AV Festival 12: Kenneth Goldsmith: The 1703 Weather Diary of Thomas Appletree

In this new commission, Kenneth Goldsmith read for three hours continuously, from the Spring section of the 1703 Weather Diary of Thomas Appletree, beginning with 1 March, 1703. This work continues his interest in the copious drama, variability, contrasts, excess, deficiency, disturbances, precipitation and memorability of weather. Goldsmith is the author of ten books of poetry including Weather, a book of appropriated New York City weather reports for a year.

Visually akin to Ezra Pound’s The Cantos, with an attention to detail reminiscent of Henry David Thoreau, and an expansive sense of cosmic descriptive beauty on par with William Blake, a daily weather journal kept by a rural Worcester native during the year 1703, is a work of phenomenal complexity and endurance. Little is known of the author, Thomas Appletree, except that after graduating from Oxford with some training in the sciences and classics, he returned to his family’s estate and noted the subtle changes in the weather for an entire year. There is no record of his motivation for doing so, nor for his methodology or process, which was entirely empirical. He had no thermometers, barometers, or maps; instead, he described exactly what he saw and felt around him. The result is a subjective and highly personal gloss on the weather, a science that is now objective, codified, precise, universal, and verifiable. But Appletree goes further, mapping his moods, desires and subjectivity onto the weather, resulting in a highly personal journal – more of an intimate diary – filtered through the weather. As the scholar Jan Golinksi says, Appletree invented entirely new ways of describing the weather:

“Unable to invent his own language, the diarist turned to exploit the resources of metaphor and analogy. The shifting appearances of the sky (‘so changeable a chameleon it is’) and the extraordinary variability of clouds made particularly strenuous demands upon his powers of expression… he suggested metaphorical names for different cloud types: ‘combs’, ‘palm branches’, ‘foxes’ tails’ and so on, or he proposed similes, likening them to fleece, cobwebs, crêpe, spun wool or raw or finished silk. At times, the metaphors and similes became as bloated and piled up as the clouds themselves:
Atmosphere loaded & varnished with Bulging, dull swelling Bas=Releive clouds bloated & pendulous. I style them ubera caeli fecunda: sky=cubbies or udders cloudy; they enclosed & stufft ye whole visible Hemisphere in colour like Lead=vapours or a tall Fresco ceiling, or marble veined grotto.” (The British Journal for the History of Science, Vol. 34, No. 2, Jun. 2001)

In accordance with the current season, I will be reading for three hours continuously, from the Spring section of the diary, beginning with March 1, 1703.

This work would not have been possible without the extraordinary kindness of Ann Heymans, who prepared this transcript, and Jan Golinski and Christopher Whittick who are working with Ms. Heymans to prepare an edition of Appletree’s diary for publication.

Kenneth Goldsmith, 
New York City, February 26, 2012

Commissioned by AV Festival 12. World Premiere.

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