Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Who is Alfred Lansing anyways?

Sorry this is a bit late... 

I just wanted to start out by saying that this is probably my favorite narrative that we've read so far this semester.  It is much better written than most of the other texts, and Alfred Lansing manages to present a gripping story without resorting to melodrama.

That being said, Lansing's approach to recording Shackleton's journey is much different from that of most of the other authors.  Though Krakauer, Tabor, and Harrer were not present for any or some of the events they describe, the authors' duties as reporters play a central role in their texts.  They often describe their interviews with survivors, the research process, and their reasoning behind their conclusions drawn from various pieces of evidence.  In a sense, the authors' search for the "truth" becomes the primary focus of the text, and the expedition members become secondary, cast as characters.  

Lansing, on the other hand, does not refer to himself or write in first-person except in the one page preface.  He briefly explains the research process, and tells the reader that his information comes from diary entries and interviews with survivors.  He begins the preface by boldly stating that "The story that follows is true," and he describes his efforts to "record as accurately as possible the reactions of the men who lived them."  Of course, these two statements are problematic since he at once makes a claim of "truth" and admits that he can only portray the story "as accurately as possible," suggesting that complete truth is an impossibility.  Contradictions aside, Lansing's opening statements reveal an attitude very different from that of Tabor and Harrer, who refer to the "men who lived" the tragedies as "characters" and construct a buffer between the real-life events and their narratives by employing language such as final act, stage, and tragedy (in the theatrical sense).  Lansing, though, tries to emphasize the reality of the men's struggles from his opening sentence.  Then, he is essentially absent for the rest of the narrative.  He never interjects personal reactions, opinions, or anecdotes.  And, when he does feel that an explanation of his reasoning/research methods is necessary, he includes such information in the footnotes (see page 120 for an example).  This distances the author from the text and allows the reader to become absorbed in the story of the expedition rather than the author's detective process.  Interestingly, I found that this approach made the narrative read more like a novel, even though Lansing makes his claim of "truth" clear, writes about men instead of characters, and avoids language that characterizes the men's struggles as a play.

Food stress

Food is such a unifying component of our culture, and I thought it was effective how Lansing incorporated food into the narrative because for me it was easier to understand how the group was coming together under such conditions and I could more easily relate to how quickly the group came together. Meals are a time for groups to come together and share a common experience. So even though people may be in a different state in one way or another, meal time is when everyone is at least on some level of an equal playing field. That constancy of something familiar - eating dinner - helps build the bonds that create a form of group identity. The constant reminders that the rations were getting smaller and the contrasting descriptions of Christmas dinners helped emphasize not only the severity of their situation (I have to remind myself that they're in Antarctica and temperatures are below freezing while I'm reading in the sunshine). The fact that there is only one instance in the narrative in which people complain about a decision Shackleton makes regarding hunting seals despite such meager rations helps emphasize the solidarity within the group. When Shackleton decides to leave the seals behind and not hunt for a while. Greenstreet writes that he considered the decision to be "'rather foolish.'" I thought it was interesting that Lansing choses this particular incident, when disagreement arises over food, to be the moment where he analyzes Shackleton's leadership in a bit more detail. It seems odd to me that there is not more disagreement about when and if rations are cut in other instances when Shackleton limits the food supply, although now that I think about it, adding more to a supply differs greatly from taking away food.

Also, I was amused by the conversations that Lansing depicted regarding the thoughts of food from back home. The conversations about "good bread and butter, Munich beer, Coromandel rock oysters, apple pie and Devonshire cream are pleasant reminiscences rather than longings” (103) reminded me of times on trail when my thoughts traveled back to foods that I did not have on trail but that I was looking forward to upon arriving back home. At points in my journals I've written lists of food that I couldn't get on trail but I was so bored with trail food that I started thinking about alternatives.


Since we live a society and country where food is not an issue for most, it is hard to imagine what it means to truly be hungry.  I once participated in an activity when I was in middle school where we ate the average meal of people from impoverished nations around the world.  I was lucky enough to get africa so my dinner that night consisted of a few pieces of okra, cornmeal paste, and a half glass of water.  Basically what I took out of it was that I know what it feels like to experience an uncomfortable lack of food, but not true hunger.  I can't even begin to imagine the psychological stress that the hunger and confinement the men on the Endurance had to face once they became trapped.  The stress caused by killing the dogs and simply surviving each day must have been simply intolerable for the men.  I found myself trying to empathize with the men in this book more than any other that we have read so far.  To me, they seem more human and real, with personality and vices that make them much easier to relate to.

Teammates & Leadership

Here's an entry I wrote when I first finished Part 1 (but forgot to post). Like Nicole, I wanted to write while it was still fresh.

