On Atmospheres: interview with Tonino Griffero, director of the book series Atmospheric Spaces

 

What is the main focus of the series Atmospheric Spaces?

The book series Atmospheric Spaces aims to provide an updated overview of the phenomenological and aesthetic concept of “atmosphere” – which has nothing to do with a meteorological or an earth-scientific idea of it. Rather, it collects essays that share a new perspective on the emotions, which are understood as affective entities spread out in the spaces we inhabit, and which have a great impact on our everyday life.

The second main goal of the series is to enhance our affective sensitivity by increasing our awareness on what happens to us when we feel something. Thus, a parte subjecti , studying atmospheres means to analyse the range of unintentional or involuntary experiences, with a particular focus on those situations which emotionally “tonalise” our everyday life experience. However, a parte objecti, it means to learn how to critically evaluate intentionally produced feelings – as it could happen within and artistic or political environment – and to avoid being manipulated by such feelings.

To which fields is the study of atmospheres relevant?

On a theoretical level, the study of atmospheres is very relevant to the fields concerning the Social Sciences and the Humanities. If atmospheres constantly imbue our lived spaces, they also concern (and fill out) our everyday life. Hence, many other fields, including Anthropology, Architecture, Economy, Geography, History, Law, Literature, Sociology, Psychopathology and so on, could benefit from a philosophical approach that looks at the affective qualities as entities that make our environments as fully lived space.

How does the notion of the atmosphere fall within the context of the so-called “affective turn” of the Social Sciences and Humanities?

Over the last decades of the twenty-first century, the “affective turn” has played a crucial role in the field of Social Sciences and Humanities. This study focuses on the affective life of the human beings and relies its research on the tight connection between the emotional world and the socio-cultural sphere.

Within this context, Atmospheric Spaces promotes a particular way of thinking about our affective life, providing a reading through the lens of the notion of “atmosphere”. From this perspective the “affective turn” means a renewed point of view on the actual locus (place) of the emotion. An emotion does not coincide with the affective layer of our inner life but instead, it is more close to a ‘being among other beings’. In other words, the emotion is a ‘quasi-thing’, which is endowed with influential expressive qualities. Animals, and in particular humans, meet such beings as much as they are affected and involved by them. Indeed, as the result of this encounter, an atmosphere is all but subjective. It is indeed as objective as other external entities and one could tell that they take place side by side with them. The link between the cultural and social process and the human affective life is therefore to be conceived as the one between a specific atmosphere (which has its own space and time) and such process.

Why is the notion of the atmosphere so relevant today – especially – from an aesthetic, political, economical, perspective?

Looking at the affective life of human beings is a necessary step for the broader understanding of human life and it plays a crucial role in order to face the current global social, political and economic challenges. Indeed, the “atmospheric” point of view enhances our capacity to strikingly grasp such complex systems. An atmosphere is able to recognise their depth emotional nature: there is neither political nor economic system whose power does not depend on a profound affective involvement. Further to this, the “atmospheric gaze” does not reduce the latter to a mere subjective matter, since the affective involvement concerns the fact that human beings live in an emotionally attuned environment.

Finally, I think that such an awareness is necessary to allow humans to get emancipated from the constraints of our system and, as far as possible, to provide a tool that helps to freely choose what is better for us.

 

Tonino Griffero is full Professor of Aesthetics at University of Rome Tor Vergata, where he teaches Aesthetics. Author of numerous books about Hermeneutics, German Idealism and Aesthetics of Atmosphere, he has translated many books from German into Italian.

 

BOOKS IN THE SERIES:

Critique of aesthetic capitalism 

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Situations and atmospheres in organizations. A (new) phenomenology of being-in-the-organization

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