The Emergence of the Fourth Dimension: A Cultural History of Higher Space, 1869-1909

Blacklock, Mark (2013) The Emergence of the Fourth Dimension: A Cultural History of Higher Space, 1869-1909. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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This thesis investigates the changes in the spatial imaginary occasioned by the emergence of higher-dimensional thinking in the late-nineteenth century. It describes the conditions for this emergence in n-dimensional geometry, the priority of analogical explanation within scientific popularisation and the occult revival of the late-nineteenth century. It tracks the catalytic intervention of Johann Carl Friedrich Zöllner and experiments he conducted with the spirit medium Henry Slade, paying particular attention to the knot, the form through which abstract thought of higher dimensions was materially mediated. A close-reading of Edwin Abbott’s Flatland further considers the entanglements of space and matter in the context of an early literary response to the idea of the fourth dimension. The work of Charles Howard Hinton, a theorist of higher-dimensioned space, provides an exemplary materialisation of this space through its provision of a manual for using a set of coloured cubes to aid visualisation of fourth dimensional forms. The chapter on Hinton recreates these objects from textual sources before thinking through their ‘thingly’ status. The appropriation of Hinton’s ideas by participants in the occult revival is considered, with special focus on the work of members of the Theosophical Society, an important vector through which higher dimensional thought spread internationally. Readings of a broad range of literary texts describe the higher spatial imaginary of the early twentieth century in three distinct ways: the crisis of representation caused by an ‘inconceivable’ space; the resulting analogy of such a space to the space of empire, particularly in genre fiction; a productive response to the altered spatial imaginary in the theorisation and use of narrative voice or mood in Henry James.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
School/Department: School of Arts > English & Humanities
Depositing User: ORBIT Editor
Date Deposited: 16 Jan 2014 12:47
Last Modified: 02 Dec 2016 12:46

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