high quality food
- Convenience over quality
- “It always tastes better when someone else makes it…”
Marvin–robot programmed (again, by Sirius Cybernetics) “with the new GPP feature” (Chapter 11, p. 93): Genuine People Personalities. Why is he so miserable? He hates life and, well, pretty much everything. He even drove a ship to suicide (Chapter 34, p. 214). Although he’s a Robot, there’s a comment on us. Consider his personality in contrast to the Heart of Gold’s computer’s, Eddie’s, personality.
Additional Topics (time permitting)
- Slartibartfast on the futility of searching for the meaning of life, the universe, and everything: “the chances of finding out what’s really going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is say hang the sense of it and just keep yourself occupied” (Chapter 30, p. 192).
- Occupations keep us occupied, right?
- Slartibartfast tells Arthur that everybody’s a little paranoid (Chapter 30, p. 191).
Frankie the mouse: “I’m afraid where you begin to expect that there’s any real truth, it’s that the entire multidimensional infinity of the Universe is run by a bunch of maniacs.” (Chapter 31, p. 200)
- This part also underscores the fact that when you get close to the answer (or the exact question) it’s just always out of reach.
- Naming helps give meaning to something, which makes the substance, essence, idea portable. Knowledge and language, which communicates knowledge, are socially constructed.
Ms. Rogers will lead you into the abyss of absurdity on Friday (11/22), so make sure you’ve finished reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Your final exam will be December 11th on Canvas. Don’t forget to read the Anthology editors’ introductions to these (and all) short stories. Many test/exam questions come from the introductions, but, more importantly, they provide the context for the stories and even help with identifying interpretations.