By Paul Gilmore
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11 As a subtle aether permeating the universe, electricity offered a bridge between the physical and the spiritual, between the inanimate world of Newtonian physics and life itself. In fact, as Patricia Fara has noted, “one major function of electrical aethers was to account for God’s continuing involvement in the world. . ”12 Despite the broad rejection of Galvani’s animal electricity and Franz Anton Mesmer’s animal magnetism, this spiritualized understanding of electricity continued to provide a powerful possibility for associationists and others concerned with maintaining a philosophical defense of Christian moral responsibility within a materialistic, scientific worldview.
Anaesthetic technological and romantic attempts to define electricity come together as part of a broader attempt to stabilize and substantiate the links among art, language, political and cultural structures, and the individual mind. Reconstructing this use of electricity then sets us up to recognize, in the chapters to come, the more radical critique of traditional and bourgeois notions of the self, the body, and their boundaries offered by a more materialist version of romantic electricity. 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.
Be the means, under God, of extirpating all error and prejudice, and of putting an end to all undue and usurped authority. . ”14 As historian James Delbourgo century—to reincorporate ideas of free will and Christian theology with an emphasis on a mechanically determined physical world. Accounting for the intersection between a physical world and a spiritual realm—between mechanistic determinism and free choice—associationists frequently turned to electricity. Hartley, for example, cited electricity “as a Clue and Guide .
Aesthetic materialism : electricity and American romanticism by Paul Gilmore