By Paul Gilmore
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Extra info for Aesthetic Materialism: Electricity and American Romanticism
36 Despite maintaining his commitment to a more liberal politics, Schiller’s aesthetic politics parallels Coleridge’s as attempts to delimit the imagination as the basis for politics in reaction to the French Revolution. ”37 Kitson’s argument that Coleridge’s political thought largely derived from commonwealthsman republicanism is important for filling in the contours of this aesthetic politics. While the historiographical debates about the rise of liberalism and its relationship to the classical commonwealth republicanism of the eighteenth century has died down, the so-called republican synthesis remains an important touchstone for understanding eighteenth-century British and American political thought.
Instead, the romantic ambivalence about new technologies and the economic forces that promoted them was, in fact, the product of the contradictions inherent to the emergence of industrial capitalism. In developing my argument that a specific strain of romantic aesthetics drew on electrical science and technology to figure aesthetic experience as both material and transcendent, I first need to set up this background by returning to the eighteenth century and earlier, examining important electrical experimenters and theorists such as Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, and Joseph Priestley, in the context of the emergence of romanticism in the Anglo-American world.
In this way, electricity seemed to suggest a kind of material general equivalent, a form through which, by which, all other forms could be compared and transformed. This idea of the general equivalent, from Marx, finds one of its earliest descriptions in Franklin’s A Modest Enquiry, a pamphlet whose labor theory of value Marx cited in Capital. ”24 By making the exchange of labor easier, money becomes such a useful instrument; in particular “Bills of Credit are found very convenient in Business; because a great Sum is more easily counted in Them, lighter in Carriage, concealed in less Room, and therefore safer in Travelling or Laying up” (127).