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