Electric Liminality

“Under the Hum, pylons were transformed. We looked up and saw sacred geometry. We looked up and saw holy angles”[1]. The electric flow of the landscape permeates everything as a contiguous energy, scything through land from substation to generating station along the grid. “Electric leys” express an interconnection with older energies and animistic beliefs – “the belief that natural materials/landscapes – water, wood, soil stone etc, were animated and imbued with the spirits of ancestral forebears”[2]. Emerson conceived these relations as an autonomous function of nature, both within and beyond human understanding as through the over-soul. “Of this pure nature every man is at some time sensible. Language cannot paint it with his colors. It is too subtile. It is undefinable, unmeasurable, but we know that it pervades and contains us”[3]. It is interpretable as an immaterial energy, imbued with emotional and theological spectres that take it beyond a simple dialogue of conceptualisation. Animistic energies are classifiable only by the linguistic markers and meanings put upon them. Whether thought of through its components or in the wider abstraction of “nature”, it goes beyond the dialogic into the intuitive, conceived through feeling at its basest levels as the “independency of those limitations”[4] are met.

Such beliefs were expressed through the monuments constructed, from the Neolithic monuments of the Salisbury Plain and the Iron Age hillforts found throughout Europe to the religious structures of today. They act as transmission points and infrastructural relays for the flows of energy they attempt to understand and even control, from ethereal concepts of the soul to animistic imbuements of nature. Stonehenge and other Neolithic monuments sat at the site of important of immaterial energies concerning death and movement, attempting to control and delimit such energies through these structures, becoming “panopticons of social and spiritual manipulation”[5]. The long barrows of Britain show many signs of bone removals, reinterments and specific spatial arrangements[6], reflecting both the mobility of early pastoralist cultures and the constancy of return that death and burial involved, being potential expressions of an attempt to understand the nature of energies/spectres beyond human life.

Beyond this they also expressed the material energies of the flows of exchange and the production of communality and security, particularly in Iron Age earthworks but also in the interconnection of sites forming contiguous flows of energy. The Windmill Hill culture shows the high degree of exchange and movement present in Neolithic Britain, with pottery shards originating from Orkney being found there as well as other European peoples’ remains turning up in Stonehenge sites. Beyond the monuments, the intercursivity inherent in the cultures of Durrington or Windmill Hill show the ways material and immaterial flows blend and combine, with these architectures being the liminal (“a border between two defined spaces”[7]) construct that sits between them and partially conceptualises them.

Intercursivity, or “the flows of intercourse (of knowledge, information, exchange, semiotics, etc.), are important in not just constraining actors’ choices but also in being autonomous agencies in their own right that human actors must engage with”[8]. Panopticons are one way of thinking of this autonomous agency as a security apparatus that constrains the actors involved, but at the same time limits the extent of power to the potentiality it has to remain inconceivable (i.e. never knowing who’s watching). Nature as described by Emerson is another such limiting structure, with its limitations acting upon the human condition. In attempting to understand the soul (or over-soul) of nature, it requires not linear gradations upward but “ascension by state”[9]. There is an invocation of the beyond-human or after-human.

DeLanda conceives these control mechanisms and flow interconnections as strata or meshworks. The former is defined by a more rigid hierarchical structure, with roles clearly limited and signposted. The panopticon fits here as a hierarchical system that places the commanders over the commanded. The latter is a more fluid structure, still attempting to control but through looser mechanisms. “In the view of philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, this more abstract classes, which they call strata and self-consistent aggregates (or trees and rhizomes), are defined not so much by the locus of control, as by the nature of the elements that are connected together. Strata are composed of homogenous elements, whereas self-consistent aggregates, or to use the term I prefer, meshworks, articulate heterogeneous elements as such”[10]. These aren’t pure forms though, and regularly combine and transform between each other, as different configurations take on new information (or flows of intercourse) and thereby internally and externally transvalue their relational structures and connections. It is the influence of the “unformed and unstructured morphogenetic flows from which these two derive”[11] that create transformations in the initial states of these systems. Here emerges the pliability of axiomatic structures as the force of material and immaterial flows require interaction and adaptation.

The construction of the ritual complex or monumental architecture is the attempted implementation of a stratification to control flows of immaterial energies and non-human agencies (or agential potentia). The city or site is a nodal connection in the flows of exchange. “Cities and institutions, for example, would be instantiations of this operator (catalysis) to the extent that they arise form matter-energy flows and decision-making processes, but then react back on these flows and processes to constrain them in a variety of ways (stimulating them or inhibiting them)”[12]. The complex or the institution are the liminal instantiation that transforms flow into system, and breakdowns from system back into flow.