I'm impressed with the team dynamics within the Endurance expedition during the months of darkness. Compared to some of the other narratives we've read this semester, Shackleton's group is remarkable in their group relations and ability to stay positive and work together despite unimaginable weather. "The gathering darkness and the unpredictable weather limited their activities to an ever-constricting area around the ship...But instead of getting on each other's nerves, the entire party seemed to become more close-knit" (42). Some of the other narratives we've read did not have the same strength in team dynamics. Tabor's Forever on the Mountain details how poor team relations due to leadership conflicts and a group that didn't all know each other beforehand contributed to the tragedies on that expedition. Herzog focused primarily on himself and not on his fellow climbers (at least in his writing). Blum spent a significant portion of her Annapurna account discussing group dynamics and how she hand-selected all of the members of her expedition. Shackleton similarly chose most of the members of his expedition (besides the stowaway), but his selection method was much briefer and instinctive than Blum's careful process. Despite this, Shackleton's group proved their strength by not falling apart during the dark Antarctic winter as so many others have done in the same drastic circumstances; rather, they became closer. Even though the voyagers didn't know each other before they set out on their trip, the group members became close despite the harsh environment. "There was very little depression on board the Endurance. The coming of the polar night somehow drew the men closer together" (38).

This in part reflects Shackleton's capabilities as a leader. Lansing describes how Shackleton mediated conflict when problems arose and also joined in on humor; I think that this balance between acting in an authoritative role and allowing himself to have fun with his crew helped him earn the respect of the others on the expedition. Leaders are critical for team building, and I believe Shackleton's "genuine leadership" (13) brought the team together. To go back to our broad question of heroes in adventures, does being an effective and important leader make one a hero? (and yes, I do consider this experience to be an adventure! Shackleton and his team had no real economic or nationalistic motives behind their expedition besides to be the first to cross the continent, it was more for the adventure: "[the] volunteers were motivated solely by the spirit of adventure" (15)).

Characteristics of a Leader

We spent much of the first two months talking about adventuring as though an escape for normal life and so it might reasonably follow that one would approach life with a different set of guidelines. In our discussion of morality either on the mountain or in a boat, we often talk as though what we take to be valuable on an expedition is judged differently than when in the "real world." What about leadership?  I have always thought one of the most important characteristics of a leader was humility.  A leader needs humility in order to listen to others, to make them feel as though their contributions are valuable, and to bring a group together.  Some people find bonding as a team important, while others might see keeping morale high as simply a pragmatic way to get everyone to work the hardest, and thus achieve the goal--whatever the motivation, humility seems a crucial piece of leadership.

But what type of leadership?  Does this still apply outside of the "real world"?  How about when things get desperate?

He is described as having a "monstrous ego and implacable drive" with often unrealistic expectations that led to accusations of being "immature and irresponsible."  This is not the description of a leader I'd want as part of a sports team, or group at work, or creative project.  But when the situation becomes hopeless, who better than someone who believes unconditionally in the success of the mission, who can motivate when others lose the will to do so, who will push on no matter what?

Shackleton has "one pervading characteristic," that he was "purposeful," and for this reason alone, "when there is no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton."

While it is interesting to see that we value different characteristics in leaders in extreme situations compared to daily life, what is more interesting is to discuss what exactly we can take from adventure stories and apply it to our own lives.  That is to say, what do we really get out of armchair adventuring?  We clearly enjoy it, and yet have a tendency to cast some of the recurring themes as outside the realms of our normal daily guidelines.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Discussion question teaser and some awesome Endurance links-

 I’m hosting the discussion this week, and since we’re not having class tomorrow to discuss this text I wanted to offer a little bit of what I’ve been thinking about in terms of discussion questions. We’ll certainly be able to talk about these things and several others when we meet on Thursday, but I figure that it’ll be helpful to be able to think some of these things through a little bit before class—especially if we’re going to be spending only one day discussing it. I also have a few links for everyone to check out—this is the first expedition we’ve studied with an artist and a photographer documenting as well as fully participating in the adventure, so there's some cool stuff out there.

To start, I’m really excited to delve into this story, I think its unbelievably interesting and hits on some of the things we’ve been talking about all semester. I’ve known the basic story of this expedition from other texts, but this was my first time reading Lansing’s account and I found it really engaging. I read Shackleton’s own account of the voyage years ago, and even though I don’t remember it quite well enough to ably compare them, knowing the events of the story ahead of time helped me focus on Lansing’s choices, delivery and depiction of the narrative rather than just the shocking facts. I do remember Shackleton’s account being pretty dry, so Lansing’s journalistic skill definitely improved the experience somewhat.
Basically, one of the most important things I want to ask is what do we think Lansing aimed to accomplish with this narrative, and do we think he was successful? We’ve talked a lot about an adventurer’s duty to write about or tell their stories, but obviously that doesn’t apply here because, unlike most of the other books we’ve read, the author wasn’t a participant in the events he’s describing. Further, do we see any bias or unnecessary sensualization going on here? These issues are two that I really want to tackle in class, along with Lansing’s portrayal of Shackleton, the concept of heroism, the ways this narrative further complicates our definition of adventure and more. See everyone on Thursday!

Some cool Endurance stuff on the internet:

Some of Hurley's video footage of the Endurance sailing through ice:

Super detailed biographies of every crewmember, with pictures

Interactive Kodak feature on Hurley as a photographer, with some cool color photos

Page for the school in London where you can still visit the James Caird.

