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Humphry Davy's intergalactic travel: catching sight of another genre.

WHEN HUMPHRY DAVY'S CONSOLATIONS IN TRAVEL WAS FIRST PRINTED posthumously in 1830 it evoked mixed responses reflecting its disjointed nature: Davy was pious; he approached heresy. He lived in the "fantastic"; he was "purely scientific." Yet whether he was a "dying Plato," an "orthodox Christian or [a] skeptical free-thinker," critics agreed on the text's "desultory and disordered manner." (1) It offered scientists compelling passages on geology and the life sciences, but ultimately escaped into metaphysics. The popular press considered it dry and technical. Most of all, it evaded classification by its participation in multiple discourses: religious, scientific, and visionary. This confusion has likewise spurred modern critics to flee the text's strangeness and read it almost exclusively through a biographical lens, considering Davy's status as a "superstar" scientific performer or as a scientist peering through a poetic microscope. (2) These responses--both the modern and those contemporary with Davy--demonstrate the common perception of the Consolations as fractured. While such a view seems inevitable, my interest lies instead in exploring the reasons for and productivity of its fissile nature, which renders it at once an experimental text offering current scholars a laboratory in which to reconsider how we organize knowledge both historically and in the present, and an alienating artifact tempting us to retreat in befuddlement. Generically, the text displays markers of four discrete genres, the philosophical dialogue, the travel narrative, the scientific treatise, and the medieval consolation, without synthesizing or completely integrating them. For instance, apropos to travel narrative it describes the countryside surrounding the ruins of Paestum: its "green hills," "marble cliffs," and "vineyards." (3) Yet it becomes scientific in offering a technical explanation of respiration: "By the action of air on the blood it is fitted for the purposes of life, and from the moment that animation is marked by sensation or volition this function is performed" (Davy 335-36). I will argue that this unruly generic excess and its varying and often opposed epistemological stances constitute a new kind of organizational strategy, one which I call, in light of the interstellar journey that opens the text, a utopian genre.

In particular, Davy's text incites utopian thinking through the interplay between generic construction and deconstruction. By this I mean that the text allows for several discrete but incomplete strategies of categorization, which encourage the reader to imagine, from the shambles of all the ways the Consolations might be classified, an unknown genre of the future, cognizable only to an advanced, perhaps even alien, form of humanity. Importantly, this deferred genre has more value as a catalyzing goal motivating reflective reading than as a stable classification system with recognizable contours. Thus, rather than merely striving to arrest the text in the present, to delimit its generic characteristics, 1 argue that the Consolations tempts us to take up a practice of utopian reading, one in which we perpetually pursue textual unity via repeated generic interpenetrations, while keeping in mind its inevitable displacement into the future, reminding ourselves that we must change the way we read before we can read the text for itself.

Ideally, this awareness of the distance between the present disjunctive text and the future cohering genre would refocus our thoughts on conceiving experiments (generic and ideological permutations and combinations) that might accomplish such a development. For Davy, this textual method serves a concomitant social imperative, rounding out the political dimension of his utopian investments; he addresses, attempting to countermand, the directions science was taking during the early nineteenth century: rapid professionalization and the increasing tendency to divide the arts and sciences into disciplines, the results of which we recognize in today's compartmentalized university. His fractured text engages that scientific-social context, so that through generic admixture he critiques this disciplinary divide, seeking instead to inspire interdisciplinary cross-pollination in scientific institutions. In other words, the Consolations presents itself as an invitation to a textual utopia whose combinatory energy might also occasion a post- or interdisciplinary epistemological shift in his scientific scene. This point should beguile modern readers to question whether our own desires for the "interdisciplinary" draw upon similar utopian hopes. In this sense, utopia for Davy is neither fantasy nor wish-fulfillment, but an intellectual practice capable of marshaling social energy towards real-world ends.

The broader shift towards disciplinarity and specialization to which Davy's utopia responded developed from an eighteenth-century institutional context that historians have taken to calling pre- or a-disciplinary for the degree of porousness inhering between types of knowledge, the specter of which during the nineteenth century fueled Davy's desire for syncretically organized sciences. Luisa Cale and Adriana Craciun identify an eighteenth-century undercurrent of "disorder," their word for an a-disciplinary fecundity in which different types of knowledge cross-pollinated. Scholars practicing "critical disciplinarity" (4) may attend to this fruitful hybridity and read against the grain of grand narratives of autonomously developing historical epistemes. Cale and Craciun advocate exploring "the unfamiliar contours of objects, practices, and identities that resist or escape current disciplinary mapping, unveiling the alternative forms and conjectural shapes of knowledge in the making." (5) Considering the years between 1750 and 1830 as those during which now traditional disciplinary boundaries in scientific and humanistic discourses were in flux, (6) a characterization I support, they nevertheless downplay the period's trend towards exclusivity: for example, practitioners within particular scientific disciplines increasingly had to master sophisticated nomenclatures, gain access to expensive apparatuses, and become members of exclusive specialist societies.

The history of chemistry microcosmically demonstrates this trend towards disciplinary coherence. As Michel Chaouli notes, eighteenth-century chemistry "struggle[d] with a choice not merely ... between two scientific paradigms, but also between two paradigms belonging to entirely incompatible orders, one technical (artisanal, artistic), the other scientific." (7) In other words, it retained imprecise alchemical traces and practical-medical vestments even as its practitioners strove for a systematic and mathematically complete science. Although chemistry's lack of mathematical order prompted Kant to deny it scientific status in Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science in 1786, (8) it had, by 1787, gained a nomenclature from Lavoisier, and by 1802, Davy could defend it as a coherent body of knowledge in his first Royal Institution lectures. (9) This development of a specialized vocabulary and set of practices both validated this scientific branch and made it more exclusive, as it set the terms for knowledge construction at the expense of accessibility.

