Conference Report-Sporting Life

In the name of the organisers, Alexis Tadié opened the conference by welcoming all participants. He sketched the framework of the joint research programme that Daniel O’Quinn and himself are conducting on the cultures of sport in the 18th and 19th centuries. He thanked the sponsors, in particular the Fonds Franco-Canadien pour la Recherche as well as the Institut Universitaire de France, who had made this conference possible, as well as the universities of Guelph and of Paris-Sorbonne.

 

Donna Landry: “Lux ex oriente. The Sporting Art of George Stubbs and the Eastern Horse”

In her paper, Donna Landry analysed the art of George Stubbs, showing first how it was the Eastern horse that made Stubbs’s paintings possible. England was indeed a chief trader with the Ottoman Empire — between 1650 and 1750, more than 200 stallions and mares were imported, by way of Aleppo, Iskanderun, Tunis or Algiers. The Eastern import was a thoroughbred, cross-breeding taking place on English ground.

Stubbs was a man of the Enlightenment — he studied anatomy and purchased horses meant for the abattoir. His self-portrait on horseback features a well-bred.

Before Stubbs there was a tradition of representation of horses, in Turkish manuscripts for intance, which offered equinine portraiture. The horse was a subject in itself in Mamluk Egypt or in the Moghul Empire. In England, a new genre of paintings emerges with the arrival of horses. The partnership between man and horse emerged with Stubbs and others such as Gilpin.  Horses were seen as a second self, and elicited representations of tenderness, fellow-feeling, etc.

Stubbs’s Whistle-Jacket is one of the top 10 most reproduced pictures of all times. With such paintings, Stubbs was committed to elevating his horses to the genre of history-painting. The horse was freed from human control; pictures without a background became a feature of his paintings (Lord Rockingham was a patron of Stubbs). Stubbs at times indulged in a parody of Reynolds’s tenets on portraiture. In his works, horses were not rendered as status symbols but as beings in their own rights. Stubbs’s world was one where agency was granted to horses (the horse could figure as high-bred). It is in this sense, also, that Stubbs’s project belongs to the Enlightenment.

Marius Kwint: “Descartes Goes to the Circus: Views of the Brute Creation in Performance, c. 1750-1850”

Marius Kwint offered an exploration of the imagery of the circus in London and Paris at the turn of the century, wondering why the circus emerged at the end of the eighteenth century. Pursuing Donna Landry’s reflection, Marius Kwint explained how the sympathetic understanding of horses increased at the time. The circus itself appeared in fair-grounds or pleasure gardens in Europe in the 1750s, with trick-riding for instance. The example of Philip Asley is telling. He was a genuine celebrity, known for his ability to perform tricks on horse-back. His riding-school was set up in 1768 on the South Bank. Segregated seating ensured that the show appealed across the social classes. In the 1780s he set up a riding school in Paris, on the rue du Faubourg du Temple, called the “Amphithéâtre anglais”, which connected with other forms of anglomania. The actions that went on in the circus included dancing dogs (humanizing activities), and various forms of the carnivalesque.

The success of Asley’s circus was emulated in 1782 by Charles Dibdin, an unemployed actor. He set up an aspiring form of circus, and indeed coined the word. “The Microcosm of London” dates back to 1808 and was part of improving spectacles. It was a commercially oriented form of theatre, which proved popular. Andrew Ducrow became manager of Asley’s in 1825, after a distinguished career in horse shows. The period saw the development of romantic spectacles and shows (of which we find echoes in Byron’s Mazeppa), together with the development of the poster art — a plebeian end of Stubbs.

The circus staged the ability of the horse to exhibit various virtues, but also enabled the mapping of social difference (cf. Stubbs, Gentleman Driving a Lady, 1769 or Whistle-Jacket, which signals adulation for the horse). Further, the comparison between unwise humans and wiser animals appeared in the circus as well. The horse reflected a range of attitudes and led to a thinking of its place in nature (cf. Stubbs, Horse Devoured by a Lion, or Géricault, A Horse Frightened by Lightening, 1813). Marius Kwint concludes on the fact that horses find themselves at the confluence of narrative and decorative arts.

