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By Paul Gilmore
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Extra info for Aesthetic Materialism: Electricity and American Romanticism
28 With its connections to currency, to the flow of goods throughout the Atlantic world, and its potential to represent both a universal physical medium and an equally accessible, specifically human sensibility, electricity and its symbolic uses hint at these intersecting, sometimes contradictory forces. Despite his lifelong antipathy towards the emerging market order, Coleridge’s electric figures of the 1790s grew directly out of these various connections. 29 In Biographia Literaria (1817), he dismisses the idea that electricity is the vital force as simply the latest manifestation of materialistic and mechanical associationist psychology.
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 . . ”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.
While Coleridge’s romantic electricity illustrated an eternal law of structure and opposition that should be replicated in a traditional hierarchical society, spiritualists’ more sentimentalized telegraph revealed a vast egalitarian spiritual union. In both cases, however, the individual experiences of historical forces, social stratification, and lived bodily (sensuous, aesthetic) existence were sublimated in favor of the universal truth they suggested—either the universal law governing all relations or the reduction of human life and differences to a spiritual equality.
Aesthetic Materialism: Electricity and American Romanticism by Paul Gilmore