Moving, Movies & the Sublime: Modernity and the Alpine Scene in Dorothy Richardson's Oberland
journal contributionposted on 28.04.2017, 06:05 by Melinda Harvey
"When we think of the sites and scenes of modernism, the Swiss Alps rarely, if ever, spring to mind. Modernist endeavour, we have been told time and again, has found a natural habitat for its curious eye in the urban spaces of the city. Paris, Berlin, Vienna, New York and London - all of these places, at one time or another, held court to the big names in cultural production of the period, or vied for the position of modernist centre in later critical discourse. This essay aims to suggest that the mountain resorts of Switzerland were, like the urban metropolis, sites of technological, commercial, and demographic transformation as well as artistic interest and activity in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. Central to this task will be an account of Dorothy Richardson's modernist rereading of the sublime in Oberland, the ninth chapter-novel of her monumental life-work called Pilgrimage. In bringing the woman to the mountain I will contend that Richardson dismantles the perceptual conditions of the traditional or male sublime - the static, proprietorial prospect view - making way for a distinctly modernist sublime - one that is governed by the keynote gestures of the age, mobility and speed . Rather than locating Switzerland as the theatre for an arcadian or nostalgic sublime, Richardson positions the Bernese Oberland at the very heart of modernity - as the locus of a sublime thoroughly delineated by two timely forces - rapid transport and mass tourism. Oberland, in accordance with popular contemporaneous conceptions, portrays Switzerland as 'the playground of Europe' (1), a place where work and pleasure, leisure and toil are managed to yield sublime feeling via winter sports. I will argue that Richardson's version of the sublime - produced when a mobile body and gaze are subject to what she called 'the spice of danger' (2) - is modernist in that it shares with the cinema and other modern forms of mass entertainment an enthusiastic commitment to the corporeal thrill and fleeting continuity."