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241 × 162 × 22 mm
288 pages
35 illustrations, 10 in colour
01 Oct 2016

Liquid Crystals The Science and Art of a Fluid Form Esther Leslie

Liquid crystal is a curious phase of matter. It has the ability at once to flow, like water, and to refract, like ice. It was closely observed, if not yet named, by experts in 1888 but they found no practical use for it. Probed and imaged for decades, its polar properties were eventually harnessed for an age of screen-based media. Now liquid crystal is ubiquitous, communicating, selling and delighting, in flat-screen LCDs, computers and mobile devices. We also now know that it exists inside our bodies.

For the very first time, Liquid Crystals tells the history of this anomalous and little understood phase of matter in relation to a ‘liquid crystal’ epoch, spanning from 1820 to today, detailing the key interminglings of the liquid and crystalline located in politics, philosophy and art during this time. There are insightful and remarkable readings of cultural forms from Romantic landscape painting to snow globes, from mountain films to Hollywood eco-disaster movies, from touchscreen devices to DNA, cold wars and political thaws, media meltdowns and ice in the desert. Expertly written in an accessible style, Liquid Crystals recounts the unheralded but hugely significant emergence and applications of this unique matter.

‘There is every chance that you will be reading Liquid Crystals on a liquid crystal display screen, if not in the year of its release, then somewhere in the future. The ubiquity of LCDs makes them invisible, unthought. Leslie drags us back to the screen, to the discovery of this uncomfortably contradictory state of matter, and to the vast range of implications it has for the way we imagine the materiality and abstraction of our world, from financial liquidity to Supermans icy Fortress of Solitude. She raises the tantalising prospect that liquid crystals are key not only to images but to perception and to our worldview: the governing metaphor through which we comprehend the rival claims of dialectics and flow. Erudite, lucid, enthralling, Esther Leslie's eclectically logical investigations transform our understanding of the historical generation of ideas and ways of thinking.’ — Sean Cubitt, Professor of Film and Television, Goldsmiths, University of London

‘Lucid and hallucinatory, this work is like a journey into the undead, affect-ridden material unconscious of modernity.’ — Anselm Franke

‘The particular history being expounded here provides another perspective on Leslie¹s other histories such as those explored in Synthetic Worlds: Nature, Art and the Chemical Industry . . . A particular clandestine story is being told, with fairy-tale intrigue and political urgency, because this story has hitherto been glossed over or forgotten: a story about German fascism and its post-war industrial legacy; about nature and the culture industry; a critique of the division of labour between artists and scientists . . . Leslie’s book itself appears as a liquid crystalline incarnation with abstract sketches . . . preceding the flowing, rangy, roaming prose of her individual chapters. Just as liquid crystals pervade aspects of life, they inhere too in the prose form of Leslie’s liquid crystalline text’ — Radical Philosophy

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Esther Leslie is Professor of Political Aesthetics in the School of English and Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London. She is the author of Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism (2000), Hollywood Flatlands: Critical Theory, Animation and the Avant-garde (2002) Synthetic Worlds: Nature, Art and the Chemical Industry (Reaktion, 2005), and the editor and translator of On Photography by Walter Benjamin (Reaktion, 2015).

Introduction: Slush

1 Flowing Crystals

2 Ice

3 Snowflakes

4 Blizzard

5 Meltwater

6 Liquid Crystal

7 Sea Ice

Conclusion: Permafrost, Liquid Assets



Photo Acknowledgements