Going back to the Hum, this is the expression of the immaterial flows of electrical and radio infrastructures, the future archaeology of the post-industrial era. Electrical liminality is both infrastructural and spectral. Infrastructural in the sense that it connects the urban to the periphery through the grid, creating a liminality between the urban and rural through the production of the edgelands. Edgelands are the “weird and unkempt patches of land that sit uneasily between the urban and the rural”. These are usually associated “with developments that were springing up on the outskirts of conurbations: business parks, sewage treatment centres, rubbish tips, and so on”[13]. Add to this grid substations and motorway junctions. All exist as the detritus of the mechanisms to control intercursive flows. Electrical substations as the attempt to circuit and limit the full potential of electrical currents, moving along the electrical leys much as the ancient monumental architecture attempted to tap into and control animistic energies. Motorway junctions as the expression of the expansion of agglomerative tendencies emerging from urbanity, expanding the city into the rural. This is seen particularly in peripheral cities like Coventry or Stoke, both becoming expressed as outposts of a Greater Birmingham or a West Midlands conurbation. Thus the expansion of a stratified control of the movements and cultures of different cities into clearly delimited districts/regions. Within this rural districts and farming communities are integrated and sublimated into a wider urbanity, seen as much as infrastructural lines of roads and tracks that connect the major nodes to each other, scythed through with concrete and pylons.

Coventry skyline
Coventry skyline

The Hum is also spectral in the production of a monumentalism (the modern equivalent of ancient rocks and woodlands with their own energies) that shows the extension of human innovation beyond itself, producing spectral possibilities that are difficult to understand. The Hum as emerging from radio wave frequencies (such as military programmes like LORAN, HAARP or TACAMO[14] which use high-power radio frequencies to establish permanent communication posts) shows the autonomous energy of electrical and radio wave flows as they extend outside their initial purpose, tapping into ancient reports and knowledges surrounding the control and extensions of animistic and ethereal energies. Lambert talks about underpasses as liminal places that encode and produce emotive flows and beliefs. “Underground spaces are full of dark and invisible recesses, they also harbour the potential for subversion”[15]. They are an edgeland internal to the city. And as human livelihoods are changed and adapted due to coming crises that make urban life more difficult and create greater class stratifications, underpasses become the expression of a surplus population emerging from climate change, deglobalisation and capitalism as they become refuges to an emerging underclass (forming nodes in Wacquant’s idea of the superghetto), much as the tunnels of Las Vegas have become. A future architecture of the underclass to express their flows of emotions, beliefs and signs and a future archaeology to demonstrate the limits of a capitalist form of control of the flows of exchange and inequality.

Much like underpasses, the electrical grid represents the innovativeness of the human condition and the limits of its possible extensions. As climate change demands less electricity consumption and greater adaptation to less energy-intensive forms of living, the precarity of a centralised energy grid grows, becoming both a valuable resource and a means to subvert (via terrorism or violent action that disrupts electrical flows). And what is left behind is the Hum, the cracking sounds of transmission currents that will fade, or in the case of radio waves, the remains of outdated military installations. An ancient energy that evolved in its expressions, but one that will be submerged by the infrastructure it relies upon as that becomes redundant and potentially dangerous. Electrical liminality and the Hum are expressions of innovations attempting to extend beyond their initial remits, producing anomalies and glitches. A world both being controlled and out of control. The representation of the panoptic limits of interactions with these energies.

[1] Rituals & Declarations, Volume 2, Issue 1

[2] https://ladyliminalswanderings.wordpress.com/2020/10/13/dialects-of-the-hum/

[3] Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Over-Soul

[4] Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Over-Soul

[5] https://ladyliminalswanderings.wordpress.com/2021/03/09/panopticons-of-control-ponderings-upon-stone-circles-as-paranoid-architecture/

[6] Martin Smith & Megan Brickley, People of the Long Barrows

[7] https://ladyliminalswanderings.wordpress.com/2020/10/07/underpasses-are-liminal-places-a-brief-overview-of-an-ongoing-project/

[8] https://thelibertarianideal.com/2021/02/15/institutional-oceanography/

[9] Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Over-Soul

[10] http://www.t0.or.at/delanda/geology.htm

[11] http://www.t0.or.at/delanda/geology.htm

[12] http://www.t0.or.at/delanda/geology.htm

[13] Rituals & Declarations, Volume 2, Issue 1

[14] David Deming, The Hum: An Anomalous Sound Heard Around the World

[15] https://ladyliminalswanderings.wordpress.com/2020/10/07/underpasses-are-liminal-places-a-brief-overview-of-an-ongoing-project/

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