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Winter: Five Windows on the Season by Adam…
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Winter: Five Windows on the Season (2011)

by Adam Gopnik

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....he tells the story of winter in five parts: Romantic Winter, Radical Winter, Recuperative Winter, Recreational Winter, and Remembering Winter. In this stunningly beautiful meditation, Gopnik touches on a kaleidoscope of subjects, from the German romantic landscape to the politics of polar exploration to the science of ice. And in the end, he pays homage to what could be a lost season — and thus, a lost collective cultural history....

Wondrous essays that read like literary stories. His homage to winter, to learned Canadians, might remind them of Morley Callaghan and his delightful thoughts on snow.

You might love the audio lecture found on CBC ( )
  literateowl | Dec 11, 2013 |
I came to “Winter” from hockey, which is fitting. Hockey is a winter sport, a winter creation: one of the many ways that humans have sought to engage the blankness of the dead season, an expanse of slippery ice, and use it as our canvas, our mirror, reflecting our own image back into an uncaring void. This book is about how we humans (of the European variety, in any case) make everything about ourselves, even in a universe that, manifestly, is not about us at all.

I enjoyed “Winter: Five Windows on the Season” more than I thought I would; initially I borrowed it from the library, but when I was less than a chapter into it I purchased my own copy, which I have since adorned with innumerable scribbles and post-its. Gopnik’s text is dense with allusions; those as little-read as I will find it helpful to have browser near at hand. You will learn some things, only a few of which I have space to touch on below. “Winter” is a very rewarding read.

The subtitle’s “five windows” represent five paths of inquiry, five scavenger hunts, five different directions that Gopnik takes in his examination of our relationship with winter. The window itself represents, for Gopnik, that moment when we first stood inside our newly heated homes and looked out through the glass at the winter scenery--that moment when winter changed from being a thing endured to being a thing considered, engaged, imagined.

This moment dawned during the Romantic era, and “Romantic Winter” is Gopnik’s first window. With its roots in the mini-Ice Age that Europe experienced from 1550-1850, Romantic Winter, as portrayed by painter Caspar David Friedrich, composer Fanny Mendelssohn and others, became enmeshed with Northern Europe’s assertion of its identity. In revolt against France and the Enlightenment, the northern artist employed winter as “the poster scene of a national revival,” embracing its darkness, its storms and its cold; fascinated by the absence of vegetation that allowed him and her to see nature as she really is: minus the frills, the decorations, the adornments--ultimately, perhaps, minus God.

“Radical Winter” is Gopnik’s second window. Through it he sees the shadow of Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein, “the modern Prometheus,” in the polar expeditions, particularly that of the Englishman Robert F. Scott. Here the European takes on the blankness of the polar region, the enormity of its frozen indifference, and attempts not only to define and label its geography, but to imprint upon it his own character. As predictably as Frankenstein’s creation of the monster, this leads to tragedy, but it is tragedy on the explorer’s own terms. The polar expeditions represented, says Gopnik via Norman Mailer, “the WASP dream of doing things for their own sake, as a purely existential test of the national and personal will.” “The bad times,” continues Gopnik, “were real, but so was the ‘cleanness,’ the absence of sordid motives.” We may well laugh at Scott & co. in delicate communion with their silver tea service in a flimsy tent on the edge of death in the raging Antarctic, but along with the tea they brought a sort of clean, gentlemanly aesthetic. Neither piece of baggage served their stated goal particularly well, but their combined futility and comedic aspects, stiffened by unquestionable courage, form a picture of the human condition in Radical Winter: our meeting with the elements stretching us as far to the extreme as we can possibly go. There’s more: I could go on, but I’ll let you read it yourself, and if you read only one chapter of “Winter,” I recommend this one.

“Recuperative Winter” is largely about changing views of our winter festival, that is to say, Christmas, examined broadly and (for the most part) secularly. Gopnik begins with the dualism expressed by the twin Roman winter solstice festivals Saturnalia and Kalends--the reversal feast vs. the renewal feast--that still, to his mind, confuses us today. He places the birth of the modern holiday in the hands of Charles Dickens, in Scrooge’s dilemma between capitalism and charity. Scrooge wakes up from his famous dream renewed by a sense of caring and connection. After World War I and its “Christmas truce,” this domestic Victorian Christmas ideal becomes, grown fuzzy through nostalgia, entrenched (no pun intended) as the measure of the holiday. Faced in more recent times with an alarming abundance, we search frantically for renewal in the reversal, and we don’t find it. As Gopnik says, “the material festival turns out to be a fake...the earth does renew itself; we don’t.” Which is why the symbol of the newborn baby is so potent at mid-winter, and perhaps the reason that, as the song goes, “Christmas is for children.”

