Monday, April 8, 2013

Confusion Over Target Audience

Whymper designed this text to be like a guidebook for other mountaineers, but he is also extremely competitive with fellow mountaineers, and at one point he speaks of writing for the layman, those who don’t climb. Whymper’s colonial attitude toward mountain climbing shone through often, especially on his final ascent of the Matterhorn when he was racing the Italians. Others have posted about this, but the competitiveness is particularly apparent when Whymper quite unkindly kicks rocks down the mountain towards the heads of his competitors, an unsportsmanlike expression of victory. As a mountaineer reading this behavior in another explorer/adventurer, I would be disgusted and frustrated that someone in whose category I fall would behave in such a way that sheds a negative light on my profession and myself by association, voluntary or not. In this way Whymper’s text is unappealing to fellow mountaineers. 

But at the same time, much of Whymper’s writing consists of the details of where on the Matterhorn he had which difficulties and successes, essentially creating a guidebook by experience to the mountain for fellow mountaineers. The writing was dry in terms of excitement, I found, and was not particularly interesting from my, the layman’s perspective, perhaps with the exception of the lightening storm, though even that was reported in a scientific tone. But Whymper appeared to want to write to the layman when he speaks in such patronizing tones as “It is often necessary for a solitary climber (or for the last man of a party during a descent) to make a loop on the end of his rope, to pass it over some rocks, and to come drawn holding the free end. The loop is then jerked off, and the process may be repeated.” (Whymper 101-102) A seasoned climber reading Whymper’s text as a guide to the Matterhorn would already know this technique well and find this part of the text boring, uninteresting, redundant. But a non-climber would be unfamiliar with this technique, while the lengthy descriptions of the mountain’s topology would be uninteresting, since he/she is unlikely to ever go climb the Matterhorn, especially without a guide, whose job it is to know those things already.

Overall I just became confused about for whom Whymper was writing. I’m not convinced he even knew. There were probably fewer climbers then, and far fewer armchair adventurers, which perhaps provided little target in the first place.

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