Thursday, January 19, 2012

4. To dream the impossible dream

...or shall I say To pass the impassable ice ridges
This is the full text offered as an open cloze in Use of English:

'"In 1914, Ernest Shackleton, the famous polar explorer, headed towards Antarctica in the Endurance. He and his twenty-eight companions intended to cross Antarctica on foot.
 
"However, their ship became stuck in the ice, and, although it had been built for these conditions, was slowly crushed by the pressure of the ice. It was not possible for Shackleton and his men to travel over the frozen sea to the nearest land, four hundred kilometres away, because the ice was not flat and smooth. It was raised up into high ridges which / that were often impassable. Moreover, the ice was breaking / broken up into large pieces which moved according to the wind and current.
 
"During their six months on the ice, Shackleton's men survived by eating their dogs, and penguins and seals if / when they could catch them. Eventually, they reached Elephant Island, which was uninhabited. In a small boat they had taken from the ship, Shackleton and six of his men sailed for over eight hundred miles to another / an island where they knew there was a whaling-station, and therefore food, shelter and a radio. Their boat landed on the wrong side of the island and they had to climb a mountain range and march sixty kilometres to safety. Shackleton then arranged for a ship to collect his twenty-two companions on Elephant Island.
 
"It is because of his superb powers of organization and leadership that all his men survived this terrible experience.'"
video

Indeed, Shackleton's example of Man's  freedom to choose seems to belong to the Heroes of old; the Scientific Era (our existential bubble!) tells us that it may lead to paradox, for one can choose not to do anything. They call it the paradox of choice; and it will carry us closer to science fiction than we are willing to admit. 

3. En attendant Wikipedia

What a difference a day makes - twenty-four  little hours without the Free Internet! Millions of people worldwide searching for information to no avail, redirecting their attention to other sources, groping in the dark alleys branching from the information highway. Very strange.

We might as well bind our time a little and try to resolve the <Shackleton enigma>.

Mawson's expedition
The search for Antarctica was the last great adventure of global exploration. It's an epic tale spanning centuries of high adventure, from the "unknown southern land" of the ancients to the first recorded sightings of the continent in 1820. Antarctica was finally explored, and plundered, during an Age of Discovery by whalers and sealers who ventured into icy waters below the Antarctic Convergence. Then came a Heroic Era, when the great explorers such as Robert Scott, Ernest Shackleton, Douglas Mawson and Roald Amundsen ventured ever deeper into the vast whiteness of the interior, in search of the final "holy grail" of discovery, the South Pole.

With the coming of the Mechanical Era, aeroplanes replaced huskies as the vehicle of choice for conquering a continent. Finally came the advent of the Scientific Era, and the lessons of the 18-month-long International Geophysical Year (1957-1959), which shed the light of knowledge on Antarctica. The land's history reaches a pinnacle with the signing of the Antarctic Treaty, protecting the last continent for future generations and centuries. 

Amundsen's camp
The impetus for the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration came from a lecture given to the Royal Geographical Society in London in 1893 by Professor John Murray of the Challenger oceanographic expedition, who encouraged the scientists  "to resolve the outstanding geographical questions still posed in the South." We might as well infer that it was a good speech, provided that scientific societies were called upon to promote the cause of Antarctic exploration, and they did honour the call; what is more, it is by no means easy to find someone willing to readily donate money for such abstract causes as discovering the  poles of the Earth. It seems that Shackleton had considerable fund-raising skills, for he managed to convince quite a few magnates to donate at a time when WW I was about to start.

Why Shackleton instead of Scott, or Amundsen? Well, simply because the Shackleton-Rowett, or Quest Expedition, coinciding with the date of Shackleton’s death (5th Jan 1922), marked a turning point in scientists' and explorers' attitudes. They somehow gave up their goal, which was as abstract as a pole, and their ideal - national honour - shed its moral dimension (for in those times it mattered not only what was done but how it was done). 
Shackleton's Endurance

Be as it may, Shackleton and his men seemed to endure far greater adversities and twists of fate than the explorers taking part in the other expeditions. A lecturer in the periods between expeditions, Shackleton became well-known for his enthusiasm, which secured a place for his remembrance in later decades. On his death he was praised in the press, but thereafter largely forgotten, while the heroic reputation of his rival Scott was sustained for many decades. At the end of the 20th century Shackleton was "rediscovered", and rapidly became a cult figure, a role model for leadership as one who, in extreme circumstances, kept his team together - all due to an astonishing survival story. 

Such was his fame that the following newspaper advertisement is attributed to him, even if no traces have been found to attest to the veracity of its authorship:

"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success." Sir Ernest Shackleton. 

Even if all this episodic knowledge took up only a tiny area of our short-term memory, it would be better served by a bit of story-telling. So how would you complete the following text?

In 1914, Ernest Shackleton, the famous polar explorer, headed towards Antarctica in the Endurance. He and his twenty-eight companions intended to cross Antarctica …………… (1) foot.

However, their ship became stuck in the ice, and, ................... (2) it had been built for these conditions, ………….. (3) slowly crushed by the pressure of the ice. It was not possible ………….. (4) Shackleton and his men to travel over the frozen sea to the …………….. (5) land, four hundred kilometres away, because the ice was not flat and smooth. It was raised up into high ridges …………… (6) were often impassable. Moreover, the ice was ....................... (7) up into large pieces which moved ……………… (8) to the wind and current.

Shackleton after losing Endurance
..................... (9) their six months on the ice, Shackleton's men survived ………………. (10) eating their dogs, and penguins and seals …………….. (11) they could catch them. Eventually, they ....................... (12) Elephant Island, which was uninhabited. In a small boat …………….. (13) had taken from the ship, Shackleton and six of his men sailed for over eight hundred miles to …………….. (14) island where they knew …………….. (15) was a whaling-station, and therefore food, shelter and a radio. Their boat landed on the wrong side of the island …………….. (16) they had to climb a mountain range and march sixty kilometres …………….. (17) safety. Shackleton then arranged …………….. (18) a ship to collect his twenty-two companions on Elephant Island.

It is because ................. (19) his superb powers of organisation and leadership that ……….....…..
(20) his men survived this terrible experience.
(Adapted from Test Yourself for First Certificate, by Susan Morris and Alan Stanton)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

2. Fact or fiction?

Free sample form the on-line edition of Think in English Magazine. 

Hopefully, I'm not the only one to ask myself about how difficult it must have been to leave your family behind, to say good bye to friends, relatives and acquaintances, and travel the seven seas...Please, don't let me be misunderstood: this is no trivial matter, and - of course - I have no intention to trivialize such a feat. What I mean to imply is that the farther away one moves back into the past, the closer to legend and myth History seems to draw. For how else is Ernest Shackleton's life to be viewed against the backdrop of his lifetime? 

Take a few minutes to find some information about his expedition(s), and ask yourself some questions. Then join the forum and give your own answers to my, or your colleagues', questions:
  1. What made Shackleton so arduous in his endeavour? Was it because he grew up in The Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration? 
  2. Was he the only one? 
  3. But what, or who, gave impetus to exploration in the 19th Century?
Nimrod Expedition: Wild, Shackleton, Marshall and Adams
Mind you, I haven't asked why - because that much is clear: as far as human inquisitiveness is concerned, the sky's the limit! Wouldn't it be the perfect true story to help us understand Man's freedom of choice?