Australian Journal of Cultural Studies
Vol. 3 No. 2, December 1985

The Spectacle of Travel

Paolo Prato & Gianluca Trivero, trs. Iain Chambers

'Where are we going to? Let's look at the atlas, shall we? Oh, isn't this exciting? '

(Christopher Isherwood, The World in the Evening)

Paul Fussell distinguishes between exploration, characteristic of the Renaissance, travel, characteristic of bourgeois society, and tourism, characteristic of popular culture. The explorer goes in search of unknown territory, the traveller moves within a territory already discovered by history, while the tourist exists within an area that has already been surveyed and prepared for him and her by advertising and the travel agent. The explorer runs the risks of the unknown, the tourist clings to the security of the cliche, and the traveller exists somewhere between these two.

From the age of exploration to modern tourism, the secularisation of travel has been concentrated in the domestication of suffering—travel, travail, tripalium = a journey, work, hardship (Fussell, 1980). Daniel Boorstin says that the traveller who searches for experiences has to work, while the tourist looks for pleasure and expects experiences to happen to him (Boorstin 1961). From being a bourgeois privilege in the nineteenth century, travel becomes a collective illusion in the twentieth, a petit-bourgeois myth, the aspiration of overcoming the limits of class, the desire for a tangible evasion even if only temporary. In one of the exhibits of the Paris Exhibition, the Transiberian Railway Company exhibited a luxury train on which the public was able to see passing before their eyes ... a panorama of the countries between Moscow and Peking (Abruzzese, 1973: 8).

The modern traveller moves in a reality structured like a museum. Proust associated museums with stations, 'both exponents of the symbolism of death': the journey and the work of art (Adorno 1972:179). The Futurists contrasted the museum with the airport, exalting the second and despising the first. The museum is centripetal, it immobilises objects. The airport is centrifugal, it throws out objects.

In the universe of mass communication 'the world itself becomes a sort of museum of objects that have already been encountered in

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some other medium' noted McLuhan, referring to the geographical material offered to passengers in flight (McLuhan, 1967:212). With a reduction in distance (airplanes) and a familiarity with diverse realities (television), the experience of travel as a search for the 'other' is exhausted: it is no longer diversity but identity which is valued. Tourist travel involves the experience of a modern Ulysses who robs the reality he traverses without being caught up in it, without losing his identity; for his aim is to return home.

It was Thomas Cook who opened the era of popular travel. In 1845 he organized the first package tour for the British middle classes, this was soon imitated by other companies. His 'exotic' travels, however, did not exclude the typical English breakfast in sumptuous surroundings in the middle of the desert. The spread of the railway throughout most of Europe guaranteed the success of the venture, and the growth in seaside resorts in France and Italy after the First World War further increased it.

The holiday was also a biological necessity and almost any locality outside the confines of the city seemed salutary in an epoch in which TB was still a social curse.

Eventually, amusements, pleasure and sexual liberty transformed the holiday associated with one's spiritual formation (Bildungsreise) and/or health into a straightforward search for hedonism, and a confirmation of one's own particular universe of beliefs, rituals and social manners.

Travellers who went on a journey so that their status would rise on their return put their faith in Cook's Tours so as to avoid problems arising from dealing with the diverse: from the ticket collector and customs official who spoke a different language, to the hotel manager and tiresome problems en route. Such travellers were the precursors of the grand crowds who invaded Europe after the Second World War.

Some years previously, government legislation in Italy, Great Britain and France had established paid holidays for the working classes. This encouraged the access to popular means of locomotion, particularly the train.

With the massive expansion in travel, the tourist was increasingly separated from the past, and visiting monuments, once the principal scope of Cook's and Baedeker's guided tours, increasingly became only something to do on a rainy day when the idea wasn't abandoned altogether.

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Fussell, paraphrasing Boorstin's terminology, introduces the idea of the 'pseudo-place' in order to define the purpose of modern tourism: if places still give off mystery, they require interpretation and intellectual work to penetrate their significance; pseudo-places, on the other hand, are immediately recognizable. 'WE HAVE ARRIVED', VISITORS SECURELY EXCLAIM. These places have always been known—Switzerland, the Club Mediterranee, Disneyland—they are part of that shared consciousness whose ritual activation guarantees the effective functioning of the mass media. Travel provides the missed dimension, and the tourist lacks nothing from the moment he or she departs. Travel becomes an intervention on space, losing its previous character of adapting to space. Speed undoes places (events [faits] become non-events [dŽfaits], Paul Virilio) and a succession of pseudo-places reduce the complexity of the environment to hotel chains, motorway restaurants, service stations, airports, shop ping centres, underpasses, etc.

