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Latest Review: "The Perpetual Motion Machine" by Paul Scheerbart

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by regular contributor Will Eells on Paul Scheerbart’s The Perpetual Motion Machine, which is translated from the German by Andrew Joron and available from Wakefield Press.

Speaking of Wakefield Press, I truly believe that it is one of—if not the—most interesting presses out there today. From the deliciously funny and incredibly off-color Young Girl’s Handbook of Good Manners for Use in Educational Establishments to Perec’s Attempt at Exhausting a Space in Paris to Fourier’s “Hierarchies of Cuckoldry and Bandruptcy,“http://wakefieldpress.com/fourier_cuckoldr.html Wakefield has carved out a niche for doing peculiar books that defy categorization in very intriguing ways. Witness:

The Perpetual Motion Machine: The Story of an Invention, recently published by Wakefield Press and translated by Andrew Joron, chronicles the two and a half years Scheerbart spent trying to creating a “perpetual motion machine,” a device considered impossible to create due to its violation of the laws of thermodynamics. However, The Perpetual Motion Machine is not just a memoir. In fact, it’s pretty hard to describe what it is at all. Part-fiction, part-memoir, part-blueprints, and part-philosophical-treatise, The Perpetual Motion Machine is the intersection of art and science, presented in the form of a narrative.

The defining characteristic of the text is Scheerbert’s joyful exuberance and his almost unyielding optimism. He truly believes, despite all logic, reason, and evidence, that building a perpetual motion machine is possible, even after countless failures. He has no discernible background in science, and he has to hire a plumber to build his contraptions for him. At times he doubts himself and his work; he even gives up from time to time, but he always goes back to believing. The book even ends with Scheerbart bragging that he “succeeded in flawlessly solving the problem” . . . though he can’t tell the reader how he solved it for fear of “invalidating its registration at the patent offices.”

Read the full review here.



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