The concern for style in climbing has been a long-standing debate in the climbing community, ranging from discussions around the politics of bolting routes to what exactly constitutes a first ascent. These debates, when read through Lacanian psychoanalysis, illustrate a larger concern for the construction of identity within rock climbing. Style becomes a strategy of differentiation that works through the signifier of whiteness to promise wholeness to the identity of the climber. Descriptions of the events in August of 2000 when four American climbers on a North Face expedition in Kyrgyzstan were taken hostage by members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan illustrate that whiteness only covers up deficiencies in the subject and creates a constant state of insecurity. Through the concept of whiteness as a logic of difference, it is possible to understand how this event illustrates the construction of whiteness, and specifically, the moments when whiteness fails to provide being to the subject.
The author is with the Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, 355 Lumbers Building, 4700 Keele St., Toronto, ON, M3J 1P3.