The phase that represents the greatest popular involvement in the new means of transport occurred at their outset in the late nineteenth century, reaching a high point in the opening decades of the twentieth. It was here that pioneering ventures, a stream of inventions, legendary races and competitions, and the epic, unique, luxurious and dangerous qualities of such objects as the Titanic, the Spirit of St. Louis, the Hindenburg, the Orient Express, and the Itala of Scipione Borghese, were deposited in the consciousness of a society that was still technologically young.

Where fundamental distinctions such as those between rich and poor, consumption and production, work and leisure, still stood out clearly, the arrival of these objects produced social effects that have never again been equalled. In the same fashion, the history of art celebrated its last great season in a series of avant-gardes that carried to extreme consequences the idea of the 'new'.

Only the train was fully assimilated in the everyday, while cars, planes, zeppelins, motorbikes, and lorries appeared between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century.

When the West changed its face after the Second World War, and the tremendous shock of that event on a previous immobility, it then became possible for everybody, in a society where travel becomes profane, to have access to such objects that before you could only fantasise about. At this point the images of these objects change. Their fascination no longer lies in a unique aura, but in the equality of their being produced in series: there is no longer a symbolic space

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produced by difference and distinction but a shared identity, no longer a dream-like distance but the immediate frenzy of an anonymous fruition, no longer the slightly archaic excitement of feeling yourself equal by following the established custom but the internalisation of a consumerist ethic that makes even solitude effervescent. According to Baudrillard, ninety per cent of the Americans desire what the others desire.

The obsolescence of the great means of transport arrives in the moment of their maximum spectacularisation. Renato Prinzhofer argues that the '30s display a middle class worldliness quite distinct from the excesses of the bourgeoisie at the end of the previous century. That of the '30s was a censured and standardised version (Prinzhofer, 1978). The passengers on the transatlantic liners now recognized themselves in the glossy sheen of the Hollywood film. Desire is replaced by its image, and the previous worldliness of Paris and Vienna is encapsulated in the American spectacle. In a society where comfort replaces pleasure, and convenience replaces freedom, excessive behaviour becomes the property of the cinematic image. America substitutes Europe as the guiding nation of the West and 'in American cinema the "ship" signifies Europe' (Prinzhofer, 1978:8): the transatlantic crossing is a journey towards the roots but at the same time it is the ritual of exorcising and burying those very same roots. The American enjoys a limited involvement, guaranteed by the pre paid return ticket. The moral of the trip: 'Europe is great but it is better to be in America'; and then in America the wonders of Europe can be enjoyed all together in museums, at the cinema, and at Disneyland, without it being necessary to chase after them one by one. [1]

After the Great War, Europeans demonstrated a greater moderation in the ostentatious display of luxury and preferred to cultivate it in private. In 1919, the Orient Express, the train of kings and the king of trains, becomes the Simplon Orient Express. The train still remains the goal of the high bourgeoisie who want to relive aesthetically the now sleepy gestures of an itinerant aristocracy. The old context becoming the 'container' of the new.

In the phase of assimilating a means of transport, the spectacle emphasises its functionality: one clearly sees the distance of the object from previous everyday routines. It is in a second moment, once the figure has been normalised, that it is absorbed into the everyday. If in the moment of assimilation the theme is the machine's modification of the relation time-space, in the successive phase of normalisation, the theme now involves the adaptation of conscious ness to the new conditions. [2]

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Commencing from their shapes, sizes, functions and uses, we can place all known means of transport in two groups: oedipal, or body containers, such as trains, ships and airships; and narcissistic/fetishistic or body expanders, such as automobiles, airplanes and motorcycles.

There are two different types of pleasure involved: (1) the pleasure of being completely enclosed and enveloped by the means and trans ported without any responsibilities in the enterprise; (2) the pleasure of penetrating the environment and personally regulating speed.

The first pleasure is associated with comfort. It entails an implosive effect that 'brackets out' the everyday world and recreates a smaller world with known and certain confines. The second type is connected to speed as style. It involves an explosive effect in the expanding everyday world and the modification of the body according to the laws of movement.

In the first case, individuals seek to be confirmed and enhanced by the typicality of the travel experience. In the second, the individual attempts to be modified by the experience of travel. The first type of experience involves a nostalgic attitude, the second a technocratic one. These two attitudes can also be related to two aesthetics and spectacular modes that differ according to whether they are past-oriented or present/future oriented.

In the case of nostalgia, the highest point in the overall process coincides with or anticipates the end of that particular means of transport: for example, the grand transatlantic liners just before the inauguration of a regular air service transformed them into a mere pastime for the new rich; the great express trains just before mass train travel killed the fascination of the railway journey; luxury auto mobiles just before mass production and the consequent problems of safety and pollution.

San Fransicso's cable cars continue to function as a symbol of a city that no longer exists; air balloons are an extreme case of insisting on the aesthetic and spectacular dimensions of a means of transport with a high risk of self-destruction.

