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Throughout my reading of Lisa Robertson’s The Weather, I kept returning to a few simple questions: Are there patterns at play here? If so, what do they mean? I can feel this, but (how) can I read it? Take, for example, a passage like this:


“The hills fling down shadow; we fling down shadow. The horizon is awkward; we fling down shadow. The horizon melts away; this was the dictation. The ice cracks with a din; very frustrating. The leaves are beginning; it unifies nothing. The light lies intact and folded; we open and shout. The light seems so whimsical; it’s techno-intellectual work. The light’s so romantic; we permit the survival of syntax. The little aconite peeps its yellow fingers; we manipulate texture. The moon is faintly gleaming; we expose our insufficiency. Total insignificance of lyric. They’s what we adore. The mountains have vanished; our mind becomes sharp. The mountains unfurl long shadow; ornament is no crime” (37).


Clearly, there are structures at work, here – but they are dynamic and irregular, shifting whenever one attempts to pin them down. In The Weather, it appears that Robertson constructs moods not so much through forms, but through gestures that serve as intimations of forms, creating an effect of schematization that begins to modulate almost as soon as it is perceived. This seemed at first to be appropriate to a book about weather, with all of its portent and uncertain signification.


I was struck, however, by this passage from Daston’s “Cloud Physiognomy: “As the ode to Howard suggests, the act of naming and the act of seeing fused to create well-defined forms out of the ineffable, inchoate clouds that could be anything and everything. The precondition for description, both verbal and visual, was directed attention that focused exclusively and consistently on some features at the expense of many others. Once fixed, description in turn channeled the observer’s attention” (55). This description of how systems of classification trained the eye to read cloud formations through a project of subtractive perception (a la Bergson) made me question the practice of trying to pin down Robertson’s patternings at all. Doesn’t focusing in on the grammatical and syntactical formations of The Weather lead us away from the texture of the language, from the individual phrase, from the significance of any given word?


The sense of self-reflexivity in the passage from Robertson that I quoted above suggests that the poem is aware of this; the frustration of the “din,” that the beginning of the leaves “unifies nothing.” Indeed, the poem declares its aim to be to “manipulate texture,” and instructs us that “ornament is no crime.” Perhaps the attempt to make a taxonomy of weather is “techno-intellectual work” that misses the light’s whimsy, and to try to read the clouds forces us to decline to see them.

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