Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Featured: Wakefield Press






RAKKOX THE BILLIONAIRE & THE GREAT RACEBy Paul Scheerbart
Illustrations by Félix Vallotton and ornaments by Jossot

Translated, with an introduction, by W. C.Bamberger

Two novellas from the inventor of perpetual motion and godfather of German science fiction. Rakkóx the Billionaire (1901), a "Protean Novel," tells the tale of a multibillionaire who abandons his militaristic aspirations (and such Quixotic fantasies dreamed up by his Department of Invention as the utilization of herring in submarine warfare) in favor of a plan to convert a cliff into a work of architectural art. The Great Race (1900), a "Development Novel in Eight Different Stories," describes an intergalactic competition among worm spirits who wish to separate from their stars and achieve true autonomy in a ferocious race of winged sleds, cannon-airships, sky-high wheel-shaped vehicles and 100-mile-tall stilt machines, whose winners will be transformed into gods. Veering from humorous, aggressive slapstick to ethereal visions of cosmic philosophy, Scheerbart's fiction offers something of a cartoon space odyssey, and resembles that of no other writer, either of his time or our own.
Paul Scheerbart (1863–1915) was a novelist, playwright, poet, newspaper critic, draughtsman, visionary, proponent of glass architecture, and would-be inventor of perpetual motion. Dubbed the “wise clown” by his contemporaries, he 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.
Press
“Scheerbart often reads like an apocalyptic mystic out of the Middle Ages who was somehow transported to the age of railroads and telegraphs.[…] Scheerbart is a mellow Marinetti; his faith in modern technology is not suffused with Futurist aggression, but with a dreamy aestheticism.”
—Adam Kirsch, The New York Review of Books

“This is Scheerbart at his most psychedelic, the lush intergalactic descriptions intercut with self-reflexivity (‘Do we think only in order to get intoxicated, or—do we get intoxicated only in order to think?’) and daffy, Neo-Kantian conversations on idealism and identity, all in the service of some sort of cosmic allegory.
—M. Kasper, Rain Taxi




THE STAIRWAY TO THE SUN & DANCE OF THE COMETS
FOUR FAIRY TALES OF HOME AND ONE ASTRAL PANTOMIME

By Paul Scheerbart

Translated, with an introduction, by W. C. Bamberger
The Stairway to the Sun & Dance of the Comets brings together two short books, originally published in 1903, by the anti-erotic godfather of German science fiction, Paul Scheerbart. The Stairway to the Sun consists of four fairy tales of sun, sea, animals, and storm, each set in a different, fantastical locale: from the giant fever-dream palace of an astral star to a dwarf’s glass underwater lair in the jellyfish kingdom. Scheerbart’s sad, whimsical tales provide gentle, simple, though unexpected morals that outline his work as a whole: treat animals as one would treat oneself, mutual admiration will never lead to harm, and if one is able to remember that the world is grand, one will never be sad in one’s own life.
Dance of the Comets, though published as an “Astral Pantomime,” was originally conceived as a scenario for a ballet, and one that Richard Strauss had planned to score in 1900 (and which Gustav Mahler even accepted for the Vienna Opera). Though the project was never realized, Scheerbart’s written choreography of dance, gesture, costume, feather dusters, violet moon hair, and a variety of stars and planets outlines a symbolic sequence of events in which everyone—enthusiastic maid, temperamental king, indifferent executioner, foolish poet—seeks, joins, and in some cases, becomes a celestial body: a “dance” toward higher aspirations and a staging of Scheerbart’s lifelong yearning for a home in the universe.




