Monday, April 29, 2013

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.

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