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Heights of Reflection

Heights of Reflection: Mountains in the German Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Twenty-First Century

Sean Ireton
Caroline Schaumann
Volume: 115
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    Heights of Reflection
    Book Description:

    Mountains have always stirred the human imagination, playing a crucial role in the cultural evolution of peoples around the globe and becoming infused with meaning in the process. Beyond their geographical-geological significance, mountains affect the topography of the mind, whether as objects of peril or attraction, of spiritual enlightenment or existential fulfilment, of philosophical contemplation or aesthetic inspiration. This volume challenges the oversimplified assumption that human interaction with mountains is a distinctly modern development, one that began with the empowerment of the individual in the wake of Enlightenment rationalism and Romantic subjectivity. These essays by European and North American scholars examine the lure of mountains in German literature, philosophy, film, music, and culture from the Middle Ages to the present, with a focus on the interaction between humans and the alpine environment. The contributors consider mountains not as mere symbolic tropes or literary metaphors, but as constituting a tangible reality that informs the experiences and ideas of writers, naturalists, philosophers, filmmakers, and composers. Overall, this volume seeks to provide multiple answers to questions regarding the cultural significance of mountains as well as the physical practice of climbing them. Contributors: Peter Arnds, Olaf Berwald, Albrecht Classen, Roger Cook, Scott Denham, Sean Franzel, Christof Hamann, Harald Höbusch, Dan Hooley, Peter Höyng, Sean Ireton, Oliver Lubrich, Anthony Ozturk, Caroline Schaumann, Heather I. Sullivan, Johannes Türk, Sabine Wilke, Wilfried Wilms. Sean Ireton is Associate Professor of German at the University of Missouri. Caroline Schaumann is Associate Professor of German Studies at Emory University.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-826-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: The Meaning of Mountains: Geology, History, Culture
    (pp. 1-19)
    Sean Ireton and Caroline Schaumann

    “Mountain” is a relative and variable concept, not only across the diverse cultures of the world but also in geoscientific terms. As products of tectonic, volcanic, glaciological, gravitational, and meteorological forces, mountains continually form and deform all over the globe. What were once the highest summits on the planet are now reduced to weathered mounds, as attested for instance by the Appalachians or the even older Laurentians. On the other hand, geologically younger ranges such as the Alps, Andes, and Himalayas continue to rise. While mountain elevations are generally determined from sea level, the Hawaiian Islands contain the tallest peaks...

  5. Prelude: Classical Mountain Landscapes and the Language of Ascent
    (pp. 20-32)
    Dan Hooley

    A page or two into his When Men and Mountains Meet (1946), the great British mountaineer of the early-mid twentieth century H. W. (“Bill”) Tilman allowed himself a rare, almost lyrical passage:

    This would be my sixth visit to the Himalaya, and though occasionally I had qualms about such indulgence, I had so far managed to stifle them without any severe struggle. The appetite grows as it is fed. Like the desire for drink or drugs, the craving for mountains is not easily overcome, but a mountaineering debauch, such as six months in the Himalaya, is followed by no remorse....

  6. Part I: First Forays:: Mountain Exploration and Celebration from the Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century

    • Terra Incognita? Mountains in Medieval and Early Modern German Literature
      (pp. 35-56)
      Albrecht Classen

      In the middle ages wild nature outside the courtly, aristocratic precinct, where it was delicately tamed and regulated in the garden,¹ always seems to have represented a dangerous, uncivilized, uncanny, if not threatening territory. We hardly ever hear of any poet expressing his or her delight in simple nature scenes, unless these provided safe haven for lovers, such as the delightful meadow at the edge of the forest in Walther von der Vogelweide’s famous poem “Under der linden” (Under the linden tree, ca. 1200). In Gottfried von Straßburg’s romance Tristan (ca. 1210),² Tristan and Isolde escape to their love cave...

