By Paul Gilmore
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Extra resources for Aesthetic materialism : electricity and American romanticism
Electric Aether and Associationism The era of literary romanticism witnessed some of the most important breakthroughs in the scientific study of electro-magnetism, discoveries that both drew on and energized European romanticism. Luigi Galvani’s experiments in the 1790s spurred the acceptance of ideas of the animal body as electric or, at least, the notion that nervous impulses were conveyed through a medium akin to electricity, if not by electricity itself. In attempting to replicate Galvani’s experiments—and, finally, disproving his thesis about animal electricity—Allessandro Volta created the first functioning battery, the Voltaic pile.
Despite publishing the first novel in British colonial America (Samuel Richardson’s Pamela in 1744) and authoring his own fictional and belletristic pieces, Franklin repeatedly speaks of both science and cultural products as the means for improving the self and the masses.
Yet Coleridge’s continued use of electricity and associationist terms hint at the roots of this type of thought in the technological and economic changes he seeks to rescue the symbol from, suggesting his continued reliance on the destabilization of the market, the flux and flow of modernity, figured as the electric power of language, the electric current 39 40 Idealist Aesthetics and the Republican Telegraph of commerce. The electrical machinery of the symbol returns us to the very body, its indeterminate reactions and associations—its interests and biases, its proclivities and misreadings—that Coleridge’s republican idealism attempts to escape.