Avoiding Loneliness for Internationalist Purposes: An Alpine View

Friday, January 4, 2019: 3:50 PM
Spire Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Ilaria Scaglia, Aston University
This paper explores political uses of loneliness in the 1920s and 1930s by examining various examples of international educational and health institutions established in the Alps in this period (e.g., the international University Sanatorium of Leysin). For centuries, mountains have been idealized as quintessential places where to experience solitude. Philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Edmund Burke described them as places of tranquility, or as ultimate spaces for seeking alone the strong “pleasures” and “pains” of the “sublime.” Poets like William Wordsworth made them the setting for individual struggles and journeys, or for abandoning wordily concerns. Countless people found refuge on their heights since, in the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, they felt that “Over every mountain-top/Lies peace.” As immortalized most vividly by painters such as Caspar David Friedrich, Edwin Church, and J. M. W. Turner, mountains came to embody both the marvel and the horror felt by those who experienced life to the fullest while wandering alone on their peaks.

After 1919, internationalists gave mountains a very different aesthetic from the one that had accompanied them up to that point. Rather than picturing a “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” staring at a landscape in solitude, they envisioned people interacting with one another peacefully while surrounded by a serene alpine landscape. Transferring previous notions of the “sublime” to the current political situation, they used them to express both their abhorrence of war and their longings for peace. Now seeing loneliness as a disease that could affect not only one’s physical and mental condition but also the wellbeing of the international system, they devised means to make themselves and others avoid it. They also celebrated visible interactions as both vehicles and evidence of internationalist success, shaping their ideas and practices in order to attain it.

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