Archive for October, 2008


Oct 25 2008

Delbourgo’s Electricity and Enlightenment in Early America

by at 12:01 am

So I picked up Delbourgo’s A Most Amazing Scene of Wonders: Electricity and Enlightenment in Early America. I must say, this book did not dissapoint! I’ve read the introduction thus far and am half way through Chapter 4, “Electrical Politics and Political Electricity.” In this chapter, Delbourgo does a great job of illustrating how the electrical metaphor is appropriated during the American Revolution. I’m really excited about all of this because none of the criticism I’ve read thus far on slavery and electricity have made this connection. Yes, they’ve talked about how the electrical metaphor was utilized by abolitionists, but they never ground the metaphor in its American Revolutionary past. While acknolwedging the electrical metaphor in abolitionist texts is a great first step, tracing back the electrical metaphor to the American Revolution is, I think, key. By tapping into a metaphor that is associated with the war for independence and utilizing it in an abolitionist context, the slave and the American Patriot are clearly equated which is something Maria Stewart does outright. Stewart asserts that black souls, “are fired with the same love of liberty and independce with which your souls are fired” (40).  Stewart sounds very much like the numerous examples Delgaudo gives of American patriot’s souls being fired by the revolution. In my paper, in order to avoid  seeming like I’m not trying to force an electric metaphor because I want to see it’s there in Stewart’s text, I’ll have to first give the examples of the way the electric metaphor was associated with the American Revolution (the quotes by John Adams, and a number of others come to mind). The similarities between the Revolutionary texts and Maria Stewarts will be, I think–I hope–undeniable. Note to self: copy these early American quotes from Chapter 4 into blog at some point during the week so I have them nice and handy.

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Oct 24 2008

Professor at Columbia and interesting book

by at 1:05 am

Nicholas Dame, a professor at Columbia, came out with a new book entitled The Physiology of the Novel: Reading, Neural Science and the Form of Victorian Fiction. This would probably connect with nervous system as metaphor thing. Also, it says on the website that he’s interested in nineteenth century theories of mind (which of course connect with electricity and such). I should try checking out his stuff and see if he talks about that in more detail.

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Oct 24 2008

Oh, and Great Book I found

by at 12:30 am

This James Delbourgo guy sounds brilliant. Two books I must read (with the first, of course, being at the very top of my cue):

  • A Most Amazing Scene of Wonders: Electricity and Enlightenment in Early Ameria
  • Science and Empire in the Atlantic World

I’m thinking I need to purchase Electricity and Enlightenment so I can scrible all over it. Seriously, I need to start purchasing all my books. This not being able to write on library books thing is definitely not working for me. Plus, I hate that they’re not mine.

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Oct 24 2008

Lydia Maria Child, Rev. Allen’s Address, and General Musings on the Electrical Metaphor

by at 12:13 am

So, I’ve been reading more of Lydia Maria Child’s work. She talks about lightning and electricity in her letter that I mentioned about before, and, low and behold, lightning and storms keep on recurring in her texts. I’m too tired to copy of that stuff right now, but it will be done, I promise…

Also, she talks about magnetism.

Rev. WM Allen’s Address at the annual Michgan Anti-Slavery Society is extremely promising. So promising that I’m actually going to type it up in here eventhough I’m exhausted. Here it goes:

There were multitudes at the North, who protested that they were opposed to slavery, as much as abolitionists were, but still they did nothing. There was no visible effect from any influence they had exerted. Their abolition principles were like latent electricity. The effects of this subtle fluid, when developed, were seen in the shattered steeple, and in the conflagration. But as it existed in its latent state, it was alla round us and nothing was seen. But let there be an electric machine to develope its terrible energies, and the moment it was touched, there was shock. And there might be a galvanic battery piled up, and piled up, until it had accumulated a power which would reak every bone in the human system at touch. Just so it was with the abolition principle in this class of our citizens. It existed only in its latent state, and the object of anti-slavery societies was to develope its energies by combination. We wanted to raise a galvanic battery here at the north, of sufficient power to shiver every bone in the monster to atoms.

This may be a really good place to begin my paper with–it’s basically my thesis, tied up nice and neatly in a 19th century abolitonist speech. I particularly like how this passage brings up the issue of action. While many Northerners opposed slavery, most did nothing to end it. The electrical metaphor then comes in as a way of attempting to solve this problem: the “latent electricity” that exists in these individuals must be electrified, so that they will become “doers.” Also, the fact that all humans possess a latent electricity on the most scientific level implies that even those who do not oppose slavery have the potential of being electrified–they possess that latent slavery as well. So, to sum it up, I plan on looking at how the electric metaphor was utilized to come to terms with the problem of inspiration and action. A revolution could only be inspired by electrifying the people into action. The quote from John Neal’s book about electrifying personalities could be encorporated here. Also, need to make sure to talk about how the anti-abolitionist mobs play a role in all of this–clearly, these people are “doers,” the problems of inaction are not manifested here. While the abolitionists want to electrify the people, lots of individuals–numbers which far exceed the amount of active abolitonists–are clearly being electrified from the other end by the pro-slavery camp. Could incorporate Stephen Browne’s idea on terrorists versus counterterrorists: they feed off each other and are only defined in relationship to one another. The abolitionists want to electrify the people, but the problem is, of course, that their opponents are doing the very same thing, and more successfully even. How do the abolitionists come to terms with this problem of inspiring action?

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