THE PIG IN POETIC, MYTHOLOGICAL, AND MORAL-HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
By Oskar Panizza
Translated, with an introduction, by Erik Butler

The Pig is the Sun...” So begins Oskar Panizza’s outrageously heretical and massively erudite essay on the pig, originally published in 1900 in Zurich Discussions, a journal self-published by Panizza in Switzerland after he had served a year in a Munich prison on 93 counts of blasphemy for his play The Love Council. Moving from the Rig Veda to the Edda to Ovid, from the story of Tristan and Isolde to Nordic celebrations of Christmas, from Grimm’s fairy tales to Swedish folklore to Judeo-Egyptian dietary restrictions, the author contends, through a dizzying exposition of painstaking philological argumentation, that the miraculous swine occupies a central, celestial position as the life-giving force animating the entire universe, usurping the place of God as the beginning and end of all things.
Oskar Panizza (1853–1921) was a German psychiatrist turned avant-garde author. In 1894 he published his notorious play The Love Council: “A Heavenly Tragedy in Five Acts” that depicted the spread of syphilis among humanity in 1492 through a senile god, an idiot Christ, a promiscuous Mary, and a depraved Pope Alexander VI. The play brought Panizza instantaneous literary fame that resulted in a twelve-month prison sentence. Moving to Zurich, he published a journal, Zurich Discussions, the majority of which he wrote himself under a series of pen names. After being expelled from Switzerland, he relocated to Paris until his 1899 publication of anti-Germanic verse led to his finances being seized. He spent the last sixteen years of his life in a Bavarian mental institution.
“They ought to erect either a stake for [Panizza] or a monument. Our public should finally learn that atheism also has its heroes and martyrs.”—Theodor Fontane
“Panizza is a terrorist...”—Heiner Müller




THE CREATOR
By Mynona
Illustrations by Alfred Kubin

Translated, with an introduction, by Peter Wortsman
Afterword by Detlef Thiel

Billed by its author—the pseudonymous Mynona (German for “anonymous” backward)—as “the most profound magical experiment since Nostradamus,” The Creator tells the tale of Gumprecht Weiss, an intellectual who has withdrawn from a life of libertinage to pursue his solitary philosophical ruminations. At first dreaming and then actually encountering an enticing young woman named Elvira, Weiss discovers that she has escaped the clutches of her uncle, the Baron, who has been using her as a guinea pig in his metaphysical experiments. But the Baron catches up with them and persuades Gumprecht and Elvira to come to his laboratory, to engage in an experiment to bridge the divide between waking consciousness and dream by entering a mirror engineered to bend and blend realities. Mynona’s philosophical fable was described by the legendary German publisher Kurt Wolff as “a station farther on the imaginative train of thought of Hoffmann, Villiers, Poe, etc.,” when it appeared in 1920, with illustrations by Alfred Kubin (included here). With this first English-language edition, Wakefield Press introduces the work of a great forgotten German fabulist.
Mentioned in his day in the same breath as Kafka, Mynona, aka Salomo Friedlaender (1871–1946), was a perfectly functioning split personality: a serious philosopher by day (author of Friedrich Nietzsche: An Intellectual Biography and Kant for Kids) and a literary absurdist by night, who composed black humored tales he called Grotesken. His friends and fans included Martin Buber, Walter Benjamin, and Karl Kraus.




THE CATHEDRAL OF MISTBy Paul Willems
Translated, with an introduction, by Edward Gauvin
Illustrations by Bette Burgoyne

First published in French in 1983, The Cathedral of Mist is a collection of short stories from the last of the great Francophone Belgian fantasists, distilled tales of distant journeys, buried memories, and impossible architecture. Described here are the emotionally disturbed architectural plan for a palace of emptiness; the experience of snowfall in a bed in the middle of a Finnish forest; the memory chambers that fuel the marvelous futility of the endeavor to write; and the beautiful woodland church, built of warm air currents and fog, scattering in storms and taking renewed shape at dusk, that gives this book its title. The Cathedral of Mist offers the sort of ethereal narratives that might have come from the pen of a sorrowful, distinctly Belgian Italo Calvino. It is accompanied by two meditative essays on reading and writing that fall in the tradition of Marcel Proust and Julien Gracq.
Paul Willems (1912–1997) published his first novel, Everything Here is Real, in 1941. Three more novels and, toward the end of his life, two collections of short stories bracketed his career as a playwright.
Press
“The pieces in The Cathedral of Mist are beautifully crafted, and very evocative, taking unusual turns with a natural ease that separates Willems from writers who much more willfully embrace the strange.”
—M. A. Orthofer, The Complete Review
“Simply breathtaking.”
—Monica Carter, Three Percent



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