Glass! Love!! Perpetual Motion!!!: A Paul Scheerbart Reader

Eds. Josiah Mcelheny and Christine Burgin
Hardcover, 320 pages
Publisher: University of Chicago Press (October 2014)
Language: English
Selected by Barbara Epler

“I’m a big Josiah McElheny fan so I chose the crazy Scheerbart Reader. It’s such a brilliant book. When he says, “Scheerbart tells stories with titles alone: absurdity as salvation, imagination as iconoclasm,” like, yay! You know? I think he’s so brilliant, he’s a star. I think it’s great that they’ve made such a beautiful, beautiful book.” —Barbara Epler

Paul Scheerbart was influential but little-read in his lifetime (1863-1915). A writer of sci-fi, fantasy fiction and fantastical non-fiction, as a young man he tried to build perpetual-motion machines. He insisted that the universe is too rich and complex to be comprehended by reason alone. Relatively few of his works have been translated into English – this book is the first collection of his writings that has been – and it includes illustrations by Scheerbart himself, as well as art by the book’s co-editor, the sculptor Josiah McElheny.


50 Mountain Illumination

So much sounds fantastic, which actually is not fantastic at all. If one suggests applying mountain illumination to the Himalayas, this is just a ridiculous fantasy outside the realms of practical discussion. Illuminating the mountains near the Lake of Lugano is quite another thing. There are so many hotels there which would like to be part of the scenery that they would be well disposed to glass architecture, if the proposition were not beyond their means. Their means are not inconsiderable, and the illuminations of the mountains by illuminating the hotels, if these were built of glass, can no longer be described as fantastic. The rack railway, which ascends the Rigi, could also be illuminated very easily and effectively by floodlights.

When aeronautics have conquered the dark, the whole of Switzerland will have her mountains colourfully lit up at night by glass architecture.

We constantly forget how many things have changed in the last century. In the 1830s the aged Goethe did not see the coming of the railways. Less than 100 years have passed since then, and the whole earth is encompassed by steel rails. Mountain illumination, which today still seems a fantasy to many, can develop just as quickly. 

51 Park Illumination1

But park illumination will develop sooner than mountain illumination. If only we have more electric light, much will evolve of its own accord. Above all, we should consider towers of various forms in the parks for guiding airships (as already discussed).

A glass tower should not only be equipped with floodlights; many of the glass surfaces could be made to move and so bring about kaleidoscopic effects. Here also the possibilities are boundless.

52 Ghostly Illumination

When we speak of light, we are generally thinking of the glaring light of gas and electricity. In the past 50 years light has progressed quite surprisingly. It is all happening so quickly that one can hardly keep up. But if we had light in greater quantity (and this is perfectly feasible by using more turbines and dynamos), it would not have to be harsh in its effect and could be softened by colour. It can be so reduced by colour that it looks ghostly, which to many people would perhaps seem sympathetic.


[1] Glass Architecture, excerpted here, was Scheerbart’s architectural treatise. Treated at first as fantastical, it would deeply influence Weimar-era architect Bruno Taut, who specialised in glass architecture.

  • Glass Love Perpetual Motion