What follows is part of a larger enquiry into the material imagination of the air, as substance, domain, and resource. Air has two very opposite characteristics. First of all air is expanse, abundance, limitlessness, space. The air is the immaterial, edgeless, endlessly extensive frame or ground, that always-outside which gives us our interior condition and position. But the air is also weight, density, power. It is hard to overestimate the huge power of the air, which derives very largely from its thermal movements and circulations. From classical times, heat was identified with the active power of the air – to expand, contract, crush, buffet – and the movements of the air. And it is via the question of heat that we have established a new and fraught relationship with the atmosphere. I will suggest that one of the most important effects of our new relationship to the atmosphere is a change in our thermal awareness, which is to say a change in the meanings and powers of heat – as idea, instrument, metaphor. Most importantly, I will be saying, metaphor; it is in the nature of heat to move in and out of its material or actual condition, to fluctuate between fact and figure. By the end of what I will have said, it will have become plausible to see heat as having acquired a new literality, which disturbs the metaphorical uses we make of it.
What I try to make out here in part is a cultural phenomenology of heat. What form might such an analysis take? Martin Heidegger postulates that embodied existence is a matter of exposure to a number of givens, which are equiprimordial, given in and as the absolute beginning of things. For the embodied being, the only kind of being we currently have warrant to assume there is, there always are and always were time, space, extension, the horizon of death, as the fundamental, invariant conditions of existence. But Heidegger is better at evoking equiprimordiality itself than specifying its conditions. For among the things we are subject to as humans is fluctuation of temperature. There are no discussions of temperature that I know of in Heidegger. Indeed, as our language, and even more the French language, in which time and weather are signalled in the same word, temperature is the form in which time, temporality are enacted for us.
Early in the twentieth century, Mach proposed a ‘phenomenological physics’, in which the aim of defining a fundamental reality, as opposed to describing processes, is suspended. This is not quite what I have in mind by a cultural phenomenology of heat, though, as will be clear I want to mean something more than just a system of representations of heat, a cultural picturebook or calorie-chart. But the question raised, and in a sense necessarily also always deferred by considerations of heat is what it actually is. It seems that, as pure potential, or mode of motion, in John Tyndall’s phrase, it is in the nature of heat not to exist as esse. The more one knows of the workings of heat, in fact, the less likely it seems that it can be thought of as having an esse. Perhaps under those conditions one must content oneself with the epoche, or bracketing off of the question of what heat in itself is.
The thermodynamic revolution which had to wait until the middle of the nineteenth century to get under way both generalised the operations of heat in the material circumstances of life, and removed heat from the central symbolic and affective position it had had in cultural life for more than two millennia. Pre-Socratic philosophers disagreed among themselves regarding which of the elements was to be regarded as the Urstoff, or primary matter out of which everything else in the cosmos could be regarded as having been formed. Thales derived everything from water, and Heraclites would nominate fire as the primary element. Anaximenes proposed air as the prime matter and anticipated much of the physical philosophy of Aristotle and the Stoics in the process. We might today tend to think of air as that which is left when every other kind of matter is removed, rather than the primary form of all matter, but Anaximenes shared with other Greek thinkers a conception of the energetic nature and extreme changeability of the air which made it a prime candidate for the Urstoff. Most importantly, air was regarded as capable of condensation and rarefaction, and thus of transformation into other kinds of matter. It is the operations of heat and cold which produce these thickenings and thinnings. Thus, although all forms of matter are subject to the operations of heat, the air has a specially close relation to it. Because motion was regarded as of the essence of air, and heat is both the visible evidence and sometimes also the cause of this motion, heat and its mutations are as it were closer to the essence of air than to any other elements. If air is the becoming of everything, then heat is the expression of air’s becoming. One of the most developed accounts we have of Anaximenes’s view on the formative principle of air is in the Refutation of All Heresies of Hippolytus, a bishop of Rome writing in the late second or early third century, in which he attempted to assimilate contemporary heresies to the beliefs of the Greek philosophers:
Anaximenes … said that the principle is unlimited air, out of which come to be things that are coming to be, things that have come to be, and things that will be, and gods and divine things. The rest come to be out of the products of this. The form of air is the following: when it is most even, it is invisible, but it is revealed by the cold and the hot and the wet, and movement. It is always moving, for all the things that undergo change would not change unless it was moving. For when it becomes condensed and finer, it appears different. For when it is dissolved into what is finer, it comes to be fire, and on the other hand air comes to be winds when it is condensed. Cloud results from air through felting, And water when this happens to a greater degree. When condensed still more it becomes earth and when it reaches the absolutely densest stage it becomes stones (McKirihan 1994, 48-9).
In that it had the capacity turn any of the elements into any other, heat was a kind of quintessence, or fifth element. As such, it could be identified with fire (an intensified, attenuated form of air), or the higher air of ether, or pneuma. Heat, we can say, was an ‘informer’, in that it both en-formed, gave form to things, and evaporated that form, turning it into the ‘informe’ or formless.
