22 Pages

Act Two Grassroots performances of science

In Act Two, the curtain rises on a melodrama. In the nineteenth century, a worthy antagonist of theater and science took the stage, costumed in the robes of the ancient traditions that had been cast off by Enlightenment rationality, the success of Empire-building, and modernist Christianity. This practitioner of ancient and invented rites was characterized as a spiritualist, or a pracitioner of the mystic sciences. Shut out from the privileged discourses and laboratories of science, and purposefully turning away from stage traditions bound to them, this practitioner nonetheless adopted a theatrical style of the times, fashioning a melodramatic struggle with the “new” science, in which science was cast as the demon of rank materialism and privilege. While alchemy had become an object of ridicule or moral condemnation in earlier periods, in the nineteenth century, spiritualism attacked science on similar grounds. The interpretation of the Faustian pact was reversed. As we will see, the curtain-ringer for this age will appear in the figure of the tormented alchemist, in retreat from the theater of the “new” science: Strindberg.