Monday, February 3, 2014

The Importance of Herzog's Perspective

            Maurice Herzog’s style of writing throughout the narrative Annapurna is designed to inspire a sense of grandeur. When the mission first begins, the hardships that the expedition faced in reaching Annapurna is written in an efficient prose that substitutes emotionality and artistic descriptions for statistics, correspondences, and communications. This style effectively relates the impressive scope of these mountains, and the tasks required in reaching them, into focus for his armchair-based audience. Describing the undertaking as “huge” would not have the same impact as more objectively stating that it required “200 coolies… carrying 80 pounds” apiece to move all of the equipment required (10). Herzog’s goal in writing this narrative is to impact an audience.
Upon reaching Annapurna itself, the voice of the story takes on a different attitude, one of glory through trials that focuses more individualistically on the triumphs of Maurice Herzog. It shifts from a relatively straightforward description of the group’s efforts into the mind of its leader, which is accompanied by a more artistic style of writing. For example, after Annapurna is selected as a viable target for the expedition in a “council of war,” it is described as being “conquered” through a series of scouting missions that culminate in an epic “assault” (59,130). In doing so, Herzog is attempting to focus his audience on the action of the climb, the better to awe and inspire, with detailed descriptions of risks and successes.

Interestingly, despite Herzog’s efforts to describe his epic adventure as such, as exemplified by the described assault on Annapurna, what I found to be the most “extreme” aspect of this narrative was the retreat. Fleeing the mountain and the monsoon is the story of teamwork, selflessness in the face of death, and terrifying adventure that Herzog so directly attempts to construct throughout the rest of his storytelling. I believe that the focus on accomplishment is put on the actions leading up to the peak of Annapurna, rather than the actions leading down from it, because this narrative is told from the perspective of a partial participant who was not the hero of the latter story. Throughout the story, the author emphasizes the importance of teamwork and selfless action in achieving something greater than what is possible by individual men, but the style of his writing counteracts the theme by focusing on Maurice Herzog’s accomplishments instead of the Expedition’s.

1 comment:

  1. Great observations on Herzog's perspective, Matt. I too noticed the imperialistic attitude of 'conquering' the mountain. This conquest attitude was also reflected in many areas of Herzog's writing particularly when he would speak of the hierarchy of the expedition members over the Sherpas and the coolies. I had a great conversation with Maurice Isserman recently about his current project writing the history of North American mountaineering. Isserman mentioned that the human-nature relationship in mountaineering literature can be classified into three categories: the sublime, the transcendental, and the conquest. In the sublime, authors such as Muir and the romantic poets, glorify the beauty of nature and often write of the awe it evokes. The transcendentalists, including Thoreau and Emerson, relate to nature as a form of divinity, while others go to the mountains to conquer the slopes and use battle metaphors in their narratives. These three strands very much inform the expedition philosophies of the teams and, in turn, influence their writing. Herzog definitely falls into the conquest camp in his writing emphasizing his climb as a battle to be won.