Saturday, January 5, 2013

Featured: Scheerbart's Asteroid Novel







LESABÉNDIO: AN ASTEROID NOVELBy Paul Scheerbart
Illustrations by Alfred Kubin

 
Translated, with an introduction, by Christina Svendsen
“The serene and gentle amazement with which the author tells of the strange natural laws of other worlds, the great cosmic works undertaken there, and the naively noble conversations of their inhabitants makes him one of those humorists who, like Lichtenberg or Jean Paul, seem never to forget that the earth is a heavenly body.”—Walter Benjamin
First published in German in 1913 and widely considered to be Paul Scheerbart's masterpiece, Lesabéndio is an intergalactic utopian novel that describes life on the planetoid Pallas, where rubbery suction-footed life forms with telescopic eyes smoke bubble-weed in mushroom meadows under violet skies and green stars. Amid the conveyor-belt highways and lighthouses weaving together the mountains and valleys, a visionary named Lesabéndio hatches a plan to build a 44-mile-high tower and employ architecture to connect the two halves of their double star. A cosmic ecological fable, Scheerbart’s novel was admired by such architects as Bruno Taut and Walter Gropius, and such thinkers as Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem (whose wedding present to Benjamin was a copy of Lesabéndio). Benjamin had intended to devote the concluding section of his lost manuscript The True Politician to a discussion of the positive political possibilities embedded in Scheerbart’s “Asteroid Novel.” As translator Christina Svendsen writes in her introduction, “Lesabéndio helps us imagine an ecological politics more daring than the conservative politics of preservation, even as it reminds us that we are part of a larger galactic set of interrelationships.”

Paul Scheerbart (1863–1915) was a novelist, playwright, poet, newspaper critic, draughtsman, visionary, proponent of glass architecture, and would-be inventor of perpetual motion. A member of avant-garde art and architectural circles, his ideas were crucial for participants in the Glass Chain movement, a group that included major architects such as Walter Gropius, Bruno Taut, and Hans Scharoun. Scheerbart opposed the naturalism of his day with fantastical fables and interplanetary satires that were to influence Expressionist authors and the German Dada movement, and which helped found German science fiction. After suffering a nervous breakdown over the mounting carnage of World War I, Scheerbart starved to death in what was rumored to have been a protest against the war.

















 
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