Given his scientific prominence and ambivalence to the period's ongoing specialization, Davy provides a vital subject for understanding the possibilities and the reservations attending this shift. On the one hand he worked in various disciplines (for instance, chemistry and geology) and argued in the Consolations for chemistry's accessibility; on the other, as president of the Royal Society he sought to restrict membership to publishing scientists, thereby erecting barriers to entering the scientific community. (10) He denigrated practical chemists in favor of more theoretically-oriented experimentation, (11) but became most famous--even being referenced in Don Juan--for the miner's safety lamp he invented in 1815. A "chemical celebrity" from his first lectures at the Royal Institution in 1801, Davy's demonstrations became social spectacles in London. Yet despite the persona of chemical genius he formed through his eloquent and spectacular demonstrations, (12) he nevertheless fostered the ideal of the genteel man pursuing multiple branches of scientific experimentation alongside literary and social interests--a figure, more appropriate to the eighteenth century, (13) memorialized in Maria Edgeworth's Belinda as Mr. Percival or in Anna Barbauld's descriptions of Joseph Priestley. Thus Davy at once embodies the figure of "genius" that Simon Schaffer posits as central to the nineteenth century's newly-disciplined science and yearns for the natural philosophy of the eighteenth, with its inchoate and rhetorically unsettled scientific practice. (14) Schaffer argues that the shift from "natural philosophy" to a science of disciplines depended on a division between the scientific genius, who produces new knowledge through discovery, and the disciplinary toilers who labor to justify and apply the works of genius. Disciplines, in this view, arise out of these everyday practitioners' efforts. The public had undoubtedly ordained Davy a genius, yet his sometimes dilettantish practice seemed to work against the very disciplinary justifications that followed from his discoveries. Evidently such a commitment helped motivate his creation of a utopian generic space from which to imagine new ways of organizing knowledge.

Constellated Genres or Genres in Solution

Davy responded to these institutional changes by investing the Consolations, as I've noted, with an abundance of fragmentary genres, each of which offers interpretive strategies, but none of which stabilizes the text. The Consolations incorporates multiple genres--philosophical dialogue, travel narrative, scientific treatise, medieval consolation--and loosely divides them into six segments bound together by narrative interludes: in the first three, the narrator, Philalethes, and his friends Ambrosio and Onuphrio travel through Italy, meeting along the way an itinerant chemist identified as the Unknown; and in sections comprising the last three dialogues they continue through Austria. This frame gathers discussions of scientific, religious, and social concerns, linked in varying degrees to the landscapes within which they unfold. David Duff writes in Romanticism and the Uses of Genre that "the transformations of form which are a hallmark of Romantic literature are often linked to changes of function." (15) Linking form to function reflects Fredric Jameson's contention in The Political Unconscious that "Genres are essentially literary institutions, or social contracts between a writer and a specific public, whose function is to specify the proper use of a particular cultural artifact." (16) I argue that the generic agglomeration in the Consolations might be understood as an example of what Duff--borrowing from Romantic chemical discourse--calls "rough-mixing," involving "juxtaposition rather than synthesis." (17) The mixed generic matter in such texts never fully disappears into solution. I build on Duff's point in identifying the Consolations' discrepant character (a text he does not address) as ultimately evoking an unknown future genre and its concordant utopian episteme. Throughout the rest of this section I will explore how each genre contributes to this utopian vision, first by showing how these forms' concatenation productively undermines the ability of any one of them to dominate the text, and second by demonstrating how Davy exploits each genre's instability to the same purpose. In doing so, I will argue that generic mixing provides a textual analogue to the seemingly inevitable disciplinary borders developing amidst scientific and humanistic pursuits during the period.

As the most prominent organizing genre, the philosophic dialogue here provides only disputatious energy without the dialectical control of, for instance, Socratic dialogues. Instead, characters articulate divergent positions on religion, science, and the progress of mankind, amending their opinions in response to their fellow interlocutors' claims, though no one attains mastery over discussion. Bypassed theses consistently reemerge into debate after having been seemingly resolved or contradicted. For example, in an episode to which I will turn below, Philalethes, having traveled into space, recounts in the first dialogue a vision that the second dialogue subsequently refutes, but whose relevance he later insistently reasserts. Furthermore, argument for its own sake sometimes steers a dialogue's development, insomuch as disputants attack positions they otherwise adhere to, seeking to provoke an intriguing defense. In one instance, Philalethes and Eubathes (traveling companions through Austria) goad the Unknown into defending Chemistry even though both purport to value the science. In philosophical dialogues more generally, but especially here, discussion as argument self-propels, striving for continuation rather than resolution. In the Consolations, the genre neither settles the text's disputes nor its conceptual impasses, but eschews resolution for rhetorical interaction, thereby emphasizing disciplinary exchange.

The second generic construction, travel narrative, uses geography and sites of interest as an epistemological map, but this analogy's logic meanders as much as the dialogue's. These spatialized epistemologies evoke the developing disciplinary borders between the sciences and humanities during the Romantic era, for each section unfolds in a different location, and though many sub-disputes arise, a particular epistemological concern focuses each part, from the progress of mankind and Philalethes' vision, to a religious dispute, to discourses on geology, life sciences, chemistry, and time, respectively. As above, under this generic cartography the text remains aimless: the travelers favor no location over another, nor permanently return home. Conceivably they wander eternally, nomads crossing diverse philosophical terrains.

