John TreschThe Romantic Machine: Utopian Science and Technology after Napoleon

University of Chicago Press, 2014

by Todd Weir on October 30, 2014

John Tresch

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After the Second World War, the Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukacs described National Socialism as a triumph of irrationalism and a Destruction of Reason. It has since become commonplace to interpret modern European intellectual history as a prolonged struggle between the Enlightenment and Romanticism. The Enlightenment is generally valorized as identical with rationality, mechanism, cosmopolitanism, liberalism, progress, optimism, and secularism, while Romanticism is often connected to holism, irrationality, conservatism, nationalism, myth, pessimism and, eventually, fascism.

John Tresch (University of Pennsylvania) questions these dichotomies in his new book The Romantic Machine: Utopian Science and Technology after Napoleon (University of Chicago Press, 2014). In our interview we discuss what made steam engines Romantic, which technical illusions awaited early nineteenth-century Parisian theatergoers and how Saint-Simonians could envisage future society as a Romantic machine.

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