Ben Winch's Reviews > Mount Analogue

Mount Analogue by René Daumal
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it was amazing
bookshelves: french, mainland-european, 5-stars

Mount Analogue may be the book that broke this reviewer’s back. What to say of it, but that it’s brief – tragically brief, given Daumal must have known he was racing the clock – and immense. And in fact, its brief immensity is almost fitting, because (if not for a few nods by the narrator to a known future early on, undermined in any case by the switch to a diarist’s present tense in Chapter 4) what better way for this impossible adventure to end than in mid-sentence, on the slopes of the mountain? That said, I (and, I’m sure, most of Daumal’s readers) would have loved to see beyond the foothills, and when I first realised I’d see no further I was near inconsolable; on reaching the last line I turned to the first and began again. Yet even a second reading has little clarified my impressions – ironic, given Daumal’s own narrative is nothing if not clear. And it’s this clarity – fearless, given the esoteric nature of the topics it gazes upon – that, paradoxically, imparts to Mount Analogue its near-endless seeming mystical/mysterious power.

Point 1, then: Mount Analogue describes a spiritual quest, but one which proceeds by scientific – or quasi-scientific – deduction. This science, or quasi-science, abounding in paradox, provides thrills and high entertainment thanks to its practitioner’s “methodological principal, which consists of assuming the problem solved and deducing from this solution all the consequences that flow logically from it.” Thus is the absurdity of a mountain higher than Everest, which has never appeared on any map, explained by the curvature of space and light, which render it invisible to all except those entering from the west at sunset. And when the crew of the Impossible make that entry, in a bravura use of white space, Daumal simply starts a new chapter:

A long wait for the unknown dampens the force of surprise.

To me, this is one of many small miracles in this a small miracle of a book, which I first heard of 10-15 years ago, which I sought – not urgently but steadily, almost subconsciously – those several years, and to which, now that I’ve found it (six Australian dollars on a dusty Sydney shelf), I defer as to a literary/spiritual cornerstone the likes of Hesse’s Journey to the East, Kafka’s The Castle or the best of Poe’s tales, which in one sense – the literary – seem Daumal’s clear forerunners, yet in another sense – the spiritual – seem hardly related at all. Point 2: Daumal, on the strength of these 70 tantalising, frustrating, unresolved pages, is an idol.

The different branches of the symbolic had been my favorite study for a long time – I naively believed that I understood something about the subject; furthermore, as a mountaineer I had a passionate love of the mountains. The consequence of these two very different kinds of interest in the same subject, mountains, had colored certain passages of my article with a definite lyricism. (Such conjunctions, incongruous as they may seem, play a large part in the genesis of what is called poetry. I offer this remark as a suggestion to critics and aestheticians attempting to shed light on the depths of this mysterious language.)

Point 3: Mount Analogue, mysterious as it is, by defining both its protagonist’s quest and its author’s, contains the means to its own solution. Or might have done, if it were finished. In any case, it makes sense, plainly and openly, while attempting to plumb the deepest mysteries of life and of art.

If I’ve said little here, if what I’ve said is confused, it’s because my view of my own Mount Analogue obscures my view of others’. But that view – mine, my own quest – is, for now, all-important. As Daumal’s narrator says (when the members of his expedition consider postponing their ascent of the mountain in order to broaden their fields of knowledge in the town below), there’s a time to nail “that nasty owl of intellectual cupidity” to the door. Others (Jimmy, Eddie, Nate) have written here, eloquently, of Daumal’s masterpiece. My Overlook Press edition includes a 17-page introduction by a scholar (Kathleen Ferrick Rosenblatt) far more knowledgeable than I am. All I can add is it’s for real, this Mount Analogue thing: if a book is an engine for igniting sparks, it’s incendiary. Leave your owl at the door.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2016 – Finished Reading
February 12, 2016 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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Jimmy Great review!

message 2: by Ben (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ben Winch Thanks!

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