Friday, January 16, 2015

Arctic Ocean

So much history in this somewhat unusual perspective of the Arctic Ocean. The Northwest Passage, which European explorers sailed to find, mistaking Iroquois for Indians, discovering and colonising both Americas. The Bering Strait, literally the coldest section of the Cold War between Russia and America. The North Pole, which may have been reached by Peary or Amundsen first though it is Scott who is remembered. Greenland, which is made of ice, and Iceland, which is mostly green. My goal in this blog is not simply to describe the countries and regions of the world, but to pass judgement on their contribution, or otherwise, to human progress. The Arctic is an empty wilderness of ice and snow, populated only by penguins, walruses and whales, a few nomadic Inuit, and birds; and yet, as described above, it has provided history and culture with some of its greatest achievements.

The search for the Northwest Passage, for example, inspired Lord Franklin and his gallant crew, one of the best North American folk songs, and the one without which Bob Dylan's Dream could never have "been influenced". Culture bred in cannibalism - is that not the story of human progress in a nutshell?

The Bering Strait is itself nothing more than a space of melted water amid the ice and snow, 82 kilometres wide at its narrowest point, separating Cape Dezhnev on the Chukchi Peninsula in Russia from Cape Prince of Wales in Alaska; but the man for whom it was named, Vitus Bering, has unknowingly entered literature as an archetypal figure, much as Odysseus did for the Greeks, Jonah for the Hebrews, the Ancient Mariner for the British, and Captain Ahab for modern north Americans. An entire literature indeed, incipited by the great Max Sebald in "After Nature", and then, and now, a source of blogs, articles, symposiums, colloquiums, curriculums...the link here is simply one of literally dozens, many of which can be found as links within this link, proof of the ways by which exploration of the outer world can lead to exploration of the inner world, and that it is the former which seeds warfare, ignorance and inhumanity, the latter which has the capacity to inspire peace, wisdom and human civilisation.

My own Arctic poem, a monologue by Robert Peary in which he reaffirms his claim to having been the first to reach the North Pole, and entitled "Ninety Degrees North", can be found in "Welcome To My World, Selected Poems 1973-2013". Much more on both Sebald and Bering in my novel "A Journey In Time", scheduled for publication by TheAragamanPress in 2016.

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