Killer Landscapes

In this narrative more than any other, nature itself seems to fight back and even actively attack the men. We have read other works in which mountains seem to send avalanches or storms down on expeditions to try to stop them from summiting. For example, in Touching my Father’s Soul, Norgay describes the mountain as a goddess. This goddess simply allowed men to stand on the summit, but she often prevented expeditions from succeeding. Norgay’s is not the only account of personification of nature. Human imagery is often applied to mountains, and avalanches seem to be sent down specifically to wash men off to the bottom.
            The personification of nature and all of the elements is even more prominent in Endurance. Not only does the ice move, but it seems to chase them. It is an enemy that requires constant surveillance- it never sleeps, it is unpredictable, it has unlimited power. The reader gets the sense that the men on the expedition only survived because the ice allowed them to escape its grasp. The ice is a powerful enemy that knows its own power. Lansing describes it, saying, “the impression of its titanic power was heightened by the unhurried deliberateness of the motion” (pg 4). The ice abuses the ship, trying its best to break her in half. Worsely describes the ice as a “grinding, hungry pack” (pg 55).
            Coupled with the ice is the unending night that accompanies winter, and the storms that blow hurricane force winds and snow into the tents. While these elements are not personified nearly as much as the ice, they still seem to chase the men wherever they go. This environment is extremely hostile, and the descriptions in this narrative make nature into everyone’s enemy, who chases and makes everyone sleep with one eye open. 

Heroes and Symbols of Greatness

What struck me most about this text so far is the romantic descriptions of the men on Shackleton's voyage. Lansing emphasizes their charm and masculine demeanor at multiple points in the book. "Temperamentally, Shackleton and Worsley had some of the same characteristics. Both were energetic, imaginative, romantic men who thirsted for adventure" (Lansing 21). Lansing really builds these characters up as idealized heroes, not quite gods, but more than men. These men, especially Shackleton, are the only men capable of surviving this journey. Lansing goes as far as to compare Shackleton to a Napoleonic figure. He lists off men who have been heralded as great leaders of entire societies; Shackleton is obviously a far cry from this group. "But the great leaders of historical record--the Napoleons, the Nelsons, the Alexanders--have rarely fitted any conventional mold, and it is perhaps an injustice to evaluate them in ordinary terms" (Lansing 13). This idealized description of Shackleton, the leader and hero, provides an inspiring force for both his men and the readers of this book to look to. It may be corny, but this description makes the reader want to believe in Shackleton. I read this more of a children's adventure than most other texts so far in this course. Children would be swayed by such a grandiose description of Shackleton. They would be immediately won over and would want to see him succeed.

The depiction of Shackleton made it easier to root for him rather than Albanov. Shackleton shows compassion where Albanov always seemed to be lacking that. Shackleton has his hand in every little task because he wants to make sure that the person can do it. His concern for the group's overall health seems sincere and more fatherly. These fatherly characteristics add to his hero and leader image. "Shackleton suddenly remembered Blackboro's feet. In the excitement of the landing he had forgotten, and he felt ashamed. How and Bakewell jumped overboard and pulled Blackboro farther up the beach" (Lansing 174). Here Shackleton makes a mistake and feels remorse for it. He also shows genuine concern for the young man in a fatherly way. These instances of concern and his long conversations over the viability of rescue allow Shackleton to shine as an admirable character.

Aside from the positive, heroic qualities Shackleton possesses, I found the rest of his life intriguing. As a constant adventurer, he felt a sense of restlessness. He constantly had to be on the move and he was unsatisfied by a normal life. Sometimes heroes have a fatal flaw, like we talked about in class. A common trope for this flaw may be recklessness combined with restlessness. Adventure heroes desire to push themselves until they can push no more. Shackleton did something similar, dying on an expedition. Shackleton's Achilles heel may be his unwillingness to step down from a challenge.

Interesting Article About Everest

Back to the Age-Old Question: Is Reporting on an Adventure the Duty of the Adventurer?

We've talked a lot, maybe too much, in class about why adventurers write down and publish the details of their adventures.  Our conversations with Ann Bancroft and Arlene Blum implied, or explicitly stated, that many adventurers regard it as their duty to recount their adventures once they return.  This certainly applies to books such as In the Land of the White Death and Into Thin Air, when authors may feel a need to justify their actions during a disaster or to correct opposing versions of those disasters and the factors contributing to them.  Secondary narratives, such as Forever on the Mountain and Endurance, which are written by people who did not participate in the adventures they describe often decades after the actual events have unfolded and their consequences have been completely realized, complicate the question of duty.  Tabor certainly had no personal duty to write a book about the McKinley disaster as he had no personal connection to any of its participants or the people it affected.  He clearly felt the need, however, to investigate and hopefully correct, as an impartial observer, the mysteries and inaccuracies that plague the other accounts of that disaster.  Alfred Lansing, who, according to Wikipedia, was an American journalist and writer, faces completely different complications in writing Endurance, his account of Shackelton's failed attempt to cross Antarctica on foot.  Lansing, as an American and a journalist with no connections to the adventuring community, does not have the same motivation for writing his book.  All of the members of Shackelton's adventure survived.  Numerous accounts of the adventure exist - many of the expeditions members kept diaries during their ordeal, which could easily have been published.  Finally, Lansing would have no attachement to Shackelton based upon patriotism, as he is American and not British.  Thus, Lansing appears to have written Endurance out of a personal admiration for the expedition members.  In fact, Lansing explicitly acknowledges his admiration and debt to the survivors in the Preface: "In addition to making these diaries available to me, almost all the surviving members of the expedition submitted to long hours, even days, of interviewing with a courtesy and cooperativeness for which my grateful appreciation is hardly an adequate repayment. The same patient willingness marked the numerous letters in which these men replied to the many questions which arose (Kindle Locations 122-125).