However, travel narrative affords the Consolations, in the picturesque panoramic description, a technique whose combination of provisional unity and restless conjunctive energy models Davy's utopian generic practice. The second dialogue situates the disputants at Vesuvius' summit, where Philalethes expresses his uncertainty "whether there is more of sublimity or of beauty" (Davy 249) in the vista. The volcano, as "the great laboratory of nature," inspires sublime emotions with its creative fires and ruined crater. He contrasts these sights to the surroundings:

There we see the rich field covered with flax, or maize, or millet, and intersected by rows of trees which support the green and graceful festoons of the vine; ... olive-trees cover the lower hills; islands, purple in the beams of the setting sun, are scattered over the sea in the west, and the sky is tinted with red softening into the brightest and purest azure; the distant mountains still retain a part of the snows of winter, but they are rapidly melting, ... And man appears emulous of nature, for the city below is full of activity; ... busy multitudes crowd the strand, and at the same time may be seen a number of the arts belonging to civilized society in operation. (Davy 250)

This vantage presents a unity of motions, hues, and objects, and collates natural and artificial beauties together with a metropolitan bustle. The larger aesthetic categories informing this view, the sublime and the beautiful, associate in an indeterminable juxtaposition, achieving an aesthetic middle-ground in the picturesque, which according to Jill Heydt-Stevenson, entered, during the period, "into the famous Burkean dichotomy of the sublime and the beautiful as a destabilizing and mediating term, taking the energy from the sublime and the languor from the beautiful and intermixing them." (18) William Gilpin's explanation of the picturesque, that its "composition consists in uniting in one whole a variety of parts; and these parts can only be obtained from rough objects," (19) emphasizes active interpretation: note that composition "consists in uniting," a phrase which signifies unification as ongoing, and unity as provisional. Insomuch as it "mediates," the picturesque eye constantly reestablishes its unifying capacity despite the resurgent partness of the parts in view, which retain their "rough" edges. Heydt-Stevenson and Gary Harrison suggest the utopian potential of this aesthetic volatility: "In putting people in motion, the picturesque--allied with tourism--galvanizes the process of viewing and interpretation, leading to dystopian and utopian configurations." (20) In particular, they refer to the picturesque's capacity to shift attention from structure to energy, from the landscape to the act of interpreting it, thus allowing observers to imagine solutions to social problems arising from a recognition that travelers interact with environments ceaselessly. This reflexive awareness is similar to that I've described emerging from Davy's text.

A third model for Davy's Consolations is the consolado tradition, and Davy's text exploits that genre's focus on grief to invest its utopian energy with emotional immediacy. According to classicist Joel Relihan the consolation genre, "a moral exhortation, an address to one who is bereaved, an argument that death is not to be feared," generally includes a view of the afterlife, with its punishments and rewards for sinners and the blessed. (21) In this generic formulation, the reassuring substance of Davy's comparatively secularized Consolations would be its progressive version of history as driven by science, and its view of the afterlife would be Philalethes' vision in the coliseum, which posits that after death human intelligences undergo a cosmic development, transforming into increasingly intelligent alien life-forms. Via this cosmic pantheism's promise of intellectual immortality the dialogues can be said to proffer aid to a reader or to Davy himself, with his late-life afflictions. (22)

In drawing upon the consolation tradition and specifically Boethius' text, Davy invokes an ancestor who, by depicting classical Philosophy's split into schools, prefigures his concern over developing disciplinarity during the nineteenth century. Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy opens with the figure of Lady Philosophy dressed in tatters, as philosophers of various schools have torn shreds from her clothing, an allegory for philosophical thought's fragmentation. She recounts how the various schools "tore scraps from [her robe] and went away, each of them believing that I had gone off with them in my entirety": not only does each school attain only a partial philosophical understanding, but each mistakes its part for the whole, suggesting a myopic vision (Boethius 7). No surprise that this text would offer Davy a useful precursor given the comparable situation of "natural philosophy" at the eighteenth century's close. Functionally, then, the consolatio tradition allows Davy, in light of this familiarity, to consider history's continuity, since the genre, deriving from a historically distant episteme, marks the inescapable presentness of the past. Coupled with the genre's focus on consoling grief, which situates salvation and resolution in an attainable future, this continuity legitimizes imaginatively striving towards utopia.

Yet Davy, as with the other generic lenses, employs the consolatio only partially as an organizational structure, and avoids replicating his precursor's ordered character. Boethius' Consolation keeps in view a particular end, offering each stage of consolation as a separate book. When Lady Philosophy describes the truths she will unveil to the prisoner, she specifies that every epiphany he experiences will give way to the next, each more difficult to understand: she begins by hearing his complaint (Book 1) and offering him a simple explanation of fortune (Book 2), which will in turn acclimate him to "more bitter tasting" ideas to come--that is, more idiosyncratic explanations of happiness, virtue, and providence (Boethius 49). Furthermore, though Boethius' Consolation models, to some extent, the formal variety upon which Davy's text draws--it intersperses passages of prose with verse--it subjugates that variety to its argument's ends. For example, Lady Philosophy explains a particularly taxing point about providence to the prisoner, asserting, "and yet, if it is the delights of music and song that you find delightful, you must put off this physical pleasure for a time while I weave together arguments that are tightly bound to each other in sequence" (Boethius 113). Here, the argument's sequential order eclipses the need for the song's delights, and subsequent verse interruptions are suspended for an unprecedented volume of text. By contrast, Davy's Consolations rarely produces such an overarching order, never sacrifices generic shifting for argumentative clarity, and doesn't imitate the regularity of Boethius' metrical intrusions. Less as a directed response to grief offered up by a divine guide, Davy's consolation unfolds along the byways trod by footweary wanderers.

Empyreal Utopias or the Action of Combination

If none of these individual genres coheres Davy's Consolations, their combining effects condition the possibility for imagining another generic mode: the utopian. The text's initial gesture towards utopia occurs in the first dialogue when Philalethes, who has been skulking around the Coliseum bemoaning cultural decline, converses with a spirit from outer space called "the genius," who presents an opposed progressive historical vision. Humans, says the genius, have progressed since their inception by the strength of their mental and scientific accomplishments. Driving this advancement is the principle of combination, understood explicitly in terms of mixed races, classes, genders, and substances; implicitly it formally valorizes mixed genres. (23) Soon the genius moves from the historical to the cosmic significance of combination. He and Philalethes ascend from Earth into the solar system, and their escape from terrestrial atmosphere draws the necessary boundary for what I designate a utopian space.

