( c. 01952 )
A twentieth-century classic.
The author's poetic gifts and philosophical accomplishments
are combined in a manner that is both
entertaining to read
profound to contemplate.
An allegory for the journey of life, as well as a marvelous tale of an intrepid company of eight in search for Mount Analogue, the mysterious, fantastical (but real !) peak that reaches inexorably towards heaven-- as Mount Olympus reached the home of the Greek gods, or Mount Sinai to the presence of Yaweh. Daumal, one of the great French writers of his century, died before the novel was completed, providing an uncanny one-way quality to the journey.
( personal selections )
" 'You understand, we have such grave matters to decide, with repercussions in all the smallest corners of our lives, yours and mine, that we can't pull something out of nothing without at least getting to know each other. Today we can walk together, talk, eat, be quiet together. Later, I think we shall have opportunities to act together, to suffer together--and all of this is necessary in order to 'get aquainted', as they say.'
Naturally, we talked about the mountains. He had explored all the highest known ranges on the planet, and I felt that with each of us at the end of a good rope we might that very day have launched on the maddest mountaineering adventures. Then the conversation jumped, slipped, and veered, and I understood the use he was making of those bits of cardboard that spread before us the knowledge of our century. All of us have a fairly extensive collection of such figures and inscriptions in our head ; and we have the illusion that we are 'thinking' the loftiest scientific and philosophical thoughts when, by chance, several of these cards are grouped in a way that is somewhat unusual but not excessively so. This can be the effect of air currents or simply by constant agitation, like the Brownian movement that agitates particles suspended in a liquid. Here, all this material was visibly outside of us ; we could not confuse it with ourselves. Like a garland strung from nails, we suspended our conversation from these little images, and each of us saw the mechanisms of the other's mind and of his own with equal clarity.
In this man's way of thinking, and in his whole appearance, there was a singular mixture of vigorous maturity and childlike freshness. But above all, just as I was aware of his nervous and restless legs, I was aware of his thought like a force as palpable as heat, light, or wind. This force seemed to be an exceptional faculty for seeing ideas as external facts and for establishing new connections between what seemed to be utterly disparate ideas. I heard him --I'd be prepared to say I even saw him-- treat human history as a problem in descriptive geometry, then, a minute later, speak of the properties of numbers as if he were dealing with zoological species. The fusion and division of living cells became a particular case of logical reasoning, and language derived its laws from celestial mechanics. "
. . .
" The guides whom we questioned afterwards on the value of these myths always gave us what seemed evasive answers : 'They are as true,' one of them told us, 'as your fairy tales and scientific theories.' 'A knife,' said another, 'is neither true nor false, but anyone impaled on its blade is in error.'
One of these myths conveyed this message in so many words :
In the beginning, the Sphere and the Tetrahedron were united in a single unthinkable, unimaginable Form. Concentration and Expansion mysteriously united in a single Will that desired only itself.
There was a separation, but the Unique remains unique.
The Sphere became primordial man, who, wishing to realize separately all his desires and possibilities, broke into pieces in the shape of all animal species and the men of today.
The Tetrahedron became the primordial Plant, which similarly engendered all plants.
The Animal, closed to external space, hollowed himself out and developed lungs, intestines, and other internal organs to receive nourishment, to preserve and perpetuate himself. The Plant, blossoming in external space, ramified externally to penetrate nourishment through roots and foliage.
Several of their descendants hesitated, or wanted to stay on both sides of the fence : these became the animal-plants that populate the seas.
Man received a breath, a light of understanding ; he alone received this light. He wanted to see his light and to enjoy it in multiple shapes. He was driven out by the force of the Unity. He alone was driven out.
He went out to people the lands Out There, suffering, dividing against himself, multiplying out of the desire to see his own light and enjoy it.
Sometimes a man submits in his heart, submits the visible to the power of light, seeks to return to his origin.
He seeks, he finds, he returns to his source. "
. . .
" It was during these rainy days that we began to call each other by our first names. . .We were beginning to shed our old personalities. Just as we were leaving our encumbering equipment on the coast, we were also preparing to leave behind the artist, the inventor, the doctor, the scholar, the literary man. Beneath their old disguises, men and women were already peaking out. Once more Pierre Sogol set us an example--without knowing it, and without suspecting that he was becoming a poet. He told us one evening, when we were gathered for a meeting on the beach :
'I have led you here, and I have been your leader. Here I relinquish my general's helmet, which was a crown of thorns for the image I had of myself. In the untroubled depths of my memory of myself, a little child is awakening and makes the old man's mask sob. A little child who is searching for a father and mother, who is searching with you for help and protection ; protection from his pleasure and his dreams, and help to become what he is without imitating anyone.'
. . .
“ Besides, often at difficult moments you'll catch yourself talking to the mountain, flattering it, cursing it, making promises or threats. And you will have the impression that the mountain answers you if you speak to it properly—by becoming gentler, more submissive. Don't think the less of yourself for that; don't be ashamed of behaving like those our specialists call primitives and animists. Just keep in mind, when you remember these moments later on, that your dialogue with nature was just the outward image of an inner dialogue with yourself. ”
. . .
" We walked for several minutes along a wide, rocky ledge to a platform that allowed us to see the head of the valley. It was a kind of irregular oval, into which the gorge emptied out, surrounded by the high rock walls of the summit from which, here and there, hung the tongues of glaciers. We lit a fire, threw on some damp grass, then looked attentively in the direction of the oval. At the end of a few minutes, from a great distance, came an answering signal, a thin white plume of smoke hardly distinguishable from the slow mist of the waterfalls.
Man becomes highly alert in the mountains to any sign indicating the presence of his peers. But this distant smoke was particularly moving to us, this greeting addressed to us by strangers climbing ahead of us on the same path. For from now on the path linked our fate to theirs, even if we should never meet. We knew nothing about them. "
. . .
" If you slip or have a minor spill, don't interrupt your momentum but even as you right yourself recover the rhythm of your walk. Take note of the circumstance of your fall, but don't allow your body to brood on the memory. The body always tries to make itself interesting by its shivers, its breathlessness, its palpitations, its shudders, sweats, and cramps. But it is very sensitive to its master's scorn and indifference. If it feels he is not fooled by its jeremiads, if it understands that enlisting his pity is a useless effort, then it falls back into line and compliantly accomplishes its task. "
. . .
“ Keep your eye fixed on the way to the top, but don't forget to look right in front of you. The last step depends on the first. Don't think you're there just because you see the summit. Watch your footing, be sure of the next step, but don't let that distract you from the highest goal. The first step depends on the last. ”
. . .
" I was leaving with a group of friends to seek the Mountain which is the path joining Earth and Sky. It *must* exist somewhere on our planet, and must be the dwelling of a superior humanity...
And now we have reached the unknown continent, seed of superior substances implanted in the terrestrial crust, protected from curious and covetous gazes by the curvature of space-- just as a drop of mercury, by its surface tension, remains impenetrable to the finger that tries to touch its center. By our calculations--thinking of nothing else--by our desires--abandoning all other hope--by our efforts--renouncing all comfort--we had forcibly entered this new world. So it seemed to us. But later we knew that if we had been able to reach the foot of Mount Analogue, it was because the invisible doors of this invisible country had been open to us by those who guard them. The cock crowing in the milk of dawn believes that his song makes the sun rise ; the child howling in a closed room thinks his cries make the door open. But the sun and the mother follow courses set by the laws of their beings. Those who see us even if we cannot see ourselves, answer our puerile calculations, our fickle desires, our small and awkward efforts with a generous welcome. “
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