Thursday, May 26, 2011

It's OK to talk about the weather

I've a piece in today's Canberra Times, 'Very witty Wilde, but what about this weather?'

We're often told that talking about the weather is a sign of dullness.  And it can be, along with clumsy truisms about death, love, sex and everything else.

But climate and weather can also be inspiring or intriguing. They can provide material for a creative mind, encourage social bonds or encourage diverse moods.  (They are now also explicitly political - something I did not mention, but recognise as important.)  A sample:
...the weather itself is no mute backdrop. It combines with moods, atmospheres, and deserves to be recognised. It cannot determine whole races, as scholars once believed. But it sets limits on what can be easily built, grown or staged. More interestingly, it touches the psyche: it suggests, implies, intimates. 
For example, in Kangaroo, D.H. Lawrence’s weary English protagonist saw Australia as a rejuvenating, almost child-like nation. While the bush frightened him, the sky was “pure, crystal pure and blue, of a lovely pale blue colour: the air was wonderful, new and unbreathed.” It suggested freedom from the old world’s stagnant civilisation.

Landing for the first time in London, Henry James was fascinated by London’s mist, fog and cloud – the “low, magnificent medium of the sky,” he wrote, “a shifting but irremovable canopy.” This was not just dreary ‘bad weather’. It was part of the capital’s mystery. 
In this way, weather mingles with psychology and society, and can guide the mind. This is not simply the chemical deficiencies of northern Europe’s seasonal affectivity disorder. It’s also about symbolism. It’s the Caspar David Friedrich romance of mist and mountains, or the relieved sigh after fat raindrops in a drought. It’s the crisp dryness of early summer heat after jogging, or the raw violation of late summer’s sun on concrete.


James said...

I find your observations on the inspirational creative use of weather in literature are apropos. While I was not surprised by your reference to the opening of Musil's great novel in your newspaper piece, I was intrigued with some of your examples. However, I had to look no further than the novel I am currently reading, English, August: An Indian Story by Upamanyu Chatterjee, to find yet another instance of how integral the weather is to the story. In his case Chatterjee incorporates the intense heat of the small town in the Indian countryside where the action takes place so effectively you can almost feel it as well as the protagonist.

Damon Young said...

Thanks, James. Yes, in some novels the climate is like another character - not simply echoing moods, but responding to the action as if it had a stake in things.