I’ve just purchased this book…it’s about how, during the 19C, people learnt to be passengers on the railway…this wasn’t without a struggle. Indeed, I could just as easily have purchased a book about how the prospect of railway travel induced a whole series of new illnesses and neuroses!
Of course, these two aspects of the railway journey are linked: the active engagement of the passenger, with the view from the train, is a form of displacement therapy. The therapy is designed to provide a diversion from any thoughts and anxieties associated with the train.
I love the idea that there are a whole lot of learnt cultural associations that can enrich the everyday experience of our lives. I guess that’s what the integration of art and life is all about.
The word, defamiliarisation, comes from the radical theatre of the early 20C…here’s a link to the wiki page about it
The term was first used by Viktor Shklovsky in 1917. Nowadays, we associate the term with a range of dramatic techniques associated with Bertolt Brecht and avant-garde theatre…
I have already posted about the link between railway travel and Freud, and how looking out of the window is understood as analogous to dreaming…a feeling that is heightened by the sense of being driven by the train, and of being slightly distant, or removed, from the world observed.
Here are my previous posts
Freud on the Train
The Interpretations of Trains
The Trains of Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock was the first film director to understand the implicit Freudian meanings of the cinema and to incorporate them into his films. He also made a number of films that make significant use of the railway to drive the story…
I found this lovely picture of Bertolt Brecht playing chess with Walter Benjamin from 1934.
I also expect that there’s a link between the optical formation of culture as described by Benjamin and the railway…especially in the kino-eye theory of Dziga-Vertov etc.This is a scene from Man with a Movie Camera (1929). And here is a self-portrait of Dziga Vertov which includes the integrated machine extension of the film camera…
Which will bring us around to Paul Virilio and high-speed disaster…
I love the way that all this art theory and philosophy can be used to amplify the everyday experience of the railway journey…it’s never boring with these travelling companions.
One of the main characteristics associated with the optical experience of railway travelling is the phenomenon of motion parallax…whereby distant objects appear to move more slowly than those close by. Indeed, it’s impossible to see the objects closest to the train clearly.
The parallax produces a powerful sensation of discombobulation, or topsy-turvydom. How Brechtian is that?