By Paul Gilmore
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Extra info for Aesthetic materialism : electricity and American romanticism
49 This machine, rather than being the invention of the mechanical tinkering of an individual, is the efflux of divinity, as the “divine purposes in the gift of language[;] are duties too sacred and important to be sacrificed to the guesses of an individual” (4:1:45). Language, at its purest, provides a kind of access, limited as it may be, to divinity itself, to the “old and venerable truths” underlying traditional society. This divine machinery helps Coleridge to counter both the determinism and potential subjectivism of associationism.
It is important to emphasize the transatlantic nature of these transformations, for the ability of commodities, conceptions, and people to cross national borders and move across great distances instantiated the very fluidity of the material and spiritual worlds that electricity was taken to epitomize. Turning to figures such as Franklin and Edmund Burke, I demonstrate the ways that theories about electricity both were influenced by the increased flow of persons and products back-and-forth across the Atlantic and reflected concerns about the disruptive political and social effects of that fluidity.
Such hypotheses would continue to appear in the work of even some of the leading thinkers on electricity throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. Bridging the spiritual and physical worlds, by providing a materialist understanding of a dynamic or divinely designed universe, electricity seemed, if not identical with the source of nervous impulses or not the prime source of life itself, to supply a ready substitute for both. As a number of historians have argued, Newtonian mechanical physics provided a vital paradigm for eighteenth-century theories of the mind, political systems, and art.
Aesthetic materialism : electricity and American romanticism by Paul Gilmore