Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Now that I read the OTHER Annapurna...

I was put off, just as mentioned in class today, by the racism and colonialist mentality displayed by Herzog in his narration. The use of the derogatory term "coolies," as well as his derisive descriptions of the Sherpas were offensive, to say the least. He often referred to his porters as having "Mongolian faces" and exotic, but ugly features. Herzog writes, "His typically Mongolian face was adorned with a blue balaclava surmounted by his dark glasses." (Herzog 93) This is just after he describes him as the strongest of the Sherpas and being entrusted to an importent task. Furthermore, he fetishizes and objectifies the women, including young girls. The manner in which he describes the young girls by the water is akin to describing a nymph or plaything. "Two particularly pretty and graceful girls were doing their laundry in the spring; they were clean, their hair was carefully done, and they wore work-day saris of calico. Their movements as they beat their washing allowed us to admire their supple, well-made bodies." (Herzog 65) Here, the Nepalese girls seem to be less human and more object. The adjectives "clean" and "supple" are unsettling. At the very least, Herzog shows sympathy for the girl as she limps away on uneven legs.
Another interesting part of the the book was the effort it took to even find Annapurna. Much of the stress comes from repeated returning to camps and trying out different passages. I guess much of my surprise comes from forgetting that these men were allegedly the first to summit Annapurna. I have already read a good portion of Blum's Annapurna, which seems to be a much less trying expedition so far, but then I realized that they didn't have to find Annapurna in the first place.  I noticed the similarities in which both authors opened their respective narratives by describing members of their team. Both authors made sure to talk nobly, almost romantically, of the skills and experience each individual member brought. I picked up a contrast between masculine and feminine. As we talked about in class, much of the language used in Herzog's account had to do with victory, conquering, and colonialism. However, Blum's team is on the defensive. They're out to prove something, both seizing but also protecting the image of women. She imagines how it would look if the women had to be helicoptered out of Annapurna; the shame would have been unbearable. Blum's crew is also clearly more harmonious with the porters.


  1. I like how your approach of experiencing both Annapurna narratives together helped expose the racist and prejudiced aspects of Herzog for you. Just reading Herzog I found myself almost ignoring his obviously problematic attitudes, blaming his views on the idea that he was writing a long time ago, when westerners had less progressive views towards other cultures. The thing is, we're not talking about the 1800s here- 1950 wasn't actually that long ago and even then prospectives were starting to shift. I think reading the other Annapurna narrative would have pointed that out nicely by providing a comparison. For this and other comparitive reasons, I wish I had approached both texts together like you.

  2. I was also very put off by the racism and colonial attitude in Annapurna. And, I find it surprising that it was so well and widely received. Did people not take offense at Herzog's language? "Coolies," really?? This makes me suspect that Herzog's colonial attitude resonated with people across the western world. Though Herzog portrays the race to summit an 8,000 meter peak as a national effort (a sort of mountain olympics), perhaps citizens of other western nations viewed the story as a general feat of human advancement (the label human, of course, not applying to the "Coolies"). It was a feel-good story that gave people a sense of control after WWII.
    Your comparison of Herzog's Annapurna to Blum's Annapurna is really interesting. I haven't read any of Blum's book yet, but it makes sense that the female perspective would apply a different sort of meaning to the expedition. I'm not sure I agree with your distinction between the defensive and offensive approaches, though. While Herzog uses aggressive language and writes as if he is conquering a foreign land and lesser people, he, his expedition members, and his country are on the "defensive." They have just been humiliated in WWII, so they, probably like the women in Blum's expedition, seek to prove themselves.
    I think it is entirely plausible, though, that the women would react to this defensive position in a different manner. Perhaps they would be less likely to view the expedition through a colonizing lens or to degrade the Sherpas and other natives because women know how it feels to be dominated and abased. In this sense, they would enter the adventure with a different life-perspective than the men in Herzog's expedition. The women are striving to prove that they can achieve the same feats as men. It is a gradual process and an upward trend. The men, on the other hand, are seeking to regain their prior ground after a sudden drop in self-esteem following humiliation.