the rigorous m

bits and bobs, quotes and catching up

quotes: coover on quests

Posted by rigorousm on January 20, 2011

Somewhere in the vastness of the Reaper’s Woods, which is said to reach to the very ends of the earth where the sun eats wayward children and the moon and stars hang in the trees like lamps, there is a glass mountain with sides so sheer and slippery none can climb it unassisted, that assistance when granted being either magical or a gift of nature, as in the case of virgin maidens who, according to legend, are able to slide up the mountain as easily as others slide down. Why would they want to do this? For some– like Stepmother’s fugitive daughter, for example, did she still qualify– the mountain offers sanctuary, and not only from men and other earthly predators, but also from the disappointing impurity of the diurnal world, for the mountain in its lofty inaccessible beauty and crystalline transparency is the very emblem and embodiment of purity. As such it represents not merely escape but also transcendence, the desire for which is said to be the deepest of humankind’s desires and the source of its strange magical systems.
Certainly it is a desire that often invades the hearts of those princes and ordinary mortals who aspire to surmount it. Their goal is ostensibly to rescue, or at least have a good time with, the beautiful maiden who, according to legend, resides all alone in the golden castle at the top, and for many, drawn by the seductive thrill of going where no man has gone before, the prospect of this conquest (some think of it as liberation) may be sufficient. But for those of a more soulful bent, there is also a need for illumination and self-understanding, which is to say, an understanding of the universe itself wherein for a short time one resides. Thus it is that the transcendent merges with the erotic and the manly in the heroic effort to pit one’s strength and will against the mountain, to assail the unassailable. …The quest, being impossible, draws wave after wave of brave seekers after love, honor, truth, and spiritual repose, thought to be attainable atop the glass mountain, where one is offered, so it is said, a contemplative view of the whole world and a life thereafter without cares, at least to the extent that bodies can be freed from cares.
Even at its base, visible or invisible, one experiences a great serenity, the mountain’s untrammeled grandeur making the earth which bears it seem less an illusion, one’s terrestrial passage less transient and insubstantial. Life’s messy perplexities and sufferings (elsewhere, the story of the fugitive maiden and the royal princes– as it must– continues) fade away, as though absorbed into the pure luminous depths of the crystal mountain, wherein, like consciousness itself, all exists but as if it did not exist because one can see through it. And yet, for all that it attracts, it also, like all things pure, repels, for purity, unlike beauty, does not exist in the eye of the beholder but in the body of the beheld, quite apart from the awed self and all the dim ordinary things of the world, as if not a thing at all (this mountain, that maiden), but only its idea, something one can believe in, strive for, worship, but never know. Or love.
Although… it is transparent, the mountain ghostily reflects the striving climber in his perilous ascent, making him thus a witness to his own exertions. Which are strenuous. Even the gentler slopes near the base require great concentration, all one’s strength, an indomitable will…. As the slope rises more sharply, however, even one’s perspiring flesh turns against one, and what the climber sees in the mountain’s dim reflection is a damp glittering brow and his own gathering despair. Yet most press on, gripping the mountain with their bodies, reaching for inch after inch, unwilling, like most mortals, to surrender to the inevitable. Which, being inevitable, arrives: the climber falls. Sometimes to his death, more often merely into humiliation, chagrin, lifelong desolation: to have glimpsed such grandeur and beauty but never to attain it.

— Coover, Robert. Stepmother. 45-48.

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