Entropy and Utopia @ Zero Hour: Modernity and the Manhattan Project

Author:Gary Huafan He Time:2020-07-06 Click:

Abstract: This paper critically reexamines the canonical utopic scene from the end of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust II (1832) through the writings of the British-born Yale physicist Dr. William Francis Gray Swann (1884–1962), who composed one hundred years later a book on the philosophy of contemporary physical science titled The Architecture of the Universe (1934). In his text, Swann invokes the instrumentalization of atomic energy in a bargain to defeat a cosmic anxiety borne from the modern temporal experience of entropy, a pact whose culmination is akin to Faust’s seminal turning away of the ghost Sorge (Care), with strong ramifications for the future postatomic world order. The physical initiation of this “zero hour” is best known through the work of Swann’s Ph.D. student, Ernest Orlando Lawrence, who went on to pioneer the mass separation of electromagnetic isotopes at Oak Ridge. This paper will posit the Manhattan Project as part of the legacy of a pre-war universal imaginary, in order to introduce a new critical reading of utopia in Germany’s greatest poet.

Keywords: Ernest Lawrence, Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Entropy, Manhattan Project


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