The phenomenology of Samuel Hearne's journey to the coppermine river (1795): Learning the arctic

Ethics, Place and Environment 8 (1):39 – 59 (2005)
Recent critiques have selected textual evidence for casting Hearne as a failed narrator, because he did not live up to the mercantile or imperialist expectations for late 18th-century explorers, or as a biased narrator, because he never fully moves beyond such valuations. But if we categorize phenomenologically Hearne's experiences as a student of the Arctic throughout his four-year journey, there is more textual evidence for reading it as the account of a civilized narrator's conflicted adaptation to an indigenous society as his consciousness is more and more shaped by Arctic nature. Hearne's A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay, to the Northern Ocean 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772 (1795) is filled with patterns of experience in which Hearne is learning, often slowly and painfully, a culture of place through his body. Hearne is a developing narrator who moves from experiencing the Arctic as an alien, hostile, and unnatural place to responding directly to its actualities, adjusting over time to the demands the land and its people place on him. As Hearne eventually finds a temporary home in Arctic wilderness, his most significant accomplishment as a narrator is to move the locus of culture into it. As the phenomenologist Edward S. Casey puts it, this results in a 'thickening' between the antinomical oppositions of civilization and Arctic. Viewed in light of his own statements in his Preface, the commendation of contemporary reviewers, and the contrasting limitations of pre-Hearne sub-Arctic narratives, Hearne's Journey amounts to a reconfiguration of 18th-century civilized constructs into three roles grounded in Arctic phenomena: as a naturalist, as a traveler across northern terrain, and as a member of a Chipewyan war party. An ur-narrative of land-based Arctic exploration, Hearne's Journey finally demonstrates an integration with the land and the Chipewyans with whom he travels that establishes phenomenological precedents for the reading of all later accounts of land-based Arctic travel.
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DOI 10.1080/13668790500115664
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