This ascent from earth, a type of separation, according to Jameson, constitutive of any generic utopia, allows for the formation of a circumscribed imaginary space within which to conceive alternative social possibilities. Jameson's Archaeologies of the Future, which focuses predominantly on twentieth-century science fiction and does not mention the Consolations, posits utopia as simultaneously separated from history and bound up with the social context that produces it. In his formulation an author diagnoses a predominant social ill and then offers up an imaginative remedy for that singular concern, which is enacted in the literary utopia. Conceptually, this prescription may serve as the political impetus for the amelioration of the actual social ill that first inspired the utopia.

I depart from Jameson in my claim that Davy's text not only represents utopia, but also manifests it through formal characteristics that disclose manifold generic natures coupled with outlandish content, all of which suggest a utopian context extending beyond its textual limits, or more precisely, a utopian genre. Removed from the familiar world, Philalethes lacks a frame of reference within which to order his understanding, and can only perceive the new phenomena in terms of vague and incommensurable similarities to familiar ones on Earth. When he and the Genius land on Saturn they encounter the Satumians:

I saw moving on the surface below me immense masses, the forms of which 1 find it impossible to describe; they had systems for locomotion similar to those of the morse or sea-horse, but I saw with great surprise that they moved from place to place by six extremely thin membranes, which they used as wings. Their colours were varied and beautiful, but principally azure and rose colour; I saw numerous convolutions of tubes, more analogous to the trunk of the elephant than to anything else I can imagine, occupying what I supposed to be the upper parts of the body, and my feeling of astonishment almost became one of disgust, from the peculiar character of the organs of these singular beings. (Davy 241-42)

Philalethes cannot comprehend the Saturnians as whole, but only as composed of unreconciled parts: they move like seahorses, and have wing-like membranes and tubes like elephants' trunks. Like the varying generic models themselves, their bodies stage conjunctions between differences, in this case, colors, sizes, and species (fish and bird and land mammal). His transition from "astonishment" to "disgust" evinces the degree to which Philalethes cannot tolerate these aliens' discontinuity. Initially, he abhors them because they undermine his sense of ontological solidity, a reaction the Consolations' first critics repeated.

Davy's aliens therefore constitute a representational quandary: Philalethes cannot comprehend them in themselves, but neither is his perception complete if he remains satisfied with the tenuous identification their parts' likeness to terrestrial fauna provides. Jameson identifies such a melange as characteristic of the alien body, which he argues induces macroscopic Utopian imagining. The alien body, he maintains, manifests a representational problem: "the new sensory phenomena will not be reified at the level of innovation: rather they lead us back to other representational questions ... for a new quality already begins to demand a new kind of perception, and that new perception in turn demands a new organ of perception, and thus ultimately a new kind of body." (24) Incapacitated by our need to imagine novelty based on ideas "derived from sensory knowledge," we cannot apprehend the truly alien in terms of its irreducible difference. Jameson claims that, faced with this impasse, the writer of science fiction engages the "representationally productive question," which is "not whether we as readers are able to imagine the new color, but whether we can imagine the new sense organ and the new body that correspond to it." (25) In other words, to perceive a wholly alien color requires an inaccessibly alien eye. The genius acknowledges such an impasse to Philalethes: "you want analogies and all the elements of knowledge to comprehend the scene before you. You are in the same state in which a fly would be whose microscopic eye was changed for one similar to that of man; and you are wholly unable to associate what you now see with your former knowledge" (Davy 242). For Jameson, however, it won't suffice to comprehend the alien eye only in relation to the alien body; one must posit a context, the world in which that body exercises its faculties. In order to project itself into a utopian otherworld the reading subject must do more than interpret the alien, and, in fact, must posit an entire alien cosmology and subsequently attempt to refit its perception to that context. Our perception, with Philalethes', is "bounded by Uranus, and the laws of this planet form the ultimatum of [our] mathematical results," but according to the genius, the Saturnians "catch a sight of planets belonging to another system, and even reason on the phenomena presented by another sun" (Davy 243). The illegibility of the alien--similar to the text's multiple illegible genres--initiates an imaginative expansion of increasingly macrocosmic scale. Though such an effort nevertheless constitutes interpretation, it is a holistic and a restless one; the reader must reflexively consider the self along with the alien other and the context resituating both, in the hopes of arriving at a more complete understanding of their mutually constitutive relation. Nevertheless, universal vastness ensures that such imaginative reaching, picturesque travel displaced to space, must ceaselessly chase creation's edges.

The alien, then, offers a fraught representation by which to understand human concerns. There is precedence for this idea during the period. Kant's Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (1798), for instance, acknowledges the need to speculate about reasoning extra-terrestrials to understand terrestrial humans: "The highest species concept may be that of a terrestrial rational being, however we will not be able to name its character because we have no knowledge of non-terrestrial rational beings that would enable us to indicate their characteristic property and so to characterize this terrestrial being among rational beings in general." (26) In his "Kant's Aliens, the Anthropology and Its Others," David Clark posits an ambivalence between the Anthropology's empirical aims and Kant's broader need to instantiate a reason-based moral system for critiquing humanity. The reasonable alien offers Kant a taxonomic human relation "by which to throw ... specifically human features into sharp relief." (27) By eighteenth-century empiricism's ordering logic, understanding humans as reasonable beings requires organizing them alongside their taxonomic relatives, namely other reasoning beings: "'man' is what he is by virtue of another who always and already tarries alongside him in the universe." (28) Such beings' absence plagues the Anthropology, and Kant recurs to it, remarking,
   It is noteworthy that we can think of no other suitable form for a
   rational being than that of a human being. Every other form would
   represent, at most, a symbol of a certain quality of the human
   being--as the serpent, for example, is an image of evil
   cunning--but not the rational being himself. Therefore we populate
   all other planets in our imagination with nothing but human forms,
   although it is probable that they may be formed very differently
   given the diversity of soil that supports and nourishes them, and
   the different elements of which they are composed. (29)

