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“Western understandings of the Arctic are formed by an interplay of expectation and experiences. Our expectations of the Arctic constitute a history of repetition, of the constant return to fixed topoi and intertexts” (Arctic Discourses).

Arcticisms—let me introduce you to the term. The editors of the collection Arctic Discourses coin the word “Arcticism” in a nod to Edward Said and his concept of Orientalism, which is a critical-theoretical term used to describe how a set of images (either visual or descriptive) comes to constitute knowledge of a much more heterogeneous terrain (both in a geographical and cultural sense). In terms of the Arctic, fixed tropes (or established metaphors or terms of description such as bitterly cold, endless winter, extreme conditions, pure, sublime, etc) allow familiarity with a region that often seems remote, foreign, unknown. Through the repetition of ideas and images in discussions about the Arctic, one can feel a sense of connection and understanding to the place through prior knowledge of received wisdom gained from televisions shows, explorer tales, the news media, movies, art—information about the indigenous peoples of the north, endemic flora and fauna, and climatic conditions are naturalized, consolidated and reproduced. These concretized images leave little room for new narratives (that do not necessarily engage with or spring from the old metaphors, descriptions or understandings handed down text-by-text, visitor-by-visitor) to flourish.

Arcticism, then, identifies a narrative practice dependent on the circulation of understanding based in “expectation and experience.” Arcticisms wants to pluralize that even further. As you read the term, or attempt to say it out loud, you should hear the interplay of other “isms” in popular (and not so popular) circulation—colonialisms and postcolonialisms, feminisms and post-feminisms, humanism, posthumanism, post-structuralism, postmodernism. But I hope you also think of prisms, witticisms and solipsisms.

My goal in this Arctic-focused blog is to both present the familiar in an unfamiliar fashion and to give you the unfamiliar in as non-alienating a manner as possible. This will be a space to negotiate, transform, live, materialize, question and inhabit northerness in a creative, reflexive, and critical engagement. As you may have gathered, I am bringing a literary mode of reading the Arctic to an already established area of study. While there is plenty of information and sites out in the blogsphere on arctic climates, wildlife, expeditions, ecology, geography, ethnography…there is little that takes aim at the discourses that make up arctic narrative practices, about the language—metaphors, tropes, images, icons—that let you know the Arctic, but don’t ask you to think about how you know the Arctic. Let’s change that.

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