The last couple of days, I've been reading Kristin Jacobson's The American Adrenaline Narrative (University of Georgia Press, 2020). She describes adrenaline narratives as writings or other productions about "perilous outdoor adventures." These narratives:
include adventures in a remote natural setting involving water (rafting, kayaking, deep-sea diving, surfing), including ice (polar explorations), and land/air (mountaineering, rock climbing, base jumping, wingsuit flying, sky diving, backcountry skiing). They also include expeditions involving long-distance endurance (running, biking, hiking, swimming) as well as outdoor survival or "alone in the wilderness (16).I'm only a couple of chapters in, and I'm learning so much about the elements of these narratives. It's funny too because I've been surrounded, we've all been surrounded by adrenaline narratives or bits and pieces of them. But this book is just making me more aware of it.
Jacobson and I were in graduate school together at English at Pennsylvania State University many years ago. We were part of a large community of emerging scholars talking about all kinds of topics related to literature, culture, and history. It turns out that even back then she was thinking about adrenaline narratives, as she came up with the concept and published an article "Desiring Natures: The American Adrenaline Narrative" in Genre in 2002, when we were still students.
A few years back on social media, I recall that she was posting pieces on what I now recognize as part of adrenaline narratives. She was likely deep into her research and writing for this book at that time.
The words "risk" and "risky" continually come up in what I've been reading so far in the book, which might be expected in a look at adrenaline narratives. At one point Jacobson notes that "the attempt to understand the desires related to radical, risky acts like climbing to 29,092 feet as well as the everyday participation in and fascination with extreme lifestyles lies at the heart of this book" (2). Later, she writes that "While mountaineering and hiking remain key sports in post-1970s extreme adventures, other risk landscapes and sports also come to the fore" (7).
Then at another point, she writes that "the fascination with extreme risk in American culture may also be a byproduct of living in a relatively risk-free modern society" (11).
Beyond the materials discussed in the book, I've been thinking about what it means to identify and define a genre or type of writing the way that Jacobson is doing here. Even early on, it's evident that she has been reading deeply and widely on the subject in order to come to terms what adrenaline narratives are and are not.
I'm not taking any risks by climbing mountains or sky diving at the moment. But I'm now quite interested in what's going on with adrenaline narratives.