THE WAY NORTH

Joel Weishaus

"The Way North is the Way into the Unknown."
                                               -Herbert Read

During the last Ice Age, Homo sapiens were tested as to whether they could survive extreme climatic conditions. Not only did our ancestors survive, they generated an art that has never been surpassed on the scale of its multimedia daring. They also created
symbolic space, the dimension in which North is "a mode of perception which raises it to the power of a symbol, to being a symbolic direction, that is, to a dimension beyond."1 This dimension is "with us from any latitude, close by any season and surrounding heat."2

After Glenn Gould, virtuoso Canadian musician, raised "The Idea of North" on a radio show, it was elaborated by composer R. Murray Schafer, was an art exhibition,3 and is discussed in myriad books, while far off I see the threads of life twisting themselves in the intricate web which stretches unbroken from life’s sweet morning dawn to the eternal death-stillness of the ice. Thought follows thought---you pick the whole to pieces, and melting glaciers and sea-ice loom as global disaster.

This is a time of preparation, of sorting through myths and motifs, old and new, too heavy to carry across vast inhospitable spaces. Man-made structures buckle under the irony of thawing permafrost, releasing more heat-capturing gases into the swelter of lengthening summers, creating a circle of stories disappearing along with human ways of life "the way in which archetypes link actual symbolism to psychic functioning through time and space."4

There is a voluminous history of explorers who sailed the Arctic Sea and trekked across its barren lands. Now a new breed of explorer/anthropologist, climatologist , journalist, and artist has been flying to the part that’s left over, which gets thrown away in Western culture...the most holy part in shamanic rituals. What’s left over represents the debt, the hollowness that’s been carved out of the universe by human ingenuity, and so must be refilled with "the idea of something very powerful, very primal."5 So, Go on! Go on! There is no place left.6

 




Contents

Dedication

 


1- H. Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism. Boulder, 1978.
2- D. Rothenberg, "The Idea of the North." In, M. Tobias and G. Cowan, editors, The Soul of Nature. New York, 1996.
far off I see the threads:  F. Nansen, Farthest North: The  Exploration of the Fram 1893-1896.  Edinburgh, Scotland, 2002.
3- "There was a national juried showing in Canada in the late 60’s which must have been based upon Gould’s idea.
The show was called “Idea of North”. I was less than twenty but I can remember the mature and established artist’s of Kay Snow’s Calgary salon being irritated by the subject. North is the direction of artistic choice in Ontario. Of course the western artist understood the direction as concept but, as I remember they felt oppressed by the east which in Canada was towards the center of the empire. North are farmlands and a traveler must go many miles to reach 'a dimension beyond' and that dimension is flat and scruffy and eventually gives way to even flatter untracked desert tundra and muskeg." B. Smylie. Personal email, 9 May 2006.
4- S. Rowland, "Jung, the trickster writer, or what literary research can do for the clinician." Journal of Analytical Psychology. 51, 2006.
the part that’s left over:  M. Prechtel. “Saving the Indigenous Soul:  An Interview With Martin Prechtel by  Derrick Jensen.” The Sun, April  2001.
5- M. Tucker, Dreaming With Open Eyes. San Francisco, 1992.
6-
 T.Merton, The Other Side of the Mountain: The Journals  of Thomas Merton 1967–1968. San Francisco, CA,1998


Voices on some of the pages are from Glenn Gould's "The Idea of North." (CBC, 1967)

Thank you to the people who read these pages while they were in progress; especially to Anny Ballardini.
Also to Portland State University, Department of English.