Writing a century or so later, Aristotle displays an acute sense of the power generated by the circulations of hot and cold air. Gad Freudenthal has argued convincingly that thermon, or ‘vital heat’ is the organising principle of the whole of Aristotle’s physical philosophy. ‘Vital heat’ must be distinguished from ordinary heat. Vital heat is to be identified with pneuma, the spirit that runs through all things. Pneuma represents a confluence of air and heat. The heatings and coolings that occur in the region of the heart bring about expansions and contractions of the pneuma, which, transmitted to the rest of the body, which is suffused by pneuma, bring about kinetic movement (Aristotle 1978, 156). Aristotle saw the pneuma as particularly present in male semen, the foaminess of which derived from the airy principle which pervaded it. Somewhat like Newton, who, two thousand years later would speculate that the interstellar ether which transmits the light of the stars was also the active principle of transmission in the human body, Aristotle proposed that the generative power of the pneuma came from the fact that it was similar to the generative material of which the stars were made:
[T]he semen contains within itself that which causes it to be fertile ¾ what is known as ‘hot’ substance, which is not fire or any similar substance, but the pneuma that is enclosed within the semen, or foam-like stuff, and the natural substance which is in the pneuma; and this substance is analogous to the element which belongs to the stars. (Aristotle 1942, 2.3, 736b )
The insistence on the vital heat that is present in the thermal sperm points us to what at first sight seems an odd but powerful assumption through Aristotle’s work. Where empirical observation of the effects of heat might suggest that it leads to and is associated with diffusion, evaporation and the dissipation of form, Aristotle asserts repeatedly that heat informs matter, transmitting shape to it and preserving compound substances (like the human body) from decay and decomposition. Aristotle thought of heat as fixing, fusing or ‘setting’ such compound substances. Aristotle did not invariably associate vital heat with actual, phenomenal heat. As Gad Freudenthal has sown, he believed, for example, that oils and fats were preservative substances because they contained more vital heat than watery substances. This vital heat, which drew in and retained moisture, resisted the evaporating or desiccating effects of ordinary heat. Thus oils and fats do not give off vapour when heated, but fumes, in which the constitution of the original substance is maintained, though in attenuated fashion. The fume represents the power of vital heat to maintain the cohesion and composition of a substance, even as it is released into the air. (Freudenthal 1995)
Even more than this, vital heat, when conveyed through the blood, its principal emissary in the body, can be compared to the genetic function of the code or programme, as Freudenthal suggests:
the movements inhering in blood, semen, etc. embed the program for all the distinctive parts of the animal in question; specifically, by virtue of theses movements, the semen has an informational power allowing it to transmit to the offspring the ‘program’ inscribed in the sire’s blood. (Freudenthal 1995, 28)
For modern minds, schooled on the nineteenth century discoveries that heat is a mode of motion and is to be identified more with the melting than the consolidation of form, this identification of heat and form may seem very counter-intuitive. Perhaps it derives from the very different evaluation given to the air by Aristotle. Whereas for us, the air is diffusive, and leads to movement outwards, Aristotle inhabited a different kind of cosmos, in which the air was not ‘open air’, and did not suggest endless infinite motion away from a centre.
Well into the eighteenth century, heat was a governing principle of the microcosm of the human body as well as the cosmos. The humoral theories developed in the Hippocratic school, and transmitted to the medieval and early modern world in the systems of Galen, depended upon the interrelations of hot and cold, wet and dry. Theories of life, health and generation had at their heart the Aristotelian theory that all living beings had a certain allowance of vital heat, which needed to be preserved against dissipation. Classical and early modern conceptions of complexion and good temper certainly centred on a climatic conception of the soul, and the associations between melancholy (‘the vapours’) and bad air were more than merely analogical. Nevertheless, for us, such analogies may seem intelligible only as analogies. I will want later in this paper to consider the sense in which we can continue to maintain the separation between natural fact and cultural contrivance which allows us to conceive of heat as simply analogy, or pathetic fallacy.
The question of whether heat was a substance or a mode of action, an element, or some principle of combination that was more primary then the elements, was a fraught issue among Greek and Roman theorists. But the Aristotelian influence in particular left a long legacy in which the tendency was to see heat as a form, as the esse of posse.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, a series of revolutions, in physics, industrial production, and symbolic life seemed to have swept away this view of heat as a substance. Before asking, as I will, what the consequences of this change might be, it is legitimate to wonder why such a conception of heat as form might have survived for so long? Michel Serres suggests an answer in an extraordinary footnote to his chapter ‘Origin of Language’ in Hermès IV:
The homeotherm is a singular case of homeorrhesis. In a certain way, the poikilotherm [an organism with a variable body temperature, from Greek poikiloV, various] is better adapted to its environment. The homeotherm, more recent in evolutionary terms, is more fragile. Doubtless it is condemned to inhabit a niche regulated by relatively non-fluctuant temperature intervals. In fact, it creates such a niche wherever it can. Bees had already discovered this principle in the hive. So the homeotherm depends much more than other species on its milieu, on its own species, and on the Other, or Others. This is the case above all when its young are not completely provided with homeothermic equipment at birth, which is the case with human children. From this derives the need for communication. Communication is, in energetic or thermal terms, analogous to common language, in terms of signals and information. I imagine that one of the first forms of conduct, and one of the first signals, might both equate to this: keep me warm. Homeothermy induces tact and contact, erotic communication and language. It is a homeology. (Serres 1977, 264 n.1; my translation)
To this we must add an important extra factor, namely the relative exposure of human beings. Not only are our survival and well-being dependent upon the maintenance of considerable temperature differentials between our bodies and out environments, we seem singularly ill-provided with means to ensure this: human beings have hardly any hair or fur, and limited deposits of subcutaneous adipose fat to insulate us from the outside. While we have an extraordinary complex and responsive cooling apparatus of our own, in the form of the perspiration system elaborately built in to the skin, we rely upon supplements – architecture, love and communication – to maintain vital warmth. We can say even more. The fact that the homeotherm harbours and husbands warmth, that, like the earth, it is warmest at its core, means that the homeotherm has a conception of the duality of self and other as mediated through the relative positions of inside and outside. Perhaps the very conception of the soul, as the inner lining of the inside-outside couplet we all constitute as living beings, is an after-effect of this climate.
Nevertheless, there seems something reductive in such a claim, which seems to suggest that the whole of culture and history may be seen as immanent in the homeothermic condition of the human. That it should strike us this way is a sign of the reduced value of heat and the heat sense for us. Although thermoception is among the nine senses that are currently identified by psychologists and philosophers of sensation, its position in the hierarchy of the senses seems low. Thermal sensitivity may be primary, even elemental, but it also seems mute, bestial, continuous, but formless, uncreative. What happened to bring about this change in the cultural phenomenology of heat? The answer is thermodynamics.
There is no shortage of histories of the theory of heat, nearly all of them conducted in the mathematical terms that came to be dominant during the nineteenth century, and nearly all of them telling a story of long centuries of ignorance and fantasy, in which heat is thought of as a substance, which gives way during the thermodynamic revolutions of the nineteenth century, to an understanding of heat as energy. Heat becomes the key to the understanding of the conversion of forces that prevails today. Clearly, one might expect general understandings of heat to be strongly affected by these new discoveries, and their applications. But it is hard to trace the connections between the often complex theories of heat and what might be called the cultural dreamwork which mediated them.
Nor is there any shortage of discussions of the cultural impact of thermodynamics, and especially of the Second Law formulated by Clausius and Thomson, popularly known as the theory of entropy. It becomes possible to understand the thermodynamics of culture at the point at which information theory suggests that there is a strong analogy between the forms of order and disorder represented by molecules in motion and the order and disorder of other kinds of system. As heat-relations become symbolic relations, so symbolic relations can be seen as thermodynamic.
