Scaling High Places. Mountaineering Narratives as Climatological Tales
Keywords:climate, mountaineering, high-altitude climbing, Everest, scaling, modern myth, Christoph Ransmayr, Jon Krakauer, Thomas Glavinic, Robert MacFarlane, environmental humanities
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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