I will leave that discussion unfinished, however, as I am more interested in Shackelton's reasons for writing, which was intimately connected with his reason for returning to Antarctica for the third time in 1914.  Lansing reports that Shackelton's second expedition completely altered his social position in England.  Upon returning from the expedition, which had become "a desperate race against death," alive with his three companions, "Shackleton returned to England a hero of the Empire. He was lionized wherever he went, knighted by his king, and decorated by every major country in the world"(Kindle Locations 342-343).  Moreover, the book that resulted from the expedition cemented Shackelton's international reputation as an explorer par excellence and his aura of fame.  Consequently, Shackelton regarded the Antarctic region and adventure as a source of fame and fortune, and as a way to escape his middle-class life to one of riches and leisure: "The Antarctic and financial security became more or less synonymous in Shackleton’s thinking. He felt that success here—some marvelous stroke of daring, a deed which would capture the world’s imagination—would open the door to fame, then riches" (Kindle Locations 390-391).  Although part of his decision to write another book following the successful completion of his third expedition and his decision to sell "in advance the rights to whatever commercial properties the expedition might produce" stemmed from financial necessity - he needed the money from these rights to even fund the expedition - it also came from a stronger desire to secure a better lifestyle for himself and his family and his reputation as a famous explorer for himself (Kindle Locations 438-439).   While Shackelton certainly regarded writing a book about his third expedition as his legal and financial duty, his personality and ambitions clearly made it a personal project that went beyond simple duty.  Thus, Shackelton's own account of his third expedition, South, which appeared in 1919, probably came primarily from his desire for personal grandeur and fame.  This, at least according to Bancroft's characterization of writing as an explorer's duty, not necessarily an enjoyable one, makes Shackelton an exception.

Shackleton--leader or hero?

The subtitle of Lansing’s book Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage got me thinking about the role of the “hero” in an adventure narrative. As Matt asked last week, Do all adventure narratives need heroes? While I initially disagreed with his question, I couldn’t help but think back to the concept while reading about Shackleton’s role in the group.

“Members of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition” lists Sir Ernest Shackleton as “leader” of the expedition. Lansing catalogues Shackleton’s leadership qualities throughout the text, including physical fearlessness, “pathological dread of losing control of the situation”, consuming sense of responsibility, and desire to keep control of his party (73). Shackleton’s nickname of “Boss” serves to accentuate his absolute authority amongst his expedition members (85). This responsibility and authority, Lansing writes, contributed to “a barrier, an aloofness, which kept him apart” (86).

Regardless of Shackleton’s standout traits, Lansing still claims, “There was not a hero among them, at least not in the fictional sense” (69). Yet Lansing continues to highlight Shackleton’s outstanding role as a leader: “But Shackleton was not an ordinary individual. He was a man who believed completely in his own invincibility, and to whom defeat was a reflection of personal inadequacy…This indomitable self-confidence of Shackleton’s took the form of optimism…It was what made Shackleton so great a leader” (103). Even if Lansing does not explicitly use the word “hero” to describe Shackleton, he frames the man as certainly more than a leader from early in the text.

The final scene of Endurance solidified my perception of Shackleton as a hero, or at least Lansing’s efforts to frame him as such. When Shackleton’s rescue ship approached Elephant Island, castaways cheered at not just the sight of the ship, but more so at the recognition of Shackleton on board. “In fact the excitement ashore was so intense that many men were actually giggling,” Lansing writes (280). Shackleton “urged the men to get on board as quickly as possible”. Again, although Lansing does not use the word “hero” to describe Shackleton during this ending scene, the imagery of Shackleton approaching the island in his ship and essentially saving the day certainly implies heroic action.

In the Land of White Death: Why Write (An Epilogue)?

     "With the first publication here in any language of the key passages from Konrad's homely but intriguing diary, we know at last the causes of the torment he carried with him to the grave" (227).  So ends David Roberts' epilogue  to Valerian Albanov's In the Land of White Death.  In his epilogue, Roberts focuses not on Alabanov's story, but on the recently discovered (at least to him) diary of Konrad, a common sailor.  Roberts takes a number of passages from Konrad's diary, and analyzes them, claiming they hold a "truth" missing from Albanov's story, all the while dismissing Kondrad as an unworthy witness because of his education and rank.  This tension in his writing reminded me of the epilogue to Into Thin Air, where Krakauer defends his work, except Roberts has nothing to defend.  He has no reason to call Konrad out with so little evidence, because he is not operating from a defensive stance, and so his epilogue feels cheap and sensational.

