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Cold Culture: Polar Media and the Nazi Occult

Abstract

The inaccessibility of the North and South Pole makes them a crucible for persistent questions of access and data visualization that characterize the information age. Arctic and Antarctic have become increasingly topical in popular cinema as well as in media arts. As representations of polar regions grapple with the fictions that mark representations of science, they illustrate the perils and perks of polar travel in the age of digital media. This essay sets out to trace representations of the Arctic and Antarctic in media history. To this day, the attraction of South Pole and North Pole remains one of heroic detection: they have been discovered, inspired myth, literature, science, and art, yet the polar regions remain unrepresentable - there to be found and rediscovered. This is true for the kind of art history that hews to patterns of the detective novel, reconstructing from traces a grammar of objects and authorship; and it applies also to film and media art in the age of eco-tourism, where discovery remains the motive, following snow-blown trails into nothingness, even and especially after the preceding discoverers had imprinted the landscape with their names and deaths. Polar media raise complex issues of mapping cultural space from colonialism to post-industrial globalization. One trajectory of what one ought to be able to excavate as the historical logic of polar media indicates a shift, in the 19th century, from a pronounced emphasis on race to a growing concern with environmental factors, with weather, and with the global metereological consequences of melting polar ice caps in the course of the 20th and into the 21st century.

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