The weather asks the use of the impersonal of us. It rains. We accept and pronounce the sentence, almost unconsciously protecting a request of anonymity. Indeed, the weather seems to have no body: everybody knows what the weather is and almost where it is, and yet if I try to point to it, or locate it, it disappears. It is impersonal. It rains.
Yet, while pronouncing it, it is not known whether there is a distinction between the agent and the action. Is it the rain that rains, or is it another element – such as the cloud – that rains, that takes responsibility as the agent of the action? Looking at the sky would not solve this linguistic dilemma: we are incapable of locating the subject of the action we just pronounced. In this sense that weather is the most manifest form of a hyper-visible yet anonymous action: the action is there, yet the agent is unidentifiable, and for this reason unstoppable.
Indeed, if we can protect ourselves from the weather (an umbrella might be opened here) and we can try to prevent the weather (as Beijing did, using rockets to keep the Olympic opening ceremony dry) the weather cannot be fought. Once it is there it cannot be forced to come to an end; it cannot be stopped, for it is an action without agent. It rains, and it will finish. We are subjected to its will.
This text is subjected to the weather the way we are subjected to it; it might abruptly change from time to time, as weather does. And hence its evolutions do not aim at representing the weather, nor are they trying to define it, or getting closer to it. Language here acts in a very tautological way: this text does not aim at understanding the weather, but simply aims at understanding why we talk about it; what does it produce to talk about the weather while we are subjected to it.
We are subjugated to it together.
We are at the bus stop, in the elevator, or at the beginning of a meeting with a person we do not know, and we talk about the weather. If weather is always present in smalltalk and icebreaker speeches with strangers it is because it is that which we know we share with the other. Without knowing her – neither her personality nor her political views – we are in the same weather, and together subjected by it. In a minute we might disagree, but let’s start this conversation from the point of what unites us. Talking about the weather manifests the desire to start from a consensual point, a public space we both share: we share the same humid, hot, freezing sensation, on our skins. The weather is thus what we have in common and connects us, like – as well – the common language we use with the other to talk about it. Talking about the weather in the elevator, hence manifests to the other’s two connections in one: speaking a common language and sharing the same weather.
Furthermore, it is a discourse on the weather that takes place in the weather. The transmission of all vocal languages (including the icebreaker speech) happens in the same atmosphere we are trying to describe in the discourse. The weather is the tissue that connects our bodies and the medium that connects our conversation. We talk about it through it, talking about what unites us both conceptually and physically. Similarly, in her article Hydrofeminism, Or on Becoming a Body of Water, Astrida Neimanis describes the medium of water in a way that might here be relevant to clarify the weather (which is also made of water). Through it, “we experience ourselves less as isolated entities, and more as oceanic eddies. I am a singular, dynamic whorl dissolving in a complex, fluid circulation. The space between ourselves and our others is […] closer than our own skin”. Like water, the weather is a conduit and a mode of connection.
Furthermore, by talking about the weather, I am not simply connected to the other, but also, together with the other, we are connected to the weather. The weather is not only a place of connection, but a thing in itself: if it is a medium, as all media, it does not only connect two points, but also connects each of the points with the medium. This medium is the weather, in its present configuration. Hence, by talking about the weather I do not only remind the other that we generally share something or have something in common, but that we are sharing a specific present, the same time. We could start the icebreaker speech with a different subject that unites us, again such as the use of language or the human condition, yet if the weather is so common in starting the conversation it is because, while uniting us, it constantly changes. By doing this it offers on the one hand an incredibly large possibility to elaborate, complain, and speculate on its evolution; but, on the other, it transforms each of us talking about the weather in a shared manifestation of living in the same present. We are connected in the present, and together connected to the present. My phone is ringing.
– Hi Mami. – Rohi, how are you? – Good good, thanks, you? – Good hamdellah. How is the weather there in Brussels?
