Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Separating the men from the boys

As some have already pointed out in previous posts, this story is more one of survival than a planned adventure entered into with full preparation and understanding. That difference also meant that the people embarking on the adventure were of a different caliber than those we’ve become used to. Seasoned, famous mountaineers commit to their climbs, prepare for them, and understand the risks they take. The “riffraff” (xxi) crew that Brusilov hired to man his ship were not at all committed to the adventure and risks they took on, and I’m unclear on why Brusilov thought this was appropriate, considering the possibility of being trapped in ice and fighting for survival as others before them had done. It seems that Albanov shared those sentiments, as he questioned Brusilov’s leadership abilities and decisions. Albanov often became so annoyed with his men than he railed against them, yelled and punished them, threatened them, and included those entries in the published version of his adventure: “Albanov rails in print against the apathy and incompetence of his teammates, despite the fact that as he writes in 1917, they are all but one dead.” (xxvii)

It’s difficult to say from the primary source that is the biased diary of Albanov whether the men he traveled with were in fact as incapable as he portrayed them to be. But I’m inclined to lend a certain amount of credence to Albanov’s accusations and frustrations on the basis of how the sailors were chosen, which was through an offer of pay. The men were not prepared for the hardships they faced. But that being said, neither was Albanov himself fully expecting to face a life-threatening trek across the Siberian Artic, and he undertook leadership and maintained it well throughout. Thus I found the most interesting feature of this narrative to be not that those who were characters in it didn’t choose their adventure, but what happened when adventure was thrust upon regular men. Albanov proved himself capable and a match for the greatest hardship, while most of his men proved themselves unable to even comprehend the danger they were in or to fight for their own survival to the utmost of their abilities. But now arises the question of the difference between the adventure-capable and the adventure-seekers. I wonder what Albanov would have thought of today’s mountaineers and the narratives those past have left us. Would he be baffled by their thirst for adventure? Would he think they had not yet experienced it? Would he understand?

1 comment:

  1. I also was surprised and slightly amused by Albanov's constant criticizing of his crew members. In particular, his conflicts with Brusilov served to drive him off the ship and onto the ice by foot. He describes his relations with the captain as "more and more strained to the point of becoming intolerable", and writes, "The only reason I wanted to leave was my personal dispute with Brusilov" (5). He recounts an "insurmountable barrier" between them in which "anger prevailed on every occasion" (6). After leaving the ship, Albanov continues to complain about his comrades; he writes, "My companions are no better than children" (56). Due to his tendency for conflict, perhaps the problems were found not in the capabilities of Albanov's ship mates, but instead in his own frustrations and inability to deal with conflict.