Scaling High Places. Mountaineering Narratives as Climatological Tales

  • Solvejg Nitzke Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden)
Keywords: climate, mountaineering, high-altitude climbing, Everest, scaling, modern myth, Christoph Ransmayr, Jon Krakauer, Thomas Glavinic, Robert MacFarlane, environmental humanities

Abstract

Christoph Ransmayr’s 2006 novel Der fliegende Berg and Thomas Glavinic’s Das größere Wunder (published in 2013) confront very different ideas of mountaineering. Glavinic’s protagonist Jonas joins a commercial expedition to summit the world’s highest mountain. These highly criticized commercial endeavors are the opposite of Ransmayr’s scenario in which two brothers, Patrick and Liam, embark on a journey to a mythical peak – the last Himalayan mountain no one has ever summited before. The commercial sporting extravaganza and the ultimate independent adventure represent two extremes of a practice aimed at producing intense physical encounters with nature. Both novels confront the possibility of such encounters with an account of the life of their protagonists within a thoroughly modern world. In aligning biography with the ascent of the respective peak, the narratives present themselves as mediations between personal and planetary scales. Climate, thus, is not only present as an obstacle to overcome, but as a narrative device negotiating increasingly precarious relationships between humans and nature. In comparison with non-fictional mountaineering accounts these narratives reveal an understanding of climate which is not exhausted in a “weather-biased understanding of the atmosphere” (Fleming/Jankovic 2). Instead they resurrect apparently discarded notions of climate as a local and bodily entity. Using Fleming/Jankovic’s concept of Klima – an understanding of climate which combines natural and cultural facts – this paper investigates the methodological and narrative aspects of scaling, acclimatization and high-altitude in order to unearth the myth underlying these climatological tales and their (possibly) productive and destructive effects on current discourses on human-nature-relationships in the Anthropocene.

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Author Biography

Solvejg Nitzke, Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden)

Dr. Solvejg Nitzke is currently holding an “Open Topic Postdoc Position” at TU-Dresden. She was part of the DFG-funded project “Climate’s Time” at the University of Vienna and earned her doctorate at Ruhr-University Bochum in 2015 with a thesis on the Tunguska-Event (“Die Produktion der Katastrophe. Das Tunguska-Ereignis und die Programme der Moderne” 2017). Her research project “Precarious Nature” examines proto-ecological knowledge in 19th century literatures. She published on topics ranging from catastrophe and post-apocalyptic narratives to climate in village stories and science-fiction, mountaineering narratives and the poetics of trees.

Published
2020-03-11
Section
Articles: Cultures of Climate. On Bodies and Atmospheres in Modern Fiction