Philip Dine: “Horse racing in Early Colonial Algeria: From Anglophilia to Arabomania”

Nicole de Blomac describes the dawn of Louis Philippe’s reign as “placed under the sign of the galloping and jumping horse”, when horse-racing was first advocated by the French in Algeria -though based on the ground of public utility rather than private amusement. There were prospects of military and agricultural benefits to be gained from the improvement of equine breeds. This paper focuses on the role of the horse in representations of the colonial contact in Algeria.

The predominantly military character of the French presence in Algeria since the 1830s enabled prominent cavalry officers to turn horse-racing into a tool of colonial policy, in reinforcing the pre-imperial use of horse-rearing and horse-racing. Algerian anti-French leader Emir Abd El-Kader, who used to mount on horseback, is remembered today in his own equestrian statue in Algiers. The symbiotic relationship between the Army and the nascent sporting sphere encouraged a general mood of anglophobia and arabomania: it was a means to maintain ties with recently pacified feudal chiefs following General Bugeaud’s aggressive campaigns, and also an especially convenient way to overcome the prohibited export of English horses after Waterloo. The local Barb/Arab breed introduced by Muslim holy warriors in the 7th century is thought to have played a prominent role in the development of modern horse-racing. They were to be “improved in colonial stud farms” throughout French-controlled North Africa.

Observers regularly stressed to metropolitan audiences the importance of the horse in Algeria: anti-colonial figure Isabelle Eberhardt, painters like Eugène Fromentin and Eugène Delacroix popularised fantasias and were part of a broader process of creating the Arab as a horse-based incarnation of abiding feudal chivalry. John Reynell Morell noted that “English jockeying (i.e. owning and breeding horses) might profitably study the ethics of the Arab turf…”. The first horse race organised by the French took place in 1847 in Mostaganem, a natural starting-point for the Algerian racing industry. Archives reveal traces of short-lived relative sporting openness in terms of inter-ethnic association, soon to be replaced by a carefully selected exclusiveness that characterizes colonial relationships. Arabs were not subjected to the regulations on clothing and weight assigned to European riders. Nonetheless, traces of compassion towards indigenous sportsmen exist in newspapers (for example the story of an injured jockey considered as a « rising star of the Arab turf ») which suggests that the indigenous population was perceived as communicating sporting practices and values. There were also attempts by the colonial authority to engineer contests in which the indigenous colonized were guaranteed to win, thereby contrasting with their later reluctance to put up with any form of defeat in sports. These early days thus saw an indirect rule by the French of Algerian territory through sports by senior cavalry officers much as their British counterparts were doing in India. However, racing’s early promise of a mutually respectful contact between colonizer and colonized gave way to an exclusively Eurocentric culture that would be typical of later sporting developments in the territory, as of so much else.

John McLeod: “Colonial Sport and Postcolonial Writing.”

A speculative approach coming from a specialist on the 20th and 21th century, this paper tackles issues of colonial empire and resistance in the broadest sense; it presents thoughts on the relationship between post-colonial sport and post-colonial critique through sports, bringing together the Trinidadian intellectual CLR James and a filmic representation of the football player Zinedine Zidane.

International sports competitions emerge during a period of anti-colonial activities in the British Empire (the first winter Olympic Games occur in 1924, the World Cup in 1930), and of anti-colonial sentiment in the “third world”: sport has ever been entangled in empire. The identification of sport as a means of a colonial discipline is perhaps cliché, yet CLR James’s recollections of the places of cricket in his 1963 book Beyond a Boundary, of what Derek Walcott has called (in another context) “the malarial innovation of the old colonial life in the Caribbean”, suggests something more unsteady and complex. On the one hand, disciplining indigenous peoples into a cultural regime of sport and competition fits into Homi Bhabha’s sense of the performative, as well as Judith Butler’s work. On the other, J. A. Mangan claims that “the cultural occasion of sporting endeavour may open a dissident space of critique where imperialist national pedagogies may encounter anti-colonial nationalist fervour, if not national consciousness in the familiar sense”. James perceives such double performative aspect in cricket, reaching out to both Trinidadian anglophile middle class such as himself and to the growing nationalist dream of the Caribbean region — perhaps only ever realised in its sporting manifestation, as plans of a West Indian federation were short lived.

