Paul Scheerbart’s Perpetual Motion Machine: Some Thoughts on Literature & Energy

Two texts are now sitting on my desk.  They are still and inert — like rectangular paperweights.  I would like to activate them, to mingle their pages.  I would like to set them, if only momentarily, into motion.

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The first text in front of me is a little gem of a book: Paul Scheerbart’s The Perpetual Motion Machine (Wakefield Press, 2011), translated by experimental poet Andrew Joron.  In late 1907, Scheerbart — a visionary German author and artist who wrote, among other things, poetry, essays, theater pieces, and a prodigious amount of fantastic fiction (he called them “astral novels”) — set out to devise, in his laundry room, a perpetual motion machine.  Das Perpetuum mobile, which was originally published in 1910 along with 26 charming diagrams, is a roller-coaster account of Scheerbart’s failed but energetically inspired attempt to set such a machine into motion; it is a fascinating record, as Joron puts it, “of a two-and-a-half-year-long tantrum of the imagination.” Continue reading

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Poetry vs. Pop Culture (or, Does Anyone Dance to John Berryman?)

I was going to post this as a comment on Michael’s wonderful post from yesterday, but then it got too long (big surprise), and then I wanted to embed a couple of videos (bigger surprise). Paula commented there:

Although I understand the annoying snobbery of the Times review and other critical writing, I think the issue isn’t whether poets embrace mass/low brow culture/pop, but whether any kind of poetry could be widely consumed by “the masses”. And my guess is, no. Also, doesn’t anyone find it a big difference from sitting around watching law and order reruns (something I love to do) and getting through dream songs or even dark blonde by belle waring?

I don’t mean to pick on Paula (or anyone), but why assume that “the masses” (do they huddle? are they wretched?) wouldn’t like or read—or don’t already read—The Dream Songs? Just off the top of my head, the Hold Steady‘s “Stuck Between Stations” name-checks John Berryman:

From its lyrics:

Continue reading