In “Recreational Winter,” Gopnik makes the case that our engagement with winter in the form of sport connects us to our most basic instincts, those that point us towards sex and violence. While the velocity of ice travel allows us to remove ourselves from our fellows in pursuit of the solitary and the soulful, the heat and speed generated by cold-weather sport, Gopnik argues, has a sexual edge that invites involvement. The sexuality--whether expressed by young women in the 19th century or homosexual men in the 20th, is rendered acceptable because of the healthful effects of the activity that masks it. But the impulse toward solitude--Gopnik calls it “freelancing”--is somehow more threatening within an industrialist, factory-oriented society, and team sport arises to suppress it. This inevitably brings Gopnik around to his dear hockey, in which he finds echoes of both themes: solitude vs. social involvement, and sexuality: expressed, perceived, repressed. He writes, “we race into the corners of the pond and find there the corners of our own minds.” Dr. Freud, call your office.

In “Remembering Winter,” Gopnik finally gets around to addressing the elephant in the room, the gigantic, ever-expanding behemoth known as global climate change. Will winter cease entirely to be? Are we exterminating it? And, what are the ways in which we have already forsaken it? What are the implications of abandoning winter, of ignoring it, of neglecting to engage it? For Gopnik, winter is many things, but, perhaps most poignantly to this grown-up school-girl, he calls the experience of winter “a snow day...a day a child spends outside of normal time.” What is the unquantifiable value of that experience? What is its measure once it is gone? What emptiness does it leave behind?

Winter symbolizes the moment that we, as humans, stare into the void of the universe--into the void of our own minds, individual and collective--and describe, discriminate, seek, move, create. Thus, it is potentially a moment of joy, of abandon, of ecstasy. You may call this humanist hubris; Gopnik calls it our attempt to “manufacture our love...our need for [winter].” Whatever you call it, I find this book to be a fascinating meditation not only on winter, but on “the northern consciousness” and on our connection with the physical and metaphysical form of the universe. ( )
  kattvantar | Aug 27, 2013 |
I chose to read this collection of Massey Lectures broadcast on CBC Radio to satisfy the Keyword Challenge hosted by Bev at My Reader’s Block. I also thought that with some insight on this frigid season, I could learn to dislike it a little less.

The five windows or views of winter that Gopnik considers are: Romantic Winter, Radical Winter, Recuperative Winter, Recreational Winter, and Remembering Winter.

This book is a fascinating mix of history, art, science, religion, popular culture, and philosophy and flows like a great lecture should. I highly recommend it.

Read this if: you’re a fellow winter-survivor and want to have ‘warmer’ feelings about this difficult season; you’re one of that unusual specie – a winterphile and want factoids to dazzle and convince your friends that you’re not insane; or you’re a lucky warm-weather inhabitant and want a taste of what the big chill is all about. 4½ stars

Thanks to Buried in Print who first tipped me to this book. ( )
  ParadisePorch | Feb 9, 2013 |
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Epigraph
Our envelope, as I have called it, the cultural insulation that separates us from nature, is rather like (to use a figure that has haunted me from childhood) the window of a lit-up railway carriage at night. Most of the time it is a mirror of our own concerns, including our concern about nature. As a mirror, it fills us with the sense that the world is something which exists primarily in reference to us: it was created for us; we are the centre of it and the whole point of its existence. But occasionally the mirror turns into a real window, through which we can see only the vision of an indifferent nature that goes along for untold aeons of time without us, seems to have produced us only by accident, and, if it were conscious, could only regret having done so.

Northrop Frye, Creation and Recreation
Dedication
For Gudrup Bjerring Parker

Filmmaker, feminist, lover of the world,
woman of the north,
who raised and loved and nutured and then
let go of my own true love,
and, knowing too well how Demeter felt, never let her heart
grow cold to the borrower.
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I recall my first snowstorm as though it were yesterday, though it was, as it happens, November 12, 1968.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 088784975X, Paperback)

A taste for winter, a love of winter — “a mind for winter” — is for many a part of the modern human condition. International bestselling author Adam Gopnik does for this storied season what he did for the City of Light in the New York Times bestseller Paris to the Moon. Here he tells the story of winter in five parts: Romantic Winter, Radical Winter, Recuperative Winter, Recreational Winter, and Remembering Winter. In this stunningly beautiful meditation, Gopnik touches on a kaleidoscope of subjects, from the German romantic landscape to the politics of polar exploration to the science of ice. And in the end, he pays homage to what could be a lost season — and thus, a lost collective cultural history — due to the threat of global warming. Through delicate, enchanting, and intricate narrative detail, buoyed by his trademark gentle wit, Gopnik draws us into another magical world and makes us look at it anew.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:40 -0400)

A taste for winter, a love of winter a mind for winter is for many a part of the modern human condition. International bestselling author Adam Gopnik does for this storied season what he did for the City of Light in the New York Times bestseller Paris to the Moon. Here he tells the story of winter in five parts: Romantic Winter, Radical Winter, Recuperative Winter, Recreational Winter, and Remembering Winter. In this stunningly beautiful meditation, Gopnik touches on a kaleidoscope of subjects, from the German romantic landscape to the politics of polar exploration to the science of ice. And in the end, he pays homage to what could be a lost season and thus, a lost collective cultural history due to the threat of global warming. Through delicate, enchanting, and intricate narrative detail, buoyed by his trademark gentle wit, Gopnik draws us into another magical world and makes us look at it anew. .… (more)

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