Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Na prost!: phantastischer Königsroman by Paul Scheerbart (1898)

Paul Scheerbart is a forgotten German writter who promoted glass architecture, apparently drank excessively and, according to some, may have starved himself to death in protest against World War I.

This isn't his first novel, however it seems to not be one of his more "famous" ones, at least as far as his works go when translated into English for a devoted cult audience.

The novel, sadly, is unpopular for a good reason. It starts out quite good.....but then becomes very bad. One seldom sees such a plunge from the heights of quality to the depths of irrelevance. The story starts out with three learned professors being hurled into space in a giant bottle after the Earth is vaporised when colliding with a meteor. This part is the strongest, and one is reminded of Leonid Andreyev, or Walter Owen. But then the book turns into a long and tiresome tirade of the professors reading out and then commenting on short essays and philosophical allegories and trying to discover the meaning of the universe in a grain of sand, and identify every character and event in the story with some deep and obscure allegorical meaning. Sometimes the stories begin somewhat promisingly, like the story of the gigantic seven headed dragon that flies through space devouring everything.....but like all the rest, the story ends almost immediately, with the dragon turning into a woman.

All the stories are like that, but some are a lot less interesting even in concept, like the fantastic adventure of a fly that sits on a lump of sugar in grandma's tea.

Very, very occasionally the recital of these trivial philosophising inanities is interrupted by a resurgence of the gloomy, post apocalyptical atmosphere, but these moments are sadly rare. Also a few times the professors show a comic misunderstanding of the social and political establishment in 20th century Europe, being from some far distant future that is never propperly expanded upon, such as the belief subway tunnels were used primarily to allow armed Police units to perform military maneuvers when suppressing the masses.

Having read Scheerbart's various short pieces taking place in the ancient Near East, in Assyria, Babylon or Palmyra (the last one having the mischeviously amusing title of "Of People who Lost their Heads, or a Palmyrian Torch-dance novela" that can only be thought up by a rogueish German), I know he can write well, even when dealing with vignettes that only really showcase a moment in the lives of people and places, but this one was rather a dissapointment.

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