    • From Meadows to Mountaintops: Albrecht von Haller’s “Die Alpen”
      (pp. 57-76)
      Caroline Schaumann

      In 1732 the anonymous poem “Die Alpen” was published along with nine other poems in a slim volume entitled the Versuch Schweizerischer Gedichten¹ (Attempt at Swiss poems). Written in German and crafted in 490 alexandrine verses, the elaborate poem already had some impact in its handwritten form, after Haller had written the piece in March 1729, drawing on the impressions of his trip through Switzerland with his friend Johannes Gessner.² After its publication, however, the work enjoyed immediate success with the intellectual elite. A second edition appeared in 1734, issued this time under Haller’s name; nine more editions followed during...

    • Interlude: Geo-Poetics: The Alpine Sublime in Art and Literature, 1779–1860
      (pp. 77-97)
      Anthony Ozturk

      “There is nothing in Nature more shapeless and ill-figur’d than an old Rock or Mountain. . . . They are the greatest Examples of Confusion that we know in Nature; no Tempest or Earthquake puts things into more Disorder.”¹ This account of the Alps by Thomas Burnet in The Sacred Theory of the Earth (1684) typifies seventeenth-century impressions of mountains as spectacles of horror and chaos, or as excrescences of a cursed upheaval consequent to the expulsion from Eden. In Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) the fallen angels roam an infernal Alpine topology:

      Through many a dark and dreary dale


    • Time and Narrative in the Mountain Sublime around 1800
      (pp. 98-115)
      Sean Franzel

      This essay takes a simple observation as its point of departure, namely that the traversal of mountain landscapes manifests a series of events that lend themselves to being ordered in chronological sequence.¹ Ascending and descending, lingering at striking sights, weathering a storm in a tent or cabin, imagining rocks as they formed over millions of years or witnessing their repositioning in a matter of seconds in a violent avalanche — all these activities involve the experience and often conscious perception of time. Viewed in this light, the notion that mountains are locations in which different events unfold in time might be...

    • Faust’s Mountains: An Ecocritical Reading of Goethe’s Tragedy and Science
      (pp. 116-133)
      Heather I. Sullivan

      Ecocriticism ’s environmental perspective views human beings, bodies, and culture as participants in ecological interactions and exchanges with the rest of the energetic and material world, including both biotic and abiotic forms. This ecocritical essay assesses how Goethe portrays Faust’s mountain experiences in both part I and part II (1808, 1832) of the tragedy as engagements with physical matter rather than with spiritual inspiration. Indeed, by using ecocriticism to study Goethe’s science as the context for the play , we see that Faust’s many mountains are more than a setting; they actively destabilize his — and our — assumptions about “passive matter”...

    • Spectacular Scenery and Slippery Descents: Narrating the Mountains of Tropical Polynesia
      (pp. 134-150)
      Sabine Wilke

      Compared to the heroic tales of mountaineering in the Alps, the Himalayas, or the Andes, the narratives about climbing volcanoes in the Pacific do not even come close in drama. Most tourists today fly to Hawaii and other tropical islands to lie on the beach, surf the waves, snorkel in the pristine waters, enjoy the sunshine, and smell the tropical flowers, but not to exert themselves on strenuous hikes. The Pacific is, after all, “a place of dreams,” as Rod Edmond recently reminded us.¹ Travel guides caution even the physically fit visitor about summiting peaks in the Pacific during the...

  7. Part II: Beckoning Heights:: Summits Near and Far in the Nineteenth Century

    • Fascinating Voids: Alexander von Humboldt and the Myth of Chimborazo
      (pp. 153-175)
      Oliver Lubrich

      When Alexander von Humboldt reached the village of Calpi in the Andes on 22 June 1802, he was greeted with reverence and enthusiasm. Triumphal arches adorned with cotton, cloth, and silver decorated his path. The natives performed a dance in festive dress. A singer praised the explorer’s expedition, which had departed three years earlier from the Spanish port of La Coruña. Like Odysseus on the isle of the Phaeacians, the traveler listened to a local rhapsodist singing about his heroic deeds.¹ Before his adventure ended, it had already spun a popular myth.