In the second case, that of the technocratic attitude, there is an exaltation of the present in and through the actual means of transport: for example, the automobile for the Futurists, the bearer of a new conception of life, the powerful engine in the cultures of rebellion in the 1950s and '60s, the American truck in the 1970s. These objects, together with others whose image has been stabilised and normalised, such as the double-decker bus and the London taxi, New York

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cabs, the scooter, the family car, do not induce nostalgic sentiments but invite us, if anything, to believe even more in the present.

With the nostalgic attitude, there is a celebration of comfort, luxurious interiors, the congealing of the journey, the reproduction of a domestic atmosphere. The experience is of a regressive type, external surroundings are ignored in favour of the human element.

With the technocratic attitude, there is a celebration of form, speed, decoration, and the effect of external surroundings upon the traveller. The experience is of an aggressive, narcissistic type, and the human element takes second place to the cult of the object.

The case of the airplane is different again; it has neither nostalgic nor technocratic characteristics, it suggests neither the fascination of the past nor favours an emotive identification on the part of the passenger. On the contrary, the plane tends to conceal itself from the passengers.

Covered passageways, moving pavements, tubular structures, trains, buses, science-fiction furnishings and music, gradually immerse the passenger in the reality of the flight, offering a continuity of context that is reassuring in its absolute 'normality': the train seats that carry the passenger to the airport are the same as those on the bus that conduct the passenger to the terminal which are the same as those found in the departure lounge, which will be equal to those that the passenger will find on the plane, and are quite similar to those in the passenger's own living room. In this fashion you hardly notice the fact that you are flying at an altitude of 10,000 metres; the means of transport is ignored.

To travel on the Orient Express also involved the consciousness of doing just that, it was to perpetuate an experience already soaked in death because it was no longer 'real': the social relations that provided the ambience of the Orient Express were out-dated by those existing in society at large. It was in this knowledge that the beauty of the experience lay (Prinzhofer, 1978). One of the aspects of luxury described by Veblen was the consumption of social products that did not respond to needs and happiness but involved a waste in order to maintain superseded relations. An object is aesthetically enjoyed when we become aware of its non-aesthetic existence (nature, for example, after the arrival of the railway). The aesthetic gaze presupposes the death and congealing of the object; it is distanced and al ready archived in the memory. The airship is the most emblematic example of an object that concentrates in itself the maximum potential for catastrophe (death) and for aesthetic investment.

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That is why air flight has neither nostalgic nor technocratic aspects: in its reality there is no distance between technology, social relations and individual experience. The aesthetic and its opposite coincide. Driving a luxury car today, or taking a cruise on the Queen Elizabeth II, involves the knowledge of separation, a certain distance; this opens up a supplementary passage that the plane does not involve, because with the plane there is a continuum between the reality of the flight and the everyday. This continuum is realized in the progressive elimination of traumatic shifts between the two realities—enclosed passageways, tubular structures, trains and airport buses, surround the passenger in the reality of the flight, drugging her or him in science-fiction furnishings and music so as to be unaware of the passage. The most ordinary activities can be carried out 'naturally', nobody must notice the departure from everyday reality.

The luxury car, Queen Elizabeth II, or the new Venice Simplon-Orient-Express cannot absorb a diffused aestheticism: the social context to which they refer has disappeared. The plane, mean while, presents itself as a utensil at the same level of technology as a meat-mincer; this is not the case with the now obsolete transatlantic liner: the diffused aestheticism surrounding the plane is diverse from the concentrated aestheticism associated with the latter.

Today, with the plane, history is no longer myth. The once traditional relationship with a work of art was generated by the gap that historical consciousness produced: the grand means of transport of the decadent bourgeoisie (of which the Titanic remains the most significant example) die together with the myth that accompanied them—the myth of intense communication, of sociability, of the authenticity of human relations. The attempt to stem this end witnesses the transference of the intellectual patrimony of the past onto the new practices of mobility. But in a plane you do not socialise; while flying you accomplish a detachment between simply moving and the physical knowledge of doing so which certain trains and modern liners also attempt to create, but, due to a more immediate material contact with the ambient (the tracks, the sea), are less successful. 'Even the best passenger service is little more than an exercise in limiting the damage. You fly in order to arrive quickly, not for personal enrichment' (M. Stevenson). Planes provide little more than basic transport. Trains and luxury ships offer something more: it is the journey itself, not the destination, that they offer.

The end of the great means of transport cannot be explained only by technical causes, as if technology, following its own internal laws, must inevitably lead to the fragmentation of the experience. It was not so much the inadequacy of those means that determined their

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end as a historical shift: the Orient Express, the Titanic, the zeppelin, glorify the last days of a drifting Europe; of a subject, a type of dialogue and social relation, now obsolete. Adorno once said that Nazi Germany had already experienced its own catastrophe with the tragedy of the Hindenburg.

