Space in polar exploration : ships and ice realms in Anglo-American fiction, 1818-1851 - PhDData

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Space in polar exploration : ships and ice realms in Anglo-American fiction, 1818-1851

The thesis was published by Pirhulyieva, Jakhan, in September 2022, University of Bern.


This work presents the first comprehensive analysis of both ice and ships in the period’s literature of polar exploration through the lens of contemporary scholarship on space, the eighteenth-century aesthetic theory, and human geography. It offers the first detailed examination of the natural properties of ice in the production of the polar sublime based on both Burkean and Kantian aesthetics. It particularly focused on the importance of literal and conceptual distance for the production of the polar sublime. This distance was also essential for the representation of the polar regions as absolute spaces in the primary literature. Lefebvre’s concept of absolute space has not been applied yet in the investigation of the polar regions in literary studies. I regarded the concepts of the sublime and absolute space as two distinct sides of ice in the period’s literature of polar exploration. The key difference between the two lay in the presence or absence of safe distance between polar ice and the observer.

Ships, the other object of this study, were employed as the main tool in polar expeditions of the period. Despite this, the spatial examination of ships has been neglected within the context of exploration literature of the period. In fact, the detailed study of ships in this literature has not been covered by any research to date. Thereby, one of the main aims of this study was to fill this research gap in literary studies. This study applied Foucault’s concept of heterotopia and Lefebvre’s concept of social space in its examination of ships. The theoretical engagement with Foucault’s concept of heterotopia was built on Casarino’s reading of it. However, this study similarly employed Lefebvre’s concept of social space and its production. In doing so, it showed that the space of the ship, in spite of its paradox of representation, was always inseparable from social relations which constantly produced it.

This study applies the theoretical engagement with the abovementioned concepts to the readings of the corpus that consists of five Anglo-American novels, published in the first half of the nineteenth century, which address various stages of contemporary Anglo-American polar exploration. The novels’ readings are hence situated within a condensed historical framework on this exploration. These readings ultimately show that both ice and ships are spaces which are imagined and experienced by the characters. They are likewise both employed subversively and imaginatively in the corpus. Both spaces are characterised by the inherent paradox of representation. Both these paradoxes of representation, to some extent, are characterised by the antithetical impetus to escape the social and the ultimate inability to do so. This study conclusively unveils the fact that the literal and conceptual distance is ever present in the representation of both spaces.

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