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Symptomaticity and Opacity in the Literature of Smog Sensing
This talk identifies a cross-media aesthetics of “smog sensing” that measures the shifts in sensation, perception, and orientation occasioned by atmospheric urban pollution. Exemplifying this aesthetics is Renee Gladman’s corpus of writing and drawing, in particular a cycle of speculative novels set in the city-state of Ravicka, where a mysterious environmental cataclysm has made the air thick and yellow. In a context where different characters’ respiration indexes a socioecological crisis without revealing what it means to and for them, relations are organized by “symptomatic breathing,” an interpretive attitude that consists in learning the limits of what is graspable about embodiment and experience. In Ravicka, breathing is deceptively transparent; it mediates what, within a critical tradition anchored by Édouard Glissant, we may label a politics of racial and sexual opacity. Gladman’s works enable us to rethink the politics of breathing at a historical moment when oppression and inequality reproduce themselves through the weaponization of the air. Breathing together, our visit to Ravicka reveals, is no great equalizer; it instead constitutes a coalitional tactic or strategy for showing up and staying in relation without presuming shared experience.
Jean-Thomas Tremblay is Assistant Professor of English at New Mexico State University. They are the author of Breathing Aesthetics (forthcoming from Duke University Press) and, with Andrew Strombeck, the editor of Avant-Gardes in Crisis: Art and Politics in the Long 1970s (forthcoming from SUNY Press).