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The Environing Air:

A Meditation on Communications Structures in Natural Environments

PhaenEx Journal of Existential and Phenomenological Theory and Culture Vol 8, No1 (2013) PP 185 - 207

(First presented as a conference paper; EPTC / Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Waterloo, Canada, May 2012)




Any attention paid to the positioning of telecommunications installations in natural landscapes usually relates to the aesthetic impact. However, such paraphernalia, particularly when contrasted with natural surroundings, invites us to think beyond the visible. Through Heidegger's accounts of Zuhandenheit and Vorhandenheit, as well as his later articulations on 'Nature' as it is subjected to the ordering principles of Gestell, this paper aims to highlight the overlaps of the natural and the technological worlds inhabited by communications structures, considering the relationship between the human and the natural realms, through the uncertain electromagnetic phenomena that envelops the two. The essay is underpinned by the extended phenomenological description of an encounter with such technology that includes, following Anthony J. Steinbock's outline of a phenomenological approach that might begin with the 'facts of the everyday sciences', some reference to the basic concepts of physics involved in transmissions technology.



               On account of the wind, and the clouds behind and above the structure, everything appears to be moving, restless. The sun, low in the sky now and blinding to look into, plays off the structure casting its shadow onto the gneissy moorland and the image shimmers as the grass beneath it is tousled by the wind and the sun moves on its course. There is a marked contrast between the fixity of the steel construction and the restlessness around it. The movement, and of course the sound, seems to speak of the energy that the mast gathers and transmits, of natural phenomena harnessed, directed, redirected, while the mast itself remains rooted to the ground, set in its concrete platform laid square into the moor and beginning to take on the colours and crumbled edges of the ancient rock surfaces around it. Strangely, for an item of contemporary technology, it appears to own an aura of permanence, solidity and dependability in contrast to its vague functionality; the shrieking, whistling sounds, making its resistance to the wind audible, carry echoes of those stronger than this that it must previously have endured. There is the impression that the pulsed signals must be wrested from the teeth of this wind before they are sent on their way.

You can access the journal and download a PDF copy of the paper here

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