In the new vectors of progress—speed, mobility, simultaneity—a new structure of dialogue, a new relationship with oneself and with others, is installed, and individual identity is reinvented. The subject is now mature enough individually to confront the mechanical pro duct and to experiment with new ways of communicating and existing. Post-1945 America is the world's laboratory in which these new practices are forged: cruising the strip, the drive-in, subway rides, trucking culture, the Hell's Angels, and elsewhere the motorbike boys, the football fans' trains, finally reaching an imitative caricature with roller skates, the skateboard and the Walkman. These examples of individual and collective practices—from the isolated gesture of non-participation to the foundation of a philosophy of life—are only possible thanks to transport.

Rituals of Locomotion

The birth and death of a means of transport are amongst the most spectacular moments in its existence. The image of some coincide in exceptional cases such as the Titanic, the Catch-me-who-can, the Hindenburg, with one of these moments. Through the ritual collectivisation of the initial/inaugural moment and the burial/catastrophe, society is caught up in the birth and death of highly symbolic values both for itself and humanity in general. The most acclaimed rites are those that celebrate the unique object—the transatlantic liner, the railroad, the airship—which the inauguration of an object produced in series is itself a serialised ritual that takes place contemporaneously in several places, for example the General Motors Motorama Show in United States cities, the exhibition of new Fiat and Alfa Romeo cars in Italian railway stations. This type of inauguration is in fact a presentation that places the accent on functionality rather than on the extravagancy of objects destined to rapid assimilation in every day life and a subsequent obsolescence.

Unique objects, on the other hand, are almost immune from the laws of social and spectacular time; with them functionality and extravagancy can coexist for a far lengthier period. With objects produced in series, the spectacular element decays with its progressive assimilation and re-emerges only if there is a 'rupture' in its usual image: as with a catastrophe or when everyday transport is dramatised

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(for example, in such films as Dune Buggy or Bicycle Thieves). The increased symbolic weight of a single example as opposed to a production in series derives from the fact that the model is part of the infancy of the spectacle, while the object in series is found in a society in which the spectacle is generalised. In this second phase, the unique objects of the primary phase act as points of reference, whose periodic revisiting creates the nostalgia industry.

The first locomotive constructed in England by the engineer R. Trevithic (1801), began life as a fairground phenomenon, hidden from the casual glance and viewed on purchase of a ticket. Inside this type of circus the machine performed for the surprised curiosity of the Londoners who crowded around for a ride. The spectacle of the machine preceded its functional use by a good sixteen years: in 1817 Stephenson's model had its first commercial use, while it was only eight years later that the first passenger service was inaugurated. Certainly, in Trevithic's time the demand for the transport of goods and passengers was not sufficient immediately to transform the invention into a serialized object. However, what should not be ignored is the constant presence of the spectacle as the antecamera for many of the means of transport that have subsequently been established in the modern epoch (Sartori, 1981).

The opening of the first railway line by the authorities is always accompanied by music and local festivities. Amongst the most famous celebrations was that given by the Rothschilds for the opening of the Paris-Lille line: 1,700 guests, including A. Dumas, Hugo, Lamartine, two sons of the King, four ministers and Theophile Gautier, who proclaimed that the religion of the century was the religion of the rail way. Berlioz composed a piece for the occasion—Chant des chemins dc fer—that wag performed on the spot by an orchestra of some 600 players. Analogous festivities occurred in cities with the opening of new tram lines.

Air flight was also associated with a circus-like spectacularity, from the very first hot air balloon flight over the Bois de Boulogne (1783). The first airplane show in Paris in 1909 was in fact an indispensable moment in the public acceptance of flying, until then viewed with mistrust.

The lorry or truck required a vigorous demonstration in the countryside, on the most difficult of roads, before peasants and farmers decided to adopt it in place of the horse.

The launching of great steamships and transatlantic liners are historic events, and each of them, especially in the early decades of

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the century, were greeted as victories of progress and nationalism. The cheers of the crowds were echoed by other crowds greeting the arrival after the first crossing.

The car also established itself by capturing attention: from 1895 onwards, it was present at the international transport shows held at the Tuileries in Paris, while its mechanical efficiency was displayed in races and rallies. In the exhibition of 1899, popular enthusiasm touched the stars: four orchestras, American electric vehicles, floral shows, a hot air balloon demonstration, were all part of what was the first retrospective of the car, given that constructors had been testing prototypes for thirty years by then.

In the United States, there was the auto-parade where a prize was awarded for the 'best decorated' vehicle. In 1900, in Madison Square Garden, there was a demonstration-spectacle with eight electric vehicles, five petrol driven and two driven by steam.

