The Pulse of Modernism

9780295993201: Hardback
Release Date: 13th March 2015

9780295993218: Paperback
Release Date: 1st October 2016

61 b&w illus.

Dimensions: 178 x 229

Number of Pages: 384

Series In Vivo: The Cultural Mediations of Biomedical Science

University of Washington Press

The Pulse of Modernism

Physiological Aesthetics in Fin-de-Siècle Europe

Hardback / £79.00
Paperback / £27.99

Robert Brain traces the origins of artistic modernism to specific technologies of perception developed in late-nineteenth-century laboratories. Brain argues that the thriving fin-de-siècle field of “physiological aesthetics,” which sought physiological explanations for the capacity to appreciate beauty and art, changed the way poets, artists, and musicians worked and brought a dramatic transformation to the idea of art itself.


Part 1: Experimentalizing Life
1. Representation on the Line
2. The Vibratory Organism
3. Visible Speech

Part 2: Experimentalizing Art
4. Algorithms of Pleasure
5. Liberating Verse
6. Sensory Fusion
7. Art for Life’s Sake


Robert Michael Brain is associate professor of history at the University of British Columbia.

This terrific book brings forward new research on techniques of science, art, politics and philosophy, finding hidden connections between these only seemingly disparate worlds and providing a fresh and inspiring reconceptualization of European modernism.

John Tresch, University of Pennsylvania

[A] highly creative endeavour in the cultural history of science and aesthetics which provides a compelling account of the inspiration which various early practitioners of the modernist movement drew from the physiological laboratories of the nineteenth century. For historians working at the intersection between science and art it is essential reading, whilst historians of science, technology and medicine more medicine more generally can draw inspiration from this approach just as artists in the late nineteenth century looked outside the conventional boundaries of their practice to inform new directions of experimentation in the studio.

James F. Stark
The British Journal for the History of Science

The Pulse of Modernism is richly informed by scholarship in art history, history of science, and social studies of science. Its synthesis of wide-ranging philosophical and scientific matters makes for intensive reading, yet readers are generously rewarded with exquisite descriptions of laboratory techniques, scientific discoveries, and works of art.

Jill Morawski
Journal of Modern History