Here, talking about the weather is the manifestation of our disconnection, of our distance. The nostalgic gesture of imagining my body subjugated by the weather that subjugates yours, in a desire of empathy that makes me dream of a proximity we do not have. Yet, is the weather in Milan and Brussels the same medium, or are these two different weathers?
3) The Body of the Weather
It starts raining. Yet no one would say that the weather starts in this very moment. The weather was already there. Hence, in its being continuously there, the weather does not properly occur. Or maybe it takes place continuously, and is hence subtracted from the logic of the event.
To elaborate on the challenging of the notion of event-hood that the weather seems to imply, I propose to invite the notion of hyperobject into this talking about the weather. Described some years ago by US scholar Timothy Morton, hyperobjects “are nonlocal; in other words, any local manifestation of a hyperobject is not directly the hyperobject. They involve profoundly different temporalities than the human-scale ones we are used to. In particular, some very large hyperobjects, such as planets, have genuinely Gaussian temporality: they generate space-time vortices, due to general relativity. Hyperobjects occupy a high-dimensional phase space that results in their being invisible to humans for stretches of time. And they exhibit their effects inter-objectively; that is, they can be detected in a space that consists of interrelationships between aesthetic properties of objects” (p. 1). Hence maybe we have to rethink the idea of an absence of body, at first associated with the request of anonymity of the weather: the weather does have a body; one body that exists beyond its visibility and outside the perception of our ocular-centric culture.
Taking again the words of Neimanis the weather might be described as “not only a place of transit, but itself a watery body […], a material fecundity that rejects an ontological separation between thing and transition, between body and vector”. While we talk about the weather, we are already into his body, a singular one. For this reason, as a hyperobject, the weather does not happen, it simply is. What takes place are the local manifestations of the weather. I shall then perhaps call my mum to tell her that eventually we are in the same body of weather, simply in two local manifestations.
Nevertheless, talking about a local manifestation renders the perception of the weather even more complex. Indeed, the terms seem to suggest something that appears, as if – even if the weather was already there – the local manifestation was the product of the place in which it manifests itself. It starts raining. But does this raining start here where I am, or was it happening elsewhere, and is it simply entering with the wind the space of perception? Does the weather occur in time (local manifestation) or in space (movement), traveling with its moving manifestation? We are all familiar with the approach of the weather, as we are all familiar with the weather forecast graphics, where we see the perturbation moving on the map, and in which the weather is reduced to nothing but its movements. We look at them in front of the TV, and we talk about the weather, which is a moving body, and a question arises in the conversation: what kind of relation can we sketch between the body, its local manifestations and its movements?
4) The Dog Days
By making a rather sad joke to remind us of its muscular migration politics, during the dog days last summer, and specifically the high-pressure area moving from Sahara towards Europe, current Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini took a picture of himself in the heat of his office and wrote on Instagram: “unfortunately, cannot do much against the African heat”. Talking about the weather here, is not only an implicit connection with fellow Italians: we share the same conditions and the same present. Weather is used here as a counterpart to remind and celebrate a no-way policy: no migrant – no African – will reach the Italian coast. Nothing from the African continent, but maybe the weather, has a hope of passing. Only the weather is that which cannot be stopped at the border and talking about the weather reminds us that all the rest will not. Salvini refers to the weather not only as that which cannot be controlled in its manifestation, but also that cannot be controlled in its movements.
And yet, the weather does not simply move. While moving from the Maghreb coast to Rome, the weather perceived by Matteo Salvini will not be the same as in Africa. A phenomenon does not stay the same, while moving through the extended body of the weather. We can imagine this body made of zones – the climatic zones – the same way we are made of parts of the body. The term suggests an inclination (clima), the tendency of an area towards certain atmospheric phenomena, depending on different factors. Traditionally there is a division into twelve zones: rainforest, monsoon, tropical savanna, humid subtropical, humid continental, oceanic climate, Mediterranean climate, desert, steppe, subarctic climate, tundra, and polar ice cap. The climatic zones do not define the local weather, but rather the statistics of local weather over long periods of time. The weather can travel from one zone to other, yet not in an immutable way. If the weather does not simply manifest itself locally, it also does not simply move. It travels from one part to the other of its body, continuously readapting itself and changing, like a dance movement that goes around the body readapting itself to its different parts. For this reason Morton was claiming that among the properties of the hyperobject there is the viscosity: “They are viscous, which means that they “stick” to beings that are involved with them” (p. 1). This is the fascination of the weather: it connects the world in one, preventing at the same time the possibility for its complete homogenization. In this sense the weather is a natural form of resistance to globalization.
