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the Complete Review
the complete review - literature

The Light Club:
On Paul Scheerbart's
'The Light Club of Batavia'

Josiah McElheny

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To purchase The Light Club

Title: The Light Club
Author: Josiah McElheny, et al.
Genre: Various
Written: (2010)
Length: 90 pages
Original in: German and English
Availability: The Light Club - US
The Light Club - UK
The Light Club - Canada
  • On Paul Scheerbart's 'The Light Club of Batavia'
  • Includes:
    • An Introduction and a story by Josiah McElheny
    • Der Lichtklub von Batavia: Eine Damen-Novellette by Paul Scheerbart, and an English translation by Wilhelm Werthern
    • A poem by Gregg Bordowitz and Ulrike Müller
    • A play by Andrea Geyer
    • An essay 'Über Scheerbart' by Georg Hecht, and an English translation by Barbara Schroeder
    • An essay 'On Scheerbart' by Branden W. Joseph

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Our Assessment:

B+ : quite successful exercise of variations on the theme

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bomb . Fall/2010 Sabine Russ

  From the Reviews:
  • "McElheny surrounds this vision of "ironic utopia" with metanarratives, which he commissioned from other artists and writers, or authored himself. In a play, a reminiscence, a male/female dialogue, and a critique, Scheerbartís century-old original gets re-narrated -- its bold creative idealism is hightlighted while its discriminating and, in hindsight, alarming aspirations are exposed." - Sabine Russ, Bomb

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Light Club is built up around Der Lichtklub von Batavia: Eine Damen-Novellette, a very short text (despite what one might expect from its designation as a 'novellette') by Paul Scheerbart, first published in 1912, which Josiah McElheny and his collaborators use as a springboard for their own pieces, which range from simply translating the text (it is printed in both the original German and the English translation by Wilhelm Werthern) to reimagining it (as in the poem 'From the Shadows' by Gregg Bordowitz and Ulrike Müller) to providing context and analysis (the Introduction, and the pieces on Scheerbart himself).
       Scheerbart's work has not been widely translated into English but he is a fascinating writer who defies easy categorization. Among his works are a 'hippopotamus novel', a 'railway novel with sixty-six intermezzos', and his 'asteroid-novel' Lesabéndio (the original edition of which came with illustrations by Alfred Kubin). He also had a thing about glass and architecture, and it's this that has attracted the most English-language attention, with The Gray Cloth: Paul Scheerbart's Novel on Glass Architecture (MIT Press, 2001) the most prominent of his works in translation; it is also this that is of particular interest to McElheny here, as Scheerbart's 'The Light Club of Batavia: A Ladies Novelette' involves a subterranean project where: "The villas of the mine and the hotels are also to be constructed top to bottom with Tiffany-glass and iron", etc.
       As McElheny notes about Scheerbart in his Introduction:

It is often hard to tell in his texts what he intends as humor, satire, or a call to arms, but he continually returns to the idea that cultural stagnation can be overcome, that renewal is possible.
       'The Light Club of Batavia' -- a mere six pages long -- seems like a simple little piece, but there's quite a bit to it; between McElheny's Introduction and his story, as well as the elaboration of the text in the poem by Gregg Bordowitz and Ulrike Müller this volume nicely shows how a text can be explained, read, and understood through a variety of approaches. McElheny's story, 'The Light Spa in the Mine', is both reading of and elaboration on the original, repeating parts of the story -- in paraphrase, rather than direct quote (allowing him to continue the translation, as it were), and the variations on the original are all quite good, usefully enhancing the text.
       The Light Club also serves as a good if limited introduction to Scheerbart himself, an author whose works certainly deserve a larger readership: 'The Light Club of Batavia' is barely even the tip of the iceberg of his work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 November 2010

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The Light Club: Reviews: Books by Paul Scheerbart under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature

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About the Authors:

       American artist Josiah McElheny was born in 1966.

       German author Paul Scheerbart lived 1863 to 1915.

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