Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Withdrawing from Atmosphere: An Ontology of Air Partitioning and Affective Engineering

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Withdrawing from Atmosphere: An Ontology of Air Partitioning and Affective Engineering

Article excerpt


The main objective of this text is to warn against atmospherics. However comfortable it might appear, an atmosphere is politically suspicious because it numbs a body into an affective embrace of stability and permanence. It becomes doubly suspicious because a body desires to be part of the atmosphere. For this reason, I rethink both affect and atmosphere ontologically rather than phenomenologically. I argue that an atmosphere is engineered by subsuming individual affects to what I call, following Sloterdijk, an atmospheric glasshouse. I suggest that this happens in four steps: a distinction between inside and outside through partitioning; inclusion of the outside inside; illusion of synthesis; and dissimulation. In order to do this, I begin with air as the elemental paradox of ontological continuum and rupture. I carry on with the passage from air to atmosphere while retaining the discourse around continuum and rupture. Finally, I indicate a way of rupturing the atmospheric continuum through the ontological movement of withdrawal from the atmosphere. The ultimate goal of the article is to sketch a problematic of atmospherics that puts together without synthesising an elemental ontology of continuum and rupture.


Atmosphere, affect, air, withdrawal, engineering

Air was new, Air was strong, Air would bear her up. She knew now. She was rooted in the world but the world was rooted in Air. Geoff Ryman (2006)

Welcome to your Glasshouse

In Geoff Ryman's novel (Ryman 2006), air is a necessity that extends to more than just the living. It circulates between human and animal bodies, technology, knitted objects, freshly prepared food, the dead, even a whole village high in an imaginary Asian highland, in which the novel takes place. The world is rooted in this air--but this is no ordinary air. This Air (with capital A) transcends the world's skin in gasping breaths, connecting while isolating, pumping information, dead bodies, new commodities, capitalist ventures, temporal jolts and odd weather phenomena. This air is atmospherically engineered to facilitate consumerism, marketing, project management, design techniques--all that in an isolated village with hardly any electricity or telephones.

This air is found inside, an in-built Internet-type databank that can be invoked through bodily functions. Hesitantly, some inhabitants learn to manage it, inevitably leaving the others behind. This air partitions while being partitioned. It is the air of an immense glasshouse. It can be shared, indeed it is engineered to be shared, but only in a prefabricated way, seemingly rooted in the desire of its participating bodies, while however eliminating all need for alternatives. Is this a waft of freedom? Or maybe the putrefaction of claustrophobia? You need to be breathing the same air in order to be part of us. You know of no other air. You desire the only air you know. This air has become an institutional affect.

It is imperative not to forget this kind of air, despite temptations to the opposite. Marin Nieuwenhuis calls this 'unregistered air' (Nieuwenhuis 2015b: 92), namely the kind of air inhaled without critical reflection, atmospherically offered as the only alternative. This air, polluted and gassed, or rationed and reserved for specific bodies, or indeed readily perfumed and seductive, is increasingly becoming our political, legal, architectural, cultural atmosphere. We are still rooted in air; but this air is now partitioned, engineered, conditioned, atmospherically contained, affectively directed and ontologically restricted. This air no longer moves freely between inside and outside, between breather and world; rather, it must negotiate various material and symbolic partitionings. Even this inside/ outside is dissimulated to resemble something else, something ajar in the face of brutal closure.

From air to atmosphere, the partitioning is inevitable and its political impact vast. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.