Sunday, March 2, 2008

Mount Analogue

I'm reading Mount Analogue by René Daumal, which had been sitting on a shelf unread for years. I find myself very impressed by his way of describing the human aspiration to the Absolute (all the italics are by Daumal):

"... what defines the scale of the ultimate symbolic mountain - the one I propose to call Mount Analogue - is its inaccessibility to ordinary human approaches. Now, Sinai, Nebo, and Olympus have long since become what mountaineers call cow pastures; and even the highest peaks of the Himalayas are no longer considered inaccessible today. All these summits have therefore lost their analogical importance. The symbol has had to take refuge in totally mythical mountains, such as Mount Meru of the Hindus. But, to take this one example, if Meru has no geographical location, it loses its persuasive significance as a way uniting Earth and Heaven; it can still represent the center or axis of our planetary system but no longer the means whereby man can attain it.
For a mountain to play the role of Mount Analogue ... its summit must be inaccessible, but its base accessible to human beings as nature has made them. It must be unique, and it must exist geographically. The door to the invisible must be visible".

Why is this important? Because Daumal shows here with extreme economy how the process of what we now might call "globalization" between Columbus and today - culminating in Google Earth - has profoundly contributed to the disenchantment of the world. Historically, there have been times when Mount Analogue was perfectly conceivable, intellectually and scientifically: who could tell what wonders might be discovered somewhere in some remote, unexplored and unmapped region "at the end of the world"?. Today the whole world is a cow pasture.

At the end of the first chapter we find this splendid vision of the mountain:

"On high, remote in the sky, above and beyond successive circles of increasingly lofty peaks buried under whiter and whiter snows, in a splendor the eye cannot look on, invisible through excess of light, rises the uttermost pinnacle of Mount Analogue

There, on a summit more pointed than the finest needle,
He who fills all space resides unto himself.
On high in the most rarefied air, where all freezes into stone,
The supreme and immutable crystal alone subsists.
Up there, exposed to the full fire of the firmament, where all is consumed in flame,
Subsists the perpetual incandescence.
There, at the center of all creaton, is he
Who sees each thing accomplished in its beginning and its end

So it's all about boundaries again, metaphysical ones this time. The very fact that it is completely impossible to cross this boundary means, to Daumal, that it must be attempted. He describes how a group of people set out on a ship called Impossible to find Mount Analogue and climb it. Daumal died before he could finish his novel. Whether he ever reached the summit of the mountain remains unknown.