Atmospheric Things

On the Allure of Elemental Envelopment

Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 34 illustrations Published: July 2018

Geography, Media Studies, Science and Technology Studies

In Atmospheric Things Derek P. McCormack explores how atmospheres are imagined, understood, and experienced through experiments with a deceptively simple object: the balloon. Since the invention of balloon flight in the late eighteenth century, balloons have drawn crowds at fairs and expositions, inspired the visions of artists and writers, and driven technological development from meteorology to military surveillance. By foregrounding the distinctive properties of the balloon, McCormack reveals its remarkable capacity to disclose the affective and meteorological dimensions of atmospheres. Drawing together different senses of the object, the elements, and experience, McCormack uses the balloon to show how practices and technologies of envelopment allow atmospheres to be generated, made meaningful, and modified. He traces the alluring entanglement of envelopment in artistic, political, and technological projects, from the 2009 Pixar movie Up and Andy Warhol’s 1966 installation Silver Clouds to the use of propaganda balloons during the Cold War and Google's experiments with delivering internet access with stratospheric balloons. In so doing, McCormack offers new ways to conceive of, sense, and value the atmospheres in which life is immersed.


"Derek P. McCormack offers a unique perspective on the relationship between object and atmosphere ... This title brings a fresh lens to topics as diverse as sensory perceptions, the concept of allure, and understandings of volume. . . . Recommended. Graduate students and researchers." — C. Leachman, Choice

"Atmospheric Things offers a bold new intervention in the study of media infrastructures with incredible lucidity. . . . This book will be instrumental to media scholars interested in new ways of thinking about the intersecting lines of infrastructure, affect, meteorology, envelopment, and even trauma and objecthood, where both human and nonhuman agencies from bodies to balloons are theorized in terms of the atmospheric. By inviting scholars to consider that the allure of atmospheres rests in its resistance to full perception and sense, and that the free-floating dirigibility of balloons offers productive ways to imagine and experience atmospheres, McCormack lays the groundwork for future work in atmospheric infrastructures and opens room for the enchanting, generative possibilities of simply letting go." — Miguel Penabella, Synoptique

"A thoughtful, challenging and very perceptively written work. . . . This book is very much about finding new and experimental ways, using the atmospheric thing of the balloon, to make explicit the atmosphere as a political, ethical and aesthetic commons." — Marijn Nieuwenhuis, Social & Cultural Geography

"This is a political, ethical, and aesthetic pursuit. It is political because it is about how the object travels, is made, and is governed. It is ethical because it implicates the many forms of life that are encountered or cultivated along the way, and how these new forms instigate further novelty. It is aesthetic because it entails an exploration of how the elemental conditions of atmospheres are sensed in and through bodies of all kinds. It is these three points—political, ethical, and aesthetic—that we must return to when thinking about how it is we live together. This is one of the messages I took from Atmospheric Things: it is through experimenting in such ways that we entertain the possibility of designing new and surprising things." — Andrew Barnfield, Transfers

Atmospheric Things is a profound, rigorous inquiry into the blurry boundaries between feeling and knowing, subject and object, ground and air. We learn from this work that the shape of perception is a shifting, drifting, and permeable thing that is always becoming and moving us beyond what we know toward the alluring possibilities of experience. A beautiful and unique work.” — Caren Kaplan, author of Aerial Aftermaths: Wartime from Above

“I loved reading Derek P. McCormack's affirming and gorgeous book. It is as much about the atmospherics of the balloon as it is a companion to life, death, grief, and politics, as well as violence, technologies, and belief. Executed through a mix of detailed archival work, encounters and memories from McCormack's life, and studies of contemporary art, Atmospheric Things is a wonderful book.” — Peter Adey, author of Levitation: The Science, Myth, and Magic of Suspension


Availability: In stock
Price: $27.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Derek P. McCormack is Professor of Cultural Geography at Oxford University, author of Refrains for Moving Bodies: Experience and Experiment in Affective Spaces, also published by Duke University Press, and coauthor of Key Concepts in Urban Geography.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  xi
Introduction  1
1. Envelopment  17
2. Sensing  35
3. Allure  55
4. Release  79
5. Volume  101
6. Sounding  121
7. Tensions  145
8. Hail  171
9. Elements  195
Notes  219
Bibliography  259
Index  279
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-7123-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-7112-0
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