A transcript of the prologue to The Idea of North, a sound documentary by Glenn Gould...
"This is Glenn Gould this programme is called The Idea of North. I've long been intrigued by that incredible tapestry of tundra and taiga which constitutes the arctic and sub-arctic of our country. I've read about it, written about it, and even pulled up my parka once and gone there. Yet like all but a very few Canadians I've had no real ex I've long been intrigued by that incredible tapistry of tundra and taiga which constitutes the arctic and sub-arctic of our country. I've read about it, written about it, and even pulled up my parka once and gone there. Yet like all but a very few Canadians I've had no real experience of the North. I've remained, of necessity, an outsider. And the North has remained for me, a convenient place to dream about, spin tall tales about, and, in the end, avoid.
This programme, however, brings together some remarkable people who have had a direct confrontation with that northern third of Canada, who've lived and worked there and in whose lives the North has played a very vital role. There's a geographer and anthropolgist, Jim Lotz; a sociologist, Frank Valee; a government official, Bob Phillips; and a nurse, Marianne Schroeder. There's also a fifth character and therein lies a story.
Several years ago I went North aboard a train known affectionately to Westerners as the Muskeg Express-- Winnipeg to Fort Churchill- 1,015 miles, two nights, one day, four double bedrooms, eight sections, diner and coach. And at breakfast I struck up a conversation with one W.B. McLean, or as he was known along the line and at all the hamlet sitings where his bunk car would be parked, Wally. Wally McLean is a surveyor, now retired, and within the first minutes of what proved to be a day-long conversation, he endeavored to persuade me of the metaphorical significance of his profession. He parlezed surveying into a literary tool, even as Jorge Luis Borge manipulates mirrors, and Franz Kafka badgers beetles. And as he did so I began to realize that his relation to a craft, which has as its subject, the land, enabled him to read the signs of that land, to find in the most minute measurement, a suggestion of the infinate, to encompass the universal within the particular. And so when it came time to organize this programme and to correlate the diseperate views of our four, other guests, I invited Wally McLean to be our narrator and to tell me how, in his view, one can best obtain an idea of North."
The Solitude Trilogy: The Idea of North
"The Idea of North," the first part of the trilogy, was intended at the time to stand on its own, with the trilogy evolving with Gould's enthusiasm. It was described by Gould as a "radio documentary" and was based on the narratives of five individuals who had directly experienced the north of Canada. As producer Lorne Tulk noted, "The Idea of North"
represented both the real and imagined effects of geographical isolation, and it was the jumping-off point for Glenn's exploration of solitude via radio documentary. Glenn believed that isolation, which of course is synonymous with the North, though it needn't be, was the purveyor of the creative spirit. The idea that the North forced solitude upon anyone who ventured there was, at least in part, how Glenn described "The Idea of North" to me.
Gould himself tells how the north had fascinated him since childhood but that he had no more than a romanticized and metaphorical view of it. When he assembled "The Idea of North." Gould still considered it allegorical. But he was impressed by how those who had gone north had not returned "unscathed" and had become "philosophers." The work sought to "examine the effects of solitude and isolation upon those who have lived in the Arctic or sub-Arctic."
After a three minute introduction representing what Gould called "contrapuntal radio" -- wherein voices, like musical instruments, enter and fade in sequence -- Gould himself describes his purpose, and what follows are the narratives of the dramatis personae -- a female nurse representing the enthusiast, a cynical sociologist, a rugged prospector, a government bureaucrat, a scholarly anthropologist, and a surveyor Gould describes as a "disillusioned enthusiast." This latter figure Gould had met on his train adventure and imagined him to have led (as producer Janet Somerville puts it) "a hermit's life in northern Manitoba." This was Wally McLean.
Wally's folksy and reflective voice is punctuated by the sound of a moving train to recreate Gould's original impression, a conversation in a dining car. Wally plays the role of the hermit turned philosopher. He describes himself as a hermit by choice not by necessity who escaped urban society to the north.
Other voices, including that of a young geologist, weave in and out of the narrative without intersecting Wally but confirming and extending his perceptions. In passing, they mention Kafka, the myth of Sisyphus, Pirandello, Shakespeare, Einstein, William James. Wally speaks of nature as the last challenge, which in turn merges with human nature as the last challenge, and concludes that these challenges culminate in the challenge of going north.
Intervenciones de los diferentes personajes de The Idea of North.
1. "I was fascinated by the country as such. I flew north from Churchill to Coral Harbour on Southampton Island at the end of September. Snow had begun to fall and the country was partially covered by it ... this flat, flat country frightened me a little, because it just seemed endless ..."
2. "I always think of the long summer nights, when the snow had melted and the lakes were open and the geese and ducks had started to fly north. During that time the sun would set but, when there was still a last shimmer in the sky, I would walk out to one of those lakes and watch those ducks and geese just flying around peacefully or sitting on the water, and I felt that I was almost part of that country, part of that peaceful surrounding, and I wished that it would never end."
3. "He's sitting there, away from the madding crowd that's stampeding up and down the aisle and, actually, he's trying to sort of isolate himself because, in fact, shortly he will be isolated for a long period of time in the lonely north..."
4. "You know what one young fellow told me? He was taking -- I forget what he was taking -- probably philosophy. He said this was the myth of Sisyphus. Matter of fact, he lisped but I didn't, I think. And the fact is that he had quite a time with it, and here was some wretched -- who? King? was it a king? Yes, a king of Greece -- Corinth? Well, might have been Corinth, and here he was, rolling this confounded rock up to the top of this precipice, for some reason or other, and then he let gravity take over and it hit the bottom. And then he did the same thing again, no doubt with a larger rock."
("We're up against this myth, this business of having to do things for no apparent reason...")
5. Some of "the most vivid of my childhood memories ... have to do with churches ... with evening light filtered through stained-glass windows, and with ministers who concluded their benediction with the phrase, 'Lord, give us the peace that the earth cannot give.'" (Glenn Gould in the film Toronto)
6. "...these different rails [that] meet in the infinity that is our conscious hope."