The exhibition-test served not only to demonstrate the efficiency of the vehicle, but also to legitimate its existence in a confrontation with other means, consequently as an attempt to overcome previous limits. The train completed a journey in less time than the previous means employed; the car challenges the train and beats it. It is in 1937 that the victory of the Hubert-Snipe over the Orient Express over the distance Istanbul-Ostend signals a new epoch in locomotion.

The plane is established at the cost of the great transatlantic liners, which in turn hat survived the 'competition' of the airships.

In England, on the 6th October, 1829, there was the first race between railway locomotives for the conquest of a newly born market. It was won by Stephenson's Rocket which averaged twenty-six kilo metres per hour over 112 kilometres and touched a maximum speed of forty-seven kilometres per hour. Competition took place between railway companies fighting over the same routes: a famous one was between the 20th Century and the Broadway Ltd., two luxury express trains that connected New York and Chicago, but along different

Car races were, in the beginning, competitions with nature where the outcome was connected to the testing of resistance, and where the temperament of the driver often proved decisive. In 1901 there was the first comforting success: Roy Chapman, driving an Oldsmobile, successfully completed the rally between Detroit and New York at an average of fifteen miles an hour, thus wiping out the

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memory of the fiasco of the first American race in 1895, when nearly all the competitors had to withdraw.

Six years later, the Itala of Prince Borghese, winner of the Peking Paris rally (16,000 kilometres) was welcomed at Milan by a crowd of 300,000. In Paris they played the triumphal march from Aida. 'It is the entrance of Radames at Paris', wrote the journalist Luigi Barzini, who had participated in the experience alongside the two drivers. 'Some film makers took the scene of the arrival turning the camera handle and screaming at us: "Look at the camera"' (Barzini, 1908: 5).

The competition for the conquest of the Blue Riband encouraged the technological development of the transatlantic liners on the New York run. It was a spectacular event that caught the passion of the public throughout the world. In the '30s the victory of the Rex in creased the international prestige of the Italian navy and also provided personal publicity for Mussolini; he had ordered its construction.

With planes, the pioneering epoch was also extremely sportive, and dominated by protagonists whose role would later be redefined in the mature phase of air flight: air races lost their function of promoting the plane itself as an object and the races themselves became the object of attention. Private planes re-enter the category of the superfluous that includes hybrid and obsolete forms (home made from bits and pieces): in these cases the object coincides with its spectacular image, freed from the imperatives of production.

For example, the various choppers, dragsters and hot-rods are all variations on the theme 'bike-car-truck' that exhibit a auto-celebration of the object in which the purely functional dimension has been discarded: the race or meeting is often the only occasion in which they have a function.

Car and bike races are a further case of this objectification of auto celebratory objects, where the scope of transport is absent although there remains a moment of mechanical testing. In an analogous frame we find the spectacles of pure fear offered by the stuntmen in the circuses and fun-fairs.

Around transport much of the language of the spectacle grew up. At the beginning of the century, the American company Hale Tours offered the public the illusion of a railway journey using phantom rides that were taken by cine-cameras placed on the front of the locomotive, and which were made more realistic by sitting the spectators in simulated railway carriages and by adding various sound effects. In 1902, E.S. Porter filmed a series of phantom rides for various railway

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companies that served as material for Hale Tours. The train rapidly approaching the spectator was one of the first and more frequent of the cinematic subjects. Porter and other film makers at Biograph reversed the position of the camera, creating completely novel emotions. The spectator was not an outsider watching from safety the rush of the cars. He was a passenger on a phantom train ride that whirled him through space at nearly a mile a minute. There is no smoke, no glimpse of shuddering frame or crushing wheels. There was nothing to indicate motion save the shining vista of tracks that was eaten up irresistibly, rapidly, and the disappearing panorama of banks and fences. The train was invisible and yet the landscape remorselessly pre sent, and far away the bright day becomes a spot of darkness. That was the mouth of the tunnel and toward it the spectator was hurled as if fate was behind him. The spot of blackness closed around and the spectator was being flung through that cavern with the demonic energy behind him. The shadows, the rush of invisible forces and the uncertainty of the issues made one instinctively hold his breath as when on the edge of a crisis that might become a catastrophe (Anon, 1897) .

One of the first publicity films, A Romance of the Rail, filmed by Porter in 1903, showed a popular actress of the epoch on the open platform of a carriage arriving at her destination after a long journey without a spot on her snow-white dress. What was soon to become the perfect magic of Hollywood, was already present in these early experiments in training the look that employed new means to elaborate two essential components of eroticism: scopophilia—the pleasure of looking at an object on the screen—and narcissism—the pleasure of self-identification with the object of one's vision (Mulvey, 1976). [3]

With the scope of launching its 'Dream Car', between 1949 and 1961, General Motors put on a series of shows called Motorama for presenting new models. This was the great season of styling, symbolized in giant tail-fins. Ant Farm, a commune of Californian artists, has immortalised these objects in the famous Cadillac Ranch—a work of art, visible from the road, that celebrates the form of the tail fin abstracted from their functional context: ten Cadillacs of successive vintage, their fronts half buried at a steep angle in the earth, exist as a testimony to the evolution of the tail-fin. In another performance in 1975, Ant Farm gave the automobile's reply to the destiny prophesied by McLuhan. According to the Canadian scholar, TV, making physical movement less and less necessary, would have

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replaced the car as a mass medium. On the 4th July, Independence Day, Ant Farm created the explosion of forty-two television sets by a dream car arriving at one hundred kilometres an hour. A photographer, deaf from birth, said that it was the first sound he had heard.

