In a recent interview for the Los Angeles Review of Books blog, Eloy Fernández Porta speaks with Christopher Heuer about his book Into the White: The Renaissance Arctic and the End of the Image. Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to read the full interview. An excerpt appears below:
“Q: ‘A Different Kind of Wonder’ could be an alternative title for your book. How did it occur to you that the Arctic ‘wonders’ were substantially different from those in the Asian or American New World?
A: The discourse around ‘wonder’ remains hugely fruitful for the study of early modern art; it seems to permit a freedom from conditions of ‘purely’ scientific fascination or (conversely) theological awe, a kind of secular devotion. But most of the way ‘wonder’ is presented in an Atlantic context, it seems to me, relies on a kind of bad materialism, an assumption that there is always a thing, a person, a situation, AT which to wonder… a kind of substantive hinge for things. The Arctic (as a place) doesn’t seem to fold into this relationship so neatly. That is to say: all the weird stuff that people encountered in the arctic (walruses, icebergs, Northern Lights) WAS wondrous, but, for some reason, never permitted the kind of stepping-back-from, the distance, that other exoticisms demanded. Here the work of Caroline Walker-Bynum — which I adore — is germane.
Q: You also establish a distinction between a ‘warm’ and a ‘cold’ Renaissance. Could you elaborate on this idea?
A: This is meant not in terms of geography, or of climatic norms! I mean simply that I’m curious about the lens through which early modern culture — landed anywhere — is viewed. Is it always about hotness, speed, alacrity, circulation)? I think I am interested in the possibilities of a study of boring slow, early modern things. More immediately: do we really need to still associate the birth of modern art with the (Western) birth of capitalism (Florence)? This narrative has been under siege for a century. All I’m hoping to say (perhaps outside of Arctic content) is that the model of the Renaissance that associates a ‘rebirth’ with the circulateability and movement of art is too wedded to models of (frictionless) transport that were unknown at one point. Movement creates heat, stasis breeds cold. I’m just asking scholars to consider the stubbornness, the frigidity, of certain early modern artworks.”