Aesthetic Materialism: Electricity and American Romanticism focuses on American romantic writers' attempts to theorize aesthetic experience through the language of electricity. In response to scientific and technological developments, most notably the telegraph, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century electrical imagery reflected the mysterious workings of the physical mind as well as the uncertain, sometimes shocking connections between individuals. Writers such as Whitman, Melville, and Douglass drew on images of electricity and telegraphy to describe literature both as the product of specific economic and social conditions and as a means of transcending the individual determined by such conditions. Aesthetic Materialism moves between historical and cultural analysis and close textual reading, challenging readers to see American literature as at once formal and historical and as a product of both aesthetic and material experience.
About the author
Paul Gilmore, Associate Professor of English at California State University, Long Beach, is also the author of The Genuine Article: Race, Mass Culture, and American Literary Manhood (2001).
"Paul Gilmore demonstrates that electricity was central to the discourse of American Romanticism, illuminating both the individual's place in society and the relationship of the soul to the body. After reading Aesthetic Materialism, one understands far better what Whitman meant when he 'sang the body electric.'"
—David Nye, University of Southern Denmark
"Paul Gilmore's book stands forth as an indispensable critical work in dealing with the history, transatlantic dimensions, and political promises of American Romantic literature."
—Russ Castronovo, University of Wisconsin, Madison