In a register which would later be associated more with VS Naipaul than with his radical anti-colonial work, he remembers the tension between two childhood spaces: the haphazard classroom and the refined field of play, where youth rebel against the ‘code of British Middle class puritanism’ ingrained into the lives of so many West Indian cricketers. His book stands as the classic articulation to Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, somewhere between the creation of national consciousness, starting with the mere expression of anger at test matches in the 1950s and 1960s, and his insistence upon cricket as an art on a par with writing and drama. In Fanon’s formulation of anti-colonial consciousness, which is different from ‘nationalist sentiment’, the colonial educated bourgeois thinker is always in danger of leaning towards neo-colonial discourse. James’s work is not a rejection, but a reformulation of colonial discourse, a literary manifestation of the sporting native intellectualism. Beyond a Boundary is his own performative attempt to coordinate the cricketer and the cricket writer as a Fanonian figure, though educated by empire, and schooled by the people in the street.

Today sport seems to have lost its capacity to generate political consciousness. While, as John Bale and Mike Cronin have argued, “perhaps the sport arena can be thought of as a container of resistance”, the globalisation (where occasion for play becomes the occasion of corporate rather than collective endeavours) may impinge on the ‘post-colonial agency of sport’. In the film Zidane, a 21th Century Portrait (Douglas Gordon & Philippe Parreno), the world icon is reframed as a global everyman rather than a superstar, a semi artistic figure portrayed in the loneliness of the footballer. The film recasts spectators as individuated participants in this global spectacle. When Zidane says “when you are immersed in the game you don’t really hear the crowd, you can almost decide for yourself what you want to hear”, it echoes James’s description: “my memories of games and events are fragmented; sometimes when you arrive in the stadium, you feel that everything has already been decided (…) the script has already been written”. The film also provocatively poses a parallel between the amusement one experiences in watching football, and the detached relation some might have with televised cultural conflict (in Cuba, in Irak), which are but versions of reality television where kids too can be seen wearing Zidane shirts. Football matches and conflicts have become forms of equivalence as shows. Ultimately Zidane is presented as a representative of the world’s undergoing history. In trying to identify a form of critical agency in this portrait, some of the lessons and standpoints from James were enlightening; his rendering of cricket as national consciousness can easily be used to inflict at least a faith in the ability of sport to remain a performative occasion for post-colonial agency.

Frans De Bruyn: “Angling, Hunting, and Shooting: Arts of Rural Sport and the Art of Poetry, 1650-1800.”

This paper undertakes to review texts (mostly) about angling. It considers the task of writing in the process of performing, inspired by the Georgic tradition that took many forms in the 17th and 18th centuries, but whose persistent feature was its authorial self-reflexivity (see manuals about husbandry, scientific papers etc.). The poetry of rural sports too, manifests this reflexiveness, though attenuated: the nature of the activity, requiring practice and skill which enable it to be treated georgically, also complicates the analogy between the writer’s art and that of the hunter, shooter or angler. Sports display prominent elements of leisure and artifice so an analogy can be drawn between the poet and the sportsman, but this raises critical questions of propriety and decorum for an unliterary subject matter. The peculiar nature of sport is that it is bound by rules, requires strenuous application and practice in order to be mastered, yet all this highly focused activity does not have a conventional Georgic (that is to say economic) goal or outcome. Both poetry and sports employ forms of representations that are in varying ways problematic: they require practised skill in making use of the lure, and add elements of seduction, entrapment and deception grounded ultimately in sophisticated forms of misrepresentation. Angling is both an insidious and alluring art, announces Simon Ford in the opening lines of his poem Piscatio (1733), while William Stevenson’s instructions in Rural Sports, Descriptive and Elegiac (1759-1765) conclude with a word of advice on how to conceal the fish hook, thereby prompting reflections — tinged with a note of misogyny — on the elaborate dissimulation of female dress.

