We live in an age when our emotional connections are predominantly with things, rather than other people. A cell phone, a hand bag, a car. We seek commerce with brands and commerce is driven by envy. We want it. We deserve it. We’re going to have it because we’ve got credit. This is one reason personal indebtedness is at record levels and many people are but a few pay cheques from the street.
Emotional energy has passed from people to brands. I mean this literally, not metaphorically. We sell our emotional labour to our employers. We suppress what we do feel and feign what we don’t. We buy our emotions, they come attached to brands we consumer.
Consider our love affairs with the automobile. ‘Auto’, from the Greek ‘autos’ meaning ‘self’. ‘Mobile, from Latin ‘mobilus’ meaning ‘to move’. Auto-mobile is Self-mobile: to be able to move or be moved freely or easily.
Behind the wheel of a car is the best way to experience modernity, regarded as a built-environment of roads, bridges and buildings, driving along those roads connecting ‘here’ with ‘there’, effectively brings them closer together. The line of infinity of the open road is analogous to the arrow of time. We drive into the future, not just to a destination. The horizon endlessly recedes just as we never quite arrive at the future.
There is no better illustration of the relationship between the automobile and the modern than the short movie (8:39) of Claude Lelouch’s famous fast drive through the streets of central Paris at 05:30 one August morning in 1976, C’était un rendez-vous. [Above] The camera located just beneath the Mercedes’ front bumper, gives a thrilling sensation of speed.
It starts in a tunnel of the Paris Périphérique at Porte Dauphine, speeds along those famous boulevards created by Haussmann between 1850-1870 and weaves through the narrow streets of Montmartre. Here the journey ends. Lelouch gets out of the car just as a young blond woman runs up some steps to greet him. They embrace against the backcloth of all of Paris in the distance, to the sound of the bells of Sacré Cœur. This is Lelouch’s appointment or date.
That’s modernity right there.
It’s a love story—the love between a man and his car as they speed together through central Paris to rendezvous with a woman.
Such is the close identity between car and driver that there is a bio-mechanical intertwining of the two. Driving is an aesthetic, kinesthetic, emotional, in short, a visceral, experience.
The thrill of speed
The sensation as the car swings around a curve
The changing view
The sound of the resisting air moving against the car
The pleasure of whizzing down hedge-lined lanes, through sun-dappled woods.
The growl of the exhaust
The pleasing click of a gear-stick slotting into place
Driving can be hopeful, angry, sad, pleasurable or boring. It is the sensation of our motion, or lack thereof, that brings different feelings. It is the, or rather a, sensation of being alive.
Or am I being nostalgic here, because driving is like this only in car commercials and the life of Mr. Toad of Wind in the Willows. In both there are hardly any other people.
For the most part, cars are mobile living rooms which we use to transport us through the urban environment. The commute. The school run. The car mediates between work, family life and networks of friendship.
Most experience ‘nature’ via the car, as a ‘vista’ (the name of a car), a view, a landscape; some thing to be looked at and admired, not traveled through on foot. It is a visual, not a sensual, pleasure. Most visitors to the Rocky Mountains here seldom venture more than 300 metres from a road.
The car journey itself—getting there—is the adventure. Hence the names of cars: Ford Escape, Ford Ranger, Volkswagen Toureg, Volkswagen Tiguan (a mixture of ‘Tiger’ and ‘Iguana’), the Chrysler Pacifica, Chrysler Voyager or Dodge Caravan.
But in this postmodern, homogenizing world, if ‘here’ is dead and everywhere is ‘now’, aren’t they all on a road to nowhere?