With focus on queer resistance emanating from place, this article examines Michelle Paver’s 2010 novel Dark Matter: A Ghost Story, set in the 1930s and telling the tale of an all-male expedition to Svalbard. The Arctic as depicted in travelogues and fiction has traditionally been embodied and gendered according to heteronormative models of interpretation as a formidable male adversary or a lethal female seductress; constructions that Paver’s fictional expedition members attempt to enforce as representatives of the norm. However, several aspects of the Arctic blur the boundaries between previously discreet categories, and offer resistance to the expedition’s normative assumptions. With a starting point in Sara Ahmed’s discussions about both spatial and existential orientation in Queer Phenomenology (2006), the article maps how the Arctic is imagined and perceived by Jack Miller, the novel’s protagonist, and how resistive features of the landscape and climate affect his ability to orient himself. Although hoping that the remote Svalbard will constitute a productive testing ground for a particular kind of inter-war, British masculinity, specificities of place represent a threatening transgression of what Jack perceives of as normal, which is brought to a climax by strange events he experiences in the isolated bay where the bulk of the text is set. This article consequently analyzes how the Arctic is initially constructed as a stable place, how geographical particularities then overturn possibilities for Jack’s orientation, and how supernatural occurrences finally violate boundaries between past and present, sane and mad. What Ahmed refers to as ‘queer moments’ that slant that subject’s perception of the world and, from a heteronormative perspective, need to be ‘straightened’ are in the novel produced by the actual as well as the supernatural Arctic. These queer moments distort perspectives, sometimes in highly productive ways, and highlight a continuous, geographically specific resistance to categorization.
Taylor & Francis, 2016.