Friday, May 24, 2013

Being Romantic

The Swiss are not famous for being particularly amorous, but they are tremendously Romantic. Why?

Note that this is not 'Romanticism' in the sense of 'being inclined to lovemaking,' but rather the classical sense of a predisposition (despite their famous reputation for cool precision) to emotion, adventure, and above all a rejection of the collective and rational in favor of the personal and subjective. 

This is not surprising, however, to the anthropologist: although the romantic hero is often imagined as Byronian, the movement originated with the German Sturm und Drang defiance of the petty imposition of enlightenment rationalism on the hearts of dreamers everywhere. German Switzerland is a ironclad redoubt of this brand of Romantic thinking: it shapes everything from their government to their gardening.

It is perhaps the medical anthropologist who finds the richest ethnographic soil in Teutonic Romanticism: what the empirical, Enlightenment-tainted doctor of Great Britain calls "chronic congestive heart failure," the German condemns as 'Herzinsuffizienz.' The insufficient heart is clearly a problem of the highest significance in so Romantic a culture, threatening as it does to undermine the very nexus of the patient's connection with nature. Lynne Payer reminds us that German-speaking doctors are, indeed, the only ones in the world who regularly medicate their patients in order raise blood pressure values that elicit applause from doctors almost everywhere else.

We therefore discover another crucial lens through which to understand the Swiss, another factor to hold in our heads when confronted by the apparently inscrutable: Romanticism.

Whether any of this makes the Swiss especially adroit lovers is anyone's guess.

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