Motion Landscapes

In the first hot month of the fall”¦ Maria drove the freeway. She dressed every morning with a greater sense of purpose than she had felt in some time, a cotton skirt, a jersey, sandals she could kick off when she wanted the touch of the accelerator, and she dressed very fast, running a brush through her hair once or twice”¦ for it was essential (to pause was to throw herself into unspeakable peril) that she be on the freeway by ten o’clock”¦ If she was not she lost the day’s rhythm, its precariously imposed momentum. Once she was on the freeway and had manoeuvred her way to a fast lane she turned on the radio at high volume and she drove. She drove the San Diego to the Harbour, the Harbour up to the Hollywood, the Hollywood to the Golden State, the Santa Monica, the Santa Ana, the Pasadena, the Ventura. She drove it as a riverman runs a river, every day more attuned to its currents, its deceptions”¦

Joan Dideon

Like many people who grew up with the automobile, I have vivid childhood memories of fascinating landscapes set in motion by the car. Long-distance journeys made through the middle of the night and on into the early hours of the next day, loom in my consciousness like epic-movies. The drive from our suburban home to the seaside animated an amalgam of images out of in-between-space. While I thrilled to the variety of bodily sensations brought on by acceleration and de-acceleration, I also could sit for the duration of the drive mesmerised by the staccato images, superimposed reflections, rhythmic sounds, trailing lights and fleeting glimpses thrown up against the car windows. All these activities held my attention in ways that helped stave off that most miserable condition that could afflict the passenger at any moment: boredom induced by the monotony of sameness, or worse, complete stoppage. Nothing could be more infuriating than the confinement and stasis of a traffic jam.

As a child, the car was not just a utilitarian mode of transportation. It was a mobile family entertainment machine. No doubt this is true for many of us who grew up negotiating the landscape via the medium of the car “” not to mention the train, tram, bus, ferry or aeroplane.

From my perspective at least, the road was like a giant real-time generator of widescreen cinema and dolby sound. Whether I was in the back seat with my sisters and brother “” heads craned upwards to catch the whirl of the Harbour Bridge through the rear windscreen “” or whether I watched more casually out the side passenger windows, I came to experience the landscape as a series of fragmentary “clips”, storing them in my mind for replay at some later moment. The epic disruptions and strange (at times surreal) connections created by the motion of the car travelling at speed remain irresistible, fascinating and compelling. As Anne Friedberg succinctly puts it, the “lessons of the everyday are learned through an automobile windshield…. [T]he private mobility of driving transforms the windshield into a synoptic vista.”

For as long as I sat by the window seat, the car trip offered a beguiling sound-image-motion-track that immersed me in a sliding world of vision, motion and sound. Whether we travelled for a relatively short time or for hours on end, each car trip impressed upon me a film-like sense of movement that fascinates me to this day.

I propose to consider this ensemble of motion machines in terms of the “panoramic perception” model outlined in the Introduction. This paper will focus upon the type of perception that prevails when the passenger/viewer perceives objects and landscapes via the apparatus that transports them through the world. I call this particular form of perception-in-movement a “motion landscape”.

I want to explore the ways in which 20th century modes of perception and experience of place have been shaped significantly by the multi-sensorial experience of moving mechanically over land and through space in the glass, plastic, and metal chariots of our era. In the age of automobility, it is difficult not to perceive the car trip as a series of interconnecting travelling shots cut to an ever-changing soundtrack of radio, music, conversation, children’s games, external traffic sounds and the like. The lessons learnt in the train and then in the car mesh together with other perceptual systems most commonly considered to be part of the 20th century industrial entertainment and media complex. (I will return to a more in depth discussion of this shortly.)

In the same fashion, geographers and historians of petrol stations have reported formations of memory and perception that fit well with the concept of “motion landscapes” that I describe here. John Jackle and Keith Sculle introduce their important work, The Gas Station in America, with just such an account of personal history that locates the authors in a particularly North American cultural context of auto-dependency. In the terms of their study, it would be inconceivable for anyone growing up in the post-war era not to be affected by the emergence of a new automobile-convenient world of highways, commercial strips, fast food places, petrol stations and sprawling “ranch” house developments.

