Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 October 2022
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.Excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ (written 1910– 15)
In Chapter 4 I touched on the notion of atmosphere in the context of the design firm WES’s work, where it was framed as part of the liveability and accessibility of a street. I did not unpack the notion of urban atmosphere and its wider relevance to care practices and relations, however. I do this now in this chapter.
As discussed in Chapter 2, the notion of atmosphere is complex, encompassing different meanings, areas of knowledge and modes of investigation. On the one hand, the atmosphere denotes the layers of gases, held in place by gravity, that surround a planet or other celestial body. The earth’s atmosphere is made up of five major layers together forming a continuous envelope about 480 kilometres thick around our planet. It plays a key role in supporting life on earth, constituting the air that organisms breathe, shielding the planet from ultraviolet (UV) radiation and keeping it warm through its insulating properties. The atmosphere, in these terms, including atmospheric conditions and weather patterns, is a focus of study within the physical and life sciences.
On the other hand, atmosphere denotes, as Matthew Gandy (2017: 355) puts it, the ‘prevailing mood of a place, situation, or cultural representation such as the feeling evoked by a film or a novel’. This is atmosphere as in ‘affective atmosphere’, a term that Ben Anderson defines succinctly as a class of experience that occurs ‘across human and non- human materialities, and in-between subject/object distinctions’ (Anderson, 2009: 78). Hence, it describes the reality of a place, situation or cultural representation not merely in terms of aspects of its factual, independent existence but as a phenomenon that comes to exist as it is encountered and perceived by sensing, feeling subjects (Pallasmaa, 2014; Edensor and Sumartojo, 2015; Böhme, 2017, 2018).
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