An Imaginary Museum of Philosophical Monsters

Philosophers have long sought to instill precision in their arguments by appealing to fictitious scenarios in which problems are shorn of ambiguities, allowing pure abstractions to shine forth against the confounding details of reality. In the service of clarity, philosophers offer up an array of imaginary places, creatures, and devices—the cave (Plato), an island shrouded in fog (Kant), Twin Earth (Putnam), Northwest Passages between the humanities and the sciences (Serres); numerous birds and an aviary; angels and demons; bats, cats, hedgehogs, and a brain-in-vat; an invisible hand, a grue emerald (Goodman), and a ring that renders its wearer invisible. Pervading ancient and modern; continental and analytic philosophy, these examples take on lives of their own in the “philosophical imaginary” (c.f. Michelle Le Doeff 1989; Margueite La Caze, 2002), straying beyond their own conceptual labyrinths, breeding chimeras and mixed metaphors. These “philosophical monsters” lurk at the edges of reason, as suggested by Francisco Goya’s 1799 etching, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (Los Capricios, 43). An image-world as strange as any cabinet of curiosities collects the history of philosophy’s imperfectly repressed unconscious and its oneiric flights. Yet reason also produces monsters when waking. An Imaginary Museum of Philosophical Monsters considers the dialectic between reduction and expansion attending the metonymic power of images in philosophical demonstration—and the spectre of reductio ad absurdum that haunts such enterprise.

A Year Without a Winter

A Year Without a Winter brings together science fiction, history, visual art, and exploration. Inspired by the literary ‘dare’ that would give birth to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein amidst the aftermath of a massive volcanic eruption, and today, by the utopian architecture of Paolo Soleri and the Arizona desert, expeditions to Antarctica and Indonesia, this collection reframes the relationship among climate, crisis, and creation. The 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora, on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa, enveloped the globe in a cloud of ash, causing a climate crisis. By 1816, remembered as the ‘year without a summer,’ the northern hemisphere was plunged into cold and darkness. Amidst unseasonal frosts, violent thunderstorms, and a general atmosphere of horror, Shelley began a work of science fiction that continues to shape attitudes to emerging science, technology, and environmental futures. Two hundred years later, in 2016, the hottest year on historical record, four renowned science fiction authors were invited to the experimental town of Arcosanti, Paolo Soleri’s prototype for arcology, to respond to our present crisis. A Year Without a Winter presents their stories alongside critical essays, extracts from Shelley’s masterpiece, and dispatches from expeditions to extreme geographies. Broad and ambitious in scope, this book is a collective thought experiment retracing an inverted path through narrative extremes.

Atmosphere and Place

The concepts of atmosphere and place denote concrete material-geographical domains as well as spheres of affect or ambience. One may speak of a place or the atmosphere, but one also has a sense of place; a room is charged with an atmosphere of anticipation; revolution is ‘in the air.’ Considered in a phenomenological register, atmosphere and place are dimensions of experience modulated by architecture, technology, politics, history, and social practice. At the same time, they are scientific objects delimited and defined by the sciences of geography, geology, ecology, meteorology, climatology and atmospheric physics. In the context of climate change and growing understanding of the profound impact of human activities on Earth systems, the material properties of the atmosphere and the geosphere are urgent matters of concern (cf. Latour 2004). In light of these concerns, a contemporary humanistic approach to atmosphere and place must comprehend how these physical systems simultaneously operate as social, aesthetic and political spaces. Initiated at the Synthesis Center at Arizona State University in 2015, an ongoing transdisciplinary inquiry into the theme of Atmosphere and Place explores how we enact and engage environments from the quotidian to the theatrical, the constructed to the wild and the local to the global.