Monday, February 11, 2013

The Descent

After reading Annapurna: A Woman's Place, I am also glad that we read it right after Herzog's Annapurna.  In doing so, the differences and similarities between two accounts of the ascent of the same mountain were heightened.  While people have already discussed the different narrative styles used by Herzog and Blum, I would like to examine how the construction and organization of their narratives differ.

In contrast to Herzog, who devotes seven chapters to describing in careful detail his team's descent from Annapurna and the events that follow it, Blum chronicles the aftermath of her team's ascent in a single chapter.  Although Blum does provide an Epilogue and an Afterword describing what has happened to the members of her team since their adventure, she primarily constructs her narrative around the ascent and the summit.  Part of this different clearly stems from the simple fact that no one on Blum's team suffered any major injuries, which dramatizes the descent of Herzog's team.  Apart from Margi, "hobbling around in huge ensolite booties to protect her tender feet" (222), and Piro, who "arrived with her finger still heavily bandaged" (224), the members of Blum's team returned from the summit healthy and physically whole.  Thus, their descent will not be a repeat experience of the race against time which the French team's retreat became in 1950.

Finally, I believe that Blum chooses to gloss over the return journey because she does not want to, or cannot, dwell upon the "terrible price" demanded by Annapurna: the deaths of her friends and team members (225).  Blum recognizes that her expedition was successful and that her expedition gained something priceless in reaching the summit: "We had survived the physical and psychological stresses and found that as a team we could do great things" (224).  Nevertheless, she and her team cannot "comprehend the great loss that accompanied our achievement" (224).  Blum even finds herself incapable of writing words of comfort to the families of Alison and Vera, for she knows that no matter what she writes, the words will never replace the loss of two people: "The words brought little comfort to me as I wrote them, and I doubted whether they would help Vera's and Alison's families and friends.  But what else could I write?  That they should be here with us still - that it wasn't fair the mountain had extracted so terrible a price?"(225).  In short, she knows that her expeditions victory, no matter how important it had been to Vera and Alison, would never comfort their family and friends.  While Annapurna and the loss of their friends gives the members of the expedition a renewed appreciation for life and its value - "Those weeks spent under the threat of imminent death - followed by the loss of Vera and Alison - had taught us to see the important things, to focus on essentials" (229) - Blum's inability to believe the words of comfort she writes undermine this statement and suggest that people outside of climbing cannot understand dying in the mountains.  Nonetheless, Alison's husband was a climber, so surely he would understand?  Does the fact that Vera and Alison died doing what they loved justify or make up for their deaths?  Why does Blum devote so little of her narrative to examining the psychological effects of their deaths on the members of her team?

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