September 13, 2013

"I feel that at this point Krakauer has an agenda to prove that McCandless was poisoned."

"In his book ['Into the Wild'] he advances the theory that it was an alkaloid poison in a similar looking plant. Later, tests determine that the plant had no such poison. He then supposes that it was a toxic mold on the seeds, but Wiki says no mold was found his seeds."

From the discussion at Metafilter about this new New Yorker article by Jon Krakauer.

Another Metafilter comment, further down and much favorited:
I've done things a few things woefully underprepared where I drastically overexerted and overextended myself and skirted the edge of disaster before, and had the thought "fuck if I die doing this, it's going to look pretty stupid", but you know on the other hand those were some of the best times in my life....

It's kind of sad to see people here 20 years later on a silly web blog shitting on a young guy for trying to live life the way he wanted, and with a level of adventure and self-reliance few ever experience. He didn't force his story down your throat - go back to watching TV and working in an office and patting yourself on the back for living smarter and longer than he did.
By the way, it's "web log" not "web blog." Just say "blog" like a normal person and you won't need to remember this, but that commenter was going all righteous on Metafilter, which isn't a "silly" blog. It's a grand and awesome enterprise, going back to 1999.

This 99+-comment-long thread on McCandless is a testament to how unsilly it is, including this comment calling it silly.

13 comments:

traditionalguy said...

The Amazon Book ad lists similar books to this one at the end and included Huckleberry Finn.

Amazon needs help.

Brian said...

I have felt real fear, of the kind you feel when Death is in the room with you. I am not able to credit claims that one has experienced this and now looks back on it as among "the best times of [his] life."

Peter said...

Krakauer has never quite been able to duplicate the success of Into Thin Air.

And his later books sometimes feel as though he's trying too hard to duplicate that success.

Richard Dolan said...

That Krakauer has an 'agenda' is clear, since every writer has one (often just to tell an interestig story in a compelling way). And like every author, I'm sure Krakauer wants his books to sell. The only concern is whether, in pursuing his agenda, he deals fairly with the facts, or instead fudges some and leaves out others that might call into question his conclusion.

I didn't see anyone suggesting that he did. Instead, the basic divide was between those who thought he glorified a foolish numbnut who managed to kill himself, and those who see McCandless as a daring adverturer who died by relying on incomplete information that was nevertheless the best available at the time.

The guy who said it was "kind of sad to see people here 20 years later on a silly web blog shitting on a young guy for trying to live life the way he wanted," evidently failed to note that McCandless is dead, and thus is beyond caring whether anyone is "shitting on" him. The only point in even talking about McCandless (or anyone else) after they've died is because of what their life (or death) has to say to the living. In that sense, McCandless' death was probably the most significant fact about his life -- how and why he died is what keeps him a figure of interest, from which those still living might learn something about themselves or others. That includes those who see McCandless as a grade-A numbnut. Indeed, without them there would be no controversy, and that's what keeps up interest in McCandless' life story.

Crunchy Frog said...

I've seen 600 comments on some of the silliest threads on this blog.

Quantity is no measure of quality.

lgv said...

"Krakauer has never quite been able to duplicate the success of Into Thin Air.

And his later books sometimes feel as though he's trying too hard to duplicate that success."

I agree with Peter, while still wanting Krakauer to succeed.

"I didn't see anyone suggesting that he did. Instead, the basic divide was between those who thought he glorified a foolish numbnut who managed to kill himself, and those who see McCandless as a daring adverturer who died by relying on incomplete information that was nevertheless the best available at the time."

It's a thin line between the two. Perhaps the two are not mutually exclusive. I lean toward the former.

lgv said...

I forgot to ask why this post didn't get the "travel" tag, since McCanless would probably still be alive if he followed the Althouse view of local travel.

John Lynch said...

The man said the seeds made him sick. Why not go with that?

McCandless killed himself by putting himself in a situation he couldn't handle, but it wasn't suicide. He didn't want to die.

He's far, far more admirable than the people who kill themselves intentionally that we are then supposed to say nice things about. It's interesting how many people will say bad things about a man who dies in the wilderness after making poor decisions, but who would never criticize a suicide. I mock suicides every chance I get because I think it's weak and selfish. McCandless may have been selfish, but he wasn't weak.

As a bonus, McCandless never hurt anyone else. He wasn't one of these self-important mass murderers that we hear so much about. He wasn't going for fame. Whatever drove him was inside and stayed there.

It's easy to criticize the man, but he paid for his own mistakes. Many people die after doing stupid things. At least McCandless found a hard way to die. It's a lot harder to wander off into the wilderness than to get drunk and drive into a traffic light pole.

JPS said...

Brian,

'I am not able to credit claims that one has experienced this and now looks back on it as among "the best times of [his] life."'

Good point, but I think I see what he means, at least in the specific context of a solo wilderness adventure, when Death isn't in the room but could arrive without warning. Until he does you may be having the time of your life.

Suppose you're traveling on a glacier, part of a three-man rope team. As long as everything's fine, you're having a great time, not in real fear. At any moment, and you don't know when, you could punch through a weak snowbridge and fall into a crevasse.

What do you do? If you're on a three-man rope, you hang there while one of your partners self-arrests, and the other sets up pulleys to haul you out.

Now say you're alone, and you punch through that snowbridge. What do you do? Very likely you die.

I've climbed glaciated peaks solo. These were among the best times of my life. I did not expect to get killed doing it. I took every precaution (short of having a rope and a partner or two) not to get killed. But I could have been. If I had, people would have said that was foreseeable and therefore stupid of me, and they'd have had a point.

John Lynch said...

Another thought I've had- If McCandless had been 40 from a lower class family no one would have been writing books about him.

Essentially, he was a homeless person. A lot of men choose that life, and he might have stayed in it. And then he'd have gotten older, and no one would have cared.

The subtext of the McCandless story is that he would have come back to society if he'd lived and fulfilled his potential as a smart and educated young man. What if he hadn't? Imagine him as a 40 year old bum by the side of the road. Still seem romantic?

This whole story is as much about age and class as life and death.

Smilin' Jack said...

...a level of adventure and self-reliance few ever experience.

Oh, I'd say most Darwin Award winners experience them. Adventure and self-reliance are things to avoid if you're a moron.

SJL said...

I think "Into Thin Air" was a terrific book. "Into the Wild" was very depressing. "Under the Banner of Heaven" is a must-read.

Jamie Bee said...

Just to note: Into The Wild was Kraukauer's first book, published in 1996, followed by Into Thin Air (which disaster only first took place in 1996 and was published in 1997). So it's not really a valid complaint to criticize Kraukauer for using the former book to "duplicate the success" of Into Thin Air, as Peter and Igv have done.