By Paul Gilmore
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Extra info for Aesthetic Materialism: Electricity and American Romanticism
As Jacques Rancière has recently argued, this more universal distribution of the sensible, “the system of a priori forms determining what presents itself to sense experience,” demarcates the emergence of the distinctly modern aesthetic regime. ” Yet, due to its subjective egalitarianism, the aesthetic regime negates “any relationship of necessity between a determined form and a determined content . . ”26 Emerging from the market revolution, the birth of the aesthetic undermined any empirical grounds for making universal claims about the sensible body while positing the possibility of a truly inclusive, egalitarian universality.
44 Burke’s early writings on the beautiful and the sublime help us to see this tension at the core of a certain kind of conservative aesthetics that Coleridge’s mature thought exemplifies and points to the place of language in this attempt to delimit, while opening up, the possibilities of sensuous existence. ”45 Burke acknowledges that tastes do differ, based on “the habits, the prejudices, or the distempers of this particular man” (15). And, drawing on the Lockean heritage of mechanical association, Burke speaks of the “governing motions” of our passions and the difficulty of distinguishing between “natural effects” and our earliest “associations” (130).
In his later works, Coleridge denounces a kind of mechanical reading of novels and the mechanical style of French materialists, paralleling Burke’s own critique of the power of the popular press. Yet, at the same time, he frames his critical project as aspiring “To expose the folly and the legerdemain of those who have thus abused the blessed machine of language; to support all old and venerable truths; and by them to support, to kindle, to project the spirit; to make the reason spread light over our feelings, to make our feelings, with their vital warmth, actualize our reason” (4:1:108).