“My mountains aren't generic”

a conversation with Eliot Weinberger

Above (Issue I/2019)


Many of your essays focus on mountains. Which sources do you draw on?

In all of my essays, the information comes from many sources, but the actual words are mine. I don’t cut and paste. Basically, the first one on Mexico comes from some anthropological articles about a certain group in Mexico.

So you scout for lots of different sources and then filter out your favourite bits?

I often take very large books, like 600 words books, and then I reduce them to one and a half pages. I find the bits that I want to create an essay with. Or I use scientific articles and, only rarely, literature.

How do you choose the topic?

In this case, I was reading some anthropological essays about this mountain in Mexico. That was my starting point. I have written a number of essays about rivers, so I thought I would write something about mountains. I’ve always loved the idea of atlases. So I thought why not writing about different mountains in the world?

I decided to leave out all the names, so that it is not possible to identify which mountain it is. Other than the general place, the country, I don’t identify which mountain it is, or, in the Mexican section, even which culture it is that I am writing about. I decided to keep it more abstract.

I thought it would be fun to see how to do it without too many local references. Then, you can see how much comes through that is local, without actually naming anything.

But all of them are specific mountains?

Yes, they are all specific, they are not generic mountains.

Did you look for specific myths around mountains?

I didn’t really get into myths about the creation of mountains or things like that. It’s either peoples’ direct experience with the mountain, the narrators' direct experience, or stories of people who live on the mountain, who are different from us. I didn’t get into these kinds of larger myths around mountains.

Of course the mountain is the intermediary between us and god in whatever religion. And gods in plural. Of course there is a lot written on the sacred mountain. Pyramids are mountains, are symbolic, replicas of mountains, Stupas and churches as well. So you have that whole aspect of mountains.

For you personally: What is the most impressive mountain that you have ever encountered?

Kangchenjunga.

an interview by Gundula Haage and Jess Smee



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