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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

After P-Modernism: More Modernism - Alchemy in Philadelphia

John Wilson in B&C online:

As the vogue for "postmodernity" slowly fades, it is becoming increasingly clear that we are still in modernity, whatever that means, and running parallel to this new study of alchemy are similar trends in many different fields, which have in common their discovery that "modernity" was rather different than had been supposed. That Isaac Newton was deeply engaged in alchemy is emblematic of this reassessment. But equally notable is the way in which early chemistry was interwoven with theological disputes, especially with regard to the Eucharist—a recurring theme at the conference.

Then again, as Newman shows in his brilliant book Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2004, the history of alchemy has a bearing on our concern over the "rapidly eroding boundaries between the realms of the artificial and the natural," as considered for example by the President's Council on Bioethics. If the alchemist is not our contemporary, he is our ancestor, and we need to know about him—for his own sake, yes, but also better to understand ourselves and our times.

Life After Postmodernism


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