However, whatever the richness and fascination of this coupling of energy and order, something gets lost in it, namely the phenomenon of heat itself, or as we might better say, its specifically thermic action.
What is more, human beings are orientated by temperature. We are drawn and driven by ‘thermotaxis’, a term for the movement of a protoplasm under the influence of heat. Our movement is, of course, relative and tactical, thermotactical. To be human is to be a constant regulator of temperature: the aim of every human organism is to maintain itself at a constant temperature, not too hot, not too cold, as in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, that great thermodynamic fable. This need for thermal equilibrium perhaps gives us our instinct for conservation, our leaning towards permanence and constancy. Perhaps it is the solution of the great conundrum which Freud set himself in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, of a nirvana consisting at once of absolute reduction of tension and perfect balance of forces. We devise institutions and mechanisms that will maintain our steady temperatures at low rather than high energy cost.
But there is another, more important side to our elementary and advanced thermotactics. For we maintain our temperature by means of constant adjustments to fluctuations in our environment. If we aim at thermal equilibrium, we also crave and seek out thermal differentials. Equilibrium is always the minimisation of these differentials. Rather than being a state or a stasis, thermal well-being is a calculus of fluctuations. In fact, though we may believe, or think we do, in an ideal of steady temperature, our actions and passions suggest is that we seek the approach to the ideal equilibrium, which is to say a fluctuation within ideal limits. This is a more complex and various thing than mere constancy, since the distance between those limits will themselves vary under differing circumstances. What the ancients meant by ‘temper’ or ‘temperance’ was the avoidance of imbalance, through the judicious blending of qualities. In the emotional life of heat, it is the endlessly renewed journey and not the arrival which matters. No hearth is more voluptuous than that presented to the shivering traveller; no cold is more invigorating than the drench or plunge offered to the parched tongue or fervid skin.
The history of architecture affords convincing evidence of this. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, architects have been driven by the ideal of maintaining buildings at ideal and constant temperatures. Certain estimates indicate that, when asked to specify a temperature they find comfortable, most humans, whatever the climates they are used to, prefer a temperature of about 21°C. But the pursuit of temperature ignores a fundamental principle of thermoception. For this sense is singular in that it does not provide evidence of states but of actions. Thus, a slate floor will feel cooler underfoot than a wooden one, even though they are at precisely the same temperature. This is because one is sensing not only the temperature of the slate, but also its specific heat capacity and thermal conductivity. (In general, thermal conductivity matches electrical conductivity: thus metals are good for both. The notable exception to this is diamond, which has a very high thermal conductivity, but is a poor electrical conductor.) Newton’s law of cooling states that the rate of heat loss of a body is proportional to the difference in temperature between that body and its surroundings. This is not surprising, though an interesting anomaly has often been reported. From classical times through to the present day, the belief has persisted that hot things cool more quickly than cold ones. Aristotle reports in his Meteorologica that:
The fact that the water has previously been warmed contributes to its freezing quickly: for so it cools sooner. Hence many people, when they want to cool hot water quickly, begin by putting it in the sun. So the inhabitants of Pontus when they encamp on the ice to fish (they cut a hole in the ice and then fish) pour warm water round their reeds that it may freeze the quicker, for they use the ice like lead to fix the reeds. (Aristotle 1923, I.12, 348a-349b)
Bacon reproduces the judgement that ‘water slightly warm is more easily frozen than quite cold’, in his Novum Organum of 1620 (Bacon 1879, 8, 235, 337). Aristotle ascribed this to the principle of intensified recoil he called antiperistasis, defined as the increase in the intensity of a quality as a result of its proximity to a contrary quality. Experimental rather than anecdotal evidence was thin on the ground. In 1461, Giovanni Marliani claimed to have taken four ounces of boiling water and four ounces of nonheated water and put them outside on a cold day to cool, the result being that the boiling water froze first (Clagett 1967, 72, 79, 94). It was not until 1963 that a Tanzanian high school student called Erasto Mpemba, observing that boiled milk frozen without first being cooled made ice-cream faster than milk that had been cooled, confirmed the effect, and reported it in 1969 (Mpemba and Osborne 1969). Some complex explanations exist to explain the phenomenon, though none as yet seem conclusive.
The belief in the Aristotelian principle of anteperistasis belongs to a world convinced of the patterns of what Bacon called ‘consents or aversions’ among things (Bacon 1879, 8. ). This creates a chiasmus between homeothermic and poikilothermic creatures. The latter live a thermally various life in actuality, precisely because there is only ever temporary difference between them and their environments. Homeothermic creatures, for which the conservation of equilibrium is all-consuming, live in a condition of permanently readjusted difference. The creature that is all thermal variation has no knowledge of it; the creature that is dependent upon thermal equilibrium is subtly attuned to variation, his body’s thermal systems vigilantly attentive to every gust and eddy. Our adjustments to variations in surrounding temperatures are much more subtle and energetic than we imagine. When we are upright, the air-temperature at our heads is likely to be different from that at our feet. We react with a gasp to the anomalous patch of cold water we encounter in the swimming pool, but the differential may be less than a degree in heat.
So, despite its placid name, the homeotherm is never quite at home or at one with itself, since that self is never at one with the world, and since that self is a differential, at an oblique and intangible tangent to the temperature curve of the world. Thus, for the homeotherm, heat enters into representation; the overheated creature will develop an imaginary apprehension of the cool it craves, will learn to dream in heat. And this in its turn will make thermal awareness come to coincide with temporal awareness. Not only will the difference made by time be measurable by temperature variations, but the human projection of time will have a large thermal component. The impossible, atemporal dream of being just right, of full being in the present, would involve not just the maintenance of temperature at a given constant, but also the elimination of difference between the homeotherm and its environment, thereby abolishing the difference between constancy and fluctuation, the homeotherm and poikilotherm. Beckett seems to recognise this in his thermodynamic fable The Lost Ones, which presents us with a small tribe of naked beings enclosed within a cylinder which is subject to seemingly regular fluctuations in temperature. As with flies, the alternations of activity and repose among the inhabitants of the cylinder are tightly synchronised with the variations of temperature. Among the conditions necessary for life in the cylinder to come to an end is the minimisation of these fluctuations.
