Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Who is Alfred Lansing anyways?

Sorry this is a bit late... 

I just wanted to start out by saying that this is probably my favorite narrative that we've read so far this semester.  It is much better written than most of the other texts, and Alfred Lansing manages to present a gripping story without resorting to melodrama.

That being said, Lansing's approach to recording Shackleton's journey is much different from that of most of the other authors.  Though Krakauer, Tabor, and Harrer were not present for any or some of the events they describe, the authors' duties as reporters play a central role in their texts.  They often describe their interviews with survivors, the research process, and their reasoning behind their conclusions drawn from various pieces of evidence.  In a sense, the authors' search for the "truth" becomes the primary focus of the text, and the expedition members become secondary, cast as characters.  

Lansing, on the other hand, does not refer to himself or write in first-person except in the one page preface.  He briefly explains the research process, and tells the reader that his information comes from diary entries and interviews with survivors.  He begins the preface by boldly stating that "The story that follows is true," and he describes his efforts to "record as accurately as possible the reactions of the men who lived them."  Of course, these two statements are problematic since he at once makes a claim of "truth" and admits that he can only portray the story "as accurately as possible," suggesting that complete truth is an impossibility.  Contradictions aside, Lansing's opening statements reveal an attitude very different from that of Tabor and Harrer, who refer to the "men who lived" the tragedies as "characters" and construct a buffer between the real-life events and their narratives by employing language such as final act, stage, and tragedy (in the theatrical sense).  Lansing, though, tries to emphasize the reality of the men's struggles from his opening sentence.  Then, he is essentially absent for the rest of the narrative.  He never interjects personal reactions, opinions, or anecdotes.  And, when he does feel that an explanation of his reasoning/research methods is necessary, he includes such information in the footnotes (see page 120 for an example).  This distances the author from the text and allows the reader to become absorbed in the story of the expedition rather than the author's detective process.  Interestingly, I found that this approach made the narrative read more like a novel, even though Lansing makes his claim of "truth" clear, writes about men instead of characters, and avoids language that characterizes the men's struggles as a play.


  1. I think your comments on the nature of Lansing's narrative in relation to Tabor's, etc. are really interesting and insightful. However, I disagree that the absence of his narrative voice from the book makes it read more like a novel. Many novels, and indeed some of my favorite ones, feature narrators and authorial voices who intercede quite often in their texts. When I think of literary works that lack these voices, the works I think of first are in fact plays. Plays for the most part consist of straight dialogue, with the stage directions filling in the gaps. Therefore, while Tabor & co. use theatrical language to describe their tales, they are actually acting more like novelists, where what Lansing is doing is offering us a reenactment, which is the closest thing to a drama we have read so far.

  2. I think I fall between you and Claire. I thought the absence of a distinctive authorial voice made the narrative much more gripping than some of the other ones we have read. I'm not sure if I would compare it directly to a novel or a drama, however, as I felt Lansing did a good job getting the reader inside the heads of the members of Shackelton's expedition - I don't mean to say that he reconstructed their exact thoughts, but he did reconstruct their thought processes - than a drama can usually do. Some novels, like Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, do lack a narrative voice, which makes the action more immediate. Regardless, I greatly appreciated Lansing's style and the way he chose to write the story, as it made me feel more like I was living through the events with the expedition than trying to examine or blame somebody else for the events being described. I think that was the most refreshing aspect of the narrative: Lansing didn't try to blame anyone for the events that transpire, except perhaps Shackelton's need to make a name and a life for himself. Nonetheless, Lansing makes Shackelton, and all of his men, understandable. There is no villain in his story, apart from the ice, so it reads less like a history book or a personal memoir and more like a reenactment. Perhaps it would be best to compare it to a historical reenactment on paper.

  3. Whether Lansing's book is more like a play, a novel, or a historical memoir, I think the thing that makes it essentially different from what we've previously read is the lack of authorial voice, as Caroline has pointed out. There's no first person outside of the preface, and Lansing rarely interrupts the flow of the story (with the limited exception of footnotes). The result, I think, is what some (myself included) found so pleasing about the narrative - we, as readers, never really fell out of the story, and we were never pushed out by the change in voice. I appreciated Lansing's consistency.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly with what Caroline wrote. Unlike Tabor who injects aspects of himself into the book and makes it seem as if he is writing a book to prove something to himself as much as the rest of the world, Lansing's distance from the text makes the narrative feel more real. I feel he portrays the events and strifes that the men experience on the ice with a realistic approach that we have not seen before. Like what was written in "Scrambles Amongst the Alps, the story itself is exciting enough that it needs little inflection. Lansing does an amazing job of not forcing any moments in the story that he is telling.

  5. Until I read this post, I had not even consciously acknowledged Lansing's absence in the text. This, I believe, is a testament to his skill as an author and ability to tell an honest story without interspersing personal anecdotes. However, I did quite enjoy the author's voice in various other narratives we read, and the varying dimensions that gave the text. In almost forgetting about Lansing, I somehow believed that the author was actually present throughout the ordeal. I completely agree that nothing was overly dramatized or sensationalized, yet the story still held my interest. After reading this post, I definitely have a new appreciation for Lansing's text.