If you know Alfred Kubin it is most likely from the terrifying shadow world summoned by his illustrations. But the Austrian artist, who died on this day in 1959, also left behind a novel, Die andere Seite (The Other Side). Published in Munich in 1909 with illustrations – naturally enough – by Kubin himself, it tells of a planned city in Central Asia, a “dream realm” which – just as naturally (this is Kubin, after all) – is as much nightmare as reverie. The book explores the interface of fantasy and reality while parodying the progressive, at times messianic currents then flowing through Munich, where Kubin studied. He takes the anti-industrialist visionary ideologies of Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach, Fidus, Elisàr von Kupffer and Gusto Gräser and stretches them ad absurdum, showing the potential for despotism and chaos latent within any idealised conception of society.
In this extract from Mike Mitchell‘s translation, the protagonist (an illustrator not dissimilar to Kubin himself) receives an emissary from this realm, which is ruled over by a former classmate, Claus Patera, who happens to be one of the richest men in the world. The strange visitor describes this domain and its animating principles:
Patera…feels an extraordinarily strong aversion to all kinds of progress. To be precise, to all kinds of scientific progress. Please take this literally, for in it lies the main idea behind the Dream Realm. The Realm is shut off from the rest of the world by a surrounding wall and protected against any attack by strong fortifications. There is a single gate for entry and exit, facilitating strict control of people and goods. The Dream Realm is a sanctuary for all those who are unhappy with modern civilisation and contains everything necessary to cater for their bodily needs. It is not at all the intention of the lord of this country to create a utopia, a kind of model state of the future. Although provision has been made to ensure there are no material shortages, the whole thrust of the principal aims of this community is directed less towards the maintenance of property and goods, the population, individuals. No, definitely not!
One could say that normal life and the Dream world are opposites, and it is precisely this difference which makes understanding between them so difficult. My answer to the question, ‘What actually happens in the Dream Realm? What is life there like?’ would have to be silence. All I could tell you about would be the surface, but the very essence of Dream people is that they seek the depths. Everything is geared towards giving life the deepest possible spiritual dimension. The values of the Dreamlanders are so different that the joys and sorrows of ordinary people are alien to them and will ever remain so. The word that probably comes closest to describing the core of our world is ‘mood’. The only things that our people experience are moods, or, better, they exist in moods alone.