The example of the tail-fin can be set alongside that of the funnels of large ships which, in the universe of common sense, signified safety: the more funnels, the greater the guarantee of efficiency, and although technologically superseded, they were left to satisfy the aesthetic and psychological needs of the passengers. 'A ship without funnels would not be accepted by the passengers. It would be ugly' (Prinzhofer, 1978).

The iconography of the airship is associated with its catastrophe, like that of the Titanic, always reproduced on the point of going down, sinking into the abyss. In the case of the airship, disaster was part of the symbolic aura that followed it everywhere: at each departure and arrival, there were cameramen ready to film the potential catastrophe.

Over the image of the American truck lies the Western mythology of Reagan's 'new America', from rednecks to country music. The ma chine becomes the symbol of the country.

The diner, a famous American institution that combines food with the road, is a restaurant whose architecture reproposes the appearance of a tram, a railway carriage or a coach. Since the chuck wagon, it has experienced a series of changes that has led to its losing its wheels, maintaining only in its external form the antique link with mobility.

A final example of a means of transport where functionality has been radically changed or certain details amplified is the John Cage train, a train 'prepared' for an artistic performance that became a large popular festival in Emilia Romagna in 1978. In this machine generator of music, spectacle and socialization, it is possible to indicate the 'summa' of all the possible trains: it incorporates the idea of the luxury trains, of those offering panoramic views, it is a place for parties and entertainment, it offers the absolute transparency of the modern open-plan railway carriage and encourages social habits typical of popular travelling. But from this train, 'the Cage train', its primary function—that of transport—has been stolen: it offers not a railway journey but a cruise.

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Comfort (or the Assisted Body)

In the 20th century, after the glorious phase of the luxury trains where you paid for the right to the pleasure of segregation, train journeys were definitely opened up to promiscuity and technology im proved conditions, largely through the transparent and aseptic access of the means to the passenger. This, in turn, called for an increasingly passive collaboration: automatic doors, air conditioning, piped music, loudspeaker announcements. On the trains in the American West, historical and geographical information on the places passed through is given over the loudspeaker system, eliminating the need to flip through a guide or ask a fellow passenger.

Alongside those who travel to forsake their regular habits and search for a limited period for new experiences, there are those who travel to refind those habits in another place, if possible concealed under diverse appearances. It is for this second type of traveller, un willing to adapt to the inconveniences of the journey, that the technology of comfort was developed: on ships above all, and then on trains, airships and coaches. 'Comfort isolates', says Walter Benjamin, 'while at the same time it assimilates its users to the mechanism'. Comfort is for those who desire a peaceful existence and who dele gate to the transport in question, or the hotel, all the material difficulties that would otherwise force a person to be continually reorganising his or her existence.

Comfort is a strategy for protecting and conserving the individual, just like the welfare system, says Paul Virilio. With comfort, the impact between the physical body and reality is softened through the delegation of a series of gestures and movements to the automatic mechanisms of the means of transport; in the welfare system the impact between the citizen and the social body is softened through the delegation of needs to the mechanisms of the state. It is not by chance that it is the 'civilisation of comfort' in America that has had to fill the gaps in social welfare through technical assistance, from the robot and psychiatry, to the latest automobile model.

It is from British insularity that the need for a 'comfort of movement' emerged. There developed a politics of comfort that aimed in the first instance to cover the motor of the machine and then enclose the passenger. The passenger loses direct contact with physical reality and a sense of the places traversed, contact is reduced to a furtive brushing against the outside world. Comfort, as Virilio again notes, is nothing other than a series of tricks for removing those infinitesimal discomforts that are the proof of the existence of a weight, a dimension, nature. Comfort tends to obliterate the journey: caught

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by the options available on board, the ship's passengers forget about the sea and its menacing presence. Comfort relegates to second place the effects of speed which are exalted in their 'purest' form in the driving of a sports car, a small plane or a speed boat.

The journey in comfort, and the spaceship is its ideal realization, exemplifies the bourgeois utopia of being able to move without ever risking your identity and always remaining completely independent of the places you travel through and the people you meet. In the opposite case, which goes from the explorer in unknown lands to the summer 'pilgrims' and their sleeping bags, there is a clear separation between travel and comfort: the traveller departs with the desire to return changed, that is why the comfort that would conserve her or him as before is refused. The journey is undertaken with a willingness to experience change, virtually taking on the characteristics of a mystical experience.

