Storing Energy

A good friend of mine, the inimitable Chloe Weil, made an interesting comment to me the other evening: "I'm not sure energy can be stored" — or something to that effect.

This comment emerged from a conversation about music — and, in particular, the modes of writing about music. A film, she said, has a way of staying with her, leaving her in a mood, affecting her for a period before passing. Music, on the other hand, passes through her: she may feel its pulse during its play but once over, so is the energy. She doesn't store music.

I've since been obsessed with this idea. What does it mean to store energy? In what ways can we say that we do, in fact, store energy? And how do we store different kinds of energy?

I went directly to the things I know: my philosopher and writers. I have my little canon. And each member runs through me, pervades me to a greater or less degree, with greater or less intensity, in ever varying shapes, potentials, and possibilities. Can I say that I store the energy of these writers — that I store Nabokov's alliterative play, Deleuze's folds and proliferation, Burroughs' vaudevillian dreamspacescapes?

I like that image: they give me energy that I store, that I make use of to perpetuate the functioning of this body, this mind, this life I call me. Of course, storing suggests limited supply, that I can somehow use up Burroughs and be left with none of him. Maybe that's right. Maybe that's why I return to the same writers again and again, why I've read "The Western Lands" dozens of times and will, every few months, pick it up again and peruse, snatching up phrases and figures: I'm refueling my Burroughs power cell.

Then I thought of visual art and of the way Calder and Klee and Matthew Ritchie and David Shrigley have shaped me, have provided me fodder for living, ways of going, modes of being, inflections of my own metabolic propensity. Have I stored the energy of them? Is this just memory? And vice versa: is memory actually the storing of energy from and of the world? I like that quite a bit.

So what of film and song? A film, as Ms. Weil suggests, does have a way of crawling inside and fueling the viewer in some way. I know there are certain films that, after watching, I am exhausted, as if it depleted my energy store rather than fueling me.

Song is trickier. A song can totally take me over, thoroughly transpose my mood. And that feeling may linger a bit but it does tend to dissipate. And yet my body is fueled, in many ways, by Led Zeppelin, by Ween, by Broken Social Scene and Jethro Tull and Bob Dylan; by The Smiths and Miracle Legion and even Beach House. Each, like a philosopher or writer or visual artist, gives me a possible way of going — a vital energetic thrust of living.

This is to say, a song may do this — but rarely. But a body of work — a series of songs — begins to take on a life as it becomes a way of going, as it becomes a possible mode of living (for me, for others). And this possibility is potential energy — an energy we store in our lives and utilize to continue living.

Suddenly, the world is all energy being shared, ricocheted, stored, refined, wasted, multiplied. The world does not just abound with energy; it is energy. And each thing is a way of storing — and making — energy. Just as a rock baking in the sun maintains its warmth for a spell after the sun has set, I maintain Deleuze-Burroughs-Ween-Dylan-my son-my lovers as I enter my solitude. These are the things that fuel me, that along with Uni and pork chops and coffee and tequila, provide me the energy of life.

We store the world for a bit. But we are always gathering more sources of energy — just as we are always (hopefully) producing our own energy supply.


Daniel Schealler said...

Suddenly, the world is all energy being shared, ricocheted, changed, altered, nuanced, bounced, echoed. The world does not just abound with energy; it is energy, energy in flux, energy in the change of one form to another. And each thing is a resonance, a temporary receipt of - and simultaneous passing on of - energy. Just as the sound of a voice comes back in a different tone and reverberation when cast upon a distant mountain, I resonate out my own Self-As-Plato-As-Socrates-As-Phaedrus - but not the same Self-As-Plato-As-Socrates-As-Phaedrus that was put there, or the same that might resonate from someone else. It is different even as it is the same, an echo, an intonation. A multiplying of existences. These things do not fuel me - they are me, briefly, ever-changing, always new, just as each cup of tea, each greedy martini, each episode of a shamelessly trashy vampire show becomes me, as I become and renew it, only to pass it on - all in the same eternal moment-um of activity.

drwatson said...

There's a lot here - as usual. The first thing I thought of is Heidegger's essay on technology - The Question Concerning Technology, where he talks about the modern world as a standing reserve - everything on call, always ready for our use/abuse of it. But that's not really what this is about, but that won't stop me from my obligatory Heidegger reference.

What I was thinking of in terms of stored energy was the way a song gets stuck in my head all day - and there's no rhyme or reason what song it will be, or how much I like that song. But when that happens it's like that song is some kind of little battery that is charging my day, and at times in a very annoying way - like that three week period where I could not get Billy Joel's Matter of Trust out of my head - which I actually kind of like, whatever that means.

Or, on the other end of music, the way a Mahler symphony, especially the 5th and 9th, especially the 9th will drain me, drain me like a Lars Von Trier film. In that case the art is sucking up my battery in one sense, but in another sense it's replenishing something, but how to talk about that something feels really difficult.

drwatson said...

This is a different sort of take on storing music.


Jim H. said...

Entropy = earworm: nice metaphor.

Life on earth is merely a cooling mechanism for sunlight's heat, turning it ultimately into innate carbon fuels the use of which reintroduces their heat back into the environment.

Jim H. said...

er "inert"

Daniel Coffeen said...

@ Daniel: that's beautiful. And: yes! But I do think the question of energy storage is an interesting inflection on energy dynamics. Is an echo a kind of storage? Perhaps.

@ Dr: We eagerly await your Heidegger reference — like a wave that returns, in the best possible sense. As for the song stuck in one's head, I'm not sure that's energy storage per se as much as it's being caught up in a wave (that wave again!) or stuck in a signal blip.

@ Jim: Love that. It reminds me of McKenna's claim that animals were invented by plants to move seeds around.

Anonymous said...

Wow never took you as a Beach House fan. As far as music goes I utilize its energy throughout the day, while movies don't really have the same effect. It's hard to remember an entire film, but music can be grasped in an instant and has a rapid effect on your mood and the way you may perceive the outside world.