Archive for August, 2012

This week I have been putting together material for a book chapter about glaciers in literature, film and music. I was looking for an example to start the chapter to show how glaciers are often used as metaphors in art. I went with this one.

Ned Selfe is a musician who grew up in the deep south of the USA and is now based in Hawaii. His main instrument is the Steel Guitar. In 1995, when he produced his first album, he chose the title “Glaciers Come, Glaciers Go”. It didn’t seem an obvious choice of title for a rock-jazz new age album by a Hawaii-Southerner with tracks called Castaway, Wavelength and Ocean Avenue, so I wrote to ask him why. He explained that he wanted an image that would allude to the transitory nature of human consciousness: we all tend to inflate our current problem or obsession into a giant megalith that seems forever unchanging and all consuming, when in fact it will soon melt and fade into the next thing that will occupy our thoughts.

Selfe told me that the idea of using the glacier for that metaphor came from  his reading of M. Scott Peck’s book “The Road Less Travelled”. Writing about how we choose a map for our life, Peck wrote: “… the biggest problem of map-making is not that we have to start from scratch, but that if our maps are to be accurate we have to continually revise them.  The world itself is constantly changing.  Glaciers come, glaciers go.  Cultures come, cultures go.  …the vantage point from which we view the world is constantly and quite rapidly changing… we must continually revise our maps.”

You can say a lot using glaciers as a metaphor. Even if you say it from Hawaii with a steel guitar.

In 2000 the film maker Ruth Meyer made a short dance film “Breath Crystal” in memory of her grandparents who died in Auschwitz. It was a choreographic interpretation of the Paul Celan poem “Weggebeist” from Celan’s volume of poetry Atemkristall (Breathcrystal) written in commemoration of the victims of the holocaust. The film’s message about our fragility and yet our ability to overcome is delivered through a dancer’s journey across the ice of the Turtmann Glacier, Switzerland, and the glass objects that he encounters while Celan’s voice intones the lines of the poem over the soundtrack.

People have used glaciers to say a lot of different things in a lot of different ways.


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One of the hearts of Geography is the search for a sense of place: the quest to identify, capture, record and represent the essence of a location. Japanese haiku poetry does much the same thing. Sometimes at the scale of a bug under a leaf, sometimes at the scale of a view to the distant horizon, Haiku try to capture in a succinct and tightly formalised way the essence of what a geographer would call a landscape.

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