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Durham University

Research & business

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Dr Steven Lydon, MPhil (Cambridge), PhD (Harvard)

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 44672
Room number: ER233, Elvet Riverside II

(email at steven.p.lydon@durham.ac.uk)

Biography

I am a Teaching Fellow in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, having completed my PhD at Harvard University. Previously I was a pre-doctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and a DAAD Stipendiat at Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. I also hold an M.Phil. in English literature from Cambridge University and a B.A. from Trinity College Dublin. 
My research falls between 1790 and 1890. I pay special attention to the intersection of literature, science, and philosophy.

Amidst growing interest in ecology, my book project asks how nature – for so long a term of suspicion – might help us to think differently about culture. I build on recent scholarship to mobilise the work of F. W. J. Schelling as an independent theoretical resource; one that stands apart from G. W. F. Hegel and his many inheritors. To explain why this trajectory was left unrealised, I begin with Friedrich Nietzsche’s early essay "Truth and Lies in a Non-moral Sense" (1887). Nietzsche’s essay is canonical for postmodern thought, and its most widely-cited lines invoke the “sound figures” (Klangfiguren). Because we no longer recognise this reference today, its importance has rarely been acknowledged. In 1789, the acoustician Ernst Chladni discovered the sound figures by sending musical notes through a metal plate with sand on it. The subsequent oscillations revealed a series of symmetrical patterns, previously invisible, thereby inaugurating the modern field of acoustics. These patterns created a public sensation across Europe, and were publicised by none other than Napoleon Bonaparte. As Nietzsche well knew, these patterns had also been interpreted by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, August Schlegel, and Clemens Brentano as signatura rerum or the language of nature. My early chapters reconstruct these initial interpretations. I then proceed to unfurl the sceptical reaction in Jean Paul Richter and Arthur Schopenhauer. By contextualising Nietzsche’s essay in literary, scientific, and intellectual history, my book project reconsiders the sceptical turn, and asks if another approach to nature is possible in literary and cultural studies.

Publications

Journal Article

  • Steven P. Lydon (2019). Signatura rerum: Chladni's sound figures in Schelling, August Schlegel, and Brentano. The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory 93(4): 334-350.
  • (2016). Nietzsche's interpretation of Chladni's sound figures. Maynooth University Philosophical Papers 2016(8): 83-89.

Newspaper/Magazine Article

  • (2013). The need for philosophy in Irish schools. The Irish Times