What is a medium? – translation from Wolfgang Hagen


What is a medium? “Medium” is, first and foremost a Latin word. It has a relatively clear etymology and an extensive word history already in classical Latin. Lexicographically, we identify it as the neuter of “medius, a, um (altind. ádhya-h, greek μεσσοσ, μεσοσ, gothic midjis, OHG mitti = NHG middle), which functions as an adjective and a noun. Medius, just like the Messos Greek, means “the middle one, located in the middle,” ie “mediam locavit, he gave her the middle place, “but also in the partitive phrase” in ponere via media “, right in the path ‘. Temporary registers the countless Lexicography Expressions such as “medio tempore, in the interim, or” in medios dormire dies, — and finally connects with “medium” of the figurative expression as in the middle “Cum inter bellum et pacem nihil intersit medium” or in the quotation from Livy: “Ferme fugiendo in media ruitur fata “, in German: He who flees, runs his fate in the midst of arms.

A lexicographic word etymology and history fails here to clarify the concept. It is not the classical Latin that helps here. It is more the Ciceronian way of dealing with the Latin Language that characterizes its historical semantics. Cicero and those following him, the Latinized scientific elites of the West have always been reluctant to latinize Greek terms. Leo Spitzer shows in his famous work on historical semantics show how Cicero avoids to speak of Mathematicians as mathematicians (just a Greek word) but instead calls them “qui mathematici vocantur” or “qui grammatici vocantur”, when he speaks of the so-called grammarians, mathematicians. Cicero, when translating the Greek term qualitas into Latin made us today speak of the quality of a thing and not of his poiotik.

Cicero thus avoided to translate a central concept of Aristotle’s philosophy, namely the periechon – the Ambient, Encircling the room, the ambiance, the air, Sheltered, the bulk, – It has since then in Latin as many words there, and later also in German. Spitzer tracks this down because he wants to come to terms with Milieu and ambiance.

If there is a surrounding area of sensitivity, an topomnetisches or atmosphere, so it is not a periechon condition, but an environments or atmosphere. Reading Spitzer’s analysis exactly, systemtheory’s attempt to explain to us that each environment is always just environment within a system looks outdated. The first major non constructivist systems in the West, namely Aristotle’s system developed in the concept of the periechon a conception of space, environment, air, ambiance and protection which is not reducible to the physical realm.

All this has much to do with our socratic question about the medium. Seitter Walter, whom I really miss in this circle, has made it recently clear: The history of the term medium, we are on the trail, begins with Thomas Aquinas and his attempt to translate those passages of the Aristotelian text which deals with the physiological-perceptual theories of vision, of seeing, hearing, of touch, Tasting and smelling (Περι Πυχη). Here Aquinas interpolated, as I will show, with some embarrassment in a Greek text the word medium where it is not found. This leads to large and prolonged irritation in the discussion on optics in the early modern period, especially in Kepler, then goes over into the first mechanistic interpretations of Descartes and flows into the clean and sober mathematical relationships of the medium-term in Newton. They in turn clash in German Romanticism into an intense, classically motivated resistence and motivated to take on the great speculative ways in dealing with the concept of the medium in Schelling and Hegel. Highly charged with exuberant romantic speculation the concept of the medium gets into the clutches of the telegraph, radio and film – the amplifying and multiplying apparates of the 19th century. And they do so with far reaching consequences.

With the romantic password of the medium are the cognitive, affective and conative effects of these techniques at least tangible. This leads to interactions with the spiritualist phenomenons, namely, the media of the intercommunicative mediumistic Spiritualism on the one hand and the training of the conceptual apparatuses of the empirical Psychologies on the other. The latter which is essentially the result of this unsuccessful confrontation between the medium with its new cultural application. As product of this unsuccessful confrontation we see Pierre Janet, William James and Sigmund Freud concepts such as psychic automatism, the Unconscious, the transfer, the streams of consciousness, differentiations of mental instances of the self, all that cast their shadows far into the 20th century. There it amalgamated with what would amend a seperate meeting, namely the concept of mass, id est: The mass medium.

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