By Paul Gilmore
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Additional resources for Aesthetic materialism : electricity and American romanticism
In A Philosophical Enquiry, Burke describes the power of words to create a sublime experience due to their very imprecision: “The truth is, if poetry gives us a noble Idealist Aesthetics and the Republican Telegraph h assemblage of words, corresponding to many noble ideas, which are connected by circumstances of time or place, or related to each other as cause and effect, or associated in any natural way, they may be moulded together in any form, and perfectly answer their end” (171). Language’s power lies not in its representational capacity but in its ability to inflame “the contagion of our passions” through which “we catch a fire already kindled in another, which probably might never have been struck out by the object described” (175–176).
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.
30 Organicist romantic aesthetics, in such a light, reveals its idealist orientation of viewing natural phenomena as indicators of sublime, transcendent truths, as the material world, whether manifested in electric science, poetry, or social structures, comes to function, primarily, as a reflection or outgrowth of an ideal, defining systems of laws. This is essentially what Jerome McGann describes as romantic ideology. ”31 Rather than “reveal the contradictory forces which human beings at once generate and live through, and .