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Published October 26, 2020 | public
Book Section - Chapter

Physics as Art: Johann Wilhelm Ritter's Construction Projects


This chapter approaches aesthetic heteronomy through the work of physicist Johann Wilhelm Ritter, someone well-versed in the empirical sciences, the 'speculative physics' of Friedrich Schelling, and eighteenth-century literature. Ritter embraced the work of diverse writers, including Herder, Winckelmann, Novalis, and others, as is reflected in the concept of art articulated in his fragments, their semi-fictional preface, and the essay 'Physics as Art.' He also adapted the concept of art to numerous discourses: theories of chemistry, magnetism, medicine, and optics. To define what is uniquely heteronomous about Ritter's own project, this essay focuses on his techniques of construction: how he orders bodies and constructs new ones, drawing from both scientific and aesthetic practices. The chapter will also show how, through the formation of new characters and symbols, readers witness the emergence of monuments. The techniques of ordering and construction in Ritter's thinking – from the creation of temporal and conceptual sequences to the emergence of form from the printed page – illustrate an innovative and idiosyncratic model for aesthetic practice. This overdue study of Ritter's writings on art and aesthetics supports the thesis underlying the project to reassess the rise of eighteenth-century aesthetics and argues for an aesthetic dimension to Romantic science.

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