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Up in the Air: Atmospheres in the Anthropocene

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Organizer: Dora Zhang

Co-Organizer: Sarah Osment

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The concept of atmosphere and its cognates - milieu, ambiance, mood, Stimmung - are increasingly, so to speak, in the air. Although it is a ubiquitous feature of our daily lives and our warming planet, the phenomenon - and concept - of atmosphere can be difficult to pin down. But a number of scholars in literary studies, media studies, critical geography, affect studies, environmental humanities, legal studies, and philosophy have recently turned their attention to atmospheres, whether considered in meteorological terms, as properties of aesthetic objects, or more broadly as influential environments created in and by particular spaces and beings. This seminar follows their lead, asking how atmospheres, in all their allure and elusiveness, matter. What would it mean to take seriously what is in the air? What can the concept of atmosphere offer as a way of understanding the relationship between human and nonhuman bodies and their environments? What kinds of interpretive and methodological questions do atmospheres pose? Which scales and modes of reading are adequate to apprehending them? How might a focus on atmosphere alter our understanding of modes of aesthetic production, reception and circulation? Are there historically specific atmospheres, and what can these tell us? In what ways does air function as a figure, and how might we make sense of its metaphoric drift? If atmospheres dispose us toward certain actions, making some possibilities available and foreclosing others, how might we foster atmospheres that promote livable lives? How might one reconcile the concept’s haziness with its increasing urgency? 

We invite contributions that consider atmosphere and associated concepts from a variety of perspectives.

Topics may include but are not limited to:
- Fog, haze, and weather
- Smog, air pollution and climate change
- Atmosphere and environmental media
- Mood, affect, Stimmung
- Ecological aesthetics
- Ecopoetics
- Literary or other aesthetic atmospheres
- Air and sound
- Meteorological art
- Spatial politics and non-representational theory
- Atmospheres and architecture/landscape/built environment

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