The Boat as a Character

"She was being crushed. Not all at once, but slowly, a little at a time. The pressure of ten million tons of ice was driving in against her sides. And dying as she was, she cried in agony. Her frames and planking, her immense timbers, many of them almost a foot thick, screamed as the killing pressure mounted." (Lansing, 2) Before we learn about any of the characters, we meet the boat in the full-blown agony of the last moments of her life. In "In the Land of White Death" we discussed how Albanov seemed to care more about his equipment than about his fellow adventurers. Lansing, and by extension Shackleton and his crew, takes his personification to a whole new level. Feeling an emotional connection to your boat is not a new idea, however. Throughout history we hear boats with names referred to as "she", boats with whom we sail, travel, and experience the wide oceans we could not experience by ourselves. However it is an interesting technique to open the book with her, seeing as she, almost the mother figure, dies within the first chapter. This, along with the dramatic writing technique, reminded me of a Disney movie, where a beloved character dies at the beginning and the characters have to struggle on without her help. Still, relationships have been a vital part of our discussions, both in terms of how we define adventure, how we define leader, and most certainly how we evaluate morality. Shackleton had to make the decision to abandon the boat; he as a leader sacrificed "her" in order to save themselves. Yet we don't think of this as immoral. The personification goes on for the rest of the chapter, making us feel more sympathy for the boat than for the characters themselves. "Sometimes she simply quivered briefly as a human being might wince if seized by a single, stabbing pain. Other times she retched in a series of convulsive jerks accompanied by anguished outcries... But most agonizing for the men were the times when she seemed a huge creature suffocating and gasping for breath, her sides heaving against the strangling pressure" (6). This, of course, could be viewed simply as a dramatic literary technique. But I could also see that these emotions being true, especially when the crew was already in such a fragile state.

Some Random, not Entirely Connected, Thoughts on Endurance.

I feel like “What’s you’re favorite season” is a pretty common question, particularly when you’re a kid. I’ve never really known how to answer that. I would typically just say summer, because I could justify it with the age-old “Because there’s no school!!!” answer. But as I sat outside on our beautiful Thursday afternoon, my eyes shut and my face tilted towards the sun, I decided my favorite season is the change of seasons. Think about it: spring sunlight is only welcome because it follows the cold months of winter. Even spring rain has the advantage of washing away the snow, but once the snow is gone we’d rather the rain stop. When it does, and summer roles around, we’re thankful for that. But then it starts to get dry and humid, so we’re grateful when autumn roles around for the cooler weather. But then it gets to be too cold, and we start to think “It should only be this cold when there’s snow on the ground!” Then we get our wish. At least, this is how I feel year round. I’m not trying to say that our enjoyment of one season is dictated only by our being tired with another, not in a the-grass-is-always-greener kind of way, but rather that I appreciate every season at its birth, when it functions to usher in the new.  

Sorry this is so late, but I had a very busy afternoon after class on Thursday and by the time I was free I'd completely forgotten! I remembered today, and by then it just made sense to tag my seasons analysis on to my regular weekly post. So, on to Endurance.

As Nicole notes bellow, the Endurance is itself treated like a character in the text. Not only is she personified in the first chapter with emotions and sensations of pain, but the author grants her a longer description of her physical attributes than any of the actual human participants in the text. This is a perfect example of the non-human objects discussion that was introduced last Thursday. Yet on the note of what is and what is not a character, I found it interesting that at the start of the text, when the author lists the men who set out with Shackleton, he labels them "Members of the Imperial Trans-Atlantic Expedition". In our other texts when such lists were presented, the names were labeled as "Characters" or "Dramatis Personae". Thus the crew members appear as real men, not merely constructed characters. This may have been a choice by Lansing to emphasize what he points out in the author's note: that this book is the compilation of the journals of multiple men, real men who lived and experienced what we are about to experience for ourselves as armchair adventurers. This is different from the likes of Krakauer and others, who placed himself at the center of the events and made assumptions of his fellow climbers in order to drive home a rather sensationalized point.

Lansing's use of the crew members' journals to compile a narrative of the events is thus structurally similar to Tabor's Forever on the Mountain. However, I found the two texts to be quite different stylistically. As we discussed extensively in class, Tabor's account is very scientific. He presents facts, and attempts reasonable assumptions based on those facts. Lansing's style has more emotion behind it. He attempts to give his reader a detailed sensation of how it felt to be onboard the Endurance, or venturing across constantly moving ice floes. I personally greatly appreciated this, and found this account to be much more enjoyable.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The 2013 Shackleton Re-enactment!

worth a listen, look, and a read!
(this makes Lansing's epilogue incomplete...  simply by virtue of time and adventure marching on.)

Frank Hurley's *Endurance* photos/videos (a sampling from YouTube)

--> At around the 6 min mark, the *Endurance* collapses into the ice

--> Notice, also, that Hurley, not two of his shipmates, is credited with retrieving some of the negatives from the sinking ship...

