The Devil's Opera

in The Romantic Machine

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780226812205
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226812229 | DOI:
The Devil's Opera

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  • History of Science and Technology


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During the late nineteenth century in France, the epistemologist Gaston Bachelard introduced the notion of phénoménotechniques to describe the distinctive mode of knowledge that came of age in the study of chemical forces and invisible fluids. He argued that the work of physicists and chemists involved the design of apparatus to produce novel, artificial phenomena which could subsequently be brought into theoretical relation. However, a darker, stranger note came to dominate the romantic arts from the middle of the 1820s and heralded the rise of what is known as fantastic literature. One of the most famous of the Parisian fantastic arts was Etienne-Gaspard Robertson's Fantasmagoria. This chapter focuses on the phantasmagoric technologies for visual and auditory illusions: Panoramas, dioramas, the “fantastic” symphonies of Hector Berlioz, and Giacomo Meyerbeer's hallucinatory opera Robert le diable. It also looks at phénoménotechniques in the sciences that were often the basis for technaesthetics in the arts, along with theories of “physiospiritualism” and Honoré de Balzac's reading of Robert le diable as a reflection of technology's power to produce the transcendent.

Keywords: phénoménotechniques; panoramas; dioramas; Giacomo Meyerbeer; opera; Robert le diable; technaesthetics; physiospiritualism; fantastic literature; symphonies

Chapter.  11050 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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