The history of heat theory is the story of a dematerialisation of heat. Perhaps, indeed, heat is the primal reification, the materialisation of a process or a relation. The earliest conception of heat is as a substance, or form of matter, diffused ubiquitously but unevenly through the cosmos. For thousands of years, human being misconceived fire, the distilled and visible form of heat, as an element rather than a process capable of transforming all the others. The eighteenth century gave this thermal matter the name ‘caloric’. It was not until the thermodynamics of Black, Clausius, Carnot and Joule that heat began to be understand as motion, as action, as event, rather than as matter. Paradoxically, this new idea of heat-energy was accompanied by and perhaps itself made possible the development of a vast range of energy-forms,, which is to say, ways of storing energy, ways of holding energy in reserve.
Where the classical and early modern world conceived of heat and cold as separable and opposite qualities, the enmities and agreements between which determined all life, the new sciences and practices of thermodynamics centred on a new principle, that of differential itself. The management of temperature takes over from the simple maintenance of heat. Heat came to be the name for what ran between things. Thermon gave way to thermology. Thermal differences were put to work, in motors, engines, and the human body. The ancient belief in the principle of anteperistasis is a kind of anticipation of the principle announced by Sadi Carnot in his 1824 paper, Reflexions sur la puissance motrice du feu et sur les machines propres a developper cette puissance:
Wherever there exists a difference of temperature, wherever it has been possible for the equilibrium of the caloric to be reestablished, it is possible also to have the production of impelling power. Steam is a means of realizing this power, but it is not the only one. All substances in nature can be employed for this purpose, all are susceptible of changes of volume, of successive contractions and dilatations, though the alternation of heat and cold. All are capable of overcoming in their changes of volume certain resistances, and of thus developing the impelling power. (Carnot 1890, 8)
The awareness of the power of large differentials finds a bodily correlative in the work of Erasmus Wilson, the most influential British dermatologist of the nineteenth century. Wilson was a passionate advocate of the virtues of vigorous perspiration, and proponent of the Turkish bath, whose nineteenth-century revival he did much to encourage. His Thermo-therapeia(1860) is a pamphlet extolling the virtues of the Turkish bath (employing dry heat at very high temperatures. The first of these had been built in 1856 by a Dr Richard Barter at his Hydropathic Establishment in Blarney, Co., following the recommendations of David Urquhart, who had reported his enthusiasm for the Turkish bath that he had seen in his travels in Germany. Urquhart was to set up the Hammam baths in Jermyn Street that feature in Great Expectations. Carnot’s principle of the power to be found in heat differentials is embodied in Wilson’s evocation of the healthy life of the smelter or glassblower at the beginning of his pamphlet:
If we inquire into the medical history of the men employed in the fiery occupations to which I have just referred, we shall find that they enjoy a state of health and longevity above the average of other men. Look upon them, and you perceive them to be strong, well built, muscular men, with that exact proportion of integument and muscle which denotes the nearest approach to the standard of manly beauty and health. The perspiration is streaming over the surface of their naked skin; they aliment the flowing tide, from time to time, with deep draughts of cold water or thin gruel; they frequently pursue their labours in open sheds exposed to a thorough draft of cold air; or, after enduring extreme heat for awhile, they emerge from the atmosphere of the furnace into the open air, naked as they were born, to cool their bodies in the refreshing breath of a north or an east wind. Our over-clothed and pampered skin creeps and shivers in sympathy with the seeming risk and danger of their exposure. But ask these men if they ever take cold, and they will tell you that they do not know the meaning of the word….What a race, marvellous for power and strength and endurance, might not Britons become, exclaimed Mr. Urquhart on a recent occasion, if this kind of training were universal; if the thermae were to become an institution of common life. (Wilson 1860, 4)
There is another sense in which the thermology of the nineteenth century brought about a dematerialisation. Since classical times, heat had been recognised as expansive. If the tendency of matter is to become less solid, to melt, and eventually to evaporate under the influence of heat, then the growing identification of bodies and engines would tend to dematerialise those bodies, to turn form into process, and solid into gas. Thus Erasmus Wilson’s recommendation for use of the heat bath bring about an increasing liquidisation of the body, in the streams of perspiration which flow from the skin and, even more than this the ‘ventilation of the skin’. Heat will turn the entire body into a kind of lung:
The first physiological effect of the thermae is, therefore, to perfect the respiratory or eliminant function of the skin; to give us in fact an organic skin instead of the mere, threadbare, dirty, unwholesome, and almost useless garment of the body that goes by that name. The second physiological effect is to make the skin more apt for the performance of a highly important function, the imbibition of oxygen, a function that renders the skin a breathing organ. (Wilson 1860, 36, 17)
Just as heat things gases, so the body too will be evacuated, etherealised:
The perspiration of the thermae is a tonic emunctory process of the skin, acting under and supported and kept up by the stimulus of heat. The body feels lighter after these sweatings, as though it had lost something which oppressed it; which is the fact. It represents those other processes of the animal economy, under the influence of which, effete and often irritant matter is conveyed out of the system. (Wilson 1860, 18)
Robin Rimbaud, a sound artist, composer and laptop performer, wrote recently on his website of the unnerving experience of having his laptop burst into flames when he was performing in New Zealand. Of course the problem of heat build-up is an acute one in computers, which explains why CPUs have for so long been so big. It is a great surprise, once one has had the temerity to open the black box of one’s desk-top computer to find that, far from bulging with circuitry, it is in fact largely empty. A computer’s central processing unit is a box of populated air. Conspicuous heating processes used to be part of audiovisual technology, suggesting a false continuity with the kinetic technologies of a previous era, furnaces, mills and locomotives. I remember our family radiogram having to be turned on some ten or fifteen minutes before a broadcast was scheduled or a record played, in order that its valves could warm up. There is a particular sensory hybrid, of warmth, expectant hum, and slightly caramelised odour, that is associated for me with the memory of that not-yet but also somehow already-then antique apparatus.
Now, of course, we seem to feel that we have moved out of the grossly thermodynamic epoch of our recent ancestors. Their worlds, their engines, their buildings, even their clothes, seem to speak of a world in which heat is life, love, work and value, and cold is the great depleting, demoralising enemy, the outside, the inhuman, ‘the elements’. Especially their clothes. We should be more amazed than we are at the sheer weight and abundance of clothing human beings felt they needed to wear from the late medieval period onwards. Perhaps there is less contradiction than we might think between the proponents of exposure to extreme fluctuations and this extreme insulation of this mode of dress: in both cases, health involves the maintenance of a large temperature gradient and work-potential.