Kant both acknowledges the taxonomic interdependence of man and alien and refers to the representational impasse to which 1 have alluded. Faced with scant empirical information about extra-terrestrials, and unwilling to people the universe with part-beings, "symbol[s] of ... certain qualities] of the human being," Kant justifies the imaginative hegemony of the human form as reason's physiology. Yet, he acknowledges the inadequacy of anthropocentric myopia given the geological, climatological and nutritional circumstances that allow aliens to thrive and condition their fundamental distinctness. Since, for Kant, humans have no terrestrial equal, he invokes the reasoning extra-terrestrial as, according to Clark, a "cipher," a being whose projected existence provides man's reasoning capacity with empirical certainty, but whose unknowability--a kind of embodied sublimity--may be exploited to mount critiques of humanity, via the imagining of its specific nature. He therefore postulates the alien as straddling the divide between a transcendent system of moral reasoning and an empirical exploration of humanity's species-circumstances. Insomuch as Kant sees humans consistently replicating themselves in their understanding of the alien's difference he proscribes the empirical aptitude of their imaginative power.

If Kant the philosopher identifies the problem of alien representation but characteristically resists its resolution, Davy the scientist-mystic posits a provisional solution in the imagination's restless striving after futurity. Taking Jameson's and Kant's formulations together, I suggest that the Consolations illustrates that indeed the alien links the material with the transcendent and social praxis with utopian imagining, and that we can conceive of that alien if we continuously revise our systematic representations of it. In other words, the alien must be real, both because it offers humans a necessary relative and because its conception depends on sense impressions; nevertheless, our inadequate understanding of the alien's reality entices us to consider it imaginatively as an act--constantly reenacted--that is informed by our consideration of a changing world into which this alien might fit. And while Kant specifies that non-humanoid extra-terrestrials only symbolize proscribed human qualities--partiality as limitation, in other words--Davy begins from terrestrial parts to imagine the possibility of truly alien forms of reason in a new cosmos.

The Consolations invokes a holistic view of futurity, wherein the Saturnian sensorium fits its environment. The Genius explains that the massive colorful columns rising from Saturn's surface, like the planet's inhabitants, are intermixtures:

Those columnar masses, which seem to you as if arising out of a mass of ice below, are results of art, and processes are going on in them connected with the fomiation and perfection of their food. The brilliant coloured fluids are the results of such operations as on the earth would be performed in your laboratories, or more properly in your refined culinary apparatus, for they are connected with their system of nourishment. (Davy 244)

Here Davy joins the laboratory and the kitchen. Likewise he links artistic with scientific production alongside nutrition, suggesting that the genius uses such terms in the absence of a single descriptor that could communicate these columns' nature to Philalethes. The emphasis on substance and sustenance recalls the features that grounded the difference of Kant's extra-terrestrials--those material facts potentially undermining humanity's penchant for asserting its form as reason's precondition--though Davy goes beyond Kant in actually positing a non-human, reasoning alien body. Furthermore, not only do Satumians have "modes of perception" incomprehensible to humans, their more familiar senses, vision and touch, exceed those of Philalethes. The genius goes on to show him a comet's inhabitants, explaining that the diverse entities they view are, in fact, related as a series of intellectual strata. Earthbound beings can, if they improve their intellectual faculties and seek virtue in their own environment, graduate to higher planes of existence, becoming Saturnians or Cometarians in turn.

Insomuch as Philalethes' utopian vision arises out of and responds to Davy's own historical moment, it seeks imaginatively to remedy the increasing fragmentation of his scientific scene. Jameson typifies utopian spaces as "foreign [bodies] within the social: in them, the differentiation process has momentarily been arrested, so that they remain ... momentarily beyond the reach of the social and testify to its political powerlessness, at the same time that they offer a space in which new wish images of the social can be elaborated and experimented on." (30) The Saturnians' integrated kitchen-laboratory-studios thus offer a critique of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century divisions emerging between art and philosophy and within philosophy itself. Much as Kant had turned to the alien as a cipher for criticizing society, Davy turns to his extra-terrestrials to query the stability of scientific institutions: to consider whether disciplines adequately organize knowledge or if a more syncretic epistemology could be pursued. Unlike Kant, however, Davy offers this composite alien as imaginatively generative. The Saturnians' ability to intellectually engage multiple planetary systems provides a model for rousing Romantic-era thinkers to strive after extra-terrestrial reason, lighted, as it were, by another sun, and thus draw together knowledge disciplines that would otherwise settle into exclusive institutional orbits.

Crossed Orbits and Reactions to Utopia

Yet this utopian vision of integrated knowledge does not comprise the entire Consolations, as subsequent dialogues rethink the utopian space above delineated. In the second dialogue Ambrosio challenges Philalethes' vision, persuading him to acknowledge it as a dream and a "fiction" (Davy 253). Further, the later dialogues challenge the utopian detachment of the alien body by refamiliarizing it in a strange but explicable amphibian called the proteus. By way of these strategies the text undercuts its represented utopia. These challenges, coupled with the work's discontinuous form, exacerbate its alien character. Without attaining synthesis, it lets contradictory conceptions of progress, futurity, and the alien share the firmament, staging a sidereal dance.

