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4 April 2011

Miguel Serrano's Antarctica and Other Myths

Alex Kurtagic

I was recently sent a copy of La Antártica y Otros Mitos, Miguel Serrano's earliest book, if one excludes his anthology of short stories by Chilean auhtors, published ten years earlier. Originally published in 1948 in paperback format, it is, besides very rare, little more than a booklet, and contains a speech, delivered by Serrano upon his return from a three-month visit to O'Higgins Land in Antarctica.

La Antártica y Otros Mitos is quite unlike Serrano's later books, as the text was written for voice delivery and is, therefore, slightly more accessible. It does, however, contain a great many of the fundamental themes that he would then go on to explore in his oeuvre, except in this case the organising principle is Antarctica and his fellow Chileans' relationship with the extreme South.

Serrano does not engage in travel or explorer-type writing, so this is not an esoteric version of Scott's diaries or of the books penned by fellow and subsequent explorers, like Shackleton, Mawson, Byrd, and Fuchs and Hillary, some of which I have reviewed and some of which are on sale through the shop. Instead, Serrano's description of the White Continent is mytho-philosophical; it is a spiritual and metaphysical exploration, rather than a geographical one.

Woven into the narrative are references to Spengler, Nietzsche, and Poe, but also to Wegener, Keyserling, and Szabo. The latter was one of the earlier c0ntributors to the Hitler survival myth. And, naturally, we encounter Atlantis—Serrano believed that Antarctica might have been the lost continent, and speculated as to whether, once the ice melted, we would one day encounter remnants of a lost civilisation on the subglacial landscape. Serrano was familiar with the geological findings by Wilson during Robert Scott's Terra Nova expedition: fossilised plant life on the Transantarctic mountains, which indicated Antarctica once had a warm climate (indeed, hundreds of millions of years ago it traversed the equator before returning to the pole).

The speech is the main part of the book, and it is prefaced by the author, as is a second part containing a poetic spiritual reflection. Antarctica had a profound impact on Serrano and references to it recurred in his later work.

La Antártica y Otros Mitos has never been translated into English. This is probably because its length and format gives it limited commercial appeal. All the same, it is quite interesting and the booklet still merited a review in Occidente magazine. The latter, publised in February-March 1949, I translated not too long ago and contains a excerpt from the present work. You can read it here.

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