Volume 26, Issue 2, Spring 2022
Figures of Snow
Preconceptual Dimensions of Descartes’s Meteorology
In times of climate change and unpredictable variations in weather conditions, not least in the climate of the North, Descartes’s treatise on Meteorology, published with Discourse on Method in 1637, has gained new relevance. He presents us with the kind of transformations that a Northern climate in particular materializes: weather consisting of small particles changing in shape and movement, intertwining, interfering and reorganising. This article argues that the Cartesian “figures” of the essay can be seen as philosophical thought-images of a preconceptual dimension of experience that abstract language fails to seize. In this way, they point to a dimension in Descartes’s philosophy that has been little commented upon, a tool of aesthetic approximation that lies between the res extensa and the res cogitans, a philosophical methodology using images explicitly appreciated by Descartes. The article links the use of images to the epistemological concept of “figure”, used to describe phenomena of the atmosphere that may be described as rhythmic. Here the analysis takes recourse to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of figural extension.