Éthéréalisation: amorces d'une contre-histoire

Ghislain Thibault
Departement de communication, Universite de Montreal
August, 2010
 
Ghislain Thibault holds a PhD in communication studies from the Université de Montréal. He is a member of both the SNS lab and the Radical Empiricism Workshop. He completed his dissertation “Éthéréalisation: amorces d’une contre-histoire” (2010) under Thierry Bardini’s supervision, a dissertation at the confluence of cultural history, philosophy of techniques and communication. He has co-authored with T. Bardini “Éther 2.0: Révolutions sans-fil,” published in the Canadian Journal of Communication, and has given a number of public talks using genealogical approches to technology and technoculture in general. He is currently starting a post-doctoral project on the cultural history of wireless power transmission (from Nikola Tesla to today’s MIT research programs) at Harvard University.
 

Abstract

This dissertation stands as an epistemological inquiry into the persistence of the notion of ether within technology’s discursive field. Most often, the word “ether” is understood as a conceptual model in pre-einsteinian physics which designates the medium responsible for the propagation of electromagnetic waves and light. However, this proves to be only one of the many figures of ether. In multiple mythologies and cosmogonies, ether was also the name employed to refer to a sublime and pure fire filling the highest spaces of the universe. Aristotle, for example, named “ether” what he considered to be the “fifth being,” or the “fifth element.” Chemistry also makes use of ether, where the name denominates the compound C4H10O, used as the first general anaesthetic agent at the end of the nineteenth century. From our point of view, the sustained occurrences of ether in these different figures, so disparate indeed that they appear unrelated, marks the manifestation of its persistence. We argue that this persistence should not be narrowed down to a constant attribution of a “word” or a “name” to several historical phenomenons, but rather should be viewed as the actualization of a same etherogeneous “signature.” Responding to an invitation by Italian philosopher Agamben, and building on Nietzsche’s and Foucault’s history-genealogy as well as on Derrida’s deconstruction, our dissertation proposes an historical program oriented towards a theorization of the signature. To do so, we suggest locating the ether, or rather the ether-signature, at the heart of several historical inquiries concerned with the contemporary problem with technology. Approaching some of theses issues –the legitimating of narrative knowledge, the suspension of the senses, pseudoscience and mysticism, information and industrial revolutions, wireless obsessions, body and corporeality, virtualization of communication, etc. –, our dissertation aims at locating and articulating as many baits towards an-other history, a counter-history.
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