Love and electromagnetism

The nickname which the popular imagination of the late nineteenth baptized Edison, The Wizard of Menlo Park, realizes the degree of fascination generated by the battery inventions attributed to the engineer.

Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. L'eve future.
Villiers de l’Isle-Adam. L’eve future.

The man who has made captive echo; in these terms introduced Villiers de L’Isle Adam the inventor of the phonograph, making protagonist of one of the most misogynistic plots in the history of science fiction: as a maker of its future Eva moved by electricity, a perfect woman drawn up as piece of goldsmithing with fragments of precious gems, ivory, silver and gold. Under that jewel appearance hides a soul lit by magnetism, “an angel, only fire and light” exclaims its creator, Thomas Alva Edison.

A technological Eva devoid of curious and enticing temperament of biblical Eve, which will avoid to men of future dangers of depravity, while is equipped with a sensitivity which replaces the idiocy of his model, the fiancé of Edison friend to whom he gives this electric doll.

Alfred Jarry. The Supermale
Alfred Jarry. The Supermale

But this eroticized android beget a metal daughter who would be revealed against submission of her mother, playing back the perfidious female seduction: Metropolis sexualized robot built to sow discord among workers. Von Harbou wrote the script for Fritz Lang film, inspired by Villiers’s Hadaly, but the director knew transfer to a cutting-edge visual language the nineteenth-century writing: the glass lady exhaling garden’s fragrance between her silver feet becomes a futuristic effigy, a modern design. We witness its birth as magnetic goddess, hieratic in her throne of iron and haloed by electricity rings.

This image remeber us another galvanic throne, the machine-to-inspire-love with which Alfred Jarry joined in deadly embrace with his Supermale. In this novel (Le Surmâle), Jarry satirizes the optimism placed on the scientific advances of his time and narrates implausible competition between human potential (sexual power, specially) and machines. Behind the sickly appearance of André Marcuil hides a male able to overcome erotic exploits attributed to certain Indian quoted by Theophrastus (in turn, reviewed by Rabelais). The reincarnated indian reached a new record with the daughter of a doctor who, with the help of an engineer built magneto-electric device to bring on the wedding with deflowered girl. But the energy of supermale is such that overcomes the machine, so it falls in love with him, condemning him to a post-mortem merger.

Illustration by Pierre Bonnard for Le Surmale.
Illustration by Pierre Bonnard for Le Surmale.

The mysterious aura surrounding everything associated with electromagnetism, along with human need of sexualize technology to exorcise the fear of being betrayed by machines, has left us mythical figures for all tastes, idols that would save the humanity or condemn it to eternal fire. Fortunately, in between, the sardonic spirit of Jarry and Dadaists relatives gave us a break with the absurd beauty of their ludic and impossible devices.

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