--> Lastly, there is a useful graphic toward the close of this video clip representing the party's drift on the pack ice and the narrow window of opportunity (and thus proof of Worsley's metal as a keen navigator) to make landfall.

The Endurance is a full-on character

Although I haven’t read past Part 1, I wanted to post on this aspect of the book thus far, before I forgot about it, and while it’s still fresh. When the pressure starts moving in on the ship and her crew, the men’s diaries begin to really reflect an assigned characterization of the ship. The Endurance became not only a personified female life form to the men, but she was also their life raft, pun intended. The Endurance was their home, their protection, their berth, and it was their responsibility to take care of the ship. They fear injury to her, patched her up when she was torn, and defended her life to the utmost capabilities of their own. Men manned the pumps through their exhaustion, simply trying to save the ship (pg 58-59). Granted, much of the dramatic personification came from Lansing’s narration: “The floe along the port side ground against the ship, warping her along her entire length, and wringing animal-like screams from her as the ice sought to break her back.” (59) But, one can infer that the crew looked on the Endurance similarly, considering the actions they took to save her.

This personification of ships was spoken of briefly by Andrew Jillings at out last HOC day – ships are always named, and traditionally they are female (“a whole other can of worms”) and this of course is because sailors rely so heavily on their ships serving them and taking care of them. This of course is a tit for tat – take care of your ship and she’ll take care of you. But in this case there was no rescuing the Endurance from the crushing ice, and she perished. According to Lansing’s readings of his sources, “More than any other single impression in those final hours, all the men were struck, almost to the point of horror, by the way the ship behaved like a giant beast in its death agonies.” (6) Thus watching the Endurance succumb to the ice pressure was akin to watching a well-known person dying. Although the crew felt relief at being away from the “doomed ship,” they undoubtedly were sad to watch it go, especially since it had been their home for several months.

This humanizing of the ship, one of the most important pieces of the trek’s equipment, is pretty unique thus far in the course – we’ve seen the mountains personified plenty, but we haven’t heard climbers speak of their ice axes as anything more than well-used and / or emotionally significant tools. With the advent of sea-going stories, we’ve entered a new territory in terms of the significance of certain pieces of equipment. What effect does this relationship with a ship (or possibly other equipment – the sledges or even the dogs, which is a whole other category as they are living animals) have upon the experience of the adventure / fight for survival? I’m not sure yet, but I think it changes the experience significantly, as does having a much larger team than most mountain climbing ventures. 

Trees Playing

Sorry this is kinda late. I'm a busy bee.

One of my favorite things about forested areas in the summer is that way that the trees and the grass throw light. I'm endlessly fascinated by the way light moves through the slight sheen on the needles of a pine, or the way the sun illuminates the greenest leaves ever greener. I also love watching shadows on the ground. I think that in the spring and summer, there's a lot more in the Glen to hold one's interest in terms of life forms - more animals, bugs, plants living and moving. There's lots of activity in the summer. But in the winter, everything becomes black and white and shades of grey and the quiet is very full and large. The glen in the winter offers a more peaceful, quiet retreat. When we walked through the glen in the winter, I remember that the sounds of the traffic were effectively reduced to a negligible level, whereas on Thursday, I still could hear the outside world, but I was so busy being infatuated with the sights and smells and movement around me that I didn't notice much.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Garden Reality

I was lucky enough to not have any commitments after our class yesterday, so I was able to stay out in the garden and glen for a long time after everyone else left. It was beautiful, as everyone else has already noted, and I had a perfectly wonderful time reading, napping, and reflecting in the garden. However, at one point, a little boy and his mom walked through the garden. The boy was saying how pretty he thought the flowers were, and he asked his mom if they still had pesticides on them. She replied that no, the pesticide application had finished a few days before. Echoing off Clark's post, this exchange brought be back to the reality of man's control over the garden. Obviously we have structured and control the garden, but it's easy to get caught up in the tranquility of it and forget how much work, money, and chemicals go into maintaining it. I'm not sure if this detracts from its appeal, but there's something inherently romantic about an untouched, wild, and beautiful environment, and I was a bit disappointed when the little boy brought the truth back to my attention.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ahhhh the Glen

For the first couple snows I love the winter. After that I just get to going about my day freezing, wearing a million layers to adjust to the wide range of temperatures in the buildings. But I forget how truly wonderful being in nature is until it gets to the spring. It's much easier to feel alive and be lively when everything else you is alive. I'm obsessed with the glen; to be honest my Hamilton experience wouldn't be the same without it. It's hard to be in a bad mood when so much nature surrounds me. From venting with friends, to going off trail and getting completely lost, to thinking you're completely lost and then all of a sudden looping back around to your favorite tree, to going there and walking around myself when I can't drag any friends there, there is no better medicine. My friend and I go on a glen walk every Tuesday and Thursday and watch the seasons change. We go in all weathers-- in fact once we had to sprint out because an epic thunder storm started when we were on some random trail. I love turning a corner, and picking up an unexpected scent that reminds me of summer, or of some of nature experience I've had in my past. As much as I would love the ideal temperature of every single day in Northern California (I love that temperature) I really would miss the different seasons, really would miss the spontaneity of mother nature, and waking up to a sunshiny morning of falling asleep to the sound of rain.


