The magnetic observatory: an exploration of scientific and poetic measure in Antarctic poetry

Lewis Williams, Elizabeth (2019) The magnetic observatory: an exploration of scientific and poetic measure in Antarctic poetry. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Imaginative engagement with Antarctica long preceded actual encounter, and the entanglement of imagined and material realities has been a consistent feature of Antarctic writing. The critical thesis takes an interdisciplinary approach, necessitated in part by its Antarctic subject matter. Broadly speaking, this has led to an overlap of literary, cultural geographic, historical and philosophical studies, with a literary focus on ‘The Ancient Mariner’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ‘Thulia’ by James Croxall Palmer and the contemporary Antarctic poetry of Jean McNeil, Bill Manhire and Elizabeth Bradfield. The first chapter examines the ways in which people have attempted to take the measure of the continent, showing that, as the largest repository of ice in the world, Antarctica as a real and imagined location embodies the paradoxical, transformational qualities of ice and operates not only as a place in its own right, but as a locus for poetic meditation on the nature of writing, and of the imagination itself. The second chapter develops this folding together of substance and symbol through a study of the language and representation of Antarctic birds. In the space opened up by this writing, we see a bringing together of fact and fiction, scientific and poetic measure, to illustrate not a hierarchical relationship of observer and observed, but rather a living, breathing system in which we are all interconnected. The third chapter takes as its focus the measure of time, setting contemporary poetic treatments of the continent in the context of the sublime. The critical thesis concludes by bringing together the material and the imagined, the temporal and the spatial, in an extended study of base diaries dating from the establishment of Halley research station in 1957. These provide a direct record of building and sustaining a place (in an environment which resists it) which highlights the parallel between the physical and social environment in which language is written, and the linguistic environment of a page. ‘The Magnetic Observatory’ is a creative exploration (in two parts) of these themes, as well as of different kinds of measure. The quality of sound is important in the work for its capacity to evoke an ambient soundscape, and the poems employ the flexibility of the lyric voice, and the possibilities offered by the space of the page, to destabilise linear time and positionality. Written by someone who has not been to Antarctica, they draw on historical base journals and reports from the field, as well as scientific documents, to help evoke an Antarctic world inhabiting historical, geographical and mythic space.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Literature and Creative Writing (former - to 2011)
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 15 Dec 2022 10:40
Last Modified: 15 Dec 2022 10:40


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