American geography was substantially remade. The new America pretended a kind of geographical mobility never before known. The sights and sounds of the new automobile-oriented world came to be what Americans, particularly youthful Americans, held most in common as a kind of cultural base”¦ Different children confronted this world differently”¦ Clearly, pleasant childhood memories built around automobile travel were not requisite. Preoccupation with the roadside could evolve equally well out of feelings of deprivation: the inability to fully access evolving automobility.

Similar accounts of the car’s impact on culture, space and society could be offered for much of the developed and developing worlds “” while the differences between them should not be underestimated. Though historically it was the railway that inaugurated a new kind of “machine vision”, it is the car that guarantees the extension of this “panoramic perception” well beyond the reach of 19th century tracks.

The apparent freedom of travel offered by the car at first supplemented, then finally outmoded the fixed route of the railway journey. Drivers and passengers of the car were freed from the restrictions of train timetables and the rigid geometry of the railway network “” at a cost that has been pointed out consistently by environmentalists, urban planners and geographers. Though the railway continues to transport goods and passengers effectively throughout many parts of the world, it has long been challenged and supplemented by other modes of mass transportation.

The essentially public experience of train travel is now augmented by the basically private realm of automobility (in terms of driving and ownership at least). However, as I want to argue here, the private dimension of car travel and the ideology of the “open road” (so often celebrated as the last unmediated zone of individualism) stitches the driver/passenger into public space in much the same way that television creates a public out of millions of geographically dispersed subjects. As we will see, train travel made available a certain mode of perception and a model of the world that was gradually incorporated into the audio-visual experiences of the time (such as cinema-going). Although it borrows from and modifies earlier modes of perception and spatial forms, automobility is nowadays more closely related to the structure of television and other “immaterial” forms of communication. The “motion landscapes” produced in the latter half of this century are part of a very different set of strategies devised to realise a variety of state and corporate “objectives” “” at a price. For better or for worse, both instrumentalities produce their own brands of public space and commodified forms of “participation”.

Although geographers are not concerned with the perception-in-motion that I am interested in exploring, they provide us with a useful analysis of how the built environment has changed with the impact of mechanised forms of transportation. My project is to link these historical and geographical changes to a particular kind of vision and experience “” the perception of motion landscapes.

The Passenger as Spectator

Writing of his experience upon moving to Los Angeles, the British architecture and design critic Reyner Banham declared that

the language of design, architecture, and urbanism in Los Angeles is the language of movement. Mobility outweighs monumentality… and the city will never be fully understood by those who cannot move fluently through its diffuse urban texture, cannot go with the flow of its unprecedented life. So, like earlier generations of English intellectuals who taught themselves Italian in order to read Dante in the original, I learned to drive in order to read Los Angeles in the original.

Here too in Australia, we all “learned to drive” a long time ago. I want to consider in a little more detail this idea of “cinema in the windshield”. Both inside and outside the movie theatre, everyday experience has become profoundly mechanised, “cinematic”. If mobility continues to wear down the monumentality of material culture, what experience of place will remain open for us to explore? How will images continue to transform the shape of countries and cities, and our movement between them? What role does “joy-riding” in machines of motion have to play in the construction of new modes of experience and pleasure “” especially those that might somehow go against the grain of rationalising capitalism? Like Reyner Banham arriving in the new world, do we need to learn a new language of movement that will similarly allow us to move more comfortably through the diffuse textures and flows of life at the end of the millennium?

The idea of landscape itself has never been limited to the natural world, though its commonsense and art-historical formulations often would have us believe so. Our encounter with place and our sense of landscape is continually mediated by the means we use to negotiate it “” whether that is via a television screen, a computer terminal, an airport terminal, or the window of a taxi. We should remember that “landscape” includes the “scenery” as well as the conceptual prism through which it is viewed/constructed. In fact, the concept of landscape has always referred to a contested zone of social imagination that nowadays includes urban, suburban, exurban, industrial, postindustrial, media zones and so on, ad finitum.

Not only does it denote the usual geographical meaning of “˜physical surroundings’, but it also refers to an ensemble of material and social practices and their symbolic representation. In a narrow sense, landscape represents the architecture of social class, gender, and race relations imposed by powerful institutions. In a broader sense, however, it connotes the entire panorama that we see: both the landscape of the powerful “” cathedrals, factories, and skyscrapers “” and the subordinate, resistant, or expressive vernacular of the powerless”¦ A landscape mediates, both symbolically and materially, between the socio-spatial differentiation of capital implied by market and the socio-spatial homogeneity of labour suggested by a place.

