The Ascension of Mount Analogue by Remedios Varo
"He questioned us one after the other. Each of his questions, although quite simple - Who were we? Why had we come? - caught us off guard and shook us to the core. Who are you? Who am I? We could not answer him as we would a consular official or customs agent. Tell one's name and profession? What good would that do? But who are you? And what are you? The words we pronounced - we had no others - were lifeless, repugnant, and grotesque like cadavers. We knew henceforth that we could no longer pay the guides of Mount Analogue with words."
Mount Analogue is an unfinished novel by the French writer, Rene Daumal. He succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of thirty six leaving his manuscript in mid sentence and with only a sketch as to how it was to be completed (in a further two chapters). It is (and was to be) short yet it is a beautiful, mysterious and resonant tale.
Led by Father Sogol, once a monk, now a mountaineer and inventor, a small party make their way to a hidden continent, Mount Analogue, whose base is rooted in earth and whose pinnacle is in heaven and begin their ascent. In essence that is it but along the way, Daumal explores through poetic image, metaphor, allegory and metaphysical sleight of hand what it might mean for a person to embark on a heavenly ascent? What it might mean to answer the question who am I? And why such a question demands a change in consciousness rather than answer in any of the accepted currencies of the world, most especially words!
Father Sogol (Logos) is modelled after Gurdjieff of whom Daumal was a pupil and like his master, Daumal, places his deepest faith in asking the right question in the right way (rather than constructing answers). It is only when: who am I? strikes the very depths, when one suffers it, that a new way of being emerges as the answering activity. Reading Mount Analogue, time and again, I found myself not only thinking but feeling the dissatisfaction of any simple answer to that apparently simple question. Like a New Testament parable the transparency and simplicity of the text is deceptive. It lures you in to pondering at the heart.
There is too a characteristic emphasis on the importance of the group - the journey to Mount Analogue is a pilgrimage but not one aimed at transforming an individual pilgrim's soul but that of a group sharing the struggle to achieve a full humanity. The journey can only be embarked upon, Daumal suggests, when the group forms (even though Father Sogol, on his own, 'knows' the way) and as you ascend, you must prepare the ground for the group immediately following. No ascent is possible if it is not grounded in preparing the way for others.
I find this emphasis (that was a characteristic of Gurdjieff) deeply moving. The Bodhisattva renounces enlightenment until the last blade of grass is enlightened because no enlightenment is fully possible until this is so, all is transfigured. Hell will be empty at the 'end of time' because, as St Silouan of Athos says, 'Love could not bear it'.
Each step of the way is one's own and a opening for the step of another. We are saved together or not at all.