Two issues can be raised from these various texts. James Thomson emphasises the failure of the artistic imagination to encompass the exhaustless variety of nature, whereas Scott, Stevenson and other angling poets reflect on the point where imitation and dissimulation meet. All these poets’ recurrent themes are central to Virgil’s conception of Georgic, and the referentiality found at the heart of his didactic text. Moreover, sport cannot be properly enjoyed without its opposite, that is work says Thomas Scott. In a conscious echo of the Virgilian analogy between the Georgic poem verses and the farmer’s furrows, he affirms that sports in their proper sphere can “part the line of labour” without interfering with the purposeful task of tilling the fields. For 18th century poets of rural sport, the Georgic and yet not quite Georgic nature of such sport as an art is reflected in the kind of verse they write on the subject. Strong marks of the Georgic tradition are intermixed with elements of their form, notably pastoral, but also descriptive poetry, topographical poetry, and lyric. Finally, if the poetry is not altogether Georgic in character, the poetic stance of leisure authorized by the classical pastoral equally fails to capture the goal-directed quality of sporting activities.

Daniel O’Quinn: “Funereal Games: Sporting Events, Historical Encounters, Artistic Figures”

In 1716, a period of constantly shifting allegiances, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s observations on intercultural exchange between Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire, on her way to Constantinople with her husband as British ambassador to the Sublime Porte, is one of the most important records — and the first by an English woman — of writing in situ about conflict. Geopolitics permeates her letters, but what is under scrutiny in this paper is a representation of a shooting match in Vienna. Beyond the classic genre of travel writing, she uses the Funereal Games (Virgil’s archery contest in book 5 of the Aeneid) to engage critically with the imperial context.

She travelled to places represented in the epic texts with Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer, who surely provided, like Virgil, an important model for thinking about war. In a letter addressed to Pope (Feb 12, 1717) she reflects on the injustice of war “that makes murder not only necessary, but meritorious”, thereby expressing theoretical considerations that disconnects human nature from rationality: “I am a good deal inclined to believe Mr. Hobbes that the state of nature is a state of war, thence I conclude human nature not rational, if the word reason means common sense, as I suppose it does.” Significantly, she evidences that the State perpetuates violence instead of providing protection to the people. One year after Prince Eugene of Savoy’s 1716 victory at Petrovaradin (leading the Ottomans to submit to the Treaty of Passarovitz) that put an end to every diplomatic missions, Lady Mary describes a shooting match to her sister. Placing the reader just adjacent to a typical male viewing of the scene, she presents this ‘common amusement of the court’ as emblematic of Austrian character. Watching women handling guns is “the favourite pleasure of the emperor”. Despite suggesting that such an amusement is fitting to a heavily militarized society, her emphasis on gender inversion turns the scene into an emblem of the perversion of gender relations. Likewise, her description of Prince Eugene on leave from a theatre of war is feminized while women are masculinized and valued for their martial qualities by the observing men. Since the letter to her sister was composed after the establishment of that Austrian victory, the shooting match bears a complex relation to prophecy, similar to the Funereal Games: she can suggest that the Austrian will vanquish the Ottoman in the future. She does not however play up the allegory into the tale, not because she lacks neoclassical pretensions, or because there is no dramatic event around it, but because of her preference with regard to politicizing even lesser events. One of her comments helps understand the rhetorical function and historical importance she grants to this shooting match: “I don’t know but it might make as good a figure as the prodige shooting in the Aeneid, if I could write as well as Virgil”.

In the Viennese court the language of love and the language of war are intertwined. Such interpenetration exhibited in the shooting match is itself a symptom of corruption for Montagu, but her most interesting rhetorical movement has to do with fear. She is more explicit than Virgil — who is remarkably restrained in his representation of the Trojan woman — in emphasizing the fear of those who do not carry weapons. In Dryden’s famous English translation of the Aeneid, the image of the trembling Trojans is largely constructed and emphasized to the advantage of male dominance. The heroism of Aeneas and those who choose to go to war rely on ashamed women and feminine men. By displaying her fear, Montagu is firmly aligning herself to the Trojan women who value security over the wars of conquest. She appears as critical of Austria’s potential to “vanquish alterity”, whether understood in the geopolitical or in gendered terms. What emerges from her allusion to Funereal Games is a political, social and authorial position distinct from these too violent fantasies of empires.

