Scheerbart’s Well-Ventilated Utopia

Christopher Benfey writes: ‘Walter Benjamin contrasted the “well-ventilated utopias” of the distinctive German writer and illustrator Paul Scheerbart (1863-1915) with the “overheated fantasies” of the Surrealists. To bring our culture to a higher level, Scheerbart argued in “Glass Architecture” (1914), his marvelous utopian novel in the form of an aesthetic manifesto, the heavy Wilhelmine buildings of brick and stone needed to be replaced with glass, “which lets in the light of the sun, the moon, and the stars, not merely through a few windows, but through every possible wall, which will be made entirely of glass—of colored glass.” One of his rhyming aphorisms might be translated: “Without a palace of glass/ Life is a pain in the ass.”’

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