Electromagnetism and the Metonymic Imagination (Penn State University Press, AnthropoScene series, 2020)
How does the imagination work? How can it lead to both reverie and scientific insight? In this book, Kieran M. Murphy sheds new light on these perennial questions by showing how they have been closely tied to the history of electromagnetism.
The discovery in 1820 of a mysterious relationship between electricity and magnetism led not only to technological inventions—such as the dynamo and telegraph, which ushered in the “electric age”—but also to a profound reconceptualization of nature and the role the imagination plays in it. From the literary experiments of Edgar Allan Poe, Honoré de Balzac, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, and André Breton to the creative leaps of Michael Faraday and Albert Einstein, Murphy illuminates how electromagnetism legitimized imaginative modes of reasoning based on a more acute sense of interconnection and a renewed interest in how metonymic relations could reveal the order of things.
Kieran Murphy is a native of Paris. After the Baccalauréat he moved to the United States to study engineering and fine arts at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Later, while completing his MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts, he developed a strong interest in contemporary debates concerning the social and intellectual function of artistic productions in the modern world. He pursued this interest further as a doctoral student in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he specialized in French literature and philosophy, Haitian culture, and the interactions between literature and science. Before coming to Boulder he taught in the department of French and Italian at Dartmouth College.