The all-too-common refrain “I can’t breathe,” in response to obscene incidents of police brutality and the murder of Black people in America, has haunted us through this time where breath is not only dangerous and necessary but also, in this nation, hyperpoliticized at a number of flash points. The widespread refusal to wear a mask is effectively an insistence on breathing together, even if it marks the condition of one’s own last breath—or that of someone else, who may or may not have consented to sharing potentially deadly aerosol particles. Once a concern largely restricted to those with respiratory health conditions, breathing has now become a central preoccupation of the world. This special dossier, “Breath,” considers the politics, history, geography, and conditions of breathing from a moment of respiratory crisis amid a respiratory pandemic, the ecological crisis of California’s increasing wildfires and unbreathable air, and the brutal policing of Black American life. The short meditations in this dossier, from academics in various fields as well as creative writers, are responses to our current moment’s heightened awareness of the complexities of one of the most fundamental requirements for life.

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