project . 2008 - 2008 . Closed

Loving faster than light: romance and the body in Einstein's universe

UK Research and Innovation
Funder: UK Research and InnovationProject code: AH/F003552/1
Funded under: AHRC Funder Contribution: 24,339 GBP
Status: Closed
10 Feb 2008 (Started) 08 Jun 2008 (Ended)

Astronomy and human affairs were once much more closely connected than they appear today. Revolutionary discoveries about the size, structure and mechanics of the universe had serious ramifications for religious doctrine and, by implication, human futures and morality.\nDuring the late nineteenth century the new science of 'astro-physics' opened up the interior of stars to investigation. The sources of stellar energy and the evolution of the stars became accessible to men with bunsen burners, electric wires and tubes of gas. Meanwhile, mathematicians began to grapple with models of space and time derived from Einstein's new law of gravitation. In November 1919, just days before the first anniversary of armistice day, newspapers in Britain and America announced that Newton had been deposed by a Swiss Jew from Germany / and that a team of British astronomers had helped to prove Einstein right. \nThere was one serious problem, however: nobody could explain in plain terms how the new theory worked. For all the money being poured into eclipse expeditions, huge telescopes and fancy laboratories, astronomers had stopped talking sense. One man, a Quaker astronomer who had come within inches of jail for conscientious objection during the War, offered hope. Spinning stories about the weight of light and the perils of love in four dimensions, Arthur Stanley Eddington coaxed the English-speaking world into at least an illusion of understanding Einstein. \nRelativity captured the public imagination, featuring on cigarette cards, in limericks and even the Einstein cigar. On a more serious level, the Archbishop of Canterbury wanted to know how Einstein would affect our morals, while the Bishops took heart from the more mystical pages of popular science books. The literary elite, appalled by popular enthusiasm for such misconceptions, sought to contain and counteract the 'relativity effect' in their own writings. \nYet the poet who understood most about relativity took it to heart in his metaphysical love poems / and found that romance in four dimensions was indeed a dangerous game. Loving Faster Than Light opens up William Empson's poems to a wide audience for the first time, asking what newspaper satires and poetic analogies can tell us about the social implications of complex scientific theories. \n\n

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