Silent looking

At the end of his Introduction to The Antarctic – volume 2 in The Ends of the Earth: An Anthology of the Finest Writing on the Arctic and the Antarctic – Francis Spufford declares:

Nowhere else on Earth is it so clear that a place has an integrity apart from what we might say about it. Nowhere are words so obviously ineffectual a response to what just, massively, exists, whole and complete and in no real need of translation. Words, Antarctica teaches us, are not what the world is made of. Stop listening to me, then. Step aside, and sit down on that wind-carved boulder. Sit for a while: there are mountains in the distance to which the best response is hush. Take a long, silent look at the treasures of the snow.

But remember to get moving again while you can still feel your toes. (2007; 14-15)

I heard Francis speak two weeks ago at the Imagining Antarctica conference in Christchurch. The most significant idea I came away with then, and which I find now in this Introduction, is that the treasure to be found in Antarctica is knowledge.

Knowledge for its own sake, for our delight; severely practical knowledge, about how we may hurt ourselves, in a world whose biological infrastructure does not grow stronger just because our economies do. (2007;14)

I read this as meaning both scientific knowledge – about climate change in particular – and knowledge about our individual selves, and about what we can know about living together in the global landscape that we share. I see a place here for knowing in the sense that Aborgiginal Australians know themselves as belonging to the world.

I have just returned from walking in Australian bush, along Western Australia’s extreme south west. From Cape Naturaliste in the north to Cape Leeuwen in the south, I walked and camped for seven days with an Antarctic expeditioner. Through cold wind and rain we hardly spoke, experiencing bush together. What was my friend’s experience? Wind driven sand bit our bare legs, and I imagined my friend sledging glaciers. And what was the experience of the Aboriginals who lived here before white colonization?

My challenge in the bush here was not so much physical as about stopping my thinking self – to connect with the land unencumbered. Thoughts settled at last, the following week, as we walked through inland forests.

This land, once joined to Antarctica, had somehow done some work on me. I recognise this feeling from childhood, walking through Victoria’s Sherbrooke Forest. And there have been other landscapes since, where I have felt similar connections with the land. But the sense was most strongly felt in Antarctica, moving beyond the bases. I can hear you ask: Describe this.

The Body of the thesis structure is emerging.

I have written how the animation, Connectivity, came to be. The animation and its explanation will join others to form the body of the thesis: that conversations can be traced through animation to reveal the profound connections some have made with Antarctica. From this body, further formal aspects of the thesis will evolve. In time, the animated conversations will reshape the existing website so that the writing and the website reflect each other’s lines of thought.