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Mountains Of The Mind: A History Of A Fascination (2004)

Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination (2004)
4.05 of 5 Votes: 3
1862076545 (ISBN13: 9781862076549)
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Mountains Of The Mind: A History Of A...
Mountains Of The Mind: A History Of A Fascination (2004)

About book: In projected volumes Macfarlane proposes to take up valleys, deserts and oceans of the mind. These sound plausible as any "collaboration of the physical forms of the world with the imagination of humans--a mountain of the mind" (18, 19). The value of collaboration is this, we can have mountains, valleys and even air, but minus the ecologic waste. Keep the mountain wild by making it over into ourselves. More wild by far.How are we more wild than the mountain? The human self emotes its anthropos (Greek for "man"). But cliffs and rocks stare back. A mule deer for a moment seems to have the ears of a prickly pear. This wilderness solitaire, this animal botany thing, if we really want to confront the Unknown we do it in ourselves, in the feet of our old age and speech But all the while this hybrid (Wilderness of Ourselves) crowds imaginatively beneath a bear, its tail cedar and its bones subway tubes. Wilderness man gets into itself, "culturally devised," without intrinsic "savageness...or bleakness;" mountain is not brute fact. Landscapes tell all sorts of things about "human cultural devise,” but rock does not reflect Wordsworth's Lucy who rolls around “with rocks, and stones, and trees.” She reflects the rock. Meanwhile scientists are very careful to rule themselves out as cultural constructs, pretending they are perfect nonexistent observers, but science anthropos is intrinsic to its vision. A bug contradicts it. Grasshoppers also teach this. Landscape reflects neither anthropos nor geologic. Rocks and bugs are semantics unto themselves, but not creation discovered by science. That is a reflection of the wild man who is as archetypal of the human as the mountaineer of the mountain. Science however confers upon itself a doctorate in Audacity. It says to the mountain, move! But no matter how much a mountain dissembles, its empirics are cultural. Does it sound backwards to say wilderness is lost in the man?Thus, to imagine cultural amenities, judicial procedures and laws for our wilderness invention, the wilderness Supreme Court dresses in sky blue. Like angels! But also like angels, it is not fitting to bow before the rock (giants). Neither will they bow to us. A bit of standoff then, recognition of our collaboration with the physical forms of nature works as good as self similarity, that is as a human skew,, a communication that recognizes itself as untrue.This is not to disprove or disapprove Macfarlane. He is documenting the affair.Imaginative Not CollaborativeMacFarlane is like Pieter Bruegel in Big Fish Eat Little Fish (1556), a physical form collaborating the mind. Look at Bruegel’s pic. He is himself eating himself. These faceless interchangeable cogs of pen and ink, folly of human, are not fish. They repeat the act also in Spring (1565) and Summer (1568) "Out of the mouth of a large beached fish tumble many smaller fish...the land and water are overrun by fish: a two-legged fish walks off with another fish in its mouth, a fish hand from a tree, and a fish-bird flies... (Nadine M. Orenstein. Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Drawings and Prints. Yale University Press, 2001, 140). This is an allegory confronting the mountain of the mind spewing little mountains, particles of dust. We don't say that fish of the mind are self identified. Mind fish are imaginative, not collaborative, not real, but mean to show a maxim, like a faux Orc studied by a faux anthropologist in a faux school by a faux professor eating his students Sorry about that. This reductio all absurd, like the perception of the mountain by the mountaineer, Bruegels and his imitators, is outside the physical forms one could collaborate. Mental mountains are of this imagining.To show further the imagining, Yeats said that once out of nature he would never takes his bodily form from any natural thing, which goes the whole way in reproving natural collaboration. Round about the turn of the century some say Yeats "reformed," and denied "power to the symbols… perceiving that irresponsible play with them brings danger. The images that really matter to men of genius and culture are the images which are not chosen but given...." (Austin Warren. Rage for Order. Chicago, 1948, 73). So do not play with the mountain. Mountain is a symbol however. Momaday calls it wilderness, says you can only see it through the eyes, hair and hide of a bear. Not chosen, but given, the young C. S. Lewis in 1921, hiked up Yeats' stairwell, "a long stairway lined with rather wicked pictures by Blake--all devils and monsters," and saw his own cultural devise, age and feelings: "it would be ridiculous to record it all; I could give you the insanity of the man without his eloquence and presence, which are very great. I could never have believed that he was so like his own poetry" (Letters. Edited by W. H. Lewis. NY: Harcourt, Brace, 1966. 56, 57). Here are more things than meet the eye, for neither Austin Warren nor Lewis could know the depths of this wild, even if, oh if it were their own.Empiricist codes, esoteric Buddhists, religious puritans, whatever theory of reality is offered to codify a cultural norm, such as Yeats' symbols, become increasingly dangerous when they tempt the mountaineer to extrinsic, external practice, meaning give his law to others. Science doesn't mind doing that, neither do.... Bruegel finds the symbols that come to him (with some Bosch). In the universe of his later work Yeats makes "a general defense of a more variously comprehensive universe than a positivist science will admit" (Warren 82). That nonsense is another denial, a nice way of saying that there is conflict between the mountain of the mind-formed culture and the is "given." Close the eyes; if symbols come let them come to the pure in heart, We will not weep for the acculturate.Robert MacFarlane

