Monday, May 30, 2011

under the weather-ization

My boyfriend used to be in the energy business and a while back, he mentioned the word weatherization. The what? I responded.

Weatherization is the process of protecting a building from sun, wind, and rain, of retrofitting it to decrease energy consumption and boost efficiency. Typical services in a weatherization procedure include: sealing of doors, windows (and other cracks and gaps); replacing old windows and drafty doors; insulating pipes, floors, and sidewalls; installing appropriate drainage and gutters, etc. Weatherization is different from building insulation because that is only one aspect of the 'whole-house' approach of weatherization. The house itself is a system and its performance needs to be considered as such. In the United States, buildings are a prominent sources of energy usage (up to 2/3's of all electricity usage) and thereby they produce massive amounts of pollution. The use of buildings produces approximately 50% of our carbon dioxide output. Looking more broadly at a building's 'energy footprint,' there are the following to consider: the resources and energy expended during construction; the daily service of occupants and maintenance of the building once erected; the energy required to demolish and rebuild on the same site... and the list goes on.

Well, apparently, we create our own weather. And then we weatherize against it. We move in circles, it seems, always. Perhaps spirals, if you are more optimistic.

Usually, though, we consider ourselves at the whim of weather... mother nature's kind. The summer thunderstorm. The wintry blizzard. The oppressive sticky heat of late August. The thick veil of fog wandering in from over the ocean.

Homi Bhabha writes about the nation as narrative construction in his powerful essay, "Dissemination." After exploring the metaphorical realities of time and landscape in the stories that create our social cohesion, homogeneity, and 'otherness,' Bhabha speculates on the weather:
To end with the English weather is to invoke, at once, the most changeable and immanent signs of national difference. It encourages memories of the 'deep' nation crafted in chalk and limestone; the quilted downs; the moors menaced by the wind; the quiet cathedral towns; that corner of a foreign field that is forever England. The English weather also revives memories of Africa; the tropical chaos that was deemed despotic and ungovernable and therefore worthy of the civilizing mission.  (Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (1994), 169)
White Cliffs, Dover, England
Weather, as a collective memory, becomes a tool for the solidarity of Anderson's 'imagined community,' a tacit discourse that "produces its collective identification of the people, not as some transcendent national identity, but in a language of doubleness that arises from the ambivalent splitting of the pedagogical and the performative. The people emerge in an uncanny moment of their 'present' history as 'a ghostly intimation of simultaneity across homogeneous empty time.'" (159) Of course, Bhabha's additional insight was that the timeless metaphors we use to invent a national historical past that subsumes our present and 'presence' also create a 'slippage' -- a thirdspace beyond the doubleness, beyond the weather of England merely invoking the weather of Africa, wherein those who have been 'erased' through particular signification or placed 'under the weather' always re-emerge, in a very real way, as subjects within that nation.

But it is the weather that directs, guides, and shepherds us to understanding. Why do we say we feel 'under the weather' when we are ill or out of sorts? Weather is beyond our grasp, its powers always out of our control... despite the fact that we have 'mastered' so many other aspects of nature and the environment. All we can do with weather is watch... and track... and historicize. We use instruments to follow and predict and understand the patterns of weather. But we are still only addressing the question of 'what' and the question of 'why' always eludes. Ancient peoples always had gods relating to weather. We analyze; they mythologized. Is there a huge difference, though? They are both stories... ours more scientific... but as Pi poses in Life of Pi, it may not be a question of facts, but a question of which is 'the better story'?

And our stories our not so clear and distinct as we may like to believe. When it rains suddenly and heavily, we still say that 'the heavens opened.' Weather is still one of our gods. We are under the weather because we recognize our powerlessness, our transience, our inability to lift out of the atmosphere. Or perhaps we are stuck on a ship and, feeling ill, slink down to huddle under the weather deck. Under the weather is suffering. Under the weather is the pain of love lost. Under the weather is "simply irrational weather. I can't even hear myself think." Under the weather is KT Tunstall lost and alone. Under the weather is why Bob Dylan was 'tangled up in blue.'

Under the weather is Goethe's Werther sinking in forlorn, lovesick fever, mired in sturm und drang, witnessing the paling of his own life as his paramour becomes increasingly distant:
October 30: One hundred times have I been on the point of embracing here. Heavens! What a torment it is to see so much loveliness passing and repassing before us, and yet not dare to lay hold of it! And laying hold is the most natural of human instincts. Do not children touch everything they see? And I!

November 3: Witness, Heaven, how often I lie down in my bed with a wish, and even a hope, that I may never awaken again. And in the morning, when I open my eyes, I behold the sun once more, and am wretched. If I were whimsical, I might blame the weather, or an acquaintance, or some personal disappointment, for my discontented mind: and then this insupportable load of trouble would not rest entirely upon myself. But, alas! I feel it too sadly.... I suffer much, for I have lost the only charm of life: that active, sacred power which created worlds around me -- it is no more. When I look from my window at the distant hills, and behold the morning sun breaking through the mists, and illuminating the country around, which is still wrapped in silence, whilst the soft stream winds gently through the willows, which have shed their leaves; when glorious nature displays all her beauties before me, and her wondrous prospects are ineffectual to extract one tear of joy from my withered heart, I feel that in such a moment I stand like a reprobate before heaven, hardened, insensible, and unmoved. Oftentimes I do then bend my knee to the earth, and implore God for the blessing of tears, as the desponding labourer in some scorching climate prays for the dews of heaven to moisten his parched corn. But I feel that God does not grant sunshine or rain to our importunate entreaties.     (Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774))
Werther is under the weather when his surroundings do not mirror his emotional state. The pain of dislocation. He becomes even more isolated because the weather is not his weather. And he is under a different sort of weather... her weather... her 'active, sacred power which created worlds around' him... He lives in her weather, her atmosphere without her presence. The wind of memory minus the source of the memory's joy. The remembrance without the being. The weather without the season. The breath and flurry and flutter of erasure, of absence.

And so we search for meaning... in the landscape... in the weather. We construct a crystal palace to enclose and embody and illuminate, but perhaps in the melting rain that falls upon its former site, we find both a memory and a cleansing... for "it is the mystery of the quotient... [and] upon us all a little rain must fall."   (Led Zeppelin, "The Rain Song")

Crystal Palace, Great Exhibition of 1851, London

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