Particle ‘atmopolitics’

Just read a great article in the New Scientist on the geopolitics of air pollution. The article shows how microscopic small of airborne particles can cause a major and highly complex international health crisis.

 “22 per cent of air-pollution-related premature deaths in 2007 were associated with goods and services produced in one country and consumed in another… Emissions from east Asia can make their way across the Pacific Ocean on atmospheric currents… That’s the penalty of living in a world that shares air”

I have recently written a piece in Borderlands on China’s “War on the Air” (available as PDF from their website) in which I attempt to argue that the air is an actively political medium.

The paper argues that the [Chinese] state’s historical dependency on economic growth is propelling attempts to keep the air ‘breathable’ and the weather ‘controllable’ so as to maintain social stability. The air has subsequently started to function as a calculable extension of state interests. Climate change and particle pollution are not presented, framed or perceived as a problem of existing politics but rather as a challenge to it. This paper will especially look at the state’s infamous weather modification programme and the way it governs air pollution. I finish the paper by arguing for the possibility of thinking about a different politics of the air as a means to challenge ideas that accept the air as a passive medium of state interest.

Heide Fasnacht ‘Suspect Terrain’

Heide Fasnacht is an American sculpting artist working on the aesthetic representation of natural and man-made disasters. Her interest in sink holes got the attention of my research student who, in her turn, informed me about her work.

Fasnacht in an interview states:

My interest in sinkholes was precipitated by the destruction of buildings and art through various means, such as weather, war, and iconoclasm, and I decided to start looking at the aftermath of those events…  I am interested in shaky structures, such as the economy, cultures, and architecture, and their transformation into materials of transitional states, like collapse.

I particularly appreciate the way she compares social structures such as the economy and culture with environmental  ones. They both seem deceivingly stable and solid but are intrinsically prone to implosion and catastrophe. Her latest project has a fascinating title, Suspect Terrain, which I hope to explore in more detail for and in my talk at the Association of American Geographers (AAG) later this year. The venue of the artwork explains that it “details the creation and aftermath of a sinkhole.”

The title references John McPhee’s In Suspect Terrain (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition, 1983), which offers a narrative of the earth through the geological lens of plate tectonics (Socrates Sculpture Park)

Heide Fasnacht(Taken from:

I found a short interview with her talking about the project.

There are several, or maybe even a lot of things that draw my attention here. The work is conceptually very rich! The integration of the house and the reference to dwelling and memories immediately reminded me of Heidegger’s attention to the concept of home as a place of dwelling.

A house can easily be a metaphor for the self (from the video)


However, where Heidegger talks about the need to retain an essence of home, Fasnacht is more than happy to await the construction which comes after the destruction. This dialogue between ideas of permanency (being) and change (becoming) is retold by her story of the sad man and the playing children in the background who climb over and re-claim the sculpture to make it their own new playground.

It is perhaps unsurprising that a lot of Fasnacht’s ideas derive from architectural thought. She cites both Koolhaas’ work and Venturi Learning from Las Vegas as sources of influence.

To be continued


Rūmī – Poem of the Atoms

The Poem of the Atoms  is written by the 13th century Persian theologian and Sufi scholar Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, better known simply as Rumi or Mawlana (‘our master’). The poem describes an elemental universe in which atoms dance, driven by love. The poem reminds of the pre-Socratic thinkers from the Milesian school.  The poem was used by the Israeli-French composer Armand Amar for the movie Bab’Aziz – The Prince That Contemplated His Soul (2005).

O’ day, arise!
shine your light , the atoms are dancing

Thanks to him the universe is dancing,
overcome with ecstasy , free from body and mind

I’ll whisper in your ear where their dance is leading them.

All the atoms in the air and in the desert are dancing ,
puzzled and drunken to the ray of light,
they seem insane.

All these atoms are not so different than we are,
happy or miserable,
perplexed and bewildered

We are all beings in the ray of LIGHT from The Beloved,

Nothing can be said.

Michael Marder, Plants and the Elements

Michael Marder is not a name very much mentioned or discussed in geography circles. This is somewhat peculiar given his earlier work on Schmitt and Derrida. I only recently discovered Michael work on geophilosophy after having read his collaboratively written Guardian article from a couple of months ago. The piece written together with the French feminist Luce Irigaray begs us to take notice of the air we breathe.

Is clean air, along with drinkable water, becoming one of the most precious resources on the planet? Or should we reframe the question and challenge the kind of thinking that converts everything, including the very air we breathe, into economically measurable reserves and commodities?

Michael has a blog of his own, The Philosopher’s Plant, where he touches upon the relationship between plants, trees and philosophy. In his latest post, Michael builds on what he calls “a phytophenomenology, or the phenomenology of vegetal life.” What I like about his ontological decentring of the human in his work more generally, is that it allows for the entry of the elemental in the question of the political.

Rather than a small island in the sea of organic life and an even larger ocean of the inorganic universe, the human is a point of intersection for diverse types of existence, not to mention the classical elements of water, fire, earth, and air. In fact, much of the current environmental crisis is due to our refusal to acknowledge our co-imbrication with the rest of the world, which we unabashedly mould in our own image, heavily skewed toward abstract intelligence.