Summary

  • “This essay considers naturalist and neonaturalist deployments of smell as a means of mapping uneven and potentially toxic atmospheres in the contexts of Progressive Era urbanization and twentieth-century environmental ‘slow violence’” (787).

Notes

  • The tensions that Hsu marks out as central to literary naturalism are resonant w/ digital media cultures now: “the tension between vision and the so-called ‘lower senses,’’ the tension between modern improvements (such as indoor heating) and unintended environmental externalities (such as a gas leak), and the tension between aesthetic objects and the material conditions they describe and inhabit” (787–88).
  • “Air—which consists of shifting combinations of anthropogenic emissions, animal and plant exhalations, and dust particles of everything—offers a complex yet often overlooked index of nature’s ‘changing status in the modern world’” (788).
  • “In naturalist fiction, air functions as a diffuse yet significant vehicle (both metaphor and metonymy) for environmental influence” (789); same fundamental note as in Oak Taylor: Air is both literal and metaphoric. This is particularly salient then for the transmission of pollution.
  • “Associated with passive reception, physical permeability, corporeal excess, involuntary responses, and disease transmission, the sense of smell unsettles liberalism’s fiction of the rational, individual subject of free choice. Air is simultaneously an aesthetic medium of scent and a biopolitical medium that determines life and death” (790).
  • While Hsu’s focus is on the naturalist novel, it does open up a useful avenue for thinking with smells and technologies: “The rapid and chaotic growth of urban spaces and populations disseminated spatially differentiated mixtures of smells emitted by smoke stacks, steam laundries, asphalt, paint, cleaning materials, gas lamps, unfamiliar foods, and diverse bodies human and nonhuman” (791).
  • Affect: “Smell is thus an important medium for understanding the affective capacities of air” (792).
  • Smell = disease in nineteenth-century “miasma” theories. Is there a return to miasma theory, if obliquely, in contemporary concerns with air pollution?
  • Michelle Murphy and the “problem of uncertainty”—am I being poisoned or not?—carries over well to the 3D printer (797).

Archive

  • Hsu’s essay is one of a few that are really useful for building up a bibliography around environmental and sensory studies, e.g.:
    • Lawrence Buell, foundational envhum
    • Timothy Choy, anthropologist working on air pollution in Hong Kong
    • “Environmental humanities scholars such as Alaimo, Nixon, and Mel Chen have demonstrated how attending to such material entanglements between differentiated bodies and uneven environments opens up illuminating points of intersection between cultural analysis and environmental justice concerns” (790)
    • J. Douglas Porteous, for the idea of “smellscape”
    • Sloterdijk’s idea of atmospheric fragmentation
    • Jim Drobnik, who edited the Smell Culture Reader.
    • Michelle Murphy, “the problem of uncertainty”