By Paul Gilmore
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Extra resources for Aesthetic materialism : electricity and American romanticism
20 Significantly, Franklin’s experiments rapidly became emblematic of the politically revolutionary potential of science and reason. ”21 Franklin’s humble origins, his revolutionary politics, and his ability to manipulate natural and political power bespoke the democratic capacity for humankind to participate in their own governance and to overcome the limitations of traditional beliefs about the world and society. 27 28 Idealist Aesthetics and the Republican Telegraph Franklin’s comments on the Aurora Borealis hint at one socioeconomic correlative to this kind of thought.
It always partakes of the reality which it renders intelligible; and while it enunciates the whole, abides itself as a living part in that unity of which it is the representative” (6:29–30). Returning to electrical (conductors) and associationist (machine) language, Coleridge’s romantic theory makes that electrical machinery not revolutionary, as Priestley and the younger Coleridge would have it, but divine, with symbolic, poetic language being the preeminent example of a electric machine conducting between the eternal and the individual.
The market forced its participants, through contractualism, to attend to their own power, in the present and the future, to affect events largely divorced from their everyday activities. One need merely consult nearly any eighteenth-century novel to recognize the negative consequences of this expansion of responsibility—the wreck of a ship on the other side of the world, the discovery of a contract from decades earlier, the failure of an economic enterprise across the ocean and their tragic consequences suggested that one’s person and interests spread out in web-like ways across the world.