October 5th, 2006


Fear of the Matterhorn

I don't know what's the matter with me, but I'm afraid of the Matterhorn.

Image google the famous Swiss mountain and you'll find page after page of pictures of it -- vast, stark, dead, angular, permanent. I find it terrifying the way I used to find planetaria terrifying as a child; they confirmed beyond all shadow of a doubt that I was tiny and insignificant, and that within a nonsensically short time-frame I'd be dead. Space carried on forever, but I didn't. Only my death was as endless.

But although the Matterhorn, like space, seems vast and impervious to time, the way it's pictured isn't. I'm much more able to accept the warm, yellow, friendly, integrated Matterhorn in the 1950s postcard I have of it, pinned to my cork noticeboard, than any of the blue, cold, digital Google images that come up now. Each age depicts the Matterhorn differently. The internet Matterhorn is different from the postcard Matterhorn. We shouldn't think that just because there are 32 pages of images of the Matterhorn on the web, the "real Matterhorn" is there. Perhaps, like Alin Huma, we should draw attention to the artifice of our portrayals of the mountain.

In the images you find of it on the internet the Matterhorn is mostly aggressive, angular, sharky. It's vast and hard, and yet not too vast or hard for today's "we are so vast and hard" humans. The mountain, as depicted today, looks like something Zaha Hadid would design, something cold, technological and capitalist. Something filled with the fascist imagery of sport, and achievement, and challenge that we so often see around us. Is that cocaine on its slopes? Is it made of steel? Has James Bond skiied down the South face yet?

The mountain, in today's representation, isn't the warm, integrated natural shape seen in my old postcard. It seems to say "fuck you, losers, I'm the proud winner of the mountain race". It's often depicted with a plane flying by, or with adventurers with pick-axes and bad sunglasses "conquering" it, or as a theme park model under construction by humans, or as a Hollywood logo, or with a nightmarishly huge suspension bridge attached to it, or simply like a great bloody fang in the sunset.

The Matterhorn we get we deserve, I suppose. At least it will outlive us and our pathetic angular social Darwinism. Now, did I tell you that I'm also terrified of Mount Fuji? Fuck me, what a spooky mountain! I feel like I'm on Mars every time I see it.