northern lights aurora borealis

Northern Lights on Rabbit River, picture by Aarron Foat on Flickr

Following up on my post dedicated to the archetype of the geographical South, I will now focus on the opposite cardinal point, the North.

For both political and socio-economical reasons Western culture has embraced the “nordic” ideal of a culture of work (of Weberian memory), and it is therefore harder, when considering the North, to clear the path from cultural prejudice, as if the betrayal of giving in to stereotype were not as bad when the stereotype is positive.

For this reason I will focus on the aesthetics of the North as an archetype, a field less compromised by interference from geopolitical considerations which are intertwined with the North/South dichotomy.

If the South with its warm colors and bucolic landscapes evokes the attributes of the concept of Beauty, the North calls upon the visionary power of the Sublime: misty mountains and stormy seas, a wild Nature never bowing to the will of Man. As much as the South can be associated with fire and passion, the Sturm und Drang, the Storm and Stress are archetypal sentiments of far colder latitudes.

The North is the land of the tension between Man and Nature, of the reflection on the position of the individual inside a macrocosm which is symbolically represented in the perception of the sublime. From this point of view, it is easier to understand the tension between the spirituality of the North and the religiousness of the South.

Finally, we can define as a balancing act the fascination of Nordic culture for the Apollonian, and consequently for classic antiquity: the triumph of Reason and its solar attributes are the light keeping hope alive when the winter nights become too long, and the sphere of personal security  needed to appreciate the sublime is threatened.
Just like the South, peacefully basking in the security of a milder climate, searches the depths of the Dionysian for the thrill of the sublime – and opposites attract.