The first staged opposition disputes the origin of human advancement. In Philalethes' vision, the genius narrates human progress from savagery to civilization as propelled by a not explicitly Christian energy; the genius never attributes human improvement to a God-granted spark of reason, instead positing a theory of associated ideas. This absence of divine initiation inspires the second dialogue's major controversy, in which Ambrosio argues against Philalethes that God instilled reason in humanity, enabling humans' present developmental state. In Ambrosio's view, God drives human progress, which becomes a general providence. Philalethes first resists but by the dialogue's end embraces this view. Even the skeptic Onuphrio, without wholly aligning himself with Ambrosio, embraces revealed religion. When the Unknown enters in dialogue three, he likewise supports Ambrosio's providentially-minded modification to Philalethes' secular-humanist vision. These modifications bring the latter's vision in line with Christian cosmology.

However, we see the pattern of disruption and resistance to unification repeated when, in spite of this seeming accord, Philalethes relapses to his original vision, expressing its attractiveness and attempting to draw consensus back towards the pantheistic cosmos. He hazards in the sixth dialogue that "It is, perhaps, rather a poetical than a philosophical idea, yet I cannot help forming the opinion, that genii or seraphic intelligences may inhabit these systems, and may be the ministers of the eternal mind, in producing changes in them similar to those which have taken place on earth" (Davy 382). Philalethes here reinvokes cosmic pantheism, revising Ambrosio's revision of his own vision, thereby preventing a stabilized view of the motive force of human intellect. The text refuses to decide from among secular scientism, Christian theism, and modified pantheism: Philalethes' distribution of ideas between the "poetical" and the "philosophical," insofar as these epistemologies offer discrete systems, further overdetermines this refusal.

The Unknown then simplifies and naturalizes the alien body, providing an example of the institutional attitude Davy's text critiques. This occurs in the fourth dialogue when the Unknown describes to Philalethes and a new auditor, Eubathes, the physiology of the proteus, a subterranean amphibian now called the olm. The Unknown describes the proteus's composite nature: "At first view, you might suppose this animal to be a lizard, but it has the motions of a fish. Its head, and the lower part of its body and its tail, bear a strong resemblance to those of the eel; but it has no fins; and its curious branchial organs are not like the gills of fishes" (Davy 325). He explains that it is, blind, lacks pigmentation, has breathing organs suited to aquatic and open air habitats, and seems to have underdeveloped physiological structures (hands, feet, and eyes). In hazarding that the creature might be the larval stage of "some large unknown animal inhabiting these limestone caverns," Eubathes attempts to familiarize an unknown life form (a common response to the alien) through analogy: the proteus must be to some other creature as the tadpole to the frog (Davy 327). Here, Eubathes positions himself relative to the proteus as Philalethes had stood to the Saturnians; that is, he seeks familiar sensory analogues to explain the unfamiliar. The Unknown, however, rejects this possibility, describing the proteus as "surely a perfect animal of a peculiar species," insisting on its wholeness by arguing for its "perfection," and staking its strange but complete being on the claim, "it adds one instance more to the number already known of the wonderful manner in which life is produced and perpetuated in every part of our globe" (Davy 327). The Unknown briefly preserves the proteus's alien nature, only immediately to reconstitute that otherness as a familiar but as-yet-undiscovered terrestrial species; in his formation this terrestrial alien exemplifies the variety and adaptability characteristic of life on earth. The Unknown doesn't appreciate the strangeness of the irreducibly other, but refuses it outright, on the grounds of science's capacity to order all life.

Effectively, the Unknown refamiliarizes the alien by folding the unknown into a known and knowable system without formulating, in Jameson's words, "a new kind of perception." (31) If the text as a whole aims towards this in concatenating chemistry, geology, theology, and narrative, among other discourses, and harbors the ambition to perceive the proteus and the Saturnians for themselves, the Unknown here attempts to short-cut such a project by establishing science's hegemony. This making real of the alien, akin to Kant's use in the Anthropology, though more anthropocentric in not harboring any doubts about human reason's predominance, countermands the utopian distance of the text's Saturnians by rendering "the alien" intimate with the human: it needs only human scientific advancement, a particularly human form of reason, to become knowable. The Unknown implies that one need not visit Saturn to discover strange new creatures: human comprehension joined with a fundamental sensual aptitude can understand this alien, and so every alien. Elsewhere, however, as I've noted above, Davy's text would seem to ask: if one has only seen the alien with old eyes what has one really seen?

Clear, here, is the impasse of the alien in Davy's text: the first dialogue defers its verifiability beyond a spatial barrier that Davy traverses imaginatively, but this latter dialogue defers it beyond time, awaiting only sustained human scrutiny--namely scientific analysis. An unpublished entry from Davy's 1801 personal notebook sheds light on the relevance of the proteus's "perfection" and demonstrates the implicit connection, for Davy, between humans and their alien others, a connection distinct from that the Unknown posits because it foregrounds the need for human perception to develop with the aliens it scrutinizes. He writes, "the human mind has not even yet attained its adult state; it has been gradually gaining new powers & faculties but it is as yet incapable of [] so as to produce the greatest possible effect; its parts are not firmly united together & they seldom act in perfect unity; many of its exertions are wholly thrown away. In short it [] awkwardness as well as the strength & activity of youth." (32) Here the human, like the Consolations' narrative structure, exists in a developmental stage characterized by "strength & activity," but also disconnectedness. As the human race grows, so too will knowledge improve, cohering and coalescing humanity's various and disconnected "parts." For Davy, alongside the provisionally of the alien comes what David Clark calls the "provisionality ... of the anthropos," (33) wherein humanity and its other are understood as developmentally intertwined. On this premise, the Unknown's hasty obliteration of the alien must be premature: it presumes the capacity to adequately comprehend the terrestrial alien without reforming the organs of perception, without reaching a nebulously deferred "adult state." By contrast, Philalethes' vision suggests that human sophistication surpasses itself ceaselessly; humans understand aliens only as they reconfigure themselves continually for the task. Granted, Davy wrote the above journal entry long before the Consolations, but as Cuvier and more recently David Knight have noted, the mysticism of the Consolations likely gestated in Davy's youth. (34) It turns out, then, that it is not only the proteus that exists in a larval stage, but man himself; not aliens who are fragmentary, but humans, whose "parts are not firmly united together." This is the only certainty the text offers. Otherwise it stages contradictions, confronting readers on the one hand with Philalethes' vision in which the alien occasions a radical reformation of the human, and on the other with the Unknown's engagement of the proteus, a terrestrial alien explainable by science as is. As with the text's intellectual and historiographical commitments, the issue of the alien is not reducible to a particular stance, but vacillates among seemingly irreconcilable positions.

