Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Jeffrey N. Cox
Jordan A. Stein
“Technologies of the Sublime, 1750-1861” investigates a specific strand of sublime discourse, the material sublime, to reveal how it emerges in conversation with Romantic-era mechanical innovations and empirical speculations. Moreover, this project uncovers the ways in which mechanized civil and cultural artifacts such as the modern suspension bridge and early seismological instruments mediate the natural power confronted in the sublime. For example, following the initial wave of responses to the infamous Lisbon quake of 1755, written by diverse figures such as Immanuel Kant, Jonathan Winthrop, and Thomas Paine, authors around the globe relayed to British readers measurements of quakes, conjectures as to their causes, and reports on bewildering technologies such as the geophone and the seismograph. Closer to home, Robert Southey immortalized Thomas Telford, the Scottish “Colossus of Roads” and “Father of Civil Engineering,” for creating “Neptune’s Staircase” (a canal-works) and for completing a bridge in 1826 that resembles “a spider’s web in the air.” Literary depictions of such inorganic creations figure a unique mechanical other against which Romantic humanism and Romantic depictions of nature arise. Each chapter examines technology, theories of the sublime, and literary texts to show how literary works identified with the sublime engage major mechanical undertakings of the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The first section charts natural events mediated by technologies, moving from the depths of the earth rattled by earthquakes and volcanoes and measured by seismographs, to the earth’s surface which humanity reconfigures and attempts to conquer through roads, bridges, and canals. The concluding chapters examine how this material qua technological sublime reconfigures the human. By reading eighteenth- and nineteenth-century accounts of proto-seismological instruments and innovative landscape technologies alongside paradigmatic accounts of the aesthetic of the sublime authored by Keats, Shelley, and Hazlitt, this study brings to light previously unacknowledged technological resonances and mechanical valences integral to various Romantic iterations of sublime discourse.
Speitz, Michele, "Technologies of the Sublime, 1750-1861" (2012). English Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 29.