Saturday, 12 September 2009

The magical power of rain

It’s an Indian summer outside and, professional contrarion that I am, I thought I would write a post about rain. Ever since Tacitus called Britain the land of continual rain, the wet stuff has formed part of our national imagination. There was something phlegmatic about this association of rain and the British: it was the small price we paid for our temperate climate, which was used to explain everything from our placid national character to our moderate political system. The great philosopher of rain, however, was the German critic Walter Benjamin. In one of the many gnomic statements of the Convolutes, Benjamin suggests that a characteristic feature of modernity is the ‘diminishing magical power of the rain’. The great promise of the arcades, the nineteenth-century Parisian version of a shopping mall, was that they would allow humankind at last to escape from the tyranny of the rain. Benjamin even unearths an obscure late-nineteenth-century text by Léo Claretie which imagines a Paris of the future entirely enclosed within a ‘crystal canopy’ to protect it from the rain. But this quote about a rainy day in the city hints at the overlooked utopian possibilities of rain: ‘Rain makes everything more hidden, makes days not only grey but uniform. From morning until evening, one can do the same thing – play chess, read, engage in argument – whereas sunshine, by contrast, shades the hours and discountenances the dreamer.’

What blissful hours I spent as a child examining raindrops! Now life seems too short to waste time looking at the rain.

Mundane quote for the day: ‘And why should I not choose that raindrop sliding down the windowpane? I could write a whole page, ten pages, on that raindrop; for me it will become the symbol of everyday life whilst avoiding everyday life; it will stand for time and space, or space within time; it will be the world and still only a vanishing raindrop.’ – Henri Lefebvre

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