On Atmosphere

Greek atmos derives from the Proto-Indo-European etmen breath. It has the Oold English cognate eþian, breath and is related to Sanskrit atman, breath, self, soul.

The OED cannot find any English usage of atmosphere earlier than John Wilkins in The Discovery of a World in the Moon: Or A Discourse to Prove That ‘Tis Probable That There May Be Another Habitable World In That Planet (London: for Michael Sparke and Edward Forrest, 1638) and nor can I. So he appears to have originated it, by conjoining Gk atmos breath, or vapour and sphaira, ball, sphere. He writes

Proposition 10. That there is an Atmo-sphaera, or an orbe of gross vaporous aire, immediately encompassing the body of the Moone. (138)

‘Tis observed in the Solary eclipses that there is a great trepidation about the body of the Moone, from which we may likewise argue an Atmo-sphaera, since we cannot well conceive what so probable a cause there should be of such an appearance as this, Quod radii Solares à vaporibus Lunam ambientibus fuerint intercisi, that the Sun beames were broken and refracted by the vapours that encompassed the Moone. (140)

In his three-volume Sphären (1998-2004), Peter Sloterdijk expands hugely upon the idea of the atmospheric bubble, formed from the shared breath of mother and child and Creator and created, as the primary form of human dwelling and cohabitation. His central claims are set out in the introduction, ‘The Allies: or the Breathed Commune’ to the first volume, Bubbles. Spheres: Vol. 1 Microspherology, trans. Wieland Hoban (1998; Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2011), pp. 17-81. The first section can be read on the book’s Amazon page at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bubbles-Spheres-Microspherology-Semiotext-Foreign/dp/1584351047

Sloteridjk argues that culture-forming and -sustaining technics can be regarded as artifically-maintained atmospheres or ‘greenhouse effects’

No people can last in its own process of generations and in competition with other peoples unless it succeeds in keeping up its process of self-inspiration. What is referred to here as autogenous inspiration is, more dispassionately expressed, the continuum of ethnospheric climate techniques. Through ethnotechniques spanning generations, tens and hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of individuals are attuned to superior collective spirits and particular rhythms. melodies, projects, rituals and fragrances. By virtue of such formal games, which produce a shared and productive sensuality the collected many keep finding the proof of their destiny to be together. even under adverse conditions; where this proof becomes powerless, discouraged people dissolve within stronger cultures or decline into rioting bands and childless leftover groups. (57-8)

In spherological terms, peoples appear above all as communities of cult, arousal, effort and inspiration. As autogenous vessels, they live and survive only under their own atmospheric, semiospheric bell jar. Through their gods, their stories and their arts, they supply themselves with the breath—and thus the stimuli—that make them possible. In this sense, they are successful pneumotechnic and auto-stressory constructs. By lasting. peoples prove their ethnotechnic genius ipso facto. And although the individuals within peoples pursue their own concerns in relative obliviousness, overarching myths. rituals and self-stimulations still create social fabrics of sufficient ethnic coherence, even from the most resistant material. Such endogenously stressed collective bodies are spheric alliances that drift in the current of the ages. (59-60)