On modernity and the concealment of fire

Neil Aaron Thompson

I’ve always been interested in the elements. Not the periodical table per se, but our ancestral understanding of the elements: earth, wind, water, and fire. Scientists tell us that earth is made up of a complex mixture of elements each with their own mass, which translates into rocks, dirt, and mountains. Fire, we are told, is nothing but a chemical process where elements re-configure and release energy in the form of heat. Looking culturally however over the past 100 years we’ve drastically changed our relationship and thus our shared sense of meaning around ‘fire’. This renegotiation of fire may explain some of the debates around climate change and the future of energy.


Fire to our ancestors seemed to have an intrinsic power to devour physical material, but also provide life-giving heat. Its no wonder that complex cultural practices then (just as  now – think bbq), revolved around fire. For example…

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