The weather does not change in time (as a phenomenon that appears locally and that is proper to the territory in which it appears) nor does it travel in space (as a phenomenon that comes from elsewhere). It is a phenomenon whose shape evolves at any instant while moving, and whose identity is renewed at any instant in an osmotic relation with the world. The weather does not first travel, to then evolve according to the local context; it evolves while traveling and travels while mutating. For this reason we cannot talk – for the weather – about an integration in a context, because its traveling life is nothing but a continuous activity of reshaping through an osmotic relation with the context. It does not first arrive to then adapt itself to the context: it evolves through the context.
It rains. And while appearing, this rain neutralizes the dichotomy between local phenomena and phenomena ‘coming from elsewhere’; it rains, and this rain is neither local nor foreign. Talking about the weather might suggest – and maybe the moment is particularly important – a new political subject, who is never local, nor ‘coming from elsewhere’ (foreign, migrant). If the dog days – heat coming from the Sahara is local in Italy, we have to be able to think political subjects as always local, since – like the weather – we constantly evolve through the context. The weather might invite us here in what French jurist Mireille Delmas-Marty defines the nuages ordonnés, clouds that are opening a new zone of opacity and possibility in the pyramids of norms. A norm in which subjects do not first travel, to then evolve according to the local context, but rather they evolve anyway in osmotic relation with the context. This radical viscosity (‘I am continuously local’) neutralizes and surpasses all political uses of the concept of integration and assimilation.
There is a further point: each local manifestation of the weather is not only influenced by this intertwined story of movement and locality, but also forcibly by other local manifestations too. In this sense, in his essay Naturally, the weather: On Complexity, Philosophy, and World Systems Canadian thinker Peter Trnka reminds us that “always moving even when as still as still, [the weather is] one thing only because its many manifestations or events cannot be split off from each other and considered to perdure on their own” (p. 10). Talking about the weather might suggest – also to Salvini – the metaphor of the whole humanity as a hyperobject, whose local manifestations (the bodies) are viscous phenomena, whose modality of life is nothing but an unstoppable evolution, that renews at each instant the identity in an osmotic relation with the context, as with the other lives.
5) Talking About Us
While talking about the weather, a further question emerges: if the weather is viscous, does it stick to our bodies too? In talking about the weather, we often decline the conversation on the influence that the weather has on us. A range of sentences, referring both to physical (‘my bones are hurting today’) and psychological (I’ll get depressed if the weather goes on this way’) influences of the weather on our present situation. This side-branch of the conversation is often disregarded as over-dramatic or a self-referred desire of attention. Yet, we may also see it as the climax of the bond with the other, manifesting how what we are acknowledging having in common (this present weather we both share), is not indifferent to me, but on the contrary it touches me both intimately and concretely. This thing that I share with you is dear to me, since I am affected by it in a meteoropathic relation, a pathos, whose agent is the weather I share with you.
