Snow

Today is the first day of snow in Toronto, for winter 2008. (It’s still 2007). I called Cate, and I think some others, to say “Welcome to Toronto”, in the sense that what Toronto really is is a blizzardy wasteland. Which is of course false (Toronto is also smog, 40 degree summers, and a lake you can’t swim in).

I love snow, but why? I mean, we all love snow. Except those who hate it, because they have to work in it, and through it, and it makes life more difficult for the same paycheck. The best situation is you learn to drink coffee (and watching the clock is worse than being a garbage man).

I’m a philosopher, so I should be able to come up with at least a convincingly complex and arduous answer to why we love the snow. Walking in it, I decided to start from the most immediate relation to snow – Danger. Snow makes the world harder for humans to live in – walking is an exercise in not falling down. If it weren’t for clothes and shelter, we’d all be dead before morning. But that doesn’t seem like a good reason to like snow, that sounds like the reason people hate it. People usually give an explanation that sounds like “I like snow because its picturesque, but as the winter drags on, I hate it, because I associate seeing it with the arduous labour it brings to daily life”. And that’s fine, it’s a perfectly coherent description of someone’s feelings towards the snow. But what is picturesque? We might also say “aesthetic” and by it mean the pleasant affectation of feeling by nature or art. Let’s bracket this notion, and move to a different one.

Take as a potential proposition: Snow is universal. I mean universal in the sense of a unity, it’s a concrete extantiation of monism: it coats the world in a layer of the same. It dulls particularity (all bikes look pretty much the same covered in snow), even in sound (particular noises are deadened by its absorption). As snow itself becomes heterogenous, as it hardens and breaks up, it loses its unity, and fails any longer to absorb particular sounds, but rather reflects them. Broken, hard, icy snow amplifies particularity. No one finds that snow romantic – that’s the snow of noisy rush hours. But even a noisy commute is made serene by a fast and deep snowfall.

Back to Danger – the more serene commute is a result not only of the quietude in terms of noise and sight (particularity is covered up in a sheet of one-ness along the side of the road, even on the road!), but also because the commute itself is Dangorous! You drive home, on the thin edge of traction, and slowly, aware of immanent disaster (sometimes witnessing it, or participating).

This brings me to my point – danger is not something apart from serenity, or from aesthetics. We value unity as eternity, and what is greater eternity than death? The death drive is the drive to universality, not to extermination.

So, Snow is beautiful, snow is dangerous, but these are not two separate qualities it has, but rather two manifestations of the way it extantiates universality in concreteness.

(I could have argued more clearly from the serenity of commuting in the storm to the universality of eternity and death, but it’s cold and I’ve got other things to do).

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