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This specific complex emotion is called ‘the sublime,’ and it has its home in the mountains.That the sublime would be proper to mountains is unsurprising, for the term was first introduced by the classical Greek rhetorician Longinus to designate an “elevated” style of writing and speech, which was then translated as “sublimis” (“uplifting, lofty”) in subsequent Latin translations of the Greek original text. Perhaps you’ve run out a leader-line that’s propped on bad pro like a cheap string of Christmas lights gently but alarmingly swaying in the slightest breeze.
In films such as (1929) Fanck created stunning images of vulnerable male climbers exposed to nature’s elemental powers in the mountains (Fig. Critics have interpreted these films as signs of fascist inclinations, finding in the heroes’ submission to elemental forces “a mentality kindred to Nazi spirit” (Siegfried Kracauer) and “an anthology of proto-Nazi sentiments” (Susan Sontag); indeed, Fanck’s favorite actress, Leni Riefenstahl, directed and starred in her own mountain film (, 1935).
But, as film historians have observed, this interpretation omits or understates the fascinating and disquieting pleasure these films provided their huge audiences, a popularity that cannot be explained by the glorious landscapes or the melodramatic plots alone.
On August 8, 1786, the mountain previously called Mont Maudit (“the cursed mountain”) was climbed for the first time and renamed, and rebranded, Mont Blanc. Turner, famous for his impressionist portrayals of sublime mountainscapes (figures 1 and 2) toured the Alps in 1802, and Caspar David Friedrich, less interested in realistic landscapes than in the religious idealism of German Romanticism, tried to induce the feeling of the sublime by placing the viewer over the shoulder of the painting’s protagonist (figure 3).
Between 17 the fashionably wealthy participated in the fashion of taking a “Grand Tour” in Europe, which necessarily included a high-altitude hike in the Swiss Alps. By the end of the 18th century, one could experience the sublime on a package tour of the Alps like one goes to a roller coaster amusement park today.
The loftier a mountain, the greater is his desire to conquer it, to climb the highest peak and to enjoy the thrill of victory.
Nearly all the mountains of the world have now been conquered by the persistence and perseverance of man.Perhaps you’re standing on a thin ledge looking straight down a 2000-meter rock face into another country.We’ve all been there, and we all know the strange and unique combination of euphoria and fear that grips us in such moments.What, asked Kant, distinguishes the feeling of the sublime from simple fear, dread, anxiety, and so on?While fear is actually and wholly painful, the sublime is not; it is mixed with “delight”.The combination of physiological fear and intellectual belief for Kant indicates our dual nature as human beings belonging to both the realm of natural causal necessity and the realm of moral freedom.Thus when we experience the sublime we are most authentically human beings.Rather, the mountain films may also be seen as distinctly sublime embodiments of Weimar and indeed modern anxieties: an enveloping and alarming political obscurity arising from unexpected and rapid changes in technology, economic, and social relations.Just as a century earlier Kant had argued that the mountain sublime expressed our authentic human nature, the mountain film of the 1920s and 1930s depicted a fantastical image of physically and mentally undamaged, and politically uncompromised men risking their lives while secure in the knowledge of their climbing abilities and hence safety.These experiences were immortalized and stylized by the illustrious painters and lithographers of the day. And in turn, genuine explorers and mountaineers, for whom the feeling of the sublime was an inherent and welcome byproduct of their pursuit rather than merely a manufactured and commercialized commodity to be consumed, pressed higher, farther, up into the wild heights of more distant lands.The second great age of the sublime in Western culture occurred in the early decades of the twentieth-century, and once again occurred in the mountains, but this time on the film screen rather than the canvas.