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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"Living the dream" atop Whistler Mountain : the malaise of modernity and Vancouver's leisure culture Johns, Samuel Gregory


Our modern age is purportedly like a mountain; high and mighty, worthy in stature and significance. Perhaps we live in the Everest era, atop the summit of achievements in science, technology, and innovation. If so, then modernity should be viewed as untroubled progress. Yet Charles Taylor's malaise of modernity presents us with a rather different view. Given the pervasive logics of individualism, instrumental reason, and a loss of freedom, the onward march of modernity should perhaps be met with more resistance. Taylor charges us to recognize such inherent contestation. The case study of a leisure culture in Vancouver, British Columbia, sheds light on this tension. An elite class of young urban professionals is observed to respond to Taylor's malaise by escaping and returning to nature, notably the Coast Mountains. Twenty in-depth interviews were conducted to examine their refusals of the metropolitan auspices of the malaise, manifest in the pursuit of heroism, awe and wonder, and vitality, all of which reify mountain culture. Yet the call and response are far from simple. Rather, a riddle of sorts emerges. Given the logics, technologies, and terrain of escape, the grip of the malaise seems as tight on the mountainside as in the metropolis. Taylor serves as a valuable guide in this fraught terrain. His 'work of retrieval' informs a pursuit of the richer sources feeding this culture. Logics of social atomism, fragmentation, and instrumentalism are examined. In doing so, a critique of radical anthropocentrism is mounted, challenging the young professionals’ attitudes towards fulfillment. Does this quest for meaning negate nature, society, history, tradition, and even God? These questions reveal potential limits to the modern frame, in its individualized, secularized, and subjectivized versions. The mountain emerges as a powerful conceptual image amidst this analysis. In times of clarity and confusion, the permanence and perspective of the mountain are to be treasured. Whilst Leopold's call of 'Thinking like a Mountain' is considered, the limitations of a mountainous group, in the Coast Mountains, atop the 21st Century informational mountain are duly noted. The hope is that Taylor's 'work of retrieval' can, after all, enlarge the frame.

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