Nevertheless, this same relation of affection of the weather on the human beings has also to be seen from the other direction: the affection of the human beings on the weather. The weather continuously reshapes itself while moving and in relation to the context, but are we not part of this context that affects it and contributes to its constant evolution? If the weather is viscous and evolves through what it encounters in its path, each of us might be now standing in the path of the weather. Our simple presence – the amount of bodies in an area, their temperature, the transformation we operate through breathing – affects it deeply and continuously, while it affects our present. For this reason, while talking about the weather in his recent book La Vie des Plantes, Italian philosopher Emanuele Coccia writes that: “L’espace dans lequel nous vivons n’est pas un simple contenant auquel nous devrions nous adapter. Sa forme et son existence sont inséparable des formes de vie qu’il héberge et qu’il rend possible (p. 67)” [The space in which we live, is not a simple container to which we should adapt. Its form and existence are inseparable from the forms of life that it houses and makes possible]. We are inseparable from the weather, through a mutual viscosity that neutralizes the opposition between connection and alterity. If the weather has been often seen as the emblem of the sublime, as what stands in front of us and we can admire from afar, this frontality is here destroyed. We are in the body of the weather, inseparably dancing with it, in a dance in which our actions stick to it, while it sticks to us. The weather is also our actions (and this is clear in a global warming scenario); and even before that the weather is the result of our presence on it (as we are the result of the same relation). Going back to Neimanis, the weather might again be seen in a similar fashion to what she was proposing for the water: “Water is between bodies, but of bodies, before us and beyond us, yet also very presently, this body too. Deictic falter. Our comfortable categories of thought begin to erode”. Hence, talking about the weather with the other does not mean to talk about a third body we both share, but rather to talk about the three of us. For this reason while writing about weather conversation in another text of his entitled, Being Ecological, Timothy Morton challenges the perceived commonplace lightness in talking about the weather: “That’s the whole point of the ‘weather conversation’ you have with a stranger at a bus stop. You are able to find common ground in something that appears neutral, something that just functions and therefore creates a background for your interaction. But global warming takes that supposed neutrality away from us, like too-eager stage hands removing all the scenery while the play is still in progress” (p. 27). Talking about the weather means to talk about us. I stop the conversation, for the appearance of a question. But who is this us?
After referring to forms of life in the previously mentioned quote, Coccia immediately clarifies that inseparable in the weather are not simply the weather and the human being: “Plus qu’une partie du monde, l’atmosphère est un lieu métaphysique dans lequel tout dépend de tout le reste, la quintessence du monde compris comme espace où la vie de chacun est mêlée à la vie des autres (p. 67) […] Le climat n’est pas l’ensemble des gaz qui enveloppent le globe terrestre. Il est l’essence de la fluidité cosmique, le visage le plus profond de notre monde, celui qui le révèle comme l’infini mélange de toutes choses, présentes, passées et futures. Le climat est le nom et la structure métaphysique du mélange (p. 41)”. [More than a part of the world, the atmosphere is a metaphysical place in which everything depends on everything else, the quintessence of the world understood as space where the life of each form is mingled with the lives of others. Climate is not simply all the gases that envelop the Earth. It is the essence of a cosmic fluidity, the deepest face of our world, the one that reveals it as the infinite mixture of all things present, past and future. Climate is the name and the metaphysical structure of the interconnection].The weather connects the human to other forms and other scales of life. The weather is the place in which we challenge our self-sufficiency, we look at the non-existing borders of this bodily thing we call ‘mine’. The weather is not only the possibility of a connection, but the impossibility of an isolation: it touches us, as a space of reciprocal influence, in which we share the world with it and with non-human beings, and with those with which we do not talk about the weather. Or maybe being in the weather, and breathing (inside) the weather might be already seen as an act of talking with non-human beings about it. I breathe in and out and strengthen the interconnection with the world; I breathe and this movement that connects me to the atmosphere is the smalltalk in which we acknowledge our common ground; I breathe, and this breath – not dissimilar from the weather conversation at the bus stop – is the beginning of a sentence to remind ourselves and the other forms of life we are sharing the same present, which is a present of interdependence.
