The subtle ether : writing into the 'space between'
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The ether was proposed by Enlightenment natural philosophers as an undetectable substance filling the space between the stars, that held them in place and supported the propagation of their light across space. In The Subtle Ether: A Memoir of the Space Between, insights from the history of the ether are threaded through my experience of clearing the family home after the death of my parents, and inform a reflection on ‘spaces between’ memories, family members, and between ourselves and the world. This thesis both proposes and practises writing creative nonfiction as a method of first person enquiry that bears a familial resemblance to contemplative traditions, and that can acknowledge and mourn the hiddenness of things by writing into the ‘space between’ ourselves and the world. Seeking a new synthesis which meshes experience, emotion, observation, and reflection on the insights of science, I employ mixed modes of lyrical, aesthetic, philosophical and personal inquiry. The central claim of this thesis is that awareness and acceptance of hiddenness as the nature of all things counteracts human hubris. While drawing from the example of continuous, open-ended questioning the scientific search for the ‘ether’ offers, this thesis both argues and demonstrates that scientific and analytical methods alone cannot address this hiddenness, and that creative practice can be an effective way to think about and communicate what cannot be directly known. I argue that the desire for complete knowledge is a form of acquisitiveness and control, and that recognising the limited scope of human senses and reason undercuts human centrality and sole agency. Crafting an artwork out of contemplation of that which cannot be directly observed opens a space of reflection in which a paradoxical truth can be held in awareness; that the external reality we observe is other than us but also inseparable from us.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2022-04-24
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Electronic copy restricted until 24th April 2022.