Nonorganic life: frequency, virtuality and the sublime in Antarctica



Publication Details

Ballard, S. "Nonorganic life: frequency, virtuality and the sublime in Antarctica." Far Field: Digital Culture, Climate Change, and the Poles. Ed.J. Marsching & A. Polli. Bristol, UK: Intellect Books, 2012, 165-186.


How do we understand what it means to live on a planet? First, we might examine the qualities of a planet: spherical, rotating around an axis, revolving around a star (in the case of our Earth, the sun). Perceived according to these properties, it becomes clear that certain locations on the surface of this sphere are subject to different conditions of life. For example, due to the rotation of the Earth, most locations on its surface are subject to a 24-hour cycle of light and dark. However, two places, the axis points of the Earth's rotation, experience a vastly different cycle, one that occurs over a full year and is tied to the Earth's tilt and its revolution around the sun. These places are the North and South Poles, and their unique properties mark them as significant to our planet and its relationship to the solar system.

The continent of Antarctica is a heightened location where scale and our stories of the world come together with contemporary understandings of ecology. Hui Te- Rangioras extraordinary journey is a significant foundational narrative of the indigenous histories of the Pacific (Te Ariki-tara-are 1919, Best 1915, Buck 1954, Smith 1904, McFarlane 2008), and takes its place alongside heroic stories of European exploration. Even for those of us who live close by, it i a combination of these histories that frame how we construct and understand the far, far south. Our understandings of Antarctica oscillate between fictional truths and scientific myth as we grasp at what French theorist Felix Guattari (2005, 68) describes as an "environment in the process of being reinvented:' In this sense, Antarctica is a continent formed from information and matter reconstituted through European constructions of Nature. Because of this, any discussion of Antarctica needs to include the European model of the sublime and examine how this philosophical idea continues to determine how many of us relate to the environment around us.

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