If it is true that human beings need to operate at expensively high temperatures relative to their surroundings, it is also a remarkable fact that we inhabit a zone pretty close to the absolute floor of the cosmic temperature gradient. Where the temperature at the centre of the sun reaches around 15,000,000 degrees Centigrade, human beings are restricted to a narrow temperature belt of about 50 degrees, which is itself only 2 or 3 hundred degrees away from absolute zero, defined as the point at which there is molecular activity at all. Although certain bacteria can survive very high temperatures (in the superheated water around undersea volcanoes, for example), it appears that life requires cool or cold conditions. Human beings and most other terrestrial creatures are not able to tolerate temperatures much higher than their own, but can subsist happily in temperatures more than forty degrees below blood-heat. Most cultures have seen fire and heat as the crucibles and incubators of life, but it would seem to be more accurate to consider. Our sun, like every other star, will expire in a conflagration that will scorch this planet to a lifeless clod of clinker. The Stoics were wrong: it is not fire that is the principle of life, but rather the process of cooling, and the resulting condensation, which is indispensable. The gathering or concentration of matter that seems to us to form a bulwark against the dissipation of form into energy is in fact a byproduct of cooling, a congelation.
The era of information that seems to have supervened upon the thermodynamic era seems itself to have brought about a cooling. Refrigeration is itself a modern discovery and preoccupation, like air conditioning. Francis Bacon observes that man’s powers of cooling are much less well-developed than his powers of creating and sustaining heat:
[H]erein man's power is clearly lame on one side. For we have the heat of fire which is infinitely more potent and intense than the heat of the sun as it reaches us, or the warmth of animals. But we have no cold save such as is to be got in wintertime, or in caverns, or by application of snow and ice… all things with us tend to rarefaction, and desiccation, and consumption; nothing hardly to condensation and inteneration except by mixtures and methods that may be called spurious. Instances of cold therefore should be collected with all diligence. (Bacon 1879, 8. )
Bacon recommended the collecting of natural means of effecting condensation (condensation itself being a mode of collection). Interestingly, he suggested that various medicinal substances might have condensing effects that would be equivalent to the effects of cooling. Violets, rose-leaves and lettuce ‘by their kindly and gently cooling fumes invite the spirits to unite and quiet their eager and restless motion’. Other, more powerful substances such as opiates seem literally to pull dispersed spirits together
if taken internally, their fumes, ascending to the head, disperse in all directions the spirits contained in the ventricles of the brain; and these spirits thus withdrawing themselves, and unable to escape into any other part, are by consequence brought together and condensed, and sometimes are utterly choked and extinguished; though on the other hand these same opiates taken in moderation do by a secondary accident (namely, the condensation which succeeds the coming together) comfort the spirits and render them more robust, and check their useless and inflammatory motions; whereby they contribute no little to the cure of diseases and prolongation of life. (Bacon 1879, 8. )
Various methods have been employed at various times to create and maintain cold. Hot countries with mountainous terrain developed ways of transporting ice and snow from the heights to the torrid flatlands. Ice houses became a common sight in country houses from the eighteenth-century onwards. Chemical and mechanical methods of cooling were relied upon until the beginning of the nineteenth century
Urbanisation and empire required technologies for producing cold urgently. The concentration of populations in towns meant that food needed to travel much further and be preserved for longer than before. The fear that agricultural production would not be able to keep pace with the increasing demands of the concentrated urban populations encouraged a turn to overseas production in Australia, New Zealand and South America. Thomas Sutcliffe built the world’s first freezing works in 1861 and developed plans for shipping frozen meat from Australia to Britain. Thus the first industrial refrigeration apparatuses were installed not in abattoirs or butchers shops, but in ships, which explains the concentration of refrigeration industries in centres of shipbuilding, like Glasgow. The Glasgow meat importers H. and J. Bell, developed a cold-air machine for use on ships and set up the Bell-Coleman Mechanical Refrigeration Company to manufacture it. Their first voyage from New Zealand took place November 1879 to February 1880. These new refrigeration technologies were made possible by the explication of the Joule-Thomson effect in 1853, which showed that the expansion of a gas in a vacuum produced a fall in temperature. Deprived of any other source of energy to fund the expansion, the gas took it from the heat of the air. All that was required for a refrigerator was for Paul Gifford to develop a process whereby air was first compressed, and then allowed to expand in a sealed chamber. The communications between the means used to produce artificial cold and the conditions of concentration (the hungry new urban centres) and extension (the antipodean voyages of the meat-ships) which requisitioned them are striking. (The dangerous irony is that keeping cool requires much larger expenditures of energy than keeping warm. The greatest irony of is that a major contribution to global warming should have come from fluorocarbons released by old refrigerators.)
All temperature differentials involve the creation of value and the possibility of work. Not only that, they involve the syncopation of time. Artificial heating and cooling make good the possibility of a human temporality separate from the tempest raging outside the door. Safe inside, one may be warmed not only by the hearth, but by the winter’s tale brewed by it. But where heat creates spaces apart, or divides space, cooling can also neutralise space. We think naturally of heat as equivalent to speed, but it is cooling that is really fastest, for cooling stops time. Either one must transport the goods as fast as possible, to outpace the work of decomposition, or one must slow that work of decomposition, to the point where it is equivalent to maximal speed. It is a new law of equivalences, which correlates the lowering of temperature with the defeat of space and the achievement of maximal speed. Either consume space in speed, or suspend time with cold. In either case, there is a derangement.
There is thus a link between cooling and information. The communication technologies that were developed in the later nineteenth century were apprehended as part of a process of global warming; electricity allowed the warm, living body to transmit itself in facsimiles that seemed to preserve the expansive body, its heat, moisture, even its odour. The telephone seemed to many to be the warmest and moistest of all. The transatlantic cable transmitted this warmth in a narrow insulated filament along the freezing dark ocean floor. A whole new thermo-phenomenology developed to apprehend this world of simulated temperatures: the warmth of certain phonographic and auditory media, the cyclical cults of hot licks and cool customers. To be sure, kinesis survives, but much of the world of information operates at very small low energy levels, amplified by imagination and identification. Amplification and playback are the equivalent of defrosting.
Homeothermy requires sociality, in order to help maintain islands of heat. Our cities have become heat-traps. Our forms of transport depend more and more upon being closed systems, like the insulated tube of the aeroplane on which I write this sentence, in which a thin skin of aluminium is all that keep out the 200 mph winds and the -40° temperatures. This results both in the toothachey chill of the sealed town of Houston in high summer, and the indoor beaches of the Edmonton mall in Canada.
