Difference between revisions of "Ether"

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(Bodies heavenly and atomic)
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== Bodies heavenly and atomic ==
== Bodies heavenly and atomic ==
[[Image: chainofbeing.jpg|300px|thumb|left|The Aristotelian universe remediated as the Great Chain of Being in 1579, depicting a divinely inspired universal hierarchy.]]
== Insurmountable connectivity ==
== Insurmountable connectivity ==

Revision as of 08:54, 26 April 2010

Space that has been seized upon by the imagination cannot remain indifferent space subject to the measures and estimates of the surveyor. It has been lived in, not in its positivity, but with all the partiality of the imagination. (Bachelard, xxxvi).

Ether is a space of speculation. Historically, the medium has been dually seized upon by poetic imagination and subjected to scientific measurement and experiment. From the Aristotelian physics of heavenly bodies to a 19th century notion of an expansive aerial phonograph (Milutis 37), speculations about the ether are necessarily partial: subjective because premised on a negative—a presence envisioned for the void. As the physicists G.N. Cantor and M.J.S. Hodge write, “the conceptions of aither often depend directly on ontologies, on theories of being and substance” (Cantor and Hodge, 8). In the absence of a perceptible referent, ether is an image with a variable, ontological indexicality. As a sign of presence whose referent is at once absence and absent, ether challenges the logic of representation.

Iris depicted on a French airmail stamp, 1946.

As a mode of mediation, ether collapses representation and materiality. Ether is thus akin to Iris, the Greek goddess of communication who imminently embodies the message given to her. Despite its etymological tie to our concept of the “ethereal” (otherworldly, immaterial) in mediating unknowable, imperceptible space, ether was necessarily material: a rigorously tested and constructed presence to stand in for the void. Like Iris, the symbolic content of ether was indistinct from its material substrate. Never indifferent, the materiality of ether could potentially bridge lived experience and the absolute (as measurement) or explode this duality (as atomic imagination).

Symbolic materiality: plan(e) and plane

As a conceptual physical field, ether connects Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s “two ways of conceptualizing the plane” (Deleuze and Guattari 265). On the one hand, Deleuze and Guattari describe “a teleological plan(e), a design, a mental principle...a plan(e) of transcendence” that, “even if it is said to be immanent, it is so only by absence, analogically (metaphorically, metonymically, etc.)” (265-6). On the other hand is the plane of pure immanence, where “the plane itself is perceived at the same time as it allows us to perceive the imperceptible […] relations of movement and rest, speed and slowness between unformed elements, or at least between elements that are relatively unformed, molecules, and particles of all kinds” (266-7). Historically, ether has been both teleological plan[e] and immanent plane, functioning analogically and digitally. On one hand, ether has undergirded dualities it mediates via transcendence, serving as presence in relation to the void. On the other, ether has structured the void on an invisible, atomic level, negating absolutes through the instantiation of continuous, volatile activity. The medium has performed according to the logic of representation, but it also embodies the potential for Deleuze’s idea of immanent expression (McClean 232).

Bodies heavenly and atomic

The Aristotelian universe remediated as the Great Chain of Being in 1579, depicting a divinely inspired universal hierarchy.

Insurmountable connectivity

Where does ether go to die?