Atmospheric Attunements

I was the lucky participant of a faculty writing workshop on Friday, wherein we discussed Kathleen Stewart’s paper “Atmospheric Attunements.” Stewart is a pretty significant anthropologist and writer, and you should probably go read A Space on the Side of the Road ASAP.

But today it’s really her concept of “atmospheric attunement” I want to discuss. How do you describe the ineffable and inchoate? How do you describe the affect of living? What does it mean to tune into the “background hum” of a situation so that the character of the place emerges from the text–the “sentience of a situation,” as Stewart puts it.

Stewart attempts to do so in this paper through an experimental format, jumping between evocative scenes, first in the Reagan-era rural south, then to her homeless stepson, and then to her mother in a retirement home, dipping in briefly but packing worlds of description into sensory and affective details.

I highly recommend the paper for those who would like to get a better grasp of evoking the atmosphere of how people exist together in the situation, in a moment. It’s a quick and beautiful read.




Review: The Head of the Saint


I have officially read 3 of the 5 books I swore to read in 2017.  I just finished The Head of the Saint by Socorro Acioli. I have been attempting to obtain this book for a year now, and I finally caved and bought it online. I discovered that during that year, while I ruminated on how much I wanted to read it, I unknowingly wrote the book in my head. I only realized I had this when I was confronted, within the first two chapters, that the book is nothing like I expected it to be–in an excellent way.

Our protagonist Samuel is on a mission to fulfill the last request of his dead mother–to go back to her hometown and find his father. He arrives there with less than the clothes on his back, and takes refuge in the head of a giant statue of Saint Anthony, where he discovers he can hear the prayers of women looking for love.

Acioli tells this tale in a roundabout, matter-of-fact sort of way that I haven’t run into before. The understated way the story is written masks the bizarre nature of the occurrences in this small town, so that the reader almost does not realize anything is out of the ordinary.

I enjoyed this book a lot, finishing it in an afternoon. I did feel that Samuel’s characterization was inconsistent, and all other characters were exceedingly flat. It felt at points like I was reading about a boy navigating a town of stock characters, static and predictable.

But that was not enough to put me off the novel, and I was effectively immersed in the Brazilian town of Candeia. One notable detail are the names of the characters: every one of them was charming and offbeat, especially Madeinusa, whose father mashed together the beautiful phrase ‘Made in USA’.

I’m also glad that I read the ‘about’ section, because it turns out that Acioli developed this book at a workshop led by Gabriel García Márquez, who handpicked her based on her story synopsis. WHAT.