To travel in comfort is therefore a model of behaviour that emerged strongly in the 19th century bourgeoisie and was then exported on a vast scale to the middle classes of the present century. In particular, the dormobile, the camper, the caravan, are objects that best represent the mass diffusion of this type of family travel and, in a consumer society, are the unique evolution possible for the previously giant containers (oedipal means)—from the transatlantic liner to the luxury train—that for some time now have been relegated to living out their days on the cinema screen.

Mobility

The pleasure of travel has two origins, one physiological, the other ideological. As far as the first aspect is concerned, psychoanalysis has for some time pointed to the connections between mechanical agitation, movement and sexual excitement. Ideological roaming is also a constant in the human race, it proposes a 'travelling' universe instead of a 'concentrated' one (Duvignaud, 1985). The city, with its riches and pleasures, is the final camp of mass migrations. The city-fortress is the basis of modern civilization and the house is where culture is developed and preserved. The power of the bourgeoisie and its characteristics as a social class derive perhaps less from commerce and industry than from 'this strategic installation which establishes fixed domicility as a value (momentary, social) from the speculation in household goods and the right to live in the safety of the city-fort, from the right to security and conservation in the midst of the dangerous migrations of a world of pilgrims, strangers, soldiers and exiles on the move in their millions' (Virilio, 1977:19). Nothing is further

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from bourgeois civilization therefore than an existence based on a refusal to put down roots.

But it is also the evolution of the city, of the conditions of work and the circulation of knowledge that comes to organise an existence based upon mobility, in a territory where the confines between countryside and city are increasingly vague and domestic space preserves a purely reproductive function. 'Let's not kid ourselves', says Virilio, 'drop-out, beat generation, motorists, commuters, tourists, the Olympic Games, travel agents, etc., the military-industrial democracies have managed to transform all social categories into the unknown soldiers of the Order of Speed' (Virilio, 1977: 120).

In recent decades, mobility has exploded to the point of characterising everyday life much more than the traditional image of the 'home and family'. Transport ceases to function as a metaphor of progress or at least of 'modern' life, and becomes instead the primary activity of existence.

'The need to travel has concluded with the actual movement of the fixity of life', Gaston Rageot had already written back in 1928 (Rageot, 1928). The 'prosthesis' of travel becomes 'second nature', we no longer notice it and employ it mechanically: there arrives a 'normalisation' of the relationship between the users and the images of transport.

Alvin Toffler tells the story of the routine of an American director who every week leaves his office at 16.30; descends the 29 floors of the skyscraper by lift, walks 10 minutes to the Wall Street heliport where he takes a helicopter that deposits him 8 minutes later at Kennedy Airport. Once on a TWA jet he sits down and eats his supper flying 800 km in 1 hour 10 minutes and lands at Columbus, Ohio. A car meets him and takes him home in half an hour. A job in the business 'centre' and family life in the tranquil countryside of the Mid west. Bruce Robe travels 80,000 km a year (Toffler, 1970).

The epoch of mass transport coincides with the decline of the significance of domestic, working and recreational spaces, intended as 'places' where affections accumulate and social identity is formed.

Modern living involves a separation between being and the home, and while the nomads of the past carried their houses and all their possessions with them, the contemporary nomads leave everything behind. The biography of Howard Hughes is an excellent example of a ubiquitous existence, where the desire for mobility finally coincides with a state of inertia. After having conquered all the possible

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records of his time, power, money, speed, he returns to point zero, closes himself in a dark room with a projector, films and a telephone, refuses to be observed and lets himself 'go'. His is the prototype of a modular existence, it cannot be identified with a single place/ module, but with the network that represents the possible places. Hughes was never interested in the places he crossed; he was only involved in the networks, in the media: from aviation to the cinema, from petrol to the star system, from the project of a bra for Jane Russell to planning a bomber (Virilio).

If vagabondage in the beginning was related to a physiological and perceptive novelty, ideological vagrancy spread as a social phenomenon much later. At Stuttgart in 1929 there was the first world meeting of tramps. The economy was rapidly collapsing and everywhere many people increasingly found themselves 'on the road' without any prospects except to wander in search of fortuitous forms of aid.

Some, forced into a 'nomadism of misfortune', sought to radicalise this new condition. These are the American Hobos. "'During the depression", said the cowboy to me, "I used to hop freights at least once a month. In those days you'd see hundreds of men riding a flatcar or in a boxcar, and they weren't just bums, they were all kinds of men out of work and going from one place to another and some of them just wandering. It was like that all over the West"' (Kerouac, 1958:20) .