But our physical microclimates are being taken over by and transformed into information microclimates. It is less important for me to bring warm clothes on a transatlantic journey – even to Pitttsburgh – than it is for me to bring my laptop, my memory stick, my USB converter and my electrical adaptors, and a CD containing a file with all my passwords in it. I move in a bubble of information which is just as important for keeping me apart from the weather as my gloves and galoshes.
The thermodynamic phase made heat central to everything. As the thermodynamic has passed into the informational phase (the word ‘phase’ allowing a useful folding-over of temporal and the states of matter), heat has actually become more marginal. Rather than being a vital reservoir or resource to be carefully conserved, heat has become a byproduct, an exhaust or effluent, dangerous and toxic waste. Bataille’s principle of improvident expenditure, the spilling solar splendour that lies at the origin of everything in our world, has indeed become the ‘part maudit’, the accursed portion, the demonic residue that, once fed back into the system, will cause mayhem. All hell is on the point of breaking loose (though we should remember that hell is not a place of intemperate heat for everyone: for the Mediterranean temperament of Dante, hell could be nothing other than a place of bitter cold.
So we can say that the building of a world run on and driven by heat (we have entered the epoch of energy wars, disguised as wars to protect civilisation) has progressively removed heat from human awareness. Erasmus Wilson’s attempts to harness the powers of heat-differentials for the human body can be seen as the effort to keep the mathematical and the physiological apprehensions of heat together, in the same unity that they had had for Aristotle and the medieval world. By the end of the nineteenth century, thermodynamics, transformed by the statistical analyses of gases undertaken by Maxwell and Boltzmann, thermodynamics would have begun to be both less thermal and less dynamic. What would come to matter most was differential itself, as the qualia of the differentials evaporated. Hence the conundrum of Maxwell’s demon who, in principle at least, could generate energy, not from the harnessing or manipulation of heat, but from a simple act of accountancy, separating out fast-moving molecules from slow-moving ones.
Michel Serres has proposed that we can think of the history of physics, and the metaphysics it programmes, in terms of the domination of three phases of matter. There is the classical physics of Aristotle, Newton and Laplace, dominated by the idea of forms, and expressed in terms of geometrical lines and solids. This is succeeded by the thermodynamic epoch, in which the dominant idea is that of transformation, and the dominating concern liquid forms of matter. Finally, after form, and transformation, comes information, which is characterised and emblematised by an airy or gaseous condition of matter. These three phases might mark three epochs of heat-theory. There is the heat-form of Aristotle’s thermon, succeeded by the heat-exchanges of nineteenth-century thermodynamics, succeeded by the move to information, ands the dissipation of heat.
Serres’s most famous and striking parable of the passage from solidity to thermodynamics is to be found in his essay ‘Turner Translates Carnot’. The essay charts a parallel between the painting of George Garrard and J.M.W. Turner on the one hand and the mechanics of Lagrange to the thermodynamics of Carnot on the other. This is represented by a change of matter, or change of phase of matter. Fire, as active air, becomes Turner’s element:
the primary elements are thunderstruck: fire replaces air and water in order to transform the earth. Fire, that will consume both Analytical Mechanics and Samuel Whitbread’s warehouse; that will destroy the wooden shed, the wooden ship. Fire that will see off the horses, strike them down. The source, the origin of force, is in this flash of lightning, this combustion. Its energy exceeds form, transforms. Geometry disintegrates, lines are erased; matter in flames explodes; the painting that was once soft, gentle and golden is now streaked with glaring colours. The horses, now dead, pass over the ship’s bridge in a cloud of horsepower. The brig-schooner is in dry dock, disarmed: the new ship, which wins the big prize, is called Durande. Here’s Turner. (Serres 1974, 235; my translation)
The new thermodynamic ordinance allows Turner to burst through the theatre of representation into the turbulent condition of matter itself. In contrast to the intense theatricality of Joseph Wright’s The Forge of 1772, there is the foundry of the whole of Turner’s late manner, which consumes the whole painting and sets it to work:
There is no more representation in Turner’s foundry. The painting is a furnace, the furnace itself. A black disordered mass centred on the burning hearths. From geometry to matter, or from representation to work. To make a bad joke: out of the stage into the furnace. In returning to the sources of matter, the painter has broken the grip in which copying and the fine arts hold each other. No more discourse, no more scenery, no more sculptures with cold edges: the object, directly, without theoretical detours. Yes, we enter into incandescence, randomly. (Serres 1974, 241)
It would be very easy to mistake Serres’s purpose and import here – all the more so since, as we will see before too long, since Serres himself does. For we must wonder what the clouds and furnaces are into which Turner flings himself like a Dantean soul. Are they elemental nature, the crucible of the cataract and the eruption? Or are they not in fact metaphors? Is that cloud of horsepower a real or a figural cloud? We should remember that the furnace is rather more an artefact of physics and industrial production as a natural fact, rather like Boyle’s vacuum, or a particle accelerator. The furnace is an unnatural thing devised to let, or make nature be. Much of the turbulence of Serres’s writing comes from the uncertainty as to whether Turner’s painting is to be counted as natura naturans (and therefore perhaps in a sense not painting at all, but a sort of pyrography) or natura naturata, nature natured, nature given its nature by human history.
Following the cybernetic revolution inaugurated by Wiener and Shannon from the late 1940s onwards, it has become a commonplace to treat thermodynamics and information theory as equivalents. Serres suggests that this begins earlier, with Freud’s Project for a Scientific Psychology:
In this way, more generally, categories or ordinary functions of psychoanalysis could be rewritten as a function of the new organon which has this advantage of being at once a physics of energy and a theory of signals. Formerly, when a given system was analyzed it was customary - and justifiable - to derive for it two distinct accounts: the energy account and the information account. For a computer, for example, this would be the bits on punched cards or similar, and the energy necessary to heat the filaments. There was no proportional relation between the two; they were not even on the same scale. They were separated by an enormous coefficient. (10-16). The same thing does not hold for the organism: its extreme complexity, the great number and miniaturization of their elements bring these two accounts closer and make them comparable. Thus the difference between a machine and a living organism is that, for the former, the information account is negligible with respect to the energy account, whereas, for the latter, it is on the same scale. Hereafter, the theoretical reconciliation between information theory and thermodynamics favours and urges the practical reconciliation between those forms of knowledge which exploited signs and those which exploited energy displacements: this was Freud's first dream. (Serres 1977, 269; my translation)
In fact, though, psychoanalysis after Freud has never sought to bring together the physics of physical systems and the figural physics of psychic systems. There is an ancient vein of cultural analysis which is more inclined to see correlations between thermal conditions and human capacities. John Ruskin remarks casually in his Queen of the Air that ‘Northern hands and eyes are, of course, never so subtle as Southern; and in very cold countries, artistic execution is palsied’. (sect 147) But such attempts to bring together the thermal and the cultural will strike most as gross and grotesque.
