Research Blog Antarctica #16

Non-fiction: Gretchen Legler: On the Ice (Milkweed, 2005)

Does it say something about the point I’ve reached with this Antarctica stuff that I’m now reading lesbian Antarctic literature?

I had some negative preconceptions about this book, but actually it’s quite good. It’s another of those books generated by the American Artists’ and Writers’ Program, whereby an artist or writer gets to spend a half a year residency at Antarctica and tour the U.S. installations there. This time, the result is a book that’s short, light on the historical and general detail, strong on anecdote and human element.

Unusually, the writer spends a great deal of time with her personal love affair, sparked on the ice. Its depicted in a very ethereal, romantic way that ends up working almost despite itself. It could be bad, but its actually quite nice.

Its not a good first Antarctic book because it doesn’t really offer any context and the little it does is badly drawn. However, if you want to know what kind of graffiti may be found in Antarctic toilets, then this is your book. I do.

Research Blog Antarctica #15

Fiction film: Charles Sturridge: Shackleton (U.K. 2002)

A fictional dramatization of the same Shackleton story featured in the documentary of the previous entry. It’s a story that became very fashionable especially in Britain during the turn-of-the-millennium craze for Antarctica. Scott had been discredited, so the British needed a new Antarctic hero, and Shackleton fit the bill. The story of the most famous of his expeditions, the 1914-1917 Trans-Antarctic Expedition, is certainly dramatic enough to survive all the adulation.

The star of this four-hour double- tv-movie is Kenneth Branagh, who’s likeness to Shackleton himself is uncanny. The script takes no liberties and the period detail is impeccable, making this a joy to watch if you’re an Antarctica geek. Unfortunately, the direction is rather pedestrian and the script has an inexplicable reluctance to underline the more incredible parts of the story. For example, based on the movie we might think that Shackleton’s famous final boat journey was an affair of a few days, while in reality it took three weeks to cover a distance of over 1000 kilometers.

Another problem is the TV-movie aesthetic which does great disservice to the subject. It seems that they actually shot many of the outdoor scenes on location in the Arctic, making it doubly annoying that they often have the character of bad studio shooting.

The tagline is: “On the brink of death – courage was his only weapon.”

Research Blog Antarctica #11 – 14

Things’ve been piling up, and this time we’re further away from Antarctica than ever. First there’s an Antarctica movie, though:

Documentary film: George Butler: the Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition (Sweden, U.K., Germany, U.S.A., 2000)

I was very happy to see the movie because it features a large amount of Antarctic footage, including archival material shot by Frank Hurley himself during Shackleton’s ill-fated expedition. It was a joy to see all the things that I’ve only read about come to life.
For those who are not so easily charmed by Antarctic things I have to say that the movie is basically a hagiography with very little in terms of dramatic tension. Maybe the story works better if you don’t know it beforehand, but still, detail was sparse and surface ruled over everything.

The rest of the batch consists of books I read because I became convinced that my novel would benefit from a more essay-like style when talking about some of the aspects of Antarctic life. I wanted to be able to write about Antarctic literature itself and was looking for ways to do the meta thing in an elegant fashion. I got started when I read Sven Linqvist’s sublime Aavikkosukeltajat, and got more ideas from Michel Houellebecq’s beautiful fan letter, H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, originally written in 1991, when Lovecraft was still uncool.
However wonderful they might have been, I felt I needed to read more than two books to see how its done. Fortunately, some had accumulated in my bookshelf.

Non-fiction: Jukka Koskelainen: Atlantiksen perintö – kirjailijoiden uusi alku (Tammi, 2000)

A collection of essays about writers in two parts, the first dealing with Mexico and the second with Germany. Engaging, systematic, and interesting in reverse proportion to how much I knew about the individual writers beforehand. Maybe if this was a book about something I was interested in already, it would seem better.

Non-fiction: Jari Ehrnrooth: Intiaaniunta (WSOY, 2000)

A semi-fictional essay about the life and works of Dante. Interesting and pleasantly short. For some reason I had a preconception that the writer was a Christian, and some of the early material in the book seemed to support this, but later on it became apparent that this was not the case.

Non-fiction: Tom Sandqvist: Rajamailla (Taide, 1990)

An overlong essay about various artists living in and around New York in 1910. The translation from the Swedish original is decidedly dodgy and the book becomes downright tiresome when the author veers off into psychoanalysis. The rest of the high brow stuff and the biographical material is interesting, though.

I think I’ll go back to books about Antarctica itself. This essay stuff is very tiring.