Publications

305.3L

November 2016

Fire and loss

Samuel Jackson

Looking into the fire the other night, I was struck by the transformation and loss inherent in the fireplace. Watching the wood become the fire, the fire melt to ash. The ash dissipate into dust only to lift out of the chamber, join the air and dissolve into the wind and the night. Fire at first thought is in a constant process of becoming. Its very nature is flux.  

Fire the most primordial of technologies. Maybe the first transformation machine. Like all transformation, fire is process. The rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products.

Fire is archaic due to its high loss levels of energy transfer. Cybernetics is just one new technology that mimics fire, its scientific specificity initially used to rationalise information, to create complete control. I imagine early fire adopters were quick to extoll the benefits of fire. Its capabilities in the culinary arts were probably revolutionary at its inception, not to mention warfare and security. I wonder how long it took for the first archaic hominines to look into the fire and ponder its meaning? The fire’s metaphysical yearning to be something that it's not right now, but will be shortly. The first person to lie next to the fire, crowded by the warmth of fire and flesh. Hot breath suddenly in the night. To think about fire as the rupture of the night. The slow melting of darkness into day that will only increase right into the now.

 ***

Someone told me the other day, a story about a funeral. While watching the old person, levelled with the ground. They thought about the slow rotting of the corpse. The process of life bleeding into the earth. They imagined the funeral as it would have happened 1000 years ago. The slow bleed to the earth, accelerated by fire. A pyre, up high. The old man on top. Crowded amidst the fuel to aid him in his upcoming transformation. People below, excited for the flames, standing respectfully at a distance. This person imagined an overcast day. One which could rain, but wouldn’t. The rain would hold almost magically, held away by spiritual or Karmic justice. 

My friend, thought then, how the fire must have looked. To be there when this person became ash, almost part of the air. To see the ash lift of their face, join the air and think about inhaling this person. My friend thought that this was maybe the definition of emancipation. To be lifted out of one’s material conditions, to help others, to become others, to slowly embed into all of your loved one’s circuits. To settle onto the ground, become the ground, and thus flower matter for those loved ones to eat and admire.

My friend's face scrunched into consternation. “think about the revolutionary appeal of fire. The possibility of everything turning into a blaze. Fire is used as a metaphor for so much transformation. Yes it was the pre-vital method of connecting ourselves with everything else. But it is also the embraced rupture of everything. Our way of life. Maybe the only death capitalism will ever have will be at the hands of fire.”

 

Fire is maybe the burning away of emptiness

Fire is maybe the consecration of loss

Fire is maybe the joining together of the other

Fire is maybe not limited to wood, but can contain, the body

Fire is maybe self referential

Fire is maybe the retouched surface of the self

 

A person last night told me how they were making a smoker to cure beef and cheese. They spoke about the rigour and time that goes into the curing of beef. Most of all, though, I thought about the smoke. Incidentally invested in a smoke machine, I’m unsure of this machine's purpose, and how much it divorces the process of fire and smoke from one another. But they told me that he was going to use apple wood from their orchard.

Smoke is another great example of things becoming other things. Naked transformation. The meat sits in the smoke chamber. It turns from a bright red to a withered brown. Its ability to exist is both diminished and extended. The meat will now last much longer. But it does look half dead/less ripe.

 *** 

Listening to a podcast the other day, I was struck by the climate of war, and its rationalisation of fire. The shift from swords and arrows to missiles and guns. All of it depends on fire. Fire is in this sense a form of climate. Virilio talks about contemporary war as a state of atmosphere. An atmosphere where living conditions are pushed into the negative. Where fire is meant to be breathed, inhaled. People talk about war as a cloud of war, or do they? To live in war is to live in the bottom of a pit of wood, burning.

Too watch a missile fly is too watch a fire burn a light across the colour blue. 

This podcast talked about people living in trenches, fighting a war of ideas with burning bodies. Thinking about this war, I thought of Europe, split into circuits of fire. Flesh and people alight with ideas, and the very substance of warmth. A network of flesh and blood tracking new ideas and substances around Europe.

Europe is burning they said. But what does that mean? Why does Europe burn. This is the historians question. But maybe also the cyberneticist’s. What old structures of life were detteritorialised admist the flames. New lines of flight emerging and streaming across the country, sparking new roads, new connections. What transformation did this war spark, and was it worth it?

 

Loss is maybe time sinking into life

Loss is maybe the weathering of your surface in the face of the sun

Loss is not trivial, but demands circuits of information and power, wielded through weaponized fire

Loss is grief of loved ones, turning into others 

 

I heard a story once. It was a story about someone who came into contact with fire. Not as in they were burned. But the more spiritual kind of contact. The way it was described to me was that they saw a fire that was larger than they thought was conceivable. Fire in this sense, the forest fire, they thought, was so large as to be neither positive or negative. Rather it was a fire that was almost a vacuum of meaning. Yes, I’m told people lost homes, family belongings, general things such as that. But this person, at large amidst the fire felt the transcendent qualities of a whole fire, turning into something else. Turning from a home, to what? Fertile soil? This person's relation of events would have it, that the fire, most obviously likened to a wall of death, was more than that. Not a burning of the map, but an extending of it. A stretching of time, that seemed to allow thoughts not thought before.

For example; this person thought that the fire was like a computer. All circuits connected to other circuits. Each tree before touching in soil, now touching in air. They watch a tree’s surface separate from the still hard wood and seemingly peel into the atmosphere. They touched themselves, imagined the sensation of peeling. Their skin dissipating.

***

A friend once told me a story where they were driving somewhere - the destination is not important - but on that drive they saw a paddock ablaze. Farmers were present, burning the year's previous crops to make way for the next year. In the process, this fire would provide nourishment to the soil. My friend stopped on their journey, got out of the car, and watched the crops in their almost ritualistic burning. This friend of mine was apparently, momentarily, thrust into the real. They could see the field, not from their almost 2d picturesque position, but instead from a god's eye view. From above, but also in a sense in 3d. The fire on the crops but merging into one. The crops on the land, also merging into one. The byproduct was the ash. The signification of new promise, but also the empty history of the year before. Now gone.

This turning over of the land suggested to my friend a new becoming. A process maybe immanent to itself. They saw the paddock as a constant state of becoming. The fire, just one process in that turning over of new time in the history of that paddock.

Fire in this sense, they thought, allowed for the conceptualisation of this state of becoming. The application of fire is maybe a trite example of the objects and their status of flux. What is more in flux than fire after all. More interestingly my friend thinks fire Is the window into what Deleuze calls the virtual. The materialisation of the virtuality of an object, where patterns of becoming are generated.

 

Fire is maybe loss

Fire is maybe that sinking feeling when you think about time going by

Fire is maybe the circuit system of the cosmic

Fire is maybe feeling like you are not in control

Fire is maybe the confrontation with death, rationalised into heat

Fire is maybe the compartmentalisation of the sun

Fire as is maybe as Donna Haraway might claim the first and final grid of control that extends over the planet

 

Watching the news the other day, I learned about someone who's house had caught fire.

The person on the camera, talked about the devastation of the fire, but also about renewal. In their soliloquy, they demonstrated their feeling of loss with a stoic commitment to the future. For them, the day was not lost, but only the precuser to tomorrow. They talked about family albums, cherished belongings, out of focus some distance behind, the house burned.

The person talked off familial life, something we are all geared towards feeling in empathy. The destruction of that life, shadowing the lives that we all lead.

The man talked of emergence. The feeling that all change is just change, with positives and negatives. There was also talk about insurance.