Poles Apart

I often find myself getting stuck in this project. I see nothing before me, just white.

Alicia Kopf, Brother in Ice


As I am trying not to get too stuck in my own project, faced with the beginning of the year and a quietness comparable to an inability to move, here are a few notes on Alicia Kopf’s book Brother in Ice as part of my thinking on Correspondances.

Brother in Ice is described as a book that defies genres, a ‘hybrid novel – part research notes, part fictionalized diary, and part travelogue.’ I am drawn to the structure of the book, to its short and disjointed sections, that break apart the usual linear narrative structure, and the way it brings together personal writing with research notes and with illustrations and images.

Kopf plays with the idea of creating something as a form of exploration of the unknown, and with “the idea of investigation, of seeking out something in an unstable space. I’d like to talk about all that as a metaphor, because what interests me is the possibility of an epic, a new epic, without foes or enemies; an epic involving oneself and an idea.”

I am captured by the Alicia Kopf book, the way she shows and doesn’t show the central idea, but explores the force behind it. Like the icy terrain she sets out to investigate it reveals itself gradually in layers. The fascination with snow, the blank page, the metaphors of discovery, of snow and ice, of mountains and icebergs, of movement through empty space. The epic struggle in the everyday, of being in ice.

You can read more about it here.

Brother in Ice is finally about the tension between having a creative life that allows us to escape our everyday lives, and responsibilities to our loved ones. The places we start from – our selves, homes, loved ones – are as unknowable and unlocatable as the poles themselves. The dialectic between home and away collapses in the polar whiteness of the creative process, which Kopf describes as a “territory” that is “not yet visible to me”: “If it were, I wouldn’t write.” If it were easy to get to, everyone would go. But then, Kopf notes, “It’s much easier to get to the Arctic than to reach certain areas of one’s self.”.


Lauren Elkin, ‘Brother in Ice by Alicia Kopf review – a polar obsession’, The Guardian, 9 May 2018.

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