I am a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Department of Modern Languages and Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College. Previously I was a Teaching Fellow at Durham University and JSPS Postdoctoral Researcher at Tokyo University.
My first book project focuses on the “sound figures.” This acoustical phenomenon became well-known across Europe after its discovery in 1787 but did not truly become renowned until Napoleon Bonaparte commissioned a national prize for an explanation fifteen years later. In contrast to the two-dimensional wave patterns familiar at the time, the sound figures re-imagined sound as an arresting series of geometrical patterns. Among the public the sound figures were an amusing trinket and for physicists they were an intriguing puzzle. But for Goethezeit authors, the sound figures elicited perhaps the most tantalizing question of all: whether nature possessed an internal structure and whether this structure was knowable. The sound figures indicated that nature existed independently of consciousness and that force acted beyond the narrow sliver of sensation apportioned to it. This could lead to various extrapolations: from the immanence of organized totality to the intimation of a capricious substratum. My project shows how August W. Schlegel, J. W. Goethe, and F. W. J. Schelling took the former position before Jean Paul Richter and Arthur Schopenhauer dealt their sceptical riposte.
In September 2022, I hosted a workshop entitled “Romantic realisms” at Oxford University. The resulting edited volume asked how Romantics sought to accommodate a nature that is independent of human perception. This set out from S. T. Coleridge’s epigrammatic “suspension of disbelief;” a line that has conventionally been read as an imaginative escape from mundane reality. But another interpretation is possible. What if Coleridge meant to “suspend disbelief” (my italics) in order to affirm nature’s existence? Any world capable of producing art would be less mundane than previously thought. This would have implications for literary studies. Rather than presenting nature as an antithesis to creative imagination – literature is ordinarily tasked with transcending mundane reality, cataloguing its misdemeanours, or alienating it into something unrecognisable – one might rather ask: how must nature be such that art exists? This would not only address Bruno Latour’s observation that critique has “run out of steam.” It would spur new interpretations of Romanticism and produce its own canonical formation.