Published on March 2nd, 2022 | by TLV News0
Book Reviews by Conor Hultman: “Mountains and Desire” by Margret Grebowicz
Mountains and Desire
Repeater Books ($14.95) – Available at Square Books
Click here to order
Mountain climbing, when thought of as a sport as opposed to a pastime, is often given a special status aligned with science and exploration. Football has its concussions, baseball and cycling have doping, but when I used to imagine climbers, the worst of my opinion was that they seemed a bit vapid.
Margret Grebowicz’s Mountains and Desire has caught me up to speed about the myriad controversies surrounding the world of mountain climbing, and pushes deeper into their political, economic, and philosophical implications.
Some examples of facts gleaned from the book:
- It turns out, mountain climbing really does have its own forms of doping, albeit contested; namely, the use of extra oxygen tanks and anti-altitude sickness drugs.
- Some Polish mountain climbing groups have turned their brand of it into a strange form of nationalism.
- Specifically European mountain climbing, called alpinism, has UNESCO cultural heritage status.
These and other bits of information are scattered throughout, but the really satisfying parts are when an idea is left in the air for the reader to think about the significance of. You might be aware of things like the trail of bodies left on Everest because of the expenses required to lift them out, or the growing pile of trash left near the peak and base camp. The message there concerning capitalism and environmentalism is clear, but the message derived for the philosophical future of humanity is more subtle. The highest and most dangerous peaks have been climbed; there is scarcely anywhere else to turn. In this way, the contemporary history of mountain climbing becomes a metaphor for the self-conscious human experience, crushed under the weight of history, doomed to inaction and weltschmerz. The political message bodes no better: after every peak has been climbed, the next challenge is to climb them faster. The scientific-exploratory aspect of early mountain climbing gives way to petty competitive nationalism, complicated by the fact that many mountain ranges are forbidden to climb by their native governments, for different political or cultural reasons. The sport that was meant to include the whole world ends up splintering it, coldly. If this sounds lofty or boring, I am not doing Mountains and Desire justice. Grebowicz writes with an educator’s clarity, and each episode in climbing history is rendered with that highest standard of non-fiction: entertainment at no cost to reality. This book is for the student of philosophy and the avid outdoorsman alike, and best for those who are both.