Ether: The Nothing That Connects Everything
Every culture has its own word for this nothing. Synonymous with the idea of absolute space and time, the ether is an ancient concept that has continually determined our definition of environment, our relations to each other, and our ideas about technology. It has also instigated our desire to know something irrepressibly beyond all that.
In Ether, the histories of mysticism and the unseen merge with discussions of the technology and science of electromagnetism. Joe Milutis explores how the ideas of Anton Mesmer and Isaac Newton have manifested themselves as the inspiration for occult theories and artistic practices from Edgar Allan Poe’s works to today. In doing so, he demonstrates that fading in and out of scientific favor has not prevented the ether, a uniquely immaterial concept, from being a powerful force for material progress.
Milutis deftly weaves the origins of electrical science with alchemical lore, nineteenth-century industrialism with yogic science, and network space with dreams of the absolute. Linking the ether to phenomena such as radio noise, space travel, avant-garde film, and the rise of the Internet, he lends it an almost physical presence and currency. From Federico Fellini to Gilles Deleuze, Japanese anime to Italian Futurism, Jean Cocteau to NASA, Shirley Temple to Wilhelm Reich, Ether traverses geographical boundaries, spiritual planes, and the divide between popular and high culture.
Navigating more than three hundred years of the ether’s cultural and artistic history, Milutis reveals its continuous reinvention and tangible impact without ever losing sight of its ephemeral, elusive nature. The true meaning of ether, Milutis suggests, may be that it can never be fully grasped.
Joe Milutis is assistant professor of art at the University of South Carolina. His writing has appeared in such publications as ArtByte, Wide Angle, Film Comment, and Cabinet.
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Every culture has its own word for this nothing. Synonymous with the idea of absolute space and time, the ether is an ancient concept that has continually determined our definition of environment, our ... Read full review
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