The Arctic has taken centre stage as a region where climate change can be both observed and studied, and where pressing geopolitical and environmental questions are negotiated; the planting of a Russian flag under the Arctic ice in 2007 and the projected Alaska LNG pipeline are cases in point. Along with scientists and politicians, writers and filmmakers have turned to the Arctic, and fashioned it as a testing ground for various global fantasies and anxieties. In our course, we will critically examine this recent interest in the high North by reading it through the prism of a long-standing imaginative investment in the Arctic. We will explore the ways in which the Arctic has functioned as a space for the projection of cultural fantasies since the voyages of Martin Frobisher in the 1570s. As the search for the Northwest Passage and the North Pole was relaunched in the nineteenth century, authors and visual artists figured the Arctic as a sublime and spectacular wasteland hostile to human inhabitation. Politically, the Arctic was turned into a seemingly “pure” space where heroic male explorers could demonstrate the supremacy of nation and empire. In the twentieth century, the Arctic played an important imaginative role as a space connecting the superpowers during the Cold War. As we will see, this legacy continues to haunt contemporary representations of the Arctic. At the same time, indigenous authors and filmmakers have challenged “Southern” views of the high North and offered powerful visions of the Arctic as a transnational homeland.
Texts and films to be discussed range from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the cannibalism debate surrounding the disastrous Franklin expedition to contemporary Arctic dystopia in Sarah Moss’s Cold Earth and the mythological fiction of Inuit author Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley. A detailed syllabus will be circulated before the beginning of the course. Students will be evaluated on the basis of an essay as well as additional smaller assignments.