One of my favorite parts of Hamilton is when the student body emerges from winter. Once the snow thaws and everything begins to turn green, everyone really can feel spring in the air. The shorts come out on the 45 degree sunny days, and everyone starts to eat outside. We are so lucky to have the glen on campus, where we can see spring taking over all of the trees. I love winter, but there is nothing like shedding all of the layers and letting my pale legs finally see the sun!

Spring! :)

Though I love winter, something about going for a walk in the spring immediately lifts my mood.  In general, Hamilton feels like a much happier place this time of year.
During the winter, I typically go outside with a purpose in mind (to walk to class, go snowshoeing, or go skiing, etc.)  During spring, on the other hand, I often go outside just to be outside.  I'll take a short walk in the glen between classes, take my book outside, or take a nap on minor field.
Winter weather starts to feel confining after a month or so, whereas spring weather draws people out of their dorm rooms.  And, once outside, they aren't in a rush to walk from one heated building to the next.

Tragedy sells

This is just a quick post...I thought about this during our class discussion on Tuesday.
We talked about how, in most adventure narratives, the weight is placed on the tragedy (typically the descent in climbing expeditions).  In "In the Land of White Death," the Saint Anna portion of the expedition is the ascent equivalent, and the trek across the ice is the descent equivalent.  In the epilogue, Roberts writes, "Whether for that reason or out of aesthetic considerations alone, Albanov wisely chose to begin his book with the departure from the moribund ship in early 1914" (196).  All of the expeditions that we've read about have been pretty thoroughly planned out (except for Devil's Thumb), but the most gripping part of the tales is when tragedy strikes and people have to improvise.  So, when does the real adventure begin?  When the ship sets sail (or climbers begin their ascent) or when disaster sets in and all planning goes to hell?


I usually don't spend much time in the woods in the snow. I wouldn't say that I avoid woods in winter, I just never feel the urge to cavort about in places I can't build snowpersons. That being said, I did really enjoy our Glen walk in January - it was peaceful and I liked the new perspective on a familiar scene. I particularly liked the ice on the surface of the stream, which we could still see and hear underneath.
Today was an ideal April day for a woodland jaunt, with singing birds and rustling leaves underfoot. As in January, the sun was bright on the bare branches...shadows are cool. The spring flowers remind me of home, and I can't wait for the greenness to spread upward to the trees, and I especially can't wait for the apple trees to bloom.
My mother and younger sister were also out in the woods today, picking up trash and lopping invasive rose bushes while mending the fence and admiring wild violets. As I prepare to graduate, I think about woods in spring, and which woods I will see transform next April.

Springtime in the Glen

I don't really have anything intellectual to say about our walk today, other than that it was really, really nice to be outside. Most of the time I spend outside is spent walking from Babbitt to my job in the library archives (if there's an antithesis to the glen, I think that's it) before I've finished my morning coffee. Therefore, it was nice to be outside fully caffeinated and unhurried. I noticed how big the sky is here and realized how much I'll miss that when I'm living in the city next year. I read a book this week that had a chapter that started with the line, "You can never have too much sky" and today's walk made me realize the truth (sorry!) of that statement.


What struck me first was the realization of how much work it takes to keep a landscape/garden in good condition. The meticulous effort it takes to make a place look truly beautiful must be astounding. The grass was very green and very healthy, the cobblestone and plants were all quite elegantly done. Nature is beautiful by itself, but today spoke to how much man can have an effect on nature. Fortunately, today was for better, as we saw how much can enhance nature through respectful trails, diverging streams, creating bridges, and so forth. The people who worked on that trail, planted those plants, and built those benches made nature even more enjoyable. Looking after nature is our duty, and we can enhance our own enjoyment of it along the way. This is man and nature co-habitating correctly. Man on a mountain such as Everest isn't as natural. We aren't made to be up there. That's nature and us grating against each other. Standing on top of Denali may be exciting, even breathtaking. But there are certain barriers needed to be broken that arguably shouldn't be broken. Today was harmonious. It was beautiful.

Season Change

I was surprised at how much less mud there was along the trails, especially after such a big rainstorm last night. Also, the Glen just seemed louder. The water in the stream was moving faster, the birds were chirping, and the wind was blowing the leaves in the trees. When we went walking through the snow there was much less noise and all I could hear was the crunch of the snow under our boots.

