Sunday, 22 November 2015

Book review: The Perpetual Motion Machine, Paul Scheerbart (1910)

I thought this story - account, actually, if its introduction is to be believed - of an obsessive attempt to design a perpetual motion machine, written by a man who apparently starved himself to death, was going to be an insight into a mind's gradual unraveling. But actually the madness here is not so much one of debilitation, more a sort of visionary if deluded genius. There are uncannily accurate musings on the future (the book was first published in 1910), such as of a "dissolution of homelands" and a "United States of Europe" (ok, we're not quite there yet, but almost); fantastic/terrible flights of fancy, such as of rearranging all of Earth's mountains for best aesthetic effect, insightful comments on literature (albeit briefly, don't buy it on that account alone); an amusingly glum view of humanity; and some top-notch aphorisms, like "Only in misery do great hopes and great plans for the future take shape."

It's also a lovely volume; Wakefield Press, based in Massachusetts, and translator Andrew Joron have done the world a service.

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