A Theory of Unbreathable Spaces
1 and, in fact, all other kinds of -fare.
after the tragic fire that killed three astronauts during testing in 1967 2
Peter Sloterdijk, in Terror From The Air, explains perhaps every political interaction as a matter of breathable air, specifically in relation to the practice of terrorism, through what he calls the explication of air - “In other words: the revealing-inclusion of the background givens underlying manifest operations.” For Sloterdijk, the fundamental feature of our contemporary condition is the making-explicit of our immersion in all kinds of ‘air’ - that is, our “immediate milieu”. He begins by describing the (true) beginning of the 20th Century through the invention and application of gas warfare in 1915, during World War I, and more specifically through the gas mask as a technological response to the (now leveraged) realization that humans breathe air. This, for him, was the marker of a fundamental change in the practice of warfare1: “The 20th Century will be remembered as the age whose essential thought consisted in targeting no longer the body, but the enemy’s environment. This is the basic idea of terrorism in the more explicit sense.” The gas mask represents an entire field of things that explicate air. Once air had been exposed as a weapon and transformed into a toxic cloud, there are a potentially infinite number of layers in which air can be separated, filtered, or otherwise enveloped. The gas mask articulates a whole genre of apparatuses that traffic and operate on air - the deep-sea diving suit, to the spacesuit, the nuclear submarine, or the fully air-conditioned shopping mall, officebuilding, or sporting arena, to name only a few. The gas mask, it’s fundamental feature being the condition of air, is a genealogical forebear to the spacesuit and the Southfield Town Center’s garden
GROUND CONTROL TO MAJOR TOM // 28
atrium. As Sloterdijk notes, “The rapid popularization of the gas mask concept manifests the efforts of those subject to attack to try to shake their dependency of their immediate milieu , the breathable air, by concealing themselves behind an air filter. This involved a first step towards the principle of air conditioning, whose basic idea consists in disconnecting a defined volume of space from the surrounding air.” Indeed, the gas mask and it’s contingent atmosphere-control and -modification are not mere metaphors, but instead they are genealogical cousins to no lessdeadly but perhaps tamer air pockets. It gave rise to the idea, in a “atmo-technic” sense, to air modification, condition, and design. NASA refined the atmosphere in the Pressure Garment Assemblies of Apollo2 from a pure oxygen environment to a less volatile mixture of oxygen and nitrogen, closer to Earth’s own atmosphere; and the HVAC system in Southfield Town Center controls the air temperature and quality in the atrium according to daily protocols and billable hourly rates—air in these cases is both a life-safety issue and an economic one; one that needs to be designed. Air is a social media, but not without contingent physical media. The explication of air happens first in a political sense, but flashes quickly in and out of very real aesthetic, spatial, and material manifestations. We are living in a veritable wash of electronic information, literally passing through our bodies - in the form of ambient radio waves, fast-moving collective opinion, and in rapidly materializing ramifications - that uses the air, a gaseous soup, as it’s medium. Our air extends well beyond that which we breathe into our