Chapter 25: Mountains

Westaway, Jonathan orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-4479-3490 (2024) Chapter 25: Mountains. In: The Routledge Handbook of Literary Geographies. Routledge, London. ISBN 9780367564339 (In Press)

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This chapter explores the ways cognition, language, and values are structured by mountain spaces. I take, as a starting point, global ideas and mythologies concerning the cosmological mountain: a cultural construct and mythographic device that has been deployed across various cultures to structure the relationship between earth and heaven, the physical and the metaphysical, the material and the metaphorical.

The chapter commences by exploring literary modernism’s appropriation of the primitive and the archetypal via the cosmological mountain in René Daumal’s 1952 Mount Analogue: a novel that thinks with mountains about the problems of language and the limits of representation. Via Daumal’s text, this essay asks fundamental questions about the valorisation of up-down dimensions encoded in language and the metaphors we employ, making the point that value assumptions made in one language and its associated literary corpora are not necessarily transferable to other cultural settings.

The chapter then attempts to globalize out thinking about mountains, their geographies, and associated literatures, by drawing on anthropological work focussed on Highland Asia and explorations of how religious literatures shape and are shaped by mountain geo(cosmo)graphies. Erik Mueggler’s work on the dongba scripts of Yunnan demonstrates the entangled nature of mountains, cosmologies, language and literacies, presenting us with an example of an unstable and performative ritual literature that is constantly remade in the process of guiding the souls of the dead to celestial mountains. Furthermore, the work of James C. Scott raises the possibility of the rejection of literacy by mountain peoples in Highland Asia, seeing orality and post-literacy as attempts to avoid the centralizing power of the state.

This chapter concludes by looking at how religious literatures and texts have physically transformed mountain spaces via the creation of devotional topomimetic and epigraphic landscapes and how the anthropological literature of sentient and agentic landscapes might help us think about mountains as co-authors of their own stories.

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