In a lecture given in 1996, Serres revisited, in a cooler mood, his extraordinary, incandescent evocation of Turner. Rather surprisingly, he views his earlier evocations of the return to primary, disorderly matter in the Turner-furnace, as an episode in the history of natural and social sciences. His new perspective is brought about not through the unmediated inflammation of heat, but by a ‘new library inside a refrigerator’, the bookish witness of cold, which has ‘laid waste to my old intuition’.
Fallen every year in these zones close to the North Pole, snow forms strata that eventually harden into layers of ice covered by the snowfall of each succeeding year. Little by little an ensemble of horizontal pages forms, which is then vertically cut by the drilled core samples. The elements suspended in the air are captured by the snow, season after season, and are set down with the snow and stay there, preserved by pressure and cold. Chemical analysis of these elements, prisoners from that moment on in each of these successive strata, restores the state of the atmosphere in the very year of each snowfall; it makes legible, as in an open book, flipped page by page, the diverse climatic moments of eras whose dates and memory we had often lost. (Serres 1997, )
What this record shows is that during the very years when Turner was painting his ‘sooty and pyrotechnical canvases’, the Tambora volcano in Indonesia erupted, sending clouds of burning ash into the upper atmosphere, which gradually fell to earth in all parts of the globe, including Greenland and Britain. During years that Turner was painting his most distinctive work, ‘England — among other neighboring countries — under a cloud of volcanic ash spewed up from Indonesia, was regaled with lacquered shadows at noon, with winy dawns and carnelian dusks’.
This raises a question for Serres. Is Turner to be accounted for in terms of the history of scientific ideas and the social and industrial practices built on them? Or in terms of the literal eruption of nature into history?
Were the air, the light, and the sky of London direct manifestations of telluric powers, or were they indirect manifestations of relations of force remodeled by fire- driven machines and the factory proletariat? Since the immediate moves more quickly than the mediated, geophysics seems more powerful than economic history, Tambora more powerful than Marxist analysis. Was I mistaken? I am ready to admit it. (Serres 1997, )
But a strange chiasmus occurs. Turner’s canvases are now described, not as the bursting through of scenography, but as the replication of the ‘sieve of ashen fog that dropped like a veil between things as they usually are and his strange canvases’. Where Turner previously was said to have painted himself into the turbulent middle of the furnace, dissolving the face-on frame which had formerly made the weather available only as picture, now nature itself bursts into the theatre of human affairs, but in the form of an ashy veil, that drops down the middle of the world. Nature rends the veil of things, but only by appearing as a veil. The immediate comes not mediated, but in the form of a mediation: the obscene or off-stage comes into view as a veiling of vision.
Where a certain number of historians, working mostly at the fringes of their discipline, have sometimes taken account of the social impact of fluctuations in the weather, their work has been limited to the effect of large-scale and exceptional changes. For the most part, the study of history, and the historical study of any subject, art, literature, politics, culture, has seemed not only to have no need and no place for the weather, but even to have evolved in such a way to make such considerations seem trivial, ridiculous or self-evident. History, because it is the history of human affairs, from which the weather has been subtracted, or which take place indifferently whatever the weather, takes place just as much in camera as physics. It is not that storms, droughts, floods and blizzards do not impinge upon human history: it is that they feature as the absolutely arbitrary, breaking in with the force of a revelation, but none of its significance. The weather is what time, history, culture emerge from or stand out against.
Serres outlines in his revision of Turner a torsion in his own thought which corresponds to the fundamental event he evokes at the beginning of The Natural Contract, namely the entry, for the first time of nature into history and history into nature. With global warming, the weather not only has a mediated impact on social and historical affairs, it enters into those affairs. Similarly, social and cultural life are not merely disclosed against the background of the invariably variable weather, they have the capacity to effect permanent and decisive changes in that background.
Serres is anticipated in this by another admirer of Turner and keen observer of meteorological phenomena, John Ruskin. Ruskin begins his extraordinary The Storm Cloud of the Nineteenth Century, first given as a lecture on February 4, 1884 at the London Institution, with the protest that he has no mythical or metaphorical design in mind in his evocation of a certain kind of cloud-formation:
I might, indeed, have meant, and it would have been only too like me to mean, any number of things by such a title – but tonight I mean simply what I have said, and propose to bring to your notice a series of cloud-phenomena, which, so far as I can weigh existing evidence, are peculiar to our own times; yet which have not hitherto received any special notice or description from meteorologists.
The cloud in question is accompanied by what Ruskin describes variously as a ‘strange, bitter, blighting wind’, or a ‘plague-wind’. It is a ‘gray cloud – not rain-cloud, but a dry black veil which no ray of sunshine can pierce; partly diffused in mist, feeble mist, enough to make distant objects unintelligible, yet without any substance, or wreathing, or color of its own.’ The diary entry from July 1 1871 he quotes describes it as ‘a gradually rising wind, of which the tremulous action scarcely permits the direction to be defined, but which falls and returns in fits of varying force like those which precede a thunderstorm – never wholly ceasing.’ The wind is characterised by its uneasy fluctuation, neither attaining steadiness, nor ever leaving off. It is ‘[n]ot only tremulous at every moment, it is also intermittent with a rapidity quite unexampled in former weather’. Despite his expressed determination to say just what he means, to see this fluctuant cloud steadily and see it whole, Ruskin cannot avoid recourse to metaphor:
It looks partly as if it were made of poisonous smoke; very possibly it may be: there are at least two hundred furnace chimneys in a square of two miles on every side of me. But mere smoke would not blow to and fro in that wild way. It looks more to me as if it were made of dead men's souls-such of them as are not gone yet where they have to go, and may be flitting hither and thither, doubting, themselves, of the fittest place for them.
