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Atmospheres as methodological and aesthetic devices: Intangibility, omnipresence and epistemic emotions around 1800

Paul Ziche

(Utrecht University)

Atmospheric (and ‚metereological‘/‘meteoric‘) phenomena are omnipresent in what became known as the „Romanticist“ discourse around 1800: Think of the role of fog and clouds in Romanticist landscape paintings (and in theoretical meteorology of the time), at poems that convey the atmosphere of a place or a moment by invoking the emotional effects of meteorological circumstances; but also think of the natural sciences in this period that were intrigued (or obsessed?) with the idea of scientifically studying the most subtle phenomena in nature, and in particular in understanding their complex interactions (a term such as „galvanic atmospheres“ is an example for atmosphere-talk at the intersection of chemistry, physiology, and the theory of electricity). What all these ways of studying atmospheres share, is an interest in phenomena that are omnipresent, pervasive, emotionally impactful, yet intangible and subtle and, even more, the interest in making precisely these characteristics of atmospheres into key concepts for philosophy and the methodology of science. Take as an example the way how atmospheric metaphors are inscribed into prominent terms in this period that oscillate between a perfectly everyday usage and a rather technical poetical/philosophical meaning: „weben/wehen“ and „walten“ are examples from German Romanticist contexts.

This paper will do two things: illustrate this pervasive role of atmospheric concepts (metaphors, images, ...) in discourses around 1800, and in particular their role in transcending and newly defining disciplinary boundaries; and show how philosophy in this time develops methodological concepts that turn the characteristics of atmospheric phenomena into distinct epistemic virtues.

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