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B. Jackson
T. Martin
M. Malone
J-M. Huctin


The lesson of the Arctic

Par Bruce Jackson
Directeur du centre d'études de culture américaine, université de Buffalo, États-Unis

One day in Nome, Alaska, in October 1997, Jean Malaurie and I visited an old man Malaurie had known twenty years earlier on Little Diomede, a tiny island in the Bering Strait. The man told us a story about his father, who had been able to fly one day. He also showed us the bulge in his chest from his pacemaker, which had been there for fourteen years. The next day, he said, he was taking an airplane to Anchorage where the device would be replaced by a new one, much smaller. He was delighted about the trip and the new device.

After we left him, Malaurie and I walked to the breakwater down on Norton Sound. High overhead we saw beautiful clear contrails from intercontinental jets shuttling between North America, Asia and Europe. Later that night, in the same sky, we would see the shimmering curtains of the Aurora and a field of stars clear and specific as shattered bits of brand-new ice.

I think the most important thing I learned in that trip to the Arctic with Malaurie is that everything is present there all at once and everything that is present is constantly interacting with everything else. That old man whose father could fly and who himself was taking a jet plane to get a new transistorized box placed in his chest, those contrails seven miles up in the
sky at once beautiful and the source of poisonous ionization, the stars and Aurora in the night, the sparse but nonetheless vigorous vegetation and animal life on the tundra, were all of a piece. The relationships were forever in flux, some of the parts themselves were in a state of constant change, but they were nonetheless all of a piece.

As, I suppose, are the pieces of the entire world. But it is in the Arctic where you see that harmony. And that, for me, is one of the two things that the Center for Arctic Studies is really about.
Légende : Bruce Jackson et Jean Malaurie lors du colloque international " Seuils & Traverses 3 ", en juillet 2002.
© Anne Debever.

The fact that the Arctic, more than any other populated region of the world, requires the collaboration of so many disciplines and points of view to be understood at all, is a benefit rather than a burden. The Arctic provides a physical and human context in which collaboration, cooperation and conversation that would not otherwise be possible become inevitable. The Arctic and the people who live there have things to teach us we can learn
nowhere else.

The Center for Arctic Studies transcends the disciplinary boundaries that limit so much academic inquiry into natural and human affairs, and the geographical and political boundaries that limit so much potentially productive human interaction. The internationally-based group of scholars who work within the Center and whose work is in one way or another supported by it are grounded in all major areas of scientific and humanistic inquiry: the natural, biological and social sciences, and the arts as well. Its library is unparalleled. It is a place where the direct record of the human voice saying, "I was there, this is what I saw" is as legitimate and important as the mechanical record of a precise scientific instrument.

Such cooperation across academic and political boundaries is as rare as it is valuable. All too often, academic departments defend their territory with the passion of cornered animals, though with far less justification.

Few of the great writers about the Arctic seem capable of narrowness or parochialism. No matter how they begin, they are forced to learn more, ally with others asking collateral questions, listen to voices the hadn't previously known were even there. I suppose no one exemplifies that better than Malaurie himself, who began as geomorphologist, studying changing configurations of the land, but found himself inextricably drawn into the human communities influencing and influenced by the physical world that had been his primary concern, and then into the international geopolitics going on about both the land and the people. Malaurie's own transformation is documented in the various editions of Les derniers rois de Thulé and the encyclopedic two-volume Hummocks. What I love about those books is the way his attempt in Les Derniers Rois de Thulé to document what he learned in the
part of the Arctic he visited first, and in Hummocks to document what he learned in all his expeditions and trips, admits and requires all kinds of information. No form of discourse is privileged: the pages are filled with his own autobiographical accounts, his reflections on method, notes and comments from other visitors to those same territories, selections from
reports, drawings by him, drawings by people he met, drawings by people who went there before, photographs, maps, lists, menus.... The books are too big to be understood or contained at once or in one way. They are like the Center itself.

The political geometry of the Arctic is in significant flux. The breakup of the Soviet Union meant for huge changes in the life of the native populations in the Siberian Arctic. Canada created a new province that for the first time legally recognizes Inuit autonomy and authority. Residents of many places in the Arctic that never had direct contact with the world outside now have satellite dishes that bring in television and telephone and computer communication. Atmospheric changes because of continued use of fossil fuels in the industrialized nations alters the ecology of the most isolated sections of the Arctic. The colonial powers that once ranged on the surface of the sea now prowl underneath it as well: "Les sous-marins nucléaires russes, américains, brittaniques," Malaurie recently wrote, "patrouillent sous la banquise de l'océan glacial." Not even the ice stays the same.

What will happen to Arctic native culture now? How will it cope? How will it cope with us? How will we cope with it? What will happen to the Arctic landscape now? To the ice, the sea, the tundra? What will that mean for us? What is to be done? What must be learned? None of those questions can be answered finally, but they all must be asked and dealt with continuously.

Asking and attempting to answer such questions, free of what William Blake calls "mind-forg'd manacles," is the second thing that the Center for Arctic Studies is really about.

Bruce Jackson

Voir les autres témoignages sur les Inuit d'aujourd'hui :
M. Malone
T. Martin
J-M. Huctin

Présentation : historique et activités Le professeur Jean Malaurie
Les Séminaires d'Études Arctiques Levé de carte au Groenland
Liste des mémoires et thèses soutenus Pôle géomagnétique Nord
L'Académie Polaire d'Etat de Saint-Pétersbourg  
La première mission soviéto-française en Tchoukotka Bibliographie - Films - Congrés internationaux - CD
Témoignages de fidèles du Centre d'Études Arctiques Collection Terre Humaine
Hommages de personnalités Collection Polaires
Témoignages sur les Inuit d'aujourd'hui  
Le Festival international du film arctique  
La revue Inter-Nord Remerciements
Visiter le dossier sur le Fonds Polaire Jean Malaurie

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