6) The Public Body
There is something peculiar in the interdependence that we encounter in the weather, and that produces the weather. If on the one hand it depends on us (bodies, plants, actions, animals, rocks…), on the other it is independent, autonomous, uncontrollable, rebellious. While being the object of predictions, the weather is seen as what preserves its unpredictability. The weather, which stands in front of us with its homophony to whether, expressing a doubt, an if the essence of talking about the weather, this desire to put some words on this feeling of being entangled without knowing. We are not simply talking about weather; nor are we simply in the weather while talking about it. We are the public body of the weather: a feeling that shifts from recognizing the unknowability in the other, to acknowledging an interdependent unknowability. For this reason, while analyzing the interdependence in Hydrofeminism, Astrida Neimanis was concluding by saying: “What sort of ethics and politics could I cultivate if I were to acknowledge that the unknowability of the other nonetheless courses through me – just as I do through her?” (p. 90). While talking about the weather, and we fill our mouths with its unknowability, it enters into us as we enter in it. It is a circulation of air, movements and uncertainties among the organs of the public body: atmosphere, plants and other forms of life, among which the human ones, among which the two of us chatting at the bus stop. While talking about the weather, we both aliment and remind ourselves of this vital circulation, as if our words were a fluid entering the body, to render visible its nerves and veins connecting its different parts. carrying in the world the impossibility of a control. Hence, the weather – among its qualities of resistance – is not simply an anonymous, unstoppable, irreproducible body, it is also uncontrollable and uncertain. In a time of growing control and risk-managing, the weather accompanies us in the possibility of a daily experience of uncertainty. This is the body of the weather. In his article From Multiculturalism to Multinaturalism, Bruno Latour quotes American philosopher and psychologist John Dewey in a way that might be crucial to conclude the definition of the body of the weather. “Dewey calls the private, which does not need to be individual or subjective but is simply made up of what is well known, predictable, routinized, fully internalized. In opposition to this, the public begins with what we cannot see or predict, with the unintended, unwanted, invisible consequences of our collective actions. Contrary to all the dreams of rational politics which have devastated Europe over the centuries, Dewey equates the public not with a superior knowledge of the authorities, but with blindness. The public is made when we are entangled without knowing” (p. 10). The weather is not simply a public space, as mentioned in the first chapter of this text, in which we talk. It is a public body in which we make experience of being entangled without knowing. This is perhaps the essence of talking about the weather, this desire to put some words on this feeling of being entangled without knowing. We are not simply talking about weather; nor are we simply in the weather while talking about it. We are the public body of the weather: a feeling that shifts from recognizing the unknowability in the other, to acknowledging an interdependent unknowability. For this reason, while analyzing the interdependence in Hydrofeminism, Astrida Neimanis was concluding by saying: “What sort of ethics and politics could I cultivate if I were to acknowledge that the unknowability of the other nonetheless courses through me – just as I do through her?” (p. 90). While talking about the weather, and we fill our mouths with its unknowability, it enters into us as we enter in it. It is a circulation of air, movements and uncertainties among the organs of the public body: atmosphere, plants and other forms of life, among which the human ones, among which the two of us chatting at the bus stop. While talking about the weather, we both aliment and remind ourselves of this vital circulation, as if our words were a fluid entering the body, to render visible its nerves and veins connecting its different parts.
In her conclusive chapter, Neimanis states: “We found ourselves entangled in intricate choreo- graphies of bodies and flows of all kind – not only human bodies, but also animal, vegetable, geophysical, meteorological, and technological ones; not only watery flows, but also flows of power, culture, politics, and economics” (p. 96). Neimanis uses the term intricate choreography, reminding us the water – and similarly we can say the weather – as a body circulating in and crossed by different movements of interdependence. The notion of choreography evoked by Neimanis brings this text back to the (dancing) body. Indeed, while talking about the weather so far, I often evoked it as a body and, even more, as a moving body. But if an exercise of interconnection always demands a relation in both directions, what does it mean to explore the metaphor in the other direction, hence not only to see the weather as a moving body, but the moving body through the weather? How can we bring the weather, and the different chapters of this text, to the scale of the body, in order to differently explore its status?
(First). Looking at the dancing body through the weather, one might see how the body does not happen, it simply is. What is happening are its local manifestations, such as the movements.