John Whale: “Writing Fighting: Pugilism and Aesthetics, 1785-1830”

In his paper, “Writing Fighting: Pugilism and Aesthetics, 1785-1830”, John Whale starts from the question of aesthetics, and in particular from David Scott’s analysis of the modernist and postmodernist aesthetics of pugilism (The Art and Aesthetics of Boxing, 2009). J. Whale identifies the moment when a sport of aficionados erupts into celebrity status. There is a distinct parallel between the precariousness of the enterprise of writing about fighting, and fighting itself. Writing about fighting operates clandestinely and through occult language. Hence the question of the fashionability of the cultural eruption of boxing, which becomes part of the dominant society. But boxing has to keep remaking itself as well, at odds with its popularity (cant).

J. Whale analyses at length the example of John B., who laboured from 1801 to 1830. He is one of the authors of Boxiana (some of it written by Pierce Egan, his rival; they were involved in a legal dispute about authorship of vol. 4). What kind of space does this figure occupy? He uses various words to describe himself, in particular the word “operator”, which conjures up functionalist, artisanal, clandestine connotations. He is thinking conceptually about a popular cultural and subcultural practice which comes into the limelight, where the concept of the “operator” becomes crucial.

Betting is essential in this respect. The spectre of sport being evacuated is indeed a threat after this period — the threat of illegality, of increased regulation, including financial. The operator can therefore be seen as someone who is a nexus and who has to negotiate these conflicting trends. John Hamilton Reynolds’s review of Pierce Egan in London Magazine talks about “a pen with a man behind him”.

John Badcock/Bio-Dev/John Bee/Jon Bee mediates the immediate aggression of a sport for a more refined readership. He draws attention to the labours of bringing forward the nature of the sport (as opposed to Egan), displaying a self-consciousness about conflicts involved in this kind of writing. He makes greater claims to accuracy and comprehensiveness, but places himself above high aesthetic culture. Dictionaries of slang are interesting in this respect. An operator can bring forward an irrascible enlightenment. Although there is an entry on dandyism, his is the informed outsider’s rather than the informed devotee’s. He takes over from Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1785. Cf. entry on “sparr” in his 1823 Slang. Parades and debunks his bookish tendencies. Cf. Preface to his Fancyana, where creativity operates through compilation (it gives the history of about 900 fights). In underlining a “fisted intelligence”, the fact that “books were ransacked”, he insists on self-pleading and self-justification of editorial labour and the sense of threat to that labour and the money that depends on this.

Sharon Harrow : “Boxing for England: Daniel Mendoza and the Theatre of Sport”

Daniel Mendoza held the title of heavyweight Champion of England from 1792-1795.  Arguably the most famous fighter of his time, he fought during the renaissance of bareknuckle boxing.  His rise to stardom in the late 1780s was so precipitous that one biographer wrote, “The outbreak of the French Revolution was inside-page news in the journals of 1789, because in those July days Mendoza made front page news with boxing’s first literary work, The Art of Boxing.”   His 1816 Memoirs of the Life of Daniel Mendoza was the first autobiography written by a pugilist.   Alternately hailed as “The Star of Israel” and “Mendoza the Jew,” Mendoza enjoyed a reputation as a “professor of pugilism” whose success in the ring as well as the popularity of The Art of Boxing made him a Jewish luminary.  His fame is particularly impressive given the anti-Semitism that pervaded eighteenth-century England.  How did the Jewish boxer authorize an illegitimate and illegal sport, and himself as a writer and sports icon?  He did so largely by refashioning traditional literary principles to his rhetorical advantage and, more broadly, by capitalizing on the period’s enthusiasm for sport and theater.  

Mendoza frames both of his boxing texts with the claim that the art and science of boxing are singularly English.  This exposition sets the stage for him to create a portrait of himself in his autobiography in the picaresque mode, as a kind of Tom Jones, an affable young chap who gets into scrapes, who is good-hearted, who moves from one theatrical scene to the next, fighting, riding, boxing, and dancing.  He styles himself as a performer who can benefit the English citizenry by embodying and teaching English values learned in the ring: honor, courage, mastery over nature, masculinity, martial prowess, and even plainspokenness.  Late eighteenth-century boxing literature served several rhetorical and social purposes.  Mendoza wrote within a literary tradition that did not include Jews; nonetheless, he used its terms to his advantage.  Moreover, boxing literature helped not only to consolidate but complicate the image of a heroic English fighter.  