      This episode, which Humboldt recorded in his diary,...

    • From Eros to Thanatos: Hiking and Spelunking in Ludwig Tieck’s Der Runenberg
      (pp. 176-192)
      Peter Arnds

      As Michel Foucault tells us, “the disciplinary space is always basically cellular” as “solitude [is] necessary to both body and soul, according to a certain asceticism.”¹ Martin Heidegger was well aware of this as he took refuge in his mountain hut in Todtnauberg, whose solitude far away from the city was deeply connected to the harmony of his work world and essential to his roots in the Alemannic-Swabian soil. Heidegger saw the link between the German Volk and its home soil as deeply rooted in the autochthony, the Bodenständigkeit, of ancient Greece. To his mind, these chthonic roots of Greek...

    • Geology, Mountaineering, and Self-Formation in Adalbert Stifter’s Der Nachsommer
      (pp. 193-209)
      Sean Ireton

      Adalbert Stifter’s colossal three-volume novel Der Nachsommer (Indian Summer) appeared in 1857 at the apogee of Alpinism’s Golden Age, a period of intense summit pursuits that began around 1850 and culminated in 1865 with the first ascent of the Matterhorn. In a unique and oblique way, the novel provides literary testimony to numerous facets of mountaineering history. Throughout the text, Alpine peaks present physical challenges, inspire feelings of awe, and form the principal object of scientific inquiry. Although often categorized as a Bildungsroman (novel of education or self-formation), this book might just as well bear Hermann Broch’s label of a...

    • “An Apparition from Another World”: The Mountains of the Moon and Kilimanjaro from the Perspective of Nineteenth-Century Germany
      (pp. 210-228)
      Christof Hamann

      My novel Usambara (2007) deals with Kilimanjaro and the Usambara violet, with Hans Meyer, whose ascent of the mountain in 1889 was most likely the first, and with his secretary and botanist Leonhard Hagebucher. In my book I alternately employ “Mountains of the Moon” and “Moon Mountain” as synonyms for Kilimanjaro, but at the same time I emphasize that these are in the end misnomers. When, in February of 2004, I took part in a trekking tour to the top of the highest peak on the African continent for the purposes of researching my novel, I was unaware of these...

  8. Part III: Modern Expeditions and Evocations:: Climbing from the Twentieth into the Twenty-First Century

    • Leaving the Summit Behind: Tracking Biographical and Philosophical Pathways in Richard Strauss’s Eine Alpensinfonie
      (pp. 231-247)
      Peter Höyng

      When Richard Strauss conducted his Eine Alpensinfonie (An alpine symphony) for the first time in Berlin on 28 October 1915, he offered images of nature through musical means. This, of course, was by no means groundbreaking: Antonio Vivaldi’s Le quattro stagioni (The four seasons, 1725), Joseph Haydn’s Die Schöpfung (The creation, 1798), Beethoven’s Pastoral, his Sixth Symphony (1808), and Bedřich Smetana Vltava (Die Moldau, 1882) had already rendered nature in a musical language of its time. But what was innovative on that October night in 1915 was that a symphony presented an extensive mountain tour into the Alps.¹ The musical...

    • Elevation and Insight: Thomas Mann’s Der Zauberberg
      (pp. 248-266)
      Johannes Türk

      Nineteen twenty-four, the year Thomas Mann’s Der Zauberberg (The magic mountain) was published, is an important date in the history of the representation of mountains. In the German tradition, this novel is the most prominent work of literature whose entire plot and structure draw on mountains. It offers an investigation into the repertoire of established tropes of mountain discourses from Petrarchan humanism and the Romantic sublime to the thrill of sport and mountain climbing in modern times. Absorbing literary traditions as well as contemporary travel literature and commonplaces of an emerging bourgeois mountaineering culture, Mann’s novel has also shaped the...

