Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Herzog's attitude toward the mountain

The language Herzog uses when describing the teams actions toward the mountain struck me as interesting.  After my own (though much smaller) adventures in the past, I describe myself as having "hiked up such-and-such mountain."  In such a recount there is no interaction between the mountain and me; I perform the action but not to the mountain, and the mountain is passive as I hike up it.  In Annapurna, Herzog, on the other hand, writes as if his team has waged war against the mountain and the mountain against them.  He writes that the mountain must be "conquered" (59) and that "the Expedition would, single-heartedly, throw all of its strength into the attack" (65).  He even describes their surveying of the mountains as a "reconnaissance" (45) and coins their group meeting a "council of war" (59).  The language which Herzog employs implies a different attitude toward the mountain than that which I exhibit after a day hike.  Rather than viewing the landscape as a medium for his adventure or as a neutral entity that he climbs, he views it as something that must be attacked and defeated.  And, Herzog perceives the mountain as an active entity capable of fighting back: After a hailstorm forces Lachenal, Rebuffat, and Herzog to flee down the mountain, which they describe as "prepared to strike,"Couzy complains that "Dhaulagiri is putting up a very good defense" (36).  The team's language personifies the mountain; it ascribes motivation and deliberate action to Dhaulagiri. 
While reading, I repeatedly asked myself why Herzog exhibits this active and violent attitude toward Dhaulagiri, Annapurna and the surrounding landscape.  Does it serve some sort of inspirational or motivational purpose?  A clear difference between my hikes and Herzog's daring adventure is the risk level.  Everything about their climb is extreme: Extreme weather, extreme climbing conditions, extreme danger.  Whereas I rarely doubt that I will return safely from whichever Adirondack peak I choose to hike, Herzog and his team are well aware that they are entering a life-and-death situation.  Set in this context, Herzog's choice of language seems more appropriate.  His use of words such as "attack," "reconnaissance," "war," and "strike" is a manifestation of his knowledge of the trip's inherent danger.  The mountains provide the setting for the extreme weather (snow, wind, hail) that literally strikes the climbers.  This factor and the huge, intimidating nature of Dhaulagiri and Annapurna make it easy to believe that the mountain itself launches attacks against the climbers.  Though the personification of the mountain may serve as a retrospective literary tool to dramatize and increase tension in the text, it seems (if we are to trust Herzog's memory and honesty when recounting direct quotes) that the team actively characterized the mountains' and their own actions as violent during the adventure.   

On a slightly unrelated note, Herzog very much portrays climbing as a man's world.  Though he does write that Ichac married a climber, Herzog also claims that "a wife is always a problem!" and describes how Couzy and Rebuffat leave their wives at home to pursue climbing (3).  For the members of Herzog's team, climbing seems to be an escape from domestic life.  This may lend to the war-like portrayal of the adventure since, at the time, war was also a "man's world."   


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