canals of mars


On journaling, ego, and Paul Scheerbart’s The Perpetual Motion Machine

Back in the day when I started to write fiction, I took a class called Gender & Writing. I must’ve been 21 or so. We read a lot of things, but what’s pertinent to this post is Virginia Woolf. The professor told us about her journals. We read some excerpts. They blew me away. And instantly, because of the egoist in me, I started to worry about people finding my old journals, how stupid I would seem, banal and delusional. Then, I felt moronic and delusional (again) for thinking I’d be so important that future scholars would be rifling through my old journals. Regardless, I stopped journaling by hand, not that I did much of it anyway, but reading through those journals today, I cringe at my youth and the way I made melodramas out of nothing.

Obviously, no one has bothered going through my journals, but my greatest fear manifested when I started reading Paul Scheerbart’s The Perpetual Motion Machine. Part journal, part delusional dream, Scheerbart’s beautiful little book narrates his toiled process of inventing the world’s first perpetual motion machine.

Let me back up, if you don’t know the name Paul Scheerbart, that’s ok. I didn’t either, but he was a proto-Dadaist, a novelist, playwright, poet, and his discussions of glass architecture played a role in Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project. But back in January 1908, he was poor writer dreaming of money, fame, and glory. In many ways, I applaud how he understood that he would not attain these goals through his writing, so he found another way: invention!


May 5th, 2011 / 10:49 am