Nationalistic ideology was dramatized in boxing matches.  Such dramas naturally also took the stage in theaters.  Examining Mendoza’s participation in the 1809 Old Price Riots reveals how definitions of nationhood and legitimacy played out on the stage and in the pit.  When boxers were enlisted to restore order, staged and spontaneous dramatic bursts of violence ensued, and the lines between reality and representation blurred.

Alexander Regier: “What is Training?”

This paper deals with questions of codification of sport in the 18th and 19th centuries, and with the theoretical debate on its rules and regulations that occurred within sportswriting. As discussed by R. V. Somers-Smith in his essay Athletic Training (1884), training is of course a preparation, “the object of which is to bring the human frame into that state which will enable him to perform a given task as well as it is capable of doing it.” This may invite some of Foucault’s ideas which have become essential to the way we view, classify and admire bodies. Training had a central role in Spartan and Athenian education, the gymnasium being the articulation of the intellectual and physical. For Aristotle as for most 18th and 19th century writers, this was primarily a political issue: education of the body must come before the education of the mind. Captain Barclay, 1779-1854, the “celebrated pedestrian”, is considered the father of the modern theory of individualising training in sports. His 1816 book Training for Pedestrian and Boxing outlines how the athlete is to “commence his regular exercise which must gradually increase” as he trains. He advocated a strict diet, another regimentation of the body, and introduced a different level of competition that shifted the way we view sport itself, and its aesthetic standards.

Pierce Egan reporting a 1828 boxing fight remarked that the purposes of training are not only to win the fight, but also to produce the best object of keeping desires, thereby introducing the idea of spectatorship, and the artistic representation of the human (though always male) figure. Anthony Trollope combined the homoerotic and aesthetic in his 1868 British Sports and Pastimes, in which the coach is described as an artist shaping the male body. Training becomes an art as much as it is a controlled and monitored way of producing the best results. Somers-Smith and Egan suggest that “temperance and perseverance” are central to it.

Training prefigures not only a way of bodily coercion, exercise and discipline, but paradoxically becomes central to what many people consider to be the opposite of coercion: free time. This is how sports have become the central part of self-disciplining and self-codification of the body, as our times understand individual subjects and their needs as unique. Yet the way that we measure those individualities in sporting routines is by adjusting the way we optimize ourselves to the standard that is defined as excellence in that sphere. Standardization is accepted as something done voluntarily and producing pleasure, since we have become our own personal trainers, Captain Barclay and boxing champion Tom Cribb in one.

Alexis Tadié: “The Birth of Modern Tennis”

In “The Birth of Modern Tennis”, Alexis Tadié starts from the fact that the birth of modern tennis is generally considered to be December 1873, when Major Walter C. Wingfield patented in London the equipment and rules of the game of Sphairistikè. He outlines the ways in which the game was packaged, promoted, and how it spread at a time when leisure time was on the increase. But the story is of course slightly more complicated with various actors, in particular Harry Gem and Augurio Pereira, claiming a stake in the invention. It is of course not only Gem and Pereira who insist on this, but aficionados of later years. One of the issues is to understand how tennis, which took the world by storm, managed to take over from the now largely defunct sport of real tennis (jeu de paume). In investigating such continuities, A. Tadié analyses the cultural representations that surround the sport, in the visual arts as well as in literature. He shows how lawn tennis is born out of the inadequacies of real tennis, a game that had become both difficult to organise in terms of buildings, and irrelevant to the culture of the day. Beyond the name, though, the continuities between real tennis and tennis were activated in the late nineteenth century. This is apparent in the uses and celebrations of the game, in its potential for visual and literary disquisitions, in the attitudes generated by its place and growing importance in the culture of the time. A. Tadié evokes literary texts penned by American as well as British authors, by Medieval as well as nineteenth-century  poets.

