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Elena Glasberg: Who Goes There? Science, fiction, and belonging in Antarctica

Elena Glasberg: Who Goes There? Science, fiction, and belonging in Antarctica

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Published by sophyk
The implications of the ATS regime on Antarctica have been profound, both structuring the possibilities
for states to engage Antarctica, while limiting those very engagements to those directly related to science.
State-run science has in many ways solved the problem of Antarctica’s resistance to capital development
and provided a safe course for national rivalry. Yet science has not always been seen as the sole convener
of Antarctic activity. Tracing three versions of a story of resistance to an alien invasion of the pole – John
Campbell’s ‘Who Goes There?’ (1935), and its two filmic remakes, Christian Nyby’s The Thing From
Another World (1951) and John Carpenter’s The Thing (1981), in relation to Richard E. Byrd’s Antarctic
exploration career, this essay considers US strategies for incorporating Antarctic territory into national
and global imaginaries.
The implications of the ATS regime on Antarctica have been profound, both structuring the possibilities
for states to engage Antarctica, while limiting those very engagements to those directly related to science.
State-run science has in many ways solved the problem of Antarctica’s resistance to capital development
and provided a safe course for national rivalry. Yet science has not always been seen as the sole convener
of Antarctic activity. Tracing three versions of a story of resistance to an alien invasion of the pole – John
Campbell’s ‘Who Goes There?’ (1935), and its two filmic remakes, Christian Nyby’s The Thing From
Another World (1951) and John Carpenter’s The Thing (1981), in relation to Richard E. Byrd’s Antarctic
exploration career, this essay considers US strategies for incorporating Antarctic territory into national
and global imaginaries.

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Published by: sophyk on Apr 10, 2011
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Who goes there? Science, fiction, and belonging in Antarctica
Elena Glasberg
Writing Program, 010 South Baker Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, United States
Abstract
The implications of the ATS regime on Antarctica have been profound, both structuring the possibilitiesfor states to engage Antarctica, while limiting those very engagements to those directly related to science.State-run science has in many ways solved the problem of Antarctica’s resistance to capital developmentand provided a safe course for national rivalry. Yet science has not always been seen as the sole convenerof Antarctic activity. Tracing three versions of a story of resistance to an alien invasion of the pole – JohnCampbell’s ‘Who Goes There?’ (1935), and its two filmic remakes, Christian Nyby’s
The Thing FromAnother World 
(1951) and John Carpenter’s
The Thing
(1981), in relation to Richard E. Byrd’s Antarcticexploration career, this essay considers US strategies for incorporating Antarctic territory into nationaland global imaginaries.
Ó
2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords:
Antarctica; Film; Byrd; Neoimperialism
Imagining a future in Antarctica has never been easy. British explorer James Cook on his thirdvoyage around the globe in 1775, frustrated by the frozen seas, the absence of arable land, mineralwealth, anything he saw as valuable, declared the imperial territorial quest ended: ‘
.
no man willever venture further than I have done
.
the lands which may lie to the south will never be ex-plored.’
1
Cook’s impulse was based on his extensive experience in the region. Indeed, the preced-ing centuries of Antarctic exploration had seemed more like un-exploration in that every new
E-mail address:
1
J. Cook,
Voyage Towards the South Pole
, London, 1777. Qtd. in: W. Chapman,
The Loneliest Continent: the Storyof Antarctic Discovery
, Greenwich, 1964, 31. Countless writers on Antarctica begin their narratives of Antarctica’s (Eu-ropean) exploration citing Cook’s premature sense of an ending to earth’s southern geography.0305-7488/$ - see front matter
Ó
2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.jhg.2008.08.001
Journal of Historical Geography 34 (2008) 639–657
 
mark south erased a fantasy of a warm, habitable, and most importantly, profitable region to thesouth. Seeking to extricate himself from an increasingly bad investment, Cook staked the bottomof the map, overwriting the Greeks’ previous imaginary,
Terra Australis Incognita
(the unknownsouthern land), with his own terminus of impassable ice.
2
Cook’s mark stood for barely 40 yearsbefore a frenzy of sealing voyages gave way, once the seal population was dispatched, to furtherterritorial conquest. But his instinct to make Antarctic territory a limit to modernity’s drive toknow the world is echoed in the persistent need to place a future in Antarctica, a future thatAntarctica’s materiality thwarts.Antarctica’s remoteness, lack of indigenes, and almost otherworldly harshness has preventedthe development of even the crudest industries, save for tourism. While tourism continues togrow and reward a range of private and self-regulating companies – exploiting for profit thevery pristinity its industry threatens – my interest is in Antarctica’s resistance to the types of resource extraction typically pursued by nations either within their own borders or under colonial-ism.
3
In its vast and mostly desert-like qualities Antarctica challenges the way capital has mappedthe earth into zones of productivity, themselves resolved into further layers of industry or labor-value.
4
For a long time Antarctica was for all intents and purposes what Cook predicted: a waste-land of marginal human concern, resistant to all but a few hardy and well-funded expeditions.But Antarctica’s salience has risen since World War II, especially as a result of the developmentof the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) and the science activities occurring under the InternationalGeophysical Year (IGY). The ATS sets Antarctica aside from competition over territory andfrom capital development, instead designating it for the sole benefit of international science.Standing firm as a legal structure for approaching Antarctica, the ATS and its member stateshave through the 1970s and 1980s added amendments and protocols to address renewed interestin resources, protect its environment, and consider inclusion of nations with relatively little histor-ical connection to the continent.
5
The 1991 ‘Pax Antarctica,’ or the agreement to extend earlierdeferrals of contests over territory, power, and policy, re-ratified the basic tenets of the ATS, ban-ning militarization and commercial resource mining and deferring national claims at least until2048. The implications of the ATS regime have been profound, both structuring the possibilitiesfor states to engage Antarctica, while limiting those very engagements to those directly related toscience. State-run science has in many ways solved the problem of Antarctica’s troublesome
2
Books on Antarctica typically open with a gesture to the continent’s earliest speculative conceptualizations by theEgyptian Ptolemy, whose second century map of the world introduced the area he labeled
terra australis incognita
. Seefor example, P.I. Mitterling,
America in the Antarctic to 1840
, Urbana, 1959, 4.
3
For an essay on representation and symbolism as forms of value generated by corporate involvement in Antarcticasee E. Glasberg, Virtual capitalism,
Political and Legal Anthropology Review
21(1) (1998) 65–76. Tourism as an industrydeserves separate consideration.
4
See S. Pyne, The extraterrestrial earth: Antarctica as analogue for space exploration,
Space Policy
23 (2007) 147– 149 for a discussion of the limitations of human inhabitation in Antarctica and its repercussions for science policy andcultural development, including resource extraction, in Antarctica.
5
For an assessment of Antarctic tourism see P. Mason, The growth of tourism in Antarctica,
Geography
Vol 85(4)(2000) 358. For a more complex argument on the interrelation of tourism, self-regulation of the industry, and activityon the continent more broadly, see C. Murray and J. Jabour, Independent expeditions and Antarctic tourism policy,
Polar Record 
40 (215) 309–317. On the ATS see O. Stokke and D. Vidas (Eds),
Governing the Antarctic: the Effectivenessand Legitimacy of the Antarctic Treaty System
, New York, 1996.640
E. Glasberg / Journal of Historical Geography 34 (2008) 639–657 
 
