In The Everest Effect Elizabeth Mazzolini traces a series of ideological shifts in the status of Mount Everest in Western culture over the past century to the present day and links these shifts to technologies used in climbs. By highlighting the intersections of technology and cultural ideologies at this site of environmental extremity, she shows both how nature is shaped – physically and symbolically – by cultural values and how extreme natural phenomena shape culture.
Nostalgia, myth, and legend are intrinsic features of the conversations that surround discussions of historic and contemporary climbs of Everest, and those conversations themselves reflect changing relations between nature, technology, and ideology. Each of The Everest Effect's chapters links a particular value with a particular technology to show how technology is implicated in Mount Everest's cultural standing and commodification: authenticity is linked with supplemental oxygen; utility with portable foodstuffs; individuality with communication technology; extremity with visual technology; and ability with money. These technologies, Mazzolini argues, are persuasive – and increasingly so as they work more quickly and with more intimacy on our bodies and in our daily lives.
As Mazzolini argues, the ideologies that situate Mount Everest in Western culture today are not debased and descended from a more noble time; rather, the material of the mountain and its surroundings and the technologies deployed to encounter it all work more immediately with the bodies and minds of actual and "armchair" mountaineers than ever before. By moving the analysis of a natural site and phenomenon away from the traditional labor of production and toward the symbolic labor of affective attachment, The Everest Effect shows that the body and nature have helped constitute the capitalization that is usually characterized as taking over Everest.
"From The Daily Show's quip that Mount Everest is 'the Mount Everest of mountains' to the copious amount of waste climbers regularly leave behind, Mazzolini guides us on a transhistorical trek of Mount Everest as a significant rhetorical place to reckon with nationalism and capitalist consumption. Do not expect this singular journey of resilience to invite another fantasy of ascent, mastery, and bravado. Instead, if you are willing to follow her lead, Mazzolini will show you environmental, material feminist, transgendered, and disability toeholds – of oxygen, food, telegraphs, IMAX, and money – that will stretch your perspective."
– Phaedra C. Pezzullo, author of Toxic Tourism: Rhetorics of Travel, Pollution, and Environmental Justice
"The Everest Effect persuasively demonstrates how the humanities must be central to framing discussions about environmental crises. Drawing on literary criticism, cultural theory, new materialism, and feminist science studies, Mazzolini challenges scholars to make meaningful connections between the material and the abstract, the quotidian and the exalted, the global and the local. Across a series of provocative readings, Mazzolini guides readers through a rich interdisciplinary field. There is no one better to do it; she has an impressively deep knowledge of virtually every narrative, photograph, debate, and industry related to Everest. In nimble, witty prose, she reveals that the narrative patterns that emerge around Everest have become so powerful precisely because they hold in tension unresolved ideas about exactly how human activity and the 'natural' world coordinate fantasies about bodies, agency, knowledge, and power."
– Stephanie Foote, author of Regional Fictions: Culture and Identity in Nineteenth-Century American Literature
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Elizabeth Mazzolini is an assistant professor of English at the University at Buffalo, SUNY, USA.