Thursday, 15 March 2007

Jonathan Edwards and I

Here’s an oddity: an interview I gave to BBC Radio 4 with the athlete Jonathan Edwards on beauty, pleasure, and airports. For some inexplicable reason, they edited out my exposition of Kant’s account of purposiveness without purpose. Truly shocking.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Driven from Memory

From Paul Auster’s The Music of Chance:

Speed was of the essence, the joy of sitting in the car and hurtling himself forward through space….Nothing around him lasted for more than a moment, and as one moment followed another, it was as though he alone continued to exist. He was a fixed point in a whirl of changes, a body poised in utter stillness as the world rushed through him and disappeared. The car became a sanctum of invulnerability, a refuge in which nothing could hurt him anymore. As long as he was driving, he carried no burdens, was unencumbered by even the slighted particle of his former life. That is not to say that memories did not rise in him, but they no longer seemed to bring any of the old anguish….After three or four months, he had only to enter the car to feel that we coming loose from his body, that once he put his foot down on the gas and started driving, the music would carry him into a realm of weightlessness (2006, p. 11).

Before the service-station, there is the car which takes us there. But, as Auster’s passage indicates, this does not designate a gesture of passing-through: as both a fixed and temporally dynamic centre simultaneous, the car offers itself up as a complex place-world, marked by the synthesis between embodiment and disembodiment. Take the passage in Auster as evidence.

Firstly, we are faced with a solipsistic retreat. The determination of driving through place means that place only emerges as a residue, a stream of discontinuous fragments, taken in by the driving-subject and simultaneously left-behind in a horizon of disappearances. This motion between gathering and dispersing, secondly, leads to the car as being the sanctuary: the space of the car is a breakage in time. “Nothing could hurt him anymore,” Auster writes. Memory remains, then, in a literal state of deferment, non-committed to either the past or the present. A curious side-effect emerges: through travelling beyond time, Auster’s driving-subject proceeds to go nowhere. Stasis. Polar inertia. The insulation of the moving vehicle has the consequence of slowing time down, enforcing the cocooned temporality of the car interior. Motion becomes simulated, memories fabricated.

And so we come to the more problematic interrelation between disembodiment and embodiment. As located in a transitory space, the self becomes embodied in the car precisely through being disembodied from the surrounding world. Is this why Auster speaks of a sense of “weightlessness?” If the car-place is a weightless space, then it is only because of a fusion with the car itself. The floating car, speeding through a placeless landscape, reinforces the notion of the driving-subject as both gnostically disembodied and synthetically reconstituted simultaneously. The weight of the body is thus transferred and transformed.

Yet far from signifying an exclusion from the social world, this detached attention, played out through the bordering perimeter of the windscreen, marks a heightened involvement with the world. Much in the same way that the hotel-lobby and the porch establishes the possibility of disinterested attention, the car presents itself as an in-between place. Thus, the small domain of the car interior becomes magnified as it becomes assimilated through the tactile sensuousness of the body. In effect, body and car interior merge (an erotic mutation as central to Cronenberg as it is to Virilio). Consider: “The list of mortal sins in the Rue Saint-Denis is confined to the names of the new image technologies like BETACAM, VHS, and VIDEO 2000 in the expectation of erotic automatism, of the vision machine” (Virilio, 1986). For us—after Virilio—there is an interruption: a meta-nostalgia for absurd commodities. A reorganization of the territory lost, but now resurfaced through obsolete artefacts, drifting through time like meteorites in slow motion.

As memory catches up with the velocity of the car, the mutated mergence between body and car comes undone, while the simulated horizon undergoes a process of de-animation. Virilio again: “To climb into a car is at once to step on board and to cross a border” (Virilio, 1998). Into this border, the automated synthesis of the body-car becomes aware of itself, resulting in the transmutation from seamless limb to the phantom limb. Thus the car begins to return the gaze of the body. The border remains intact, while the centre shifts. Nothing less, then, than an uncanny enclosure within the small interior of the car’s place-world: a deferred crash assaulted by the regain of time. In a word, a car haunted by its own refusal to begin remembering or forgetting.