Buried Alive

“In the good old days, nostalgia was a curable disease, dangerous but not always lethal. Leeches, warm hypnotic emulsions, opium, or a trip to the Alps usually soothed the symptoms, but nothing compared to the return to the motherland, which was believed to be the best remedy for nostalgia. While proposing the treatment for the disease, Hofer seemed proud of some of his patients; for him nostalgia was a demonstration of the patriotism of his compatriots who loved the charm of their native land to the point of sickness. The outbreak of nostalgia both enforced and challenged the emerging conception of patriotism and national spirit. It was unclear at first what was to be done with afflicted soldiers during foreign campaigns who loved their motherland so much that they never wanted to leave it, or for that matter die for it. When the epidemic of nostalgia spread beyond the Swiss garrison, a more radical treatment was undertaken. As scientific evidence he offered an account of drastic treatment of nostalgia successfully undertaken by the Russians. In 1733 the Russian army was stricken by nostalgia just as it ventured into Germany, the situation becoming dire enough that the general was compelled to come up with a radical treatment of the nostalgic virus. He threatened that “the first to be sick would be buried alive.” This was a kind of literalization of a metaphor, as life in a foreign country seemed a lot like death. This punishment was reported to be carried out on two or three occasions, which happily cured the Russian army of complaints of nostalgia.”

Svetlana Boym here

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