Simon Bainbridge“Romanticism and the Invention of Mountaineering”

Simon Bainbridge retraced in “Romanticism and the Invention of Mountaineering” the beginnings of moutaineering, reminding us that Coleridge is responsible for the first recorded use of the word “mountaineering”. The romantic period saw an evolution in the word to include the sense of someone who indulges in mountain-climbing. Cf. Manfred: chamois hunter/intellectual climber. S. Bainbridge offered first a little history of mountaineering, showing that it began much earlier than is usually recognised. During the Romantic period, mountaineering evolved into a leisure pursuit. Originally, it was linked to natural history and philosophy and to the search for rate botanic specimens (first ascension of Ben Nevis in 1771 by James Robertson); or other ascensions for ascertaining the mass of the earth. There was a mutual symbolism of discovery and achievement. Cf. de Saussure conducting experiments on Mont Blanc, invoked by British mountaineers to justify their own activities. The second important element in the development of moutaineering is linked to antiquarianism. Cf. The 18th-century Welsh historian Pennant ascending Snowdon in the 1770s.

The second part of S. Bainbridge’s presentation was devoted to the analysis of one example of sophisticated mountaineering writing in the romantic period: Wordsworth’s investigation of “visual sovereignty”. He focused for instance on Wordsworth’s uses of spatial gender and power politics in ‘Ode to Lycoris” (1817). He showed how Wordsworth recapitulates many tropes of mountain-writing, especially since La Nouvelle Héloïse. He focused on the pleasure of “looking down”, reminding us how the “Adventurer’s gaze” recalls a colonial and imperial project. Wordsworth rejects the sublime and embraces the heart, aligning it with the feminine and the beautiful — “the heart that magnifies this life”. The relationship between mountaineering and romanticism suggests therefore that romanticism was produced by embodiment and movement.

In conclusion, S. Bainbridge insisted on the fact that romantic literature of mountaineering was highly influential in how mountaineering was understood in the 19th and 20th centuries. Byron and others shaped Alpine writing in England. Walter Scott offers a good example of this legacy, in FitzJames in The Lady of the Lake. With the transformation of the figure of the Craggsman, what appears is the way in which a Highland working class occupation is transformed into a middle class activity. Cf. The Pirate or the opening of Anne of Geierstein (1829), which can be seen as the culmination of the relationship between literature and mountaineering.

Supriya Chaudhuri: “Pilgrim, Pundit, Photographer, Spy: the Ambiguous Origins of Mountaineering in India”

In her paper entitled “Pilgrim, Pundit, Photographer, Spy: the Ambiguous Origins of Mountaineering in India”, Supriya Chaudhuri analysed the ambiguities of moutaineering, asking at the end the question of what it is that makes it a sport, and stressing the importance of the attainment of pleasure, suggesting that the process produces the pleasure. She explained that, from the middle of the 19th century, there were thoughts about the formation of an Alpine club of India to “encourage and assist Himalayan exploration”. But it must be stressed that originally mountaineering was linked to hunting, so that the continuity between Alpine and Himalayan mountaineering is apparent but not real. S. Chaudhuri stressed that the history of Himalayan mountaineering is in fact different from European traditions.

This is because the Himalaya is also a mythical chain, and a place of pilgrimage. Mount Kailash and other places such as Kedarnath and Badrinath have been places of pilgrimage for hundreds of years. In the process, a large body of vernacular narratives was produced. The first map of the Himalayas dates back to 1579. In 1624, Portuguese travellers went up to Badrinath and then onto Tibet (the first Jesuit mission).

Apart from the European explorers, there were also Pundit explorers, from the 1860s: Pundit n°1 and Pundit A-K produced the first systematic survey of the Tibetan Himalayas. The greatest of them, in the 1870s, was Sarat Chandra Das who wrote an account of his journey.

An analysis of moutaineering in the Himalayas has to take into account photographs as well as narratives (although there are suspicions of fabrication of photographs). Samuel Bourne’s expeditions are perhaps the most famous example of such accounts, as they represent the communication to the West of the Himalayan sublime (rather than the picturesque). But any analysis must take into account the combination of the sublime and the support system that makes the experience possible (sherpas, etc.).

(Report compiled by Amélie Tard and Alexis Tadié)

 

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