Ice Ages: Indigenous Polar Temporality
Ice Ages explores the temporalities of ice in an epoch of anthropogenic climate change. Ice has a special explanatory power in a time of environmental extremity. Illustrations of climate change in the news today rely on images of retreating ice caps, calving glaciers, or polar bears on bergy bits; the permafrost is no longer permanent. Yet even as ice exemplifies quickening global warming and its effects on day-to-day life, the time scales of ice are peculiar, especially when keyed to human actions. Western concepts of the everyday evaporate in the Arctic and Antarctica, as for instance the sun rises and sets only once a year at the geographical ends of the earth.
This talk will focus on the example of the first published Inuit autobiography, I, Nuligak, which was written by an Inuvialuit man from northwestern Canada. Nuligak recorded his and his elders’ history in syllabics beginning in the 1940s; his journal later circulated in Inuktitut, and a priest named Maurice Metayer translated the autobiography into French and then English in 1966. In his editorial preface, Metayer writes that he has altered Nuligak’s text in significant ways; most notably, Metayer says breezily, “The original text had many useless repetitions; I have omitted them.” What do Nuligak’s ‘repetitions’ reveal about Inuvialuit life in the early twentieth century, and what significance do they have in understanding indigenous temporalities? This talk meditates on polar temporalities and seasonal repetitions through the example of Nuligak’s altered autobiographical account.
Hester Blum is Associate Professor of English at Penn State University. Her most recent book, The News at the Ends of the Earth: The Ecomedia of Polar Exploration, was published by Duke University Press in 2019. She is also the author of The View from the Masthead: Maritime Imagination and Antebellum American Sea Narratives (2008), which received the John Gardner Maritime Research award. Her edited volumes include Horrors of Slavery (2008), William Ray’s 1808 Barbary captivity narrative, the essay collection Turns of Event: American Literary Studies in Motion (2016), and a special issues of Atlantic Studies and the Journal of Transnational American Studies on oceanic and archipelagic studies. Blum contributes frequently to Avidly, a channel of the Los Angeles Review of Books. She is a 2019-2020 Guggenheim Fellow.