Konrad's Journal

Roberts made some assumptions in his analysis of Konrad's journal that I think were a bit brash. Considering the sparseness of Konrad's entries, there's not much in the way of material to inform the history of the events surrounding Albanov's voyage in the Arctic. I just wanted to say briefly that some of the jumps Roberts makes I'm not entirely convinced of; for example I'm not convinced that Albanov and Konrad agreed not to mention in their diaries that Konrad had been a thief. Roberts even suggested that Konrad had fabricated entries for several days previous of that upon which he'd been 'found out.' This seems rather elaborate for two men fighting for their own survival, with no guarantee of ever seeing civilization again. I think that the only sure thing we can take from Konrad's journal is that he was entirely unprepared for the voyage - he cared for food and didn't seem to understand the gravity of the situation, nor did he have a care for others than himself. Particularly the fluctuation between first and third person within Konrad's diary is troubling and suggests a level of mental instability. I just think Roberts made a lot of assumptions about the events of the trip, and I question the apparently insatiable need to know, for sure, exactly what happened. Why can't we just take the journals as they are? Humans are strangely fascinated with speculation. I'm no exception, either.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ironic Hero

So yesterday during class I mentioned the possibility of Albanov being an ironic hero. I figured I should make a second blog post to house that thought here. Do we consider Albanov a hero because he survived? He should be commended for being one out of a pair of people to survive the expedition. Or, he should be reviled for being one of the lucky few members to make it out alive. If we interpret it as happenstance, it makes Albanov an unlikely and ironic hero. It wasn't because of merit that he survived, but through sheer happenstance and luck. This is also supported by his atypical hero characteristics. Albanov reprimands the group and is quick to call them lazy or order them around. He also seems very aloof and not too strongly connected to any of them, a farcry from the camaraderie of past protagonists we've had. That said, is Albanov a traditional hero or an unlike hero?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Redefining adventure

My post is similar to Dan's.  I apologize for the repetition, but I had already drafted my response and didn't have time to change it.  I'll try to go in a bit of a different direction with my analysis, though.

I also began reading "In the Land of White Death" with Janelle's definition of adventure in mind.  Albanov never uses the word "adventure" to describe his ordeal; instead, he writes "When we embarked on our voyage" (23).  And, the voyage takes an unplanned turn, prompting Albanov and some of the crew to leave the ship and venture onto the ice.  Therefore, Albonov's narrative does not represent a constructed and premeditated attempt at an "adventure."  According to Janelle's definition, then, Albanov's voyage fulfills at least one crucial criterion of adventure.  It also satisfies the "uncertainty requirement," since Albanov repeatedly writes that he does not know if he and the others will ever reach civilization.  However, those left on the ship resign to "an uncertain fate," so, unless we classify that as a second adventure, it appears that uncertainty cannot serve as the only qualification for adventure.

Based on the two criterion mentioned above, it would seem that Albanov's voyage is the prototypical adventure.  However, I couldn't help but feel that "In the Land of White Death" presented the least adventuresome ordeal.  I think that this reaction stems in part from the overwhelming sense of dread that Albanov expresses; his voyage is not something he chooses but that instead is forced upon him by an unfortunate set of circumstances.  At first I thought my reaction contradicted Janelle's definition, but I don't think that spontaneity necessarily excludes self-determination. 
I do think, though, that my initial feeling that one cannot classify a series of events as an adventure when the person involved is not somehow enthused or invested in the voyage stems from my automatic association of "adventure" with an adventure-loving "adventurer."  At one point, Albanov explains Denisov's motivation for joining the expedition: "the special nature of this new expedition appealed to his adventurous spirit" (38).  I haven't fully worked out this theory, but Albanov's description of Denisov leads me to believe that adventure is inherently individualized.  Whether one experiences something as an adventure (and whether the reader perceives it as such) depends upon the "spirit" he or she brings to the task.

Death and Morality

As one of only two expedition survivors, Albanov experienced the slow, painful deaths of numerous companions and witnessed the excruciating physical and mental deterioration of his comrades. In the Land of White Death depicts, to my knowledge, the greatest number of casualties we have yet experienced in an adventure novel. The story’s gruesome details beg the question—How did the survivors, Albanov and Konrad, cope with the continual encounters with death throughout their ordeal? I imagine the imminent threat of death must have consumed their thoughts not only in the Arctic, but after the event as well.

After the death of Nilsen, Albanov discusses in his diary the effect that multiple death experiences have on the expedition members. No one wept for Nilsen; he writes, “It appears we have become totally insensitive; we have seen death so often, it has become our unfailing companion and cannot frighten us anymore” (134). He mentions the danger of succumbing to emotion in such circumstances and his deadened sensibilities after living in deathly conditions for so long. Death, it appears, had become as normalized as daily biscuit consumption.

As we have witnessed in other adventure narratives, life-or-death situations often obscure day-to-day standards of morality. Both Touching the Void and Into Thin Air, for instance, display almost unimaginable acts of self-preservation in which one sacrifices another’s life for his own. In the Land of White Death depicts similar moments of questionable moral judgment: After the irrecoverable physical deterioration of Arhireyev, his comrades left him behind on the ice as to keep up with the rest of the group and not jeopardize their own chances of survival. To justify the decision, Albanov explains, “Such brutal behavior exasperated me greatly at first; then I reasoned that it would have been impossible to take the dying man with them, and even we ourselves could not have helped him. However painful the event, we had to accept the inevitable” (125). Contrary to his description of death as his “unfailing companion”, he describes Arhireyev’s death as painful with evident emotional impact. Perhaps the inner struggle came not from the death itself, but rather the surviving men’s integral roles in leaving Arhireyev behind and inadvertently accelerating his death.