‘The Prospect of Our Brethren Slain’: Oliver Lodge, Raymond, and Paperwork

[On the 23-24 June I am giving a paper at Objects of Modernity, a conference being held at the University of Birmingham by the Centre for the Study of Cultural Modernity. I’m currently working on Oliver Lodge as part of my AHRC Research Network, Making Waves: Oliver Lodge and the Cultures of Science, 1875-1940. This is my abstract.]

My object of modernity is the absent body of Raymond Lodge, who was killed in the trenches in 1915. Raymond was the son of Sir Oliver Lodge, physicist, spiritualist, and first Principal of the University of Birmingham. In my paper, I consider the way that Oliver Lodge’s best-selling book Raymond testifies not just to his loss, but also to Raymond’s continuing presence.

Lodge’s spiritualism was closely allied to his scientific research. Lodge had spent his career working with the ether, the imponderable fluid believed to fill all space and that explained a whole host of electromagnetic phenomena, from wireless telegraphy to the internal structure of the atom. It also provided the material basis for a range of psychical phenomena, including spiritual existence after death.

Raymond is presented as a dispassionate account of the evidence for Raymond’s continuing life. However, it is also an exercise in paperwork. Lodge’s attempts to communicate with his dead son should be understood alongside his wider interest in mediation. Lodge was a pioneer of telegraphy and radio and, as many scholars have noted, there was an uncanny continuum between these technological media technologies and spiritualism. Yet Raymond, as a book, represents a further remediation, as the printed object testifies to the reality of the various connections Lodge made with his son. Despite its apparent impersonality, Raymond is concerned with one specific body, Raymond’s, the title of the book asserting his asserting his ongoing presence. My paper considers the place of the book, that old print form, amongst the strikingly modern technologies of the early twentieth century. It considers the way that printed paper offers Raymond a kind of body, while worrying over where (not what) this new body might be.