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The empir(e)ical sublime: representations of the sublime in three works of contemporary Antarctic literature

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posted on 2023-08-30, 16:24 authored by Jean McNeil
A body of imaginative literature on the contemporary Antarctic has emerged in the last thirty years, an evolution which has definitively updated the aesthetics of literature about the continent beyond the classic explorer narrative personified in works by Ernest Shackleton, Robert Falcon Scott, Roald Amundsen, and others. Since the late 1980s, access to the continent by non-explorers and non-scientists, including artists and writers, has accelerated, and with it the corpus of contemporary imaginative writing about the Antarctic has grown. I examine the strategies of representation I employ in three published works on the Antarctic, a novel, a collection of poetry and a memoir, all of which were inspired by my year as writerin- residence with the British Antarctic Survey, and by six years of subsequent travels to both the Arctic and the Southern Ocean with BAS. The Antarctic is shown to have a complex and contradictory character: ephemeral yet dimensional, physical and metaphysical. I explore how my literary work makes use of familiar tropes of the sublime but updates them through exposure to ‘scientific’ cultures and the specific lexicon of the modern Antarctic, ultimately employing what I and the philosopher Emily Brady term the empirical sublime. I analyse my work’s exploration of the evolving relationship in philosophy between climate change, the sublime and new conceptions of humans’ relationship to the planet such as the Anthropocene and hyperobjects. A discussion of the linguistic and representation strategies of my work elicits an argument that climate change has introduced a new iteration of the sublime, which Brady has termed ‘environmental sublime’.



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