JF Ptak Science Books (continuing an earlier post)
A Monumental and Potentially Fantastically Bad Idea: Draining the Mediterranean
"Simply the thing I am shall make me live."--from Jorge Luis Borges, "Shakespeare’s Memory"
It would be a Purgatory, or worse, to suddenly wake up one morning with another person's memory--worse yet than to have wished it, only to find that you didn't want it at all. This evidently works out with memories high and low, though it is tempting to want to wish to see what the inspiration looked like for one idea located in a particular memory. Or maybe not. But I am curious about when and here the author of the pamphlet above got his idea, and what it looked like to him--did he hear or see or smell something that prompted the inspiration for this reverse-monumental jolt?
It is interesting to pursue a loose thought like this to its not-necessarily logical end. Such is the case with the self-styled Paneuropic ideas of Hermann Soergel (1885-1952), the author of the above. Soergel was a Bauhaus architect and author of a number of works on design and far more ethereal, floating-castle ideas. His most spectacular contribution—incubated in the mid-1920’s and still clinging by its fingertips as an idea among some current thinkers—was to put a dam across the straights of Gibraltar. The dam would generate electricity of course, but most importantly to Soergel, it would also empty an enormous amount of water from the Mediterranean leaving vast new expanses of land to be developed and colonized over generations into the future. The water of course would have to go somewhere, and that somewhere was the Sahara Desert, somehow in its wake creating farmable and productive lands. Soergel was creating a certain, very wide, fantastical future of uncertain monumental prospects.
A "brief outline" of the idea was published in this four-language pamphlet, Lowering the Mediterranean Irrigating the Sahara (Panropa Project), which was published by J.M. Gebhardt in Leipzig in the very bumpy year of 1929. (The Weimar years in Germany were already into deep bumpiness; the rest of the world would follow suit in October of that year.) To be fair, Soergel didn't plan on emptying the entire Mediterranean, just a bunch of it--at least enough to be able to rename it.
[Here's a map of the new Mediterranean, or the Mediterranean that would be made to go away. As you can see at this point Sicily and Italy become enormous, and the Greek Islands are combined to form one large land mass--this last bit alone is enough to form total and complete reisstance to this idea. Also at this stage perhaps 150 or so miles of new lands have been reclaimed from the sea all along its former borders--more so in Turkey. There is no mention as yet of any new islands that are formed in the sea water's wake.]
The master plan at work was that the world would be divided into three economic spheres in the future, all beginning with the letter “A”: American, Asia, and the new land to be created by Soergel, “Atlantropa”, which was the former Europe expanded into the new dry beds of the Mediterranean and North Africa. And also of course Egypt, which would be covered with "thousands" of canals and become semi-submerged by the new borders of the meandering sea. This would be the way for Europa to compete with the rest of the world in the future.
[I should point out that the image above comes from the Illustrierte Zeitung (Leipzig) for August 1931, and is a drawing by an artist named "AS. Christ" depicting a cross section of one of the bridge/dams of Soergel's Panropa's ideas.]
Perhaps it is actually three steps to get from the idea of damming up the straits of Gibraltar to the osmosis of Shakespeare’s memories into someone else’s brain—a squinting acquiescence of the middle touch being the brilliant Jorge Luis Borges. You see it was in the Argentine master’s last published story, "Shakespeare’s Memory", that we meet Herr Soergel (as Hermann Sorgel) again. But so far as I can remember Soergel exists only as a fictional character, with no reference to his real-life self. In this wonderful story, Soergel inherits the memories of William Shakespeare—these bits come to him slowly but surely, until they start to conflict with his own memory, and things get difficult. The man with Shakespeare’s memories winds up phoning strangers on the telephone, giving them away at random, until Soergel is left with his own mind again. Superior as Bill’s memories were, they still weren’t Hermann’s, who wanted his own life back in the end.
And so from the titanic, pan-europic technodream of Bauhausian Hermann Soergel to the dead brains and living memories of William Shakespeare, all through the fingers of the beautiful Jorge Luis Borges.
I'm sorry to report that at the end of it all, near the end of the pamphlet, Soergel releases his opinion on the political importance of his project. And yes, his aim was to form an alliance between the new PanAmerica (of the "three Americas" with the new Pan-European African Union to thwart "the yellow peril" which "arises from the racial antipathy of India, China and Japan. Soergel writes that "the fate of occidental civilization...will be settled on the Mediterranean".
After it is all said and done, perhaps the best reiew of the work by Soergel is provided by the graphic designer who put the Big Red X on the cover of his work. It fits.
Some of the works by Soergel include the following:
Atlantropa. Fretz & Wasmuth, Zurich / Piloty & Löhle, Munich 1932
Vorwort zu: Wayne W. Parrish : Technokratie - die neue Heilslehre , Piper, München 1933
Die drei großen A, Amerika, Atlantropa, Asien , 1938. The three large A, , Atlantropa, Asia, 1938
Atlantropa-ABC. Atlantropa ABC. Kraft, Raum, Brot. Kraft, Raum, Brot. Erläuterungen zum Atlantropa-Projekt , Arnd,Leipzig 1942
Some works about Soergel:
Alexander Gall: The Atlantropa project. Die Geschichte einer gescheiterten Vision. The story of a failed vision. Herman Sörgel und die Absenkung des Mittelmeers .
Herman Sörgel and the lowering of the MEditerranean . Campus, Frankfurt am Main 1998.
Wolfgang Voigt: Atlantropa. Wolfgang Voigt: Atlantropa. Weltbauen am Mittelmeer. Building the Mediterranean world.Ein Architektentraum der Moderne . An architects dream of modernity. Dölling und Galitz. Hamburg 1998.