Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Impersonality on Ice

Albanov’s narrative raised a whole list of new issues for us to discuss, being an altogether different type of narrative than any of the others we’ve read. Its answer to our “why climb/adventure?” question is especially interesting, adding a new wrinkle to an already fairly complicated line of thought. This setting is also more familiar to me than the mountain narratives, having read tons of maritime fiction and nonfiction narratives (which almost always have a survival element of some sort). This story seemed like an interesting arctic variation of William Bligh’s Mutiny on the HMS Bounty narrative, although it had a few notable differences. The one that stuck out the most to me was the impersonal nature of Albanov’s writing, as he seems to mention his fellow travelers by name as little as possible, and certainly doesn’t introduce us to them or develop them as literary characters. Other than short personal descriptions of comrades like Nilsen upon their deaths, he really doesn’t seem too occupied or interested in his team, at least as a storyteller. He spends significantly more time and ink discussing the state of their sledges, the wild animals and even their ration of biscuits than he does describing his teammates in their quest for rescue. At the end of the narrative I was actually surprised to learn that only he and Konrad survived, because that seems like, as the final surviving pair, they would have bonded enough for Albanov to talk about their friendship. The epilogue about Konrad’s diary points to a parallel impersonality from his perspective, as his diary only once identifies Albanov by name rather than by title. I don’t know if this stoic impersonality relates to their determination to survive, their Russian upbringing or elements of seafaring culture, but it seemed odd to me, especially in comparison to previous team-oriented narratives we’ve read, especially Blum or Krakauer.       


  1. I really like your point about Albanov's neglect to characterize his fellow teammates. In such a lonely environment, it's surprising that--assuming his journal is telling the whole story--he doesn't have stronger relationships with the people around him. His journey is more focused on finding land and surviving, and when he mentions the other people travelling with him, he is more likely to point out his frustrations with them than their personal qualities. I agree that perhaps the reason for this impersonality is the hierarchical titles from their culture. Instead of viewing each other as equals, they never forgot their social distinctions. The lack of using names in Albanov's journal and in the epilogue perhaps also speaks to a desire to the men's desire to distance themselves from the deaths that surrounded them. It's also admirable that Albanov forgave Konrad even though he was a thief. "For all his ill-concealed contempt for his teammates, Albanov thus emerges from the debacle ofthe mutiny as a remarkably humane, compassionate commander. He found it in himselfto forgive the men who had left him to perish on the sea ice" (219). Thus, despite the seeming 'impersonality on the ice,' there also are incredible moments of humanity that perhaps go unreported in the journals.

  2. Roberts speculated on this in the epilogue saying that it may have been a defense mechanism for Albanov to be so impersonal. He did not include the fact that Konrad was one of the pair who betrayed the group and may have very well been doing something similar with the rest of the men. I feel it would have been more awkward and painful for him to discuss the beauty of a powerful bond that was shattered again and again as more and more men died in the story. Simply because it is not blatantly stated that he had a strong relationship with these men does not necessarily mean that he looked down upon them or did not feel a shared connection with them. There are moments where it is clear that he was in distress over the loss of his comrades, like when Konrad kayaks off to look for more survivors while Albanov is too sick to do anything. And in addition to all of this it could be argued that due to the fact that he was the leader of the group, it may inherently set him apart from the others and reduce the bonds of extreme camaraderie.