The hobos represented a passive resistance to the economic system and 'immobile' political organisations.

A nomadic movement, that was voluntary and concentrated, developed in the 1950s as a form of intellectual wandering—the Beat Generation—which widened to involve youth throughout the Western world. It is not by chance that the sacred text of the 'nomadism of refusal', Jack Kerouac's On the Road, is a book that also celebrates the epic of the hobos and the 'diversity' of their roaming: 'I walked along the tracks in the long sad October light of the valley, hoping for an SP freight to come along so I could join the grape-eating hobos and read the funnies with them' (Kerouac, 1958:101). The book is about the pleasure of movement, the aesthetics of 'rouler', on hanging around as a style of life, in trains, buses, trucks, bus stations.

A French publication, Errants, nomades, voyageurs, begins with this consideration: Today the wanderer reappears as a reaction to the world of consumer objects, as well as—we would add—a reaction to the reification of travel. Certainly the journey theorized by the hip pics had transcendental characteristics and, following a model of

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Indian mysticism, conditioned by Catholicism and marxist humanism, proposed a distance from induced needs and property instincts, but what remains and functions as a guide for the rucksack-sleeping bag-youth travelling with Inter rail and the raised thumb is nothing other than another way to consume objects. The wish to go which each summer produces millions of nomads for a limited period is simply the 'eccentric' and 'folkloristic' extreme of the organized holiday, comparable to the 'static' style of the Club Mediterranee and the hotels of Rimini.

Guy Debord once said that it is necessary to pass from commuting as a supplementary aspect of work to commuting as a pleasure, quoting Le Corbusier for whom time spent in transport was a reduction in freedom (Debord, 1976).

But the third class compartments of the early trains had already experienced this pleasure of transport, such moments were not concerned with work but with communicative practices. (And the same was true for the open 4th class wagons whose terrible miseries were finely described in the satirical publications of the epoch.)

Today, 'travel as pleasure', drifting, forms part of the anthropology of the frivolous privileges of a neo-dandyism that exists at the mar gins of production. King Boris III of Bulgaria often subjected the unlucky passengers of the Simplon Orient Express to his 'erratic narcissism', personally driving the train at top speed when it was in Bulgarian territory. Once, when the flames arriving in the cabin from the excessive stoking of the engine almost burnt a driver alive, the injured man was left at the nearest hospital without being substituted because the monarch had to make up the lost time.

Speed must have been a 'royal' passion, Alfonso XIII of Spain was another who often entered the locomotive with his cousin the Duke of Segovia who had an engine driver's licence and drove trains until he was seventy....


Paolo Prato is doing research at the University of Turin. Gianluca Trivero is a journalist and works in advertising. Together they have written a book on contemporary images of travel, shortly to be published in Italy.


Notes

1. 'The Palace philosophy (Palace of Living Arts, Buena Park, Los Angeles) is not 'we offer you a reproduction so that you can recall the original', but rather, 'we offer you a reproduction so that you will not feel the need for the original' (Eco, 1977: 37).

2. 'The technical development of high speed will lead to the disappearance of consciousness as a direct perception of the phenomena that inform us about our own existence.' The crisis of consciousness as the origin of human identity corresponds to the takeoff of vehicular speed, that is, it corresponds to the extreme stage of the transport revolution (Virilio, 1980) .

3. Cinema dilates the patrimony of vision and provides a form for desires, it acts on surprises that become memory and on secrets that come to light (Casetti, 1978).

References

Abruzzese, A. (1973) Forme estetiche e societe di massa. Padova: Marsilio.

Adorno, T.W. (1972) Prisms. Turin: Einaudi.

Barzini, L. (1908) La meta' del mondo vista da un'automobile Milan: Hoepli.

Boorstin, D. (1961) The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. New York: Harper and Rowe.

Casetti, F. (1978) 'Fouri dal cinema', Ikon, 1-2. Milan.

Debord, G. (1976) 'Posizioni situazioniste sulla circolazione automobilistics', in S. Ghirardi and D. Vaini (eds) Internazionale Situazionista. Milan: La Salamandra.

Duvignaud. K. (1975) 'Esquisse pour le nomade', in Cause Comune, Nomades et Vagabondes. Paris: UGE.

Eco, U. (1977) Dalla periferia dell'impero. Milan: Bompiani.

Fussell, P. (1980) Abroad. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kerouac,J. (1958) On the Road London: Andre Deutsch.

McLuhan, M. (1967) Gli strumenti del comunicare. Milano: Il Saggiatore.

Mulvey, L. (1976) 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' Screen. London.

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Rageot, G. (1928) L'homme standard Paris: Plon.

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Toffler, A. (1970) The Future Shock. New York: Bantam.

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Virilio, P. (1980) Estetique de la disparition. Paris: Balland.


New: 7 December, 1997 | Now: 27 April, 2015