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Perpetual Motion Machine: The Story of an Invention

Perpetual Motion Machine: The Story of an Invention

by Paul Scheerbart; Andrew Joron, Translator
Wakefield Press, Cambridge, 2011
112 pp.. Paper, $12.95
ISBN: 9780984115549.

Reviewed by Martha Patricia Niño Mojica


Paul Scheerbart, born in Berlin, is described as a novelist, playwright., poet, newspaper critic, a draughtsman visionary proponent of glass architecture, and inventor of the perpetual motion machine.  The book, translated from German to English by Andrew Joron, is forbidden to be reproduced in any form of electronic communication.  Apparently after having inventing many things, Scheerbart does not have any official products listed. The book reads like personal opinion told through a collection of notes and drawings over the time.  The reader, perhaps, is tasked with animating the mechanisms in order to animate the movement. The author is depicted as hardly a wise clown:  he does not look like that in a book that seems to be about how to create perpetual movement using a variety of pulleys––a very a good idea since movement is for some physics or a source of energy like lanterns that are not a light sabre. All the mechanism seems to be kinetic or designed for movement. I found the mechanisms very serious and hard to construct or difficult to articulate with people untrained in the topic.  These seem to be central parts of mechanism already existing in toys designed to be funny, like Archivaldo that as I know them today does not seem to have enough sensors for the current about two kilograms strength. It is enough to scare even a furry dog but probably not small children that might find it and not be aware that it can really hurt them. It seems to have only two touch sensors. The problem is as old in philosophy as the question about what is the difference between live things, plagues and objects. It almost as a full human scale machine for small kids. [1] Despite being furry, Archivaldo is able of squeeze adult people if they think is soft and do not know that it has motors inside.

The first mechanism of the book looks like a draft with for a mechanisma based in cogs or at least they are not described in the number of steps in the surface of the wheel or their ratio equivalences.  Although the idea is to create a machine for excavation and construction, Figure 1 and 2 look like a strange draft for an animatronic mechanism for the eyes of Mickey Mouse and with the user weight. This mechanism can be incorporated in the imagination of the reader for her or his own creativity. People born already terrified by the existence of wars will understand the growth of disorder during the time if it is not contra-arrested with electrodomestic machines that we wish lasted more than their warranty period. There is no information about the weight loads of the machine that are expressed as kilograms.

Nobody is exempt to carry a weight either by their natural body and the extra weight of the tools that we use daily.

As translations may not happen often, although for me they are already a very useful tool if you have the time and are not terrified or scared to talk in another languages knowing that the possibility of error is possibly bigger. The interpretations of this text or the comment of the book can be as long of the book itself––83 pages depending on the reader’s knowledge. The pocket size book is a condensed small book with a lot of hand made drawings of mechanisms, perhaps, clear for Scheerbart but ambiguous and some of them rather dangerous to use with out proper instruction manuals or holding body cases for the mechanisms.  Judging from my quick look at the dates, it can be the starting points of many machines not mentioned that that we use in the world today: cars, toys, clocks, machines for cutting paper, metro train, gyms and electronic sewing machines.  The graphic design of the book is very simple and can be improved in second editions by the publisher. Another reference not mentioned but useful for the topic of perpetual machines is the sculpture at BWM museum in Munich, Germany. [2] It is a good work of kinetic sculptures that seem over glass. This mechanism looks good and seems to be similar to the one described in Figure 4. You can also find in the text more ideas of mechanisms constructed by pulleys, such as the ones used for cutting grass, opening tin cans with food or threading yarn. The structure looks like it was dated from notes ranging from 7 of June of 1908 to 16 of June of 1910. The author claims to be disappointed by dull labor.


[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4x-VW_rCSE. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QxafIhYFOr0.

[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlx-M53dC7M.

Last Updated 2 August 2011

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