Images of Antarctica in Literature: Fiction and Travel Writing


Our study deals with Antarctica in the tourist’s imagination. Before engaging in a voyage the destination is intangible. There is an ephemeral image, which is usually formed through the consumption of different sources of information such as documentaries, pictures and other visual representations of the White Continent. Imagining Antarctica becomes a mental construction, a process of evaluation, which includes a unique set of beliefs about the destination, beliefs that are equally emotional and rational. The following study intends to identify cognitive and affective components of the perceived image of Antarctica as a tourism destination. Recent studies have shown, that this construed geography isn’t a mere product of ocular experience. Zuev and Picard (2013), in an attempt to develop an anthropological study of Antarctic tourism culture, explained that tourists would find themselves immersed in multisensory experiences, which would rapidly lead to strong emotions towards Antarctica, and often even have a transformative effects on them. Their tendency to anthropomorphize nature induces them to perceive penguins as little men and moving icebergs as castles. Things are never just what they seem. The White Continent lacks native inhabitants and in consequence a myth of the origin, is swiftly compensated by the traveller. The traces of human presence in Antarctica remind them of the heroic history of early explorers and then there are also some vague ideas about the possible presence of beings not yet discovered. Antarctica seems to be a highly theatrical place that dramatizes a grand historical narrative about time, nature and mythical conceptions of nature. It seems possible, that these strong emotions triggered by a visit in Antarctica might be related to a repertoire of previous interior images, which have been formed a long time before the actual voyage would have started, and probably even before the traveller has planned to travel. Now, immersed in an austerely beautiful icescape this imagination would find an echo and bring back emotions, which were already there. We propose to analyse the imagery of Antarctica as construed in fictional and travel narrative, focusing on literature the traveller might have come in contact with prior to the actual voyage to Antarctica, even a long time before even thinking of going there. To this end an extensive body of novels and travel books, which have been commercially successful in an Anglo-Saxon context, have been consulted accordingly. 54% of all tourists going to Antarctica are of Anglo-Saxon background (IAATO 2015), which justifies the reduction to literature published in English for this first approach. Part of our study retraces the genealogy of mental images, which are passed on in the analysed texts. Another one is dedicated to identify different discursive lines in Antarctic literature. At the end of our “journey” we find a certain appetite for the frozen beauty of a world apart, which seems to invite the traveller to also take an inward journey by offering a white canvas for mental projections. At the same time he is driven to follow in the footsteps of polar heroes, who braved “this pure and intact landscape” risking life and limb. And by doing so, he has to live up to his own expectations reaching physical and psychological limits outlined in adventure tourism excursions.

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