materiality and provided a safe course for national rivalry. Yet as international investment in Ant-arctic science continues to grow and human presence with it, with the US leading in expendituresand personnel, even powerful international science and the ATS cannot prevent the simultaneousdevelopment of territorial and other types of property and sovereignty-driven interest inAntarctica.
6
Another form of value-creation not completely controlled within the terms of the ATS is rep-resentation. Even before humans arrived at its shores, the territory to the south generated stories,fictions, and numerous narratives of exploration. Science fiction is an organic genre for represent-ing Antarctica, which has developed in a feedback loop with exploration and scientific knowl-edge.
7
Authors of fiction have taken advantage of the little-known nature of Antarctica andincorporated historical and contemporary exploration narratives, news items, and sciencereports in their stories to create verisimilitude. Earlier in Antarctic exploration history, fictionin some ways filled the gaps in verifiable knowledge. The 19th century was framed by the fantasticprojections of Edgar Allan Poe and Jules Verne, who exploited curiosity and ignorance about thesouthern regions.
8
In the 20th century, after the geographic competition of the Heroic Age of imperial exploration ended, fictions again flourished in the gaps of the new knowledge emergingfrom the still remote and confounding territory.TheerabetweentheWorldWarswasakeytimeforthedevelopmentofUSnationalinterestintheregion. Under Richard Evelyn Byrd (1888–1957), the US had its first major government-funded ex-pedition since the one that had inspired Poe, the US Exploring Expedition led by Lt. Charles Wilkesin 1828–32. Byrd extended the Heroic Age’s emphasis on crowd-pleasing geographic firsts with his1928 flight over the South Pole into the more technological and science-driven modern era markedby the ATS and the international science of IGY. Byrd’s exploits made him famous in the US,and his memoirs, documentary films, and journalism worked to sustain attention on Antarcticaand to inspire political support as well as popular response, some of it in the form of fictions influ-enced by his published narratives. Perhaps the best-known fiction to be inspired directly by Byrd’s1929 overflight is
At the Mountains of Madness
(written 1931, serialized 1935) by H. P. Lovecraft.
9
The most significant depiction of Antarctic science written in the era before the ATS took effect isthe 1938 short story, ‘Who Goes There?’ by John Campbell, Jr. Set in a research camp in the middle
6
Competition and strategizing over resources and territorial claims in Antarctica has recently reemerged as an almostdaily international news topic. See for example, ‘Nations Chase Rights to Lucrative Antarctic Resources.’
The EpochTimes
¼
65009[accessed 4/16/08].
7
See ‘Future Politics: An Interview with Kim Stanley Robinson’ for a discussion of the relation between science fic-tion and world events with the author of 
Antarctica
, New York, 1997,
Science Fiction Studies #93
8
E.A. Poe’s,
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym
, New York, 1828 opened up the South Pole to ‘the eye of science’as well as to other speculation. Its curtailed vision of racial antimony and apocalypse has been ‘finished’ by many au-thors, perhaps most famously by Jules Verne, whose
Le Sphinx des Glaces
(The Ice Mystery, 1897) de-mystifies Poe’sfinal vision of a ‘being of the whiteness of the snow’ looming at the polar abyss as the effects of a giant magnetic rock.Both authors self-consciously played with scientific theories of the Earth and poles as well as literary fantasy.
9
Lovecraft refers to Byrd in the text as well as to Poe. Other fictions of the time reference Byrd’s expeditions, forexample, E. Marshall,
Dian of the Lost Land 
, New York, 1934 fancifully manipulates a misleading quote from Byrdabout the ‘lands beyond the pole’ to found a fantasy of a warm hidden Antarctic valley containing lost races discoveredby contending scientists.641
E. Glasberg / Journal of Historical Geography 34 (2008) 639–657 

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