'The bones lay inert, mocking': Archaeological Anxieties in Sarah Moss's "Cold Earth"

Aktiviteetti: Puhe tai esitysKonferenssiesitelmä


Speaker in the panel "Heading North: Arctic Anxieties and Utopias," with Dr. Markku Salmela and Professor Johannes Riquet.

'The bones lay inert, mocking': Archaeological Anxieties in Sarah Moss’s "Cold Earth"

Kevin Greene has argued that “an interest in origins may be a very early aspect of human consciousness,” continuing that “the possibility that the phenomenon of death led to reflections on afterlife or rebirth amongst early prehistoric peoples is suggested by burial sites” (9). Indeed, origins, consciousness, death, peoples past, and burial site are all thematic keywords that can be applied to the study of Sarah Moss’s Cold Earth (2009). In the novel, a group of young archaeologists travels to the Arctic, aiming to find out what happened to the lost Viking settlements in Greenland but, rather than a reflection on the life of the peoples past, the narrative – I argue – is an expedition into the anxieties of the archaeologists themselves.

My paper shows that the very act of excavating human remains provokes various psychological processes (memories, emotions, and neuroses) in the archaeologists engaged in the work, and that the physical and laborious act of digging is habitually contrasted with processing mental trauma. An archaeological site that can conceal, hide, and bury things is a notable spatial metaphor in contemporary fiction, and in Cold Earth this metaphor is extended and magnified. The Freudian, analogous relationship between the memory of a place and that of a person is significant not only because the analogy allows us to understand places and minds in terms of build-up material and layers, but also because it gives history a vertical dimension that seems to be grounded in location. Similarly, Foucault understood archaeology as an abstract means through which to compare discourses, and emphasized that in archaeological analysis “comparison is always limited and regional” (157). Focusing on material discovering and immaterial uncovering, my paper asserts that to discuss the palimpsestic nature of the mind, which archaeological excavations in literature are particularly good at exemplifying, we must turn our attention to the ground below.

Conference travel funded by the H.W. Donner's Fund at Åbo Akademi University.
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