(Second). The dancing body might be impersonal. It dances; and while pronouncing this sentence, it is not known whether there is a distinction between the agent and the action. Does the body dance a dance, or is it the dance that dances a body? I’m referring here to the perspective of the movement as an element pre-existing its sensible appearance, and circulating between bodies (cfr. The Movement as Living Non-Body).
(Third). The movement might circulate between bodies, and on different parts of the body. However, each body is made up of zones, and the movement is affected by its morphology. Similarly to the weather, the movement is affected at each instant by clima of the body on which it appears, the morphology through which it travels. The movement does not appear ex nihilo on the body, nor does it travel unchanged from elsewhere: it recreates itself at each instant, through the body on which it appears. The movements of a dancing body undo the dichotomy between autochthony and migration.
(Fourth). The dancing body is the experience of two inseparable lives (the body, the movements) merged in an interdependent communication. We cannot isolate the movement, nor the body. It is the place of a perpetual interconnection. Furthermore, it is a public body hosting the inter- connection of different lives, well beyond simply the body and the movements. The body is affected by the weather in the space, the texture in which it moves, and through which we see the movements of the other; it is touched – both in the motility and in the vision – by the cold light of the dawn, or the foggy humidity of a summer night. It is touched by the atmosphere, and while dancing it moves the air and the atmosphere interacting with it.
(Fifth). The dancing body is not simply affected by the atmosphere, but it affects it, and by doing so it blurs the spatial limits of choreography: an expanded choreography, not intended here in a conceptual sense, but rather in a physical one. What are the spacial limits of the choreography? Is there a movement outside the body? What is part of it, and what is not? A porous dancing body, that loses the clear limit of a body; that challenges the perception of this body I call ‘mine’.
(Sixth). A last life land belongs to the space of the dancing body: the gaze of the spectator is there, on the public body of the dancer. At the core of the darkness of the stage, or in the middle of the atmosphere of an open air performance, the dancing body is place in which we gather, through our simultaneous gazes. We are all looking there, at a series of movements that move the atmosphere we are part of; at a fragment of body that connects us from afar. We are there together, inside a space in which we are entangled without knowing.
Text has been originally published in Thinking Alongside, edited by Ingri Midgard Fiksdal, an appendix to Ingri Midgard Fiksdal’s artistic PhD project Affective Choreographies (2013-2018). The project started within the framework of The Norwegian Artistic Research Program, and was in 2018 transferred to the new PhD program in artistic research at Oslo National Academy of the Arts. Artistic practice is at the core of this program. At the same time, the artistic practice is to be accompanied by an explicit reflection, which grants others access into methods and insights that emerge from the artistic research. The artistic PhD project Affective Choreographies resulted in the six performances HOODS (2014), Cosmic Body (2015), Shadows of Tomorrow (2016), STATE (2016), Diorama (2017) and Deep Field (2018) as well as the publication Affective Choreographies written by Fiksdal.
Astrida Neimanis, Hydrofeminism, Or on Becoming a Body of Water, in Undutiful Daughters, New Directions in Feminist Thought and Practices. Palgrave Macmillan 2012.
Bruno Latour, From Multiculturalism to Multinaturalism; What Rules of Method for the New Socio-Scientiﬁc Experiments. Nature and Culture, V. 6, Spring 2011.
Daniel Blanga Gubbay, The Movement as Living Non-Body, Movement Research Performance Journal #51, New York, 2018.
Emanuele Coccia, La Vie des Plantes, Une métaphysique du mélange. Rivages, Paris 2016.
Mireille Delmas-Marty, Le Pluralisme Ordonné, Chaire d’études juridiques comparatives et internationalisation du droit, Collège de France, 18 April 2005.
Peter Trnka, Naturally, the Weather: On Complexity, Philosophy, and World Systems. Public Journal 26: Nature, York (Canada) 2002.
Timothy Morton, An Introduction to Hyperobjects, in Quake in Being. 2015.
Timothy Morton, Being Ecological, MIT Press, Cambridge 2018.