    • “The Essence of the Alpine World Is Struggle”: Strategies of Gesundung in Arnold Fanck’s Early Mountain Films
      (pp. 267-284)
      Wilfried Wilms

      “Die f ilme,” Siegfried Kracauer claimed in 1927,

      sind der Spiegel der bestehenden Gesellschaft. . . . Um die heutige Gesellschaft zu erforschen, hätte man also den Erzeugnissen ihrer Filmkonzerne die Beichte abzunehmen. . . . In der unendlichen Reihe der Filme kehrt eine begrenzte Zahl typischer Motive immer wieder; sie zeigen an, wie die Gesellschaft sich selber zu sehen wünscht. Der Inbegriff der Filmmotive ist zugleich die Summe der gesellschaftlichen Ideologien, die durch die Deutung dieser Motive entzaubert werden.

      [Films are the mirror of the prevailing society. . . . In order to investigate today’s society, one must listen...

    • “Mountain of Destiny”: The Filmic Legacy of Nanga Parbat
      (pp. 285-301)
      Harald Höbusch

      In addition to being physical forms, mountains — as Robert Macfarlane writes in the introduction to his 2003 study Mountains of the Mind — are “the products of human perception; they have been imagined into existence down the centuries.”¹ By the end of the nineteenth century, the focus of this imagination in the minds of European, and especially British, mountaineers had shifted from the Alps to the highest mountain ranges in the world. Macfarlane observes: “The imaginary potency of these greater peaks . . . was formidable, and they frequently became the objects of obsession within the minds of their individual admirers”...

    • Spatial Orientation and Embodied Transcendence in Werner Herzog’s Mountain Climbing Films
      (pp. 302-319)
      Roger Cook

      In 1984 Herzog accompanied the famous South Tyrolean mountain climber Reinhold Messner on an expedition to the central Karakoram mountain range in northeastern Pakistan to film the latter’s attempt at an unprecedented climbing feat. Messner and his fellow climber Hans Kammerlander were seeking to become the first to ascend two 8,000-meter peaks (Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II) in succession without returning to base camp. In a voiceover during an extended panning shot of the Karakoram at the beginning of the film, Herzog lays out what he wanted to explore in the resulting television documentary, GasherbrumDer leuchtende Berg (Gasherbrum — the...

    • W. G. Sebald’s Magic Mountains
      (pp. 320-333)
      Scott Denham

      Mountains are everywhere in W. G. Sebald’s prose, from the very first image of the Grand St. Bernard, which appears even before the opening words of the text of the story “Beyle oder das merckwürdige Faktum der Liebe” (Beyle, or the strange fact of love), to “Die Alpen im Meer” (Alps in the sea).¹ The former image, in “Beyle,” introduces the story of Napoleon’s army’s march across the Col-St.-Bernard in 1800, and, rather than the obvious image that comes to mind for us in that context — Jacques-Louis David’s equestrian portrait of Le Premier Consul pointing the way ahead over the...

    • Conflicting Ascents: Inscriptions, Cartographies, and Disappearance in Christoph Ransmayr’s Der fliegende Berg
      (pp. 334-348)
      Olaf Berwald

      Can extreme mountaineering provide helpful allegories for the risks of vertiginous reading? Can a literary work of art, and in turn its reader, temporarily be understood to undergo tectonic shifts that continuously uplift, submerge, and reassert ultimately unmappable epistemic terrain? Avoiding coarsely grained philological quicksand and leaving behind fixations on omniscient methods at hermeneutic base camps, expeditions in reading fiction can still face the challenge of telling apart the climber from the gorge, and untraceable narrators from posthuman landscapes. Could the solitary or synergistic process of reading connote a free-climbing experience, comprising tentative conceptual ascents that navigate across or around...

  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 349-378)
  10. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 379-384)
  11. Index
    (pp. 385-396)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 397-397)