Reading from the Future: Beyond the Chemist's Vision

In sum, the text's multiple genres render its form analogous to its own representation of the Saturnians. Davy's critics have always noted the Consolations' uncanniness. Faced with this strangeness, they have turned to partial familiarities in the text, attempting to refamiliarize it. Indeed, the genres I've identified each offer meaning to the work. The philosophic dialogue deals in the relation of ideas. The travel narrative, concerned with real places, invests Davy's text with material immediacy, and prefigures utopia in the picturesque. And the consolation invokes both the power of affect in its focus on grief, and figures in itself history's malleable, even collapsible, character. Overlaying these structures juxtaposes matter, spirit, and history in a palimpsest of genres.

I have argued that Davy invites the reader, perceiver of this textual alien, to recognize the incommensurate nature of the text's parts in the present and, with Philalethes, to acknowledge his perception's limitations, pivoting his intellectual efforts towards imagining a future, and a society, in which the text's divergent genres and philosophical commitments will not be synthesized but rather recognized for their uniquely whole form. Linking utopia to a shift in perception has precedent during the period: consider Shelley's Queen Mab and Prometheus Unbound, which offer poignant comparisons given that both texts carefully craft utopia via cosmic or temporal distance and reflect Shelley's interest in the period's science. Likewise, Davy's utopia prefigures future developments, for instance, the interdisciplinary textual experiments John Tresh describes being undertaken in Paris during the mid-nineteenth century. (35) Though humans in their state of "youth" may read themselves into the Consolations, even though its parts are "not firmly united together ... seldom actfing] in perfect unity; [and with] many of its exertions ... wholly thrown away, " (36) they must strive through persistent combination for a state of adulthood capable of viewing the Consolations for itself. Davy's aliens, and Philalethes' reading of them, therefore, provide an object-lesson for understanding the Consolations' genres, and the sciences at large. Just as the Saturnian utopia appeals to Philalethes from beyond the vacuum of space, so does Davy's utopian text call back to his readers, who view it through a shattered lens. Only by embracing the inadequacy of any one generic structure can they imagine a world wherein the text might not seem so alien. The reader must, in Davy's own words, project himself into his "adult state," imagining the context within which the radically unfamiliar will become known for itself, and not for its partial likenesses. In the end, the disunity of Davy's text, rather than being merely symptomatic of disorganization or the distraction of illness, in fact produces the conditions for imagining a more profound interconnection between the apparent fragments, a series of links visible only from the future.

University of Colorado at Boulder


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--. Personal Notebook. MS 13c. Royal Institution Archive, London.

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The Edinburgh Journal of Science. Unsigned review of Consolations in Travel, by Humphry Davy. Vol. 3 (1830): 177-85.

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I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Jill Heydt-Stevenson for her support and mentorship throughout this essay's development.

(1.) The Monthly Review 13 (March 1830) praised Davy, but denigrated the text's "fantastic design," charging Davy "with an unlawful tendency to very grave technical disquisitions, touching geological formations and chemical changes, when he proposed to be amusing.... [W]e should have sought him to forget the laboratory for a season, to cease to be purely scientific" (391). In contrast, Cuvier noted, "that once escaped from the laboratory, [Davy] had resumed the tranquil reveries and sublime thoughts ... of his youth: it was in some measure the work of a dying Plato" (quoted in The Collected Works of Sir Humphry Davy, 9:vii). Taking another position, The Gentleman's Magazine 23 (1830) extolled the Consolations for embracing revealed religion (228-31), while the Medico-Chirurgical Review 12 (1830) questioned the text's piety: "whether the lamented philosopher will be hailed by the orthodox Christian or the skeptical free-thinker, as supporting one or the other of their respective doctrines, we shall not attempt to determine; but we suspect that he is rather too Pythagorean for the divine, and too spiritual for the materialist" (401). The Edinburgh Journal of Science 3 (1830) complemented the Consolation's geological passages, but didn't extract from its cosmic jaunt because it was "so completely the work of imagination" (178).

(2.) Romanticism scholars tend to consider Davy as influencing the lives of canonical Romantic figures like Coleridge, Wordsworth and Southey--see, for instance, Trevor Levere, Poetry Realized in Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981)--or as a scientist whose scientific pursuits are intrinsically Romantic-poetic ones--see Evelleen Richards, "The power and the glory: Humphry Davy and Romanticism," in Romanticism and the Sciences, eds. Andrew Cunningham and Nicholas Jardine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 130-43.

(3.) Humphry Davy, The Collected Works of Sir Humphry Davy, ed. John Davy, Vol 9: Salmonia; and Consolations in Travel (London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1840), 279. Subsequent quotations from the Consolations are from this edition and are cited in the text.

(4.) Cale and Craciun, "The Disorder of Things," in Eighteenth-Century Studies 45, no. I (2011): 1. Cale and Craciun echo James Chandler's characterization of disciplinarity "not as a set of territories, or ... a set of parallel functions, or box of tools, but as a network of relatively autonomous practices in asymmetrical relation to each other. Properly understood, the disciplinary system will thus appear to have a different structure from the perspective of each discipline in it" ("Critical Disciplinarity," Critical Inquiry 30, no. 2 [2004]: 360).