First off let me say although I rated this book three stars I think I got out of it so much more than many other higher per rated books and was very happy I read it. So let me start with what I liked. Recently despite not being a climber, I've been super interested in climbing and the people who pursue the sport thus I came upon this book. Being an anthropology graduate I found that this book read in many ways like an anthropology account of a different people, those people being climbers. It was a really unique way of presenting a group of people I wanted to know about.. The research in this book is awesome and because of the research I definately learned some things I would otherwise never have. Now for the bad. There were often times when I found the book to be tedious to read and felt like I was pushing myself through it. Now I only recently started reading again after a ten year pause but I'd read at least ten books before this one and this was the hardest for me to finish. Honestly I felt like it just came to the topic. Some topics the author had me totally engrossed, especially his own personal accounts and at other points I felt like the books as just uninteresting and too scholarly. Overall really glad I finished it and like I said I got quite a lot out of it, definately read if you want some awesome history on humans relationship w mountains in the present and the past
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Sarah O'Toole
This book was so enchanting. It felt like being brought into another world with a fascinating multi-faceted guide, who was a mountaineer, scholar, nature-lover, avid reader and, most importantly, a poet. I couldn’t believe he was so young when he wrote the book. His use of language to bring me into regions explored, read about and imagined often took my breath away, engaging all the senses and making me wonder what these marvels would be like to experience first hand. I love the way the book is structured, all but two chapters exploring the different ways in which mountains can possess the minds and hearts of men. He manages to keeps a sense of the mystery of why people risk death to climb mountains by telling the story of George Mallory, drawing all these strands into a myth rather than a scholarly argument. We journey through the book as we journey up a mountain, witnessing the marvels of nature, experiencing our capacity for wonder, enjoying the archetypal sense of a journey in itself. He leaves us with a beautiful account of his encounter with a snow-hare in a snow-storm, telling us that at that time “there was no other place he would rather be”. I think Robert MacFarlane is one of my new favourite writers.
Mcfarlane has written a book on the fascination with mountains and has provided us with a survey of the associative literature, history and personal accounts. He documents the changing attitudes of men to mountains. He tries to answer the question 'Why do people still go to mountains? He answers this by showing us images, emotions and metaphors. "The way you read landscapes and interpret them is a function of what you carry into them with you, and of cultural tradition. I think that happens in every sphere of life. But I think in mountains that disjunction between the imagined and the real becomes very visible. People die because they mistake the imagined for the real". The chapters are topically arranged. There is a section on the mystery of George Mallory and Irvine lost on Everest in 1924, 'to a New York reporter in 1922 who asked about his reasons for returning to the mountain: 'Because it's there.' He discusses Maurice Herzog's Annapurnna, Herzog's account of a 1950's ascent of Annapurna the first ascent of any Himalayan mountain over 8000 meters. McFarlane maps out the tentative beginnings of how man approached mountains. He discusses the views of scientists mapping the earth, the opinions of poets and artists. We hear from thrill seeker Coleridge and Darwin's account of hiking in Chile. He discusses Casper David Friedrich famous 1818 painting of the wanderer above a sea of clouds a romantic image of the mountains. Mcfarlane says it is symbolic of the nobility and admirability of standing atop a mountain. Edmund Burke's notes on the 'sublime' are included. As is Petrarch's writings. In the 17th century mountains were seen as scars on the earth. In 1768 a Frenchman summitted Mont Blanc but it was viewed badly. Mountains are used as markers, Tamburlaine's men picked up stones and placed them in a pile on their way to war with China then those who survived picked them up on the way back. Mcfarlane recounts a pageant of weird and wonderful explorers experienced and not so experienced. Maurice Wilson a Yorkshire man who attempted Everest in the early 1930's against the wishes of the Indian, Nepalese and English authorities got very far despite his inexperience. In the second half of the 17th century in Europe there was a new appetite for remote regions. Nations were busy filling in parts of the map. 17th cenury travelers would pay people to blindfold them and lead them through the passes in the alps. The romantic movement changed the way we think about mountains, Coledridge, and Shelley led the way. Geologists gave mountains a past. He also discusses the spiritual nature of mountains in the Judeo Christian tradition. Many religious pilgrims believe that climbing mountains is a way of getting closer to the gods.The accounts of exploration are interesting but this book is chiefly centered on cultural fascination rather than tales of daring do. This is a history of mountains not mountaineering which is an important distinction. In a nutshell why people came to the mountain and how they dreamed and desired it is McFarlane's chief concern. This is a geneology for how people thought about mountains not a list of statistics and dates. 'Mountains of the Mind' is a challenge to hubris. It speaks to our complacency that the world is made by and for humans.McFarlane juxtaposes the cultural history with his own personal accounts. Some reviewers are of the opinion that the personal stories were unnecessary but I didn't mind his own input and I felt that it was a nice diversion from the more academic parts of the book. McFarlane said that he was planning to write a novel but he has been encouraged by the recognition he received to continue working in this niche field. The writing is magnificent, he is a great prose stylist. If he did write a novel I have no doubt it would win prizes. I would even go as far as putting him in the same category as Nabokov and Banville. The only reason I am giving this 4 stars is that this is not a subject that I love but McFarlane instilled a fascination within me that has encouraged me to read more on the subject of exploration. An excellent read.
Faisal Buzdar
It took me almost a year to finish this book. I would put it down and pick up another one and wouldn't come back to it until I had devoured many more in between. Somehow, I battled with getting into it. Not that Macfarlane is not an impressive writer or that it's a clumsy work, but it is the overly scholarly tone of the book I have issues with. At times, it becomes a very pretentious and dramatically poetic account of the evolution of our interest in the mountains. There are a few chapters, which are brilliantly written and hugely informative, but, again, there are those that are characterized by overphilosophization and hard-to-penetrate language. Overall, I would say, it's a good book for anyone who is fascinated with mountains. You are likely to come out informed.
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