Foreword | June 19, 2020
Foreword: Elemental Force
I happen to have discovered a direct relation between magnetism and light, also electricity and light, and the field it opens is so large and I think rich.
—Letter to Christian Schönbein (13 Nov 1845), The Letters of Faraday and Schönbein, 1836-1862
Michael Faraday’s note to his friend Schönbein describing what he was learning about magnetism, electricity, and light was understated, considering that he had just helped crack open the door of what would become modern hard science. James Clark Maxwell’s book about the interconnectivity of light, electricity, and magnetism, published twenty years later, had an influence as profound as Newton’s Laws. In providing the “second great unification in physics,” Faraday and Maxwell ushered in twentieth-century science to a degree that Einstein said, “I stand on the shoulders of Maxwell.”
Elemental forces are as present in the arts as in the sciences. Attraction and repulsion, positive and negative, illumination and darkness, disruption and symmetry are pervasive in both the methods and substance of art. Like alternating current and atomic structure, literature offers protagonists and antagonists, stasis and movement, magnetic and repellent characters, light and dark tones, every emotion and its opposite.
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