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The Cylinder

The Cylinder: Kinematics of the Nineteenth Century

Helmut Müller-Sievers
Series: FlashPoints
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Cylinder
    Book Description:

    The Cylinderinvestigates the surprising proliferation of cylindrical objects in the nineteenth century, such as steam engines, phonographs, panoramas, rotary printing presses, silos, safety locks, and many more. Examining this phenomenon through the lens of kinematics, the science of forcing motion, Helmut Müller-Sievers provides a new view of the history of mechanics and of the culture of the industrial revolution, including its literature, that focuses on the metaphysics and aesthetics of motion. Müller-Sievers explores how nineteenth-century prose falls in with the specific rhythm of cylindrical machinery, re-imagines the curvature of cylindrical spaces, and conjoins narrative progress and reflection in a single stylistic motion. Illuminating the intersection of engineering, culture, and literature, he argues for a concept of culture that includes an epoch's relation to the motion of its machines.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95215-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)

    • CHAPTER 1 Introduction
      (pp. 3-19)

      The nineteenth century abounds in cylinders. Locomotives and paper machines, gasholders and Yale locks, sanitation pipes and wires, rotary printing presses and steam rollers, silos and conveyor belts, kymographs and phonographs, panoramas and carousels, tin cans and top hats—each of these objects is based on the cylindrical form, and each could be—and some have been—the starting point for a comprehensive interpretation of the epoch’s culture. To state it in the form of a necessary condition, without the cylinder the Industrial Revolution, and the culture it brought forth, would be unthinkable.

      How can we account sufficiently for this...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Rise of Kinematics
      (pp. 20-40)

      Kinematics is the science of forced motion, of motion in mechanisms and machines. Interest in such motion emerged once the concern with the origin of motion and the nature of motive forces moved from the domain of metaphysics to the newly energized discipline of physics. The steam engine diminished the eighteenth century’s fixation on origins—debated in the innumerable Academy prize questions about the origins of motion, of species, of language, of ideas, of property—because it normalized the generation and harnessing of motion and because it focused attention on the measurability of relations between previously unconnected phenomena. Heat ceased...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Valuation of Motions
      (pp. 41-56)

      The ubiquity of the cylinder in the machines and products of the nineteenth century is due to its kinematic properties—its ability to force, transmit, and apply (to use a ethically paradoxical term) single-freedom motion. This insight translates the traditional triad of motor, transmission, and tool into the kinematic triad of forcing, translating, and applying motion. Kinematics, as Reuleaux’s work shows, affords a view of machines from the inside out; much like the allegorical readings of old, which focus on intra- and intertextual relations, kinematics focus not only on the design and the necessities of individual devices but also on...


    • CHAPTER 4 The Cylinder as Motor
      (pp. 59-65)

      Cylinders appear in the steam engine in all three of its traditional parts: there is the cylinder in which the pressure of expanding steam lifts and pushes a second, inserted cylinder, the piston; there is the transmission, which is based on “cylinder chains”; and there is the cylinder as a tool in the all-important process of rolling. In addition, the boiler, one of the many cylindrical storage devices of the time, allows for the initial generation and compression of steam.

      From a kinematic point of view, the cylinder-piston assembly in the motor achieves the isolation of translational motion along the...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Cylinder as Tool
      (pp. 66-102)

      In the labor theories of value that dominate economic thought of the nineteenth century, machines are treated summarily as tools used by human workers whose labor generates the value of commodities in the marketplace.¹ This view, critically important as it undoubtedly is, does not take into account that these tools are restricted to the motions delivered by the transmissions and are allowed only the freedoms allowed them by the cylinder. This does not falsify the labor theory of value but complicates it, since the characteristic motion of these cylindrical tools—rolling, reeling, transitive, intransitive, and passive turning—are not human...

    • CHAPTER 6 Kinematics of Narration I: Dickens and the Motion of Serialization
      (pp. 103-112)

      Before the universal availability of motive power in the steam engine, the valuation of translational and rotational motion had been predominantly a metaphysical and theological business, in which straight-line motion and its embodiments belonged to the rational and human world, rotational motion to the aesthetic and divine sphere. In the transmissions and in the machine tools of the nineteenth century this opposition was broken down into the “cylinder chains” that made up the kinematic heart of machines. Joints and linkages utilizing the axes and walls of cylinders isolated translation and rotation, converted them into all manner of intermediary motions, and...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Cylinder as Enclosure
      (pp. 113-130)

      The steam engine has its scientific origins in seventeenth-century natural philosophy, in particular in the efforts to create and experiment with a vacuum; Robert Boyle’s air pump nicely shows the cylinder-piston arrangement of the pump (driven by a crank and a rack-and-pinion linkage) coexisting with the glass sphere of the receiver, elements and functions that will wander into the steam engine and into transmissions and containing technologies of the nineteenth century.¹ In the first steam engines the piston was pulled by a vacuum, and after Watt had reconfigured the generation of power, the aptness of the cylinder for the creation...

    • CHAPTER 8 Kinematics of Narration II: Balzac and the Cylindrical Shape of the Plot
      (pp. 131-138)

      Logically speaking, the relation between rotary printing presses and serialized narratives is that of a necessary condition. The presses do not cause these narratives—that would amount to “vulgar” materialism—nor does their presence, and that of other machines, somehow force its own literary representation—that is the metaphysical assumption behind social and anthropological theories of realism. But without the rotation of the presses there would be no serialized narrative, including all the formal consequences this entails for the conception, distribution, and consumption of realist stories. It is obvious that this is a stronger relationship than that provided by the...

    • CHAPTER 9 Gears and Screws
      (pp. 139-150)

      The linkages in which Reuleaux’s analysis of machines found its fulcrum were, by virtue of their arrangements of cylindrical axes, forced to transmit motion across a two-dimensional plane, and all deviation from this plane was perceived by the machine and its designers as “cosmic” interference. Looking at the first implementation of the parallel-motion linkage in steam engines with working beams, we can see how the plane of motion is limited to the rectangular area that reaches from the cylinder to the working end of the beam; in a similar, if more expansive way, the plane of motion of a locomotive...

    • CHAPTER 10 Kinematics of Narration III: Henry James and the Turn of the Screw
      (pp. 151-158)

      If the rolling cylinders in the various machines that contribute to the acceleration of writing, publishing, and reading in the nineteenth century are implied in the temporal sequence of the story, the cylinder’s particular curvature and scalability provide the model for bending this sequence into a finite, legible, and memorable shape. We have associated these two aspects with the predominance of translational and rotational motion respectively and have paired them with their rhetorical cognates metonymy and metaphor, which in turn affords us a kinematically focused view of the history and rhetoric of the novel. Analytically productive though these dichotomies may...

  6. Epilogue
    (pp. 159-170)

    It is hard to say exactly when the epoch of the cylinder was over, and with it the epoch in which visible transmission of motion by contact was the technical and cultural norm. Epochs—in the sense that the notion is used in these pages—are not simply temporal extensions; they often overlap or are separated by elapsed chronological time.¹ Their characteristic achievements and practices, of course, live on even if newer paradigms garner more attention: steel is still being rolled (even if largely outside the eyes of Western consumers), cars are still being driven by cylindrical engines and helical...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 171-210)
  8. Works Cited
    (pp. 211-232)
  9. Index
    (pp. 233-245)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 246-246)