The Mountain and the Meaning of Life: René Daumal’s Alpine Allegory of Courage and the Measure of Wisdom

She meant a non-metaphorical mountain– Mount Tamalpais– out of which she sculpted her splendid philosophical-poetic meditation on time, transcendence, impermanence, and self.

However no one has actually checked out the existential through the metaphor of the alpine more elegantly than the French surrealist poet, philosopher, and author René Daumal (March 16, 1908– May 21, 1944) in his allegorical unique Mount Analogue: A Tale of Non-Euclidian and Symbolically Authentic Mountaineering Adventures (public library), posthumously released and translated into English by Carol Cosman– a novel rather potentially inspired by and practically definitely subtitled as a wink to Edwin Abbott Abbotts renowned 1884 allegorical novella Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, yet an unique totally and unusually original.

René DaumalDaumal– who taught himself Sanskrit, equated a few of the great Buddhist texts into French, and saturated his composing with philosophical reflections drawn from the liminal space in between the clinical and the spiritual, between physical truth and poetic fact– begins by specifying his “analogical alpinism”:

Alpinism is the art of climbing up mountains by challenging the best dangers with the greatest prudence.
Art is used here to imply the achievement of understanding in action.

Upon this conceptual structure Daumal builds his alpine allegory of life. In a passage evocative of that remarkable Seamus Heaney verse– “On your way up, show factor to consider/ To the ones you satisfy on their method down./ The Latin root of condescension/ Means we all sink.”– he writes:

You can not constantly remain on the summits. You need to come down again …
So whats the point? Only this: what is above knows what is below, what is listed below does not understand what is above. While climbing, take note of all the problems along your course. During the descent, you will no longer see them, but you will understand that they are there if you have observed thoroughly.

There is something extensive that the alpine shares with the telescopic: the present of point of view– a present that, when given, can not easily be withdrawed; once we have actually seen, once we have understood, we can not easily unsee and unknow, and so we can not quickly lose our position in space and sense. Daumal composes:

When you were greater up, there is an art to discovering your method in the lower areas by the memory of what you have actually seen. When you can no longer see, you can a minimum of still understand.

Etel Adnan: Mount Tamalpais, 2000. (Callicoon Fine Arts, New York) Echoing his similarly brilliant, similarly underappreciated compatriot and contemporary Simone Weils idea of the highest mountain-view of the mind, Daumal adds:

Keep your eyes repaired on the way to the top, but dont forget to look at your feet. Dont think you have gotten here just due to the fact that you see the peak.

In what might be the most elegant articulation of the essence of duty, suitable to whatever from our smallest personal acts to our grandest generational options that shape posteritys social and eco-friendly inheritance, Daumal composes:

When you remove by yourself, leave some trace of your passage that will guide your return: one rock set on top of another, some lawn pierced by a stick. If you come to a place you can not cross or that is hazardous, remember that the trace you have left may lead the individuals following you into difficulty. Go back the method you came and destroy any traces you have actually left. This is dealt with to anyone who wants to leave traces of his passage in this world. And even without desiring to, we always leave traces. Answer to your fellow guys for the traces you leave behind.

” Tectonic Time” by Maria PopovaIn an admonition against the twin threats of hubris and self-pity, he includes:

She indicated a non-metaphorical mountain– Mount Tamalpais– out of which she carved her elegant philosophical-poetic meditation on time, transcendence, impermanence, and self.

Couple Daumals wondrous and weird Mount Analogue with Rebecca Solnits vital Field Guide to Getting Lost, then revisit the great Scottish mountaineer and poet Nan Shepherd, composing at the exact same time as Daumal, on the life of the living mountain and Vita Sackville-Wests early love letters to Virginia Woolf about mountain-climbing and the meaning of life.

Do not think you have actually shown up just due to the fact that you see the peak. Go back the way you came and destroy any traces you have actually left.

Never ever stop on a falling apart slope. Even if you think your feet are strongly planted, while you take a breath and taking a look at the sky the earth is gradually accumulating under your feet, the gravel is slipping imperceptibly, and unexpectedly you are introduced like a ship.
[…] If you slip or have a minor spill, dont disrupt your momentum but even as you right yourself recover the rhythm of your walk. Keep in mind of the scenarios of your fall, however do not enable your body to brood on the memory.

Upon this conceptual foundation Daumal develops his alpine allegory of life. Throughout the descent, you will no longer see them, however you will understand that they are there if you have observed thoroughly.