Something in the Air

from Frieze magazine

German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk talks to Erik Morse about the 20th- and 21st-century phenomena of chemical warfare, designer ventilation and high-density urban living

HU037107ERIK MORSE?What role do you think literature plays in explicating what you call ‘sphereology’ – the study of the human need for interior space?
PETER SLOTERDIJK?I’ve always felt that there is a split in the European tradition between the language of philosophy and the language of art and literature that is based on the suppression of atmospheric knowledge. Similarly, until recent developments in space photography, conventional maps omitted information about the atmosphere. My ambition was to bring the atmospheric dimension back to the perception of the real. My essay Terror from the Air was extracted from Sphären. It is called ‘Air Trembling’ in German, and is the introductory part of the third volume of the Sphären trilogy. Everything in these works is about the reconstruction of atmospheric perception.
EM?One of the fundamental arguments in Terror from the Air is that classical warfare ineradicably changed with the German deployment of chlorine gas during the second battle of Ypres on 22 April 1915. It is your contention that, with this first use of chemical warfare, a new kind of ‘atmo-terrorism’ has been released upon the world, one in which the environment rather than the body is attacked. However, terrorism as a style of warfare has been present in the West as far back as the first encounters between European armies and indigenous or tribal groups: for example, night-time raids, camouflage and hit-and-run offensives. How are these examples distinct from the use of gas in the battlefields in 1915?
PS?It’s ‘only’ a technical difference. As Clausewitz [Carl von Clausewitz, 1780–1831, Prussian military theorist and strategist] demonstrated in his book, Vom Kriege [On War, 1832], in every war there is an element of excess, of montée aux extrême [rising to the extreme] – every war accelerates towards something worse. In all kinds of war, the temptation is very strong not only to fight against the enemy one-to-one but to destroy its environment – to make the fateful step from the duel to the practice of extinction. In the 20th century, montée aux extrême has developed a new technical means, such as chemical warfare. This is what I suggest in my essay on modern warfare. more

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