(5.) Cale and Craciun, "Disorder of Things," I.

(6.) Scholars tend to view this era as one in which scientific and sociological disciplines became increasingly stabilized, and have drawn upon Foucault's work in The Order of Things to reassess what has come to be known as the second scientific revolution. See also Jan Golinski, "Humphry Davy: The Experimental Self," Eighteenth-Century Studies 45, no. 1 (2011): 16-17; Clifford Siskin, The Work of Writing (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 17-23 and 71-78; and Chandler, "Doctrines, Disciplines, Discourses, Departments," Critical Inquiry 35, no. 4 (2009): 734-35. On the rivalries informing disciplinarity see Catherine Ross, "'Twin Labourers and Heirs of the Same Hopes': The Professional Rivalry of Humphry Davy and William Wordsworth" in Romantic Science, ed. Noah Heringman (Albany: SUNY Press, 2003), 23-52.

(7.) Chaouli, The Laboratory of Poetry (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 98.

(8.) Immanuel Kant, Metaphysical Foundations of the Natural Science, trans. Michael Friedman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 4-5.

(9.) For an exploration of the period's institutional developments in chemistry see Trevor Levere, Transforming Matter (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), 51-93. On the eighteenth-century relation of mixture and elementality see Chaouli, Laboratory of Poetry, 91-107, and on priority, discovery and paradigm formation see Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 52-57, and 69-72. On the Royal Institution's founding see Morris Berman, Social Change and Scientific Organization: The Royal Institution, 1799-1844 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978), 1-74.

(10.) On Davy's embattled presidency of the Royal Society see Golinski, "The Experimental Self," 25-26, and J. Z. Fullmer, "Humphry Davy: Reformer," in Science and the Sons of Genius, Studies on Humphry Davy, ed. Sophie Forgan (London: Science Reviews Ltd., 1980), 78-88. Davy's reforms were often frustrated, and, notes Golinski, he faced resistance from a younger generation of "specialist savants" who rejected his "dilettante approach to scientific research" (25).

(11.) Davy scorned William Brande, his successor at the Royal institution, as "a 'mercenary' who had 'come from the counter' and 'had no lofty views.'" See Iwan Rhys Morns, Frankenstein's Children (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), 15. Such sentiments echo those in the Consolations against philosophers "connected with objects of profit" (Davy 350).

(12.) On Davy's audience see George A. Foote, "Sir Humphry Davy and his Audience at the Royal Institution," Isis 43, no. 1 (1952): 9-12; and on his adaptable persona see Jan Golinski, Science as Public Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992): 188-235.

(13.) On the eighteenth-century "man of science" engaging multiple discourses, see Steven Shapin, "The Image of the Man of Science," in The Cambridge History of Science, ed. Roy Porter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 159-83.

(14.) Regarding the problem of attributing scientific discoveries see Schaffer, "Scientific Discoveries and the End of Natural Philosophy," Social Studies of Science 16, no. 3 (1986): 387-420. Schaffer argues that the conception of "discovery" as unproblematic began with the nineteenth century and corresponded with the shift from "natural philosophy" to disciplined science. For more on the role of "genius" in this new epistemology see Schaffer, "Genius in Romantic Natural Philosophy," in Romanticism and the Sciences, 82-98.

(15.) Duff, Romanticism and the Uses of Genre (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 6.

(16.) Jameson, The Political Unconscious (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981), 106.

(17.) Duff, Uses of Genre, 165.

(18.) Heydt-Stevenson, "Liberty, Connection, and Tyranny: The Novels of Jane Austen and the Aesthetic Movement of the Picturesque," in Lessons of Romanticism, eds. Thomas Pfau and Robert F. Gleckner (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998), 269.

(19.) Gilpin, Three Essays: On Picturesque Beauty; On Picturesque Travel; and On Sketching Landscape (London: R. Blamire, 1794), 19.

(20.) Heydt-Stevenson and Harrison, "Variations on the Picturesque: Authority, Play and Practice," European Romantic Review 13, no. 1 (2002): 5.

(21.) Introduction to Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Joel Relihan, trans. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2001), xi. Quotations from Boethius' Consolation are from this edition and are hereafter cited in the text.

(22.) See J. Z. Fullmer, Young Humphry Davy (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2000), 349.

(23.) This embrace of cultural mixture as a counter-narrative to degradation stretches back to the seventeenth century's scientific revolution. See Wolfram Schmidgen, Exquisite Mixture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 1-100.

(24.) Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future (New York: Verso, 2005), 241-42.

(25.) Jameson, Archaeologies, 120.

(26.) Immanuel Kant, Anthropology, History, and Education, eds. Gunter Zoller and Robert B. Louden (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 416.

(27.) Clark, "Kant's Aliens, The Anthropology and its Others," CR: The New Centennial Review 1, no. 2 (2001): 205.

(28.) Clark, "Kant's Aliens," 206.

(29.) Kant, Anthropology, 282.

(30.) Jameson, Archaeologies, 16.

(31). Jameson, Archaeologies, 120.

(32.) Humphry Davy, personal notebook, MS 13c, Royal Institution Archive, 51-52.

(33.) Clark, "Kant's Aliens," 206.

(34.) On Davy's childhood, see Knight, Humphry Davy, Science and Power (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), 1-41, and on Davy's late mysticism, 168-83.

(35.) On mid-century French attempts to reconcile mechanism with organicism and exploit technology's capacity to solve social problems, see Tresch, The Romantic Machine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012).

(36.) Humphry Davy, personal notebook, MS 13c, Royal Institution Archive, 51-52.
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Date:Mar 22, 2015
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