Life Writing at the Terminus: Glacier Memoirs and Planetary Relationality




glaciers, climate change, Life Narrative, ethics


This essay examines the American glaciologist M Jackson’s While Glaciers Slept: Being Human in a Time of Climate Change and The Secret Lives of Glaciers; the British glaciologist Jemma Wadham’s Ice Rivers: A Story of Glaciers, Wilderness, and Humanity; and the Icelandic writer Andri Snær Magnason’s On Time and Water, all of which employ autobiographical discourse to convey the enormity of the climate crisis as it is manifested in the rapidly accelerating loss of Earth’s glacial ice. I discuss these writers’ accounts of their turn to life writing to augment the limited persuasive force scientific data, their scaling of the temporality of glacier recession to the time spans of their own lives, their attribution of sentience to glaciers through an engagement with non-Anglo-European worldviews, and their expressions of grief at the impending death of Earth’s glaciers. I suggest that these texts demonstrate how the distinctive truth claims, temporal modalities, subject-positioning strategies, and affective appeals of life narrative provide a particularly supple hermeneutic schema in which an understanding of the moral ramifications of humans’ mutually dependent relationships with more-than-human nature—what Amy J. Elias and Christian Moraru have described as ‘a planetary ethics of relationality’—might be fostered.

Author Biography

John David Zuern, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa

Associate Professor, Department of English