Book launch Breathing Aesthetics and Asbestos: The Last Modernist Object

Lectures by Arthur Rose (University of Exeter), Jean-Thomas Tremblay (York University), Stefanie Heine (University of Copenhagen).

On Breath: Aesthetics, Ecology, Politics

Times of crisis render breathing visible. If every breath we take emphasises our relation to an environment, the respiratory events of the last few years-from Covid-19 to George Floyd-have exacerbated our awareness of how we breathe. Attending to breath’s aesthetic negotiations, the speakers trace its entanglement in the natural, political and social world.

In Breathing Aesthetics Jean-Thomas Tremblay argues that complex breathing indexes the uneven distribution of risk in a contemporary era marked by the increasing contamination, weaponization, and monetization of air. Tremblay shows how biopolitical and necropolitical forces tied to the continuation of extractive capitalism, imperialism, and structural racism are embodied and experienced through respiration. In doing so, they reveal how aesthetic attention to breathing generates historically, culturally, and environmentally situated tactics and strategies for living under precarity.

In Asbestos – The Last Modernist Object, Arthur Rose considers how we live with the legacies of toxic materials carried into our bodies via our breath. Few modern materials have been as central to histories of environmental toxicity, medical ignorance, and legal liability as asbestos. A naturally occurring mineral fibre once hailed for its ability to guard against fire, asbestos is now best known for the horrific respiratory illnesses it causes. The book shows how literature and film during and after modernism responded first to the material’s proliferation through the built environment, and then to its catastrophic effects on human health.

Opening the discussion of these two new publications, Stefanie Heine will present her book Poetics of Breathing: Modern Literature’s Syncope, in which she examines breathing as a poetic compositional principle in modern literature that operates at the limits of meaningful speech and traces a decoupling of breath from its traditional association with life.


11:15 Welcome and coffee

11:30 Introduction and lecture by Stefanie Heine on Poetics of Breathing

12:15 Lunch

13:30 Lecture by Jean-Thomas Tremblay on Breathing Aesthetics

14:15 Coffee break

14:30 Lecture by Arthur Rose on Asbestos – The Last Modernist Object

15:15 Coffee and cake

16:00 Roundtable with Arthur Rose and Jean-Thomas Tremblay

16:45 Q&A and general discussion

17:00-17:30 Drinks

The event will occur at CApE - Center for Applied Ecological Thinking, Læderstræde 20, Lecture Hall on Floor 1, 1201 Copenhagen K. The gate at Læderstræde 20 will be open and you should take the first door on the right, use the staircase to the reception on floor one from where you will be guided to the conference room.