Monday, April 8, 2013

The Master Motive

     Last week, we read Dunn's argument that the "master motive" of all explorers is a "primordial restlessness."  This frames the act of exploration as primarily an exercise in self-discovery.  In contrast, Edward Whymper, in his Scrambles Among the Alps, views his attempts on the Matterhorn as militaristic.  His rush to the summit is driven by a desire to defeat the Italians, his enemies in battle: "The higher we rose, the more intense became the excitement.  What if we should be beaten at the last moment?" (364).  Even Whymper's reaction to the death of his teammates: "So perished our comrades!" (372).  Men die on the mountain just as they die on the battlefield.  Thus, Whymper offers an alternative motive for mountaineering: "we value more highly the development of manliness, and the evolution under combat with difficulties, of those noble qualities of human nature--courage, patience, endurance, and fortitude" (379)  Clearly, Dunn's conception of the pure motives of explorers is not as universally applicable as he seems to think, even to those writing at roughly the same time.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that it was presumptuous of Dunn to define a "master motive." However, I do not think that Whymper's conclusion necessarily disproves Dunn's observations. After all, Dunn writes of the master motive, "The explorer seldom speaks of it openly; he is not unwilling, but he cannot. He is inarticulate, like the victim of a passion." Therefore, climbers resort to more concrete explanations, such as science or, in Whymper's case, masculinity and nationalist pride. Perhaps the easiest way for Whymper to articulate the "master motive" is through war metaphors and a defense of courage and endurance.