The extraordinary thing about this wind is not just the pathetic fallacy that it irresistibly provokes, but Ruskin’s claim that it is that definitionally impossible thing, historical weather. Where every other form of weather is immemorial, of all times and no time, this cloud has a date, at which it can be said to have entered history. Ruskin says that he has reviewed what he calls ‘the traditions of air from the year before Scott's death’, which enables him ‘by my own constant and close observation, to certify you that in the forty following years (1831 to 1871 approximately - for the phenomena in question came on gradually) -no such clouds as these are, and are now often for months without intermission, were ever seen in the skies of England, France or Italy.’ He even gives the date of its appearance: ‘I first noticed the definite. character of this wind, and of the clouds it brings with it, in the year 1871, describing it then in the July number of Fors Clavigera’. It will, he says, come to characterise this portion of the nineteenth century:
This wind is the plague-wind of the eighth decade of years in the nineteenth century; a period which will assuredly be recognized in future meteorological history as one of phenomena hitherto unrecorded in the courses of nature, and characterized preeminently by the almost, ceaseless action of this calamitous wind.
The wind and its resulting cloud are like nothing ever seen or painted by Turner: where Turner’s atmospheres are alive with variety, this cloud-wind is characterised by its mean indifference, which seems to dissolve not just variety of form and colour, but also the temporal differences of interval and alternation:
In healthy weather, the sun is hidden behind a cloud, as it is behind a tree; and, when the cloud is past, it comes out again, as bright as before. But in plague-wind, the sun is choked out of the whole heaven, all day long, by a cloud which may be a thousand miles square and five miles deep.
Though Ruskin has begun by insisting on the literalness of the wind, he ends by suggesting strongly that it is providential, a kind of embodiment or emanation of the active malignity of the world. Metaphor and literal reality swirl together: ‘the Empire of England, on which formerly the sun never set, has become one on which he never rises.’ Ruskin acknowledges that he seems to speak as if ‘there were no more any natural weather’.
Ruskin even seems to associate his own writing with the formation of the cloud. ‘While I have been writing these sentences, the white clouds above specified have increased to twice the size they had when I began to write; and in about two hours from this time- say by eleven o'clock, if the wind continue,-the whole sky will be dark with them, as it was yesterday, and has been through prolonged periods during the last five years.’ He teases his readers with the prospect of giving them a prospect of cloud on the page ‘I should have liked to have blotted down for you a bit of plague-cloud to put beside this; but Heaven knows, you can see enough of it nowadays without any trouble of mine’. The more Ruskin insists on the literal actuality of the cloud, the more it seems as though he is seeing through the veil of his horror at the dismal indistinction of modern life.
Aristotle assumed that there was an absolute continuity between physics, physiology, psychology and theology, for, running through them all from bottom to top, and determining their relations, was heat (heat was the very reason that the universe had a top-down topography in the first place, the very reason that, in going from the earth to the stars, one moved up in the scale, as heat does). Thermodynamics first generalised heat, subordinating the world to the production of heat-differentials, and then dissipated heat by generalising it in its turn into energy, and then information. Somewhere in this process, metaphor arrived, to replace the inferno. I play music on the media player of my laptop, to the accompaniment of an animated aurora borealis which is a picture-show of the hot sound that once needed the kinesis of musicians and performance.
But, just when it seemed that metaphor had displaced the actuality of heat, heat, raw, literal, kinetic heat, has returned, and begun to pervade everything. Kinesis is back, as vulgar and amorphous and powerful as you like, in the form of hurricanes, and heatwaves and snowstorms that we can no longer be sure are one of our doing. To be sure, there is no return possible to the simple, reductive unity of the thermal plenum in which everything from top to bottom simply was an epiphenomenon of heat. For our heat is much more complex, more various, displaced, fluctuant, chaotic.
Heat has always been a mediator, between esse and posse, microcosm and macrocosm, the ineluctable, but formless and senseless fluctuations of weather (le temps) and the irreversible entropic drift of things (that cosmic cooling or stirring of the soup that is the only objective measure of the passage of time in the universe) that constitutes time (la temps). The prospect of irreversible climate change compels us to take heat seriously again, and to try as Aristotle did, to conceive of a fundamental encompassing process, to compile a single thermo-temporal budget, which would account for life and matter at all scales and on all levels. But our plenum has become so much more complex, convoluted and multiply-mediated than Aristotle’s was: it is a turbulent, chaotic unity, which is not to be described simply in terms of form and force, energy and information, metaphor and actuality, since it is itself the self-fuelling engine that produces these things. We are probably far from having the mathematics and whatever else we would need) to do the enormous calculation that we would need to do in order to know enough to reestablish what we probably mistook as equilibrium between nature and history, but was maybe in fact the eye or lea of the storm.
Serres’s throwaway remarks about the homeotherm suggest that all human culture boils down, or possibly up, to the injunction ‘Keep me warm’. In fact, we have seen that different conditions have generated different thermal injunctions at different times. Perhaps ‘keep me warm’ really belongs to the period of the first large-scale human settlements, when one could no longer follow the sun or travel with the weather. For the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures of two thousand years ago, who have exerted such an influence on the world, what mattered was the principle of ‘temper’, the balancing of hot and cold. But one imagines that few civilisations before the twentieth century, except in the most torrid regions of the world, would have organised themselves, as we must, around the necessity of keeping their cool.
However, the fate of the homeotherm is always to build a space apart (poikilotherms having no need of building are largely an-architectural). Architecture and its equivalent and consequence, symbolism, mark the necessity of that apartness. It is only this sequestering, this storing-up of heat or cold) that can hold the ceaseless storm of fluctuation at bay long enough for history, or the idea of history, to establish itself. Only the suspension of meteorological time allows the emergence of historical time.
What changes when nature enters history, and history enters nature? Does the homeotherm become the poikilotherm? Or does the determination to read the history of human culture or cultures as a closed system, as proceedings held in camera, itself get transformed? We cannot be sure of being able to maintain or reconstruct a truce or equilibrium between what we used once to know as nature and culture, since anyway equilibrium is such a distinctly homeothermic preference. We may entertain not only the prospect of allowing the weather in to history, as an extra column in the balance sheet (the odd drought, downpour, or eruption, the decline of sunspots known as the Maunder Minimum leading to the invention of Merry Christmas in Northern Europe, that sort of thing), but the much more open-ended provocation to find a way to think culture, history and heat together: to read culture, not just as an historical form, but also as a meteorological one.
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