Posts from 30th April 2012

30
Apr 12

inuit science and the commodification of victory: scott versus amundsen a century on

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(WARNING: Very VERY wordy piece still in a rough-ish state: really REALLY don’t read unless you’re an obsessive too! And to explain a little: all this is an ancient passion for me, the tale of how Captain Scott was beaten to the South Pole by Roald Amundsen in early 1912, and failed to make it home. As far back as I can recall the elements in the story called out to me, even as a small Lord Sukrat laying on my grandparents’ snug yellow fitted carpet in mild-weathered Shrewsbury, leafing through the gorgeous photographs in their battered old blue copy of Herbert Ponting’s The Great White South, spooking myself with Ponting’s extracts from Scott’s final journals, or his image of Dr Atkinson’s hideous frostbitten fingers, and dreaming of fabulous bergs and snowponies and famous men who would never return. In 1979, a change in the way the tale was told, catnip to a bolshy teenage Sukrat. Polar historian Roland Huntford published Scott and Amundsen, which upended all pieties: to such a scandalous degree that in the mid-80s it was renamed The Last Place on Earth to coincide with a television dramatisation (feat.Martin “Dub Dob Dee” Shaw as Scott and Sylvester “Who7” McCoy as Bowers, and scripted by ultra-lefty playwright Trevor Griffiths, whose Comedians I admire enormously). I’ve read and reread LPoE dozens of times over the years, growing oddly fond of Huntford’s abrasive and occasionally lumpily repetitive style, repelled by (but also drawn to) the sheer violence of his name-making dislike for Scott, and fascinated (if not always convinced) by his unsentimental examination of conflicted in-group dynamics, what went sour in each party, and the immediate and long-term tragedies arising. So when — a little over a year ago — this controversial historian returned to his break-out subject, with Race for the South Pole: The Expedition Diaries of Scott and Amundsen (RSP), aggressively recapping almost all his earlier debunking assertions — well, I was always going to be writing something. I just didn’t quite expect it to have to be so much. Skip to the end for an acronym-glossary, and to the footnotes for how this all fits in with my other interests, if it does [1: note — footnotes not yet written]; for the vast and still somewhat unvarnishedly bleurgh sketches-to-self of what I have to say and how I think, sketches I vaguely hope of a much better piece than this yet is, read GINGERLY on... )

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