Celebrating Karel Čapek’s RUR

The Embassy of the Czech Republic, in collaboration with American University, invites you to a panel discussion celebrating Karel Čapek’s play R. U. R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). In addition to giving us the new word “robot” to describe an artificial worker of the future, what else has Čapek’s play brought into our relationship with technology and constructed humanity? Join our discussion of this influential writer and his work. 

Čapek’s R.U.R. in Our Rationalized World

October 1, 2015, at 6 pm

Battelle-Tompkins Atrium, American University

Ninety-five years ago, Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R. first introduced the word “robot” into science fiction, forever altering the shape of our dreams and nightmares about the future. Yet the image of the robot encompasses many versions of the future and reflects as many ideas about what it means to be human. This complex reflexivity of the trope of the robot, which is both the Other that defines the human and humanity’s more-than-human double, is central in Čapek’s play. This panel will explore why R.U.R. is still relevant nearly a century after its premiere, considering various dimensions of the play and its reception including science fiction and the question of genre, social anxieties surrounding labor and technology in an increasingly rationalized world, and the transnational legacy of Čapek’s language.

The event is part of the Mutual Inspirations Festival 2015 – Karel Čapek.           
For additional information about the festival, please visit www.mutualinspirations.org.

Capek's RUR at American University

  • Despina Kakoudaki, Associate Professor, American University
  • Carl Gelderloos, Assistant Professor, Binghamton University (SUNY)
  • Anna Horakova, Ph.D. Candidate, Cornell University
  • Robert Řehák, Cultural Attaché, Czech Embassy
  • Evan Torner, Assistant Professor, University of Cincinnati



DATE: October 1, 2015, 6 pm

RSVP by Sept. 28


Location: Battelle-Tompkins Atrium

American University, Battelle-Tompkins Memorial Building

4400 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20016

https://www.american.edu/m/location/?loc=10012 (Map of location)




(Parking information, campus map)

After 5 pm, parking on campus is free  and no permit is required.

The closest parking to the Battelle-Tompkins Memorial Building would be:

1.) American University’s School of International Service Building. The entrance is off of Nebraska Avenue.


2.) Bender Arena – Enter from Massachusetts Avenue and drive under Mary Graydon Center. You will make a sharp
right then into the parking garage.


About the panelists:

Despina Kakoudaki teaches interdisciplinary courses in literature and film, visual culture, and the history of
technology and new media. Her interests include cultural studies, science fiction, apocalyptic narratives, and the
representation of race and gender in literature and film. She completed her doctorate in Comparative Literature at
the University of California at Berkeley, and taught at Berkeley and at Harvard University before joining AU. She
has published articles on robots and cyborgs, race and melodrama in action and disaster films, body transformation
and technology in early film, the political role of the pin-up in World War II, and the representation of the archive
in postmodern fiction. She has also co-edited a collection of essays on the work of Pedro Almodovar with Brad Epps
(University of Minnesota Press, 2009). Her new book, titled Anatomy of a Robot: Literature, Cinema, and the
Cultural Work of Artificial People, was published by Rutgers University Press in 2014.

Carl Gelderloos grew up in the nearby suburbs of the Capital Wasteland. In 2014, he received a Ph.D. in German
Studies from Cornell University with a dissertation on cultural narratives of technology in Weimar Germany, a
project he is currently reworking as a book-length manuscript. Since September 2014, he has worked at
Binghamton University, where he teaches courses on German language and literature, Weimar-era visual culture,
and transnational science fiction, among other topics. He has published articles on Alfred Döblin, New Vision
photography, and East German Science Fiction literature.

Anna Horakova is interested in the theories of the avant-garde, literature and culture of the Weimar Republic,
post-1945 German and Austrian literature, Marxist thought, and visual studies.  She is writing a dissertation on the
“unofficial” culture of the German Democratic Republic and its ties to artistic dissent in the former Eastern Bloc.

Evan Torner (Ph.D., University of Massachusetts Amherst) is an Assistant Professor of German at the University
of Cincinnati, having spent 2013-2014 at Grinnell College as an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow. He has
published articles pertaining to East Germany, critical race theory, DEFA Indianerfilme, science-fiction,
transnational genre cinema, and game studies, as well as co-edited several books. His volume Immersive
Gameplay: Essays on Role-Playing and Participatory Media co-edited with William J. White was published with
McFarland Publishing in 2012, and he is one of the founding editors of the Analog Game Studies journal
(http://analoggamestudies.org). His major projects underway include the Handbook of East German Cinema: The
DEFA Legacy, co-edited with Henning Wrage and under contract with Walter De Gruyter, and a monograph
entitled A Century and Beyond: Critical Readings of German Science-Fiction Cinema.

Robert Řehák is Cultural Attaché at the Czech Embassy in Washington, DC and a published scholar of biblical
proper names and the Dead Sea Scrolls. He is proficient in five languages (Czech, English, Hebrew, German and
Russian). He studied at Charles University in Prague, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität in Heidelberg and Hebrew
University in Jerusalem. He holds a doctorate from Charles University and has lectured at New York University in
Prague. He was President of the Society of Christians and Jews in the Czech Republic from 2000-2005 and
thereafter served as Cultural and Press Attaché at the Czech Embassy in Israel. In recent years, he gave several
lectures about Franz Kafka and Karel Čapek.