The contemporary shape of physical surroundings, its material construction and attendant institutions of power, collectively constitute what Sharon Zukin refers to as a landscape of consumption. The material form of city, town or suburb is paradoxically unified and disrupted by our newfound mobility, destroyed and recreated in the image of commodified mobility. In the radical separation that now exists between markets and places, the specificity and uniqueness of place gives way to the velocity of the market. Put simply, as markets have globalised, the uniqueness of place has all but disappeared.

For the traveller (and indeed for any commodity), space is mediated via the action of an electro-mechanical transportation system. This has had a profound effect on both individual experiences of contemporary space and the material construction of geographic space “” i.e. the built environment, the natural landscape and the immaterial networks of power and communication that criss-cross the planet. The new world of tourism “” accessible even to the so-called “poverty jet set” “” is built around new forms of commodified mobility. Although the car may have introduced many of us to the daily consumption of “travelling cinema”, the same principles hold true for many other forms of mass transportation that orchestrate the landscape into something akin to cinema, television or video.

It is also worth recalling at this point that this same acceleration of mechanical forms of transportation is also an integral part of the rapid expansion of the global market and its attendant structures of production and consumption. As Karl Marx first pointed out, the movement of goods between geographic points is one of the processes that transforms them into commodities. Rationalised circulation “” which would have been impossible without the significantly increased speed and efficiency that came with new forms of transport “” lies at the heart of capital.

Circulation bursts through all the temporal, spatial and personal barriers imposed by the direct exchange of products, and it does this by splitting up the direct identity present”¦ between the exchange of one’s product and the acquisition of someone else’s into the two antithetical segments of sales and purchase”¦ These two processes lack internal independence because they complement each other”¦ There is an antithesis, immanent in the commodity”¦ which must simultaneously manifest itself as “¦ social labour”¦ between the conversion of things into persons and the conversion of persons into things.

Marx argued that the antithetical nature of these two processes would lead to crisis, though this process implied “no more than the possibility” of such. However, as contemporary critics and readers of Marx have pointed out, the acceleration of this system has led instead to a form of hyper-capitalism that obeys the classical laws described by Marx, without the predicted final crisis or revolution. Indeed, the interchangeability of persons and things continues to lie at the core of late-capitalism. If Jean Baudrillard’s work on “political economy” is correct, we are at the end of the era ruled by production. We now live under the reign of the commodity law of value:

Having arrived at a certain stage of severed connection, money ceases to be a medium or a means of circulating commodities, but becomes the realisation of the system in all its spiralling abstraction; it is circulation itself.

For Paul Virilio, the same force that drove cinema-goers to their static, passive place in the cinema also drove them to their plush car seats.

Alfred Hitchcock’s motto, “˜The movies are, first of all, armchairs with spectators inside,’ means something entirely different than commercialism. The spectator’s armchair is like Jean Renoir’s at his life’s end: “˜Give my wheelchair a push,’ he says to his secretary. “˜I’m like a slow moving camera.’

It is not so much that the car offers faster, more spectacular images and sensations of speed (though at one level this is certainly true), so much as it fulfils the fundamental “quest for the prostheses of subliminal comfort”. In this manner, Virilio argues, the compartmentalisation of spectators or passengers into their respective “travelling units” is part of a general trend towards “dissumulation”, an aesthetics of disappearance that masks the force of actual living conditions from those who partake of the image. Virilio likens the constraints suffered by car passengers, cinema-goers, and airline travellers alike to something that is more akin to a convict experience than that of liberation or freedom. Confined to ridiculously small spaces for inordinate amounts of time, the modern spectator/passenger is surreptitiously lulled into a narcoleptic state. The small comfort of the upholstered chair conspires with the hypnotic images projected on the screen to keep the masses happily unaware of their true conditions of existence.

It’s as if travel and the cinema are indeed extensions of that more archaic notion of (convict) transportation “” the organised banishment of certain sectors of the populous to remote sites of confinement. According to this line of thought, we are all held captive by the precision of images targeted at the audience. We are all held in a kind of voluntary solitary-confinement hurtling along the freeway in a hermetically sealed vehicle, or sitting passively in front of the computer terminal at work/home.

Hence, “the question today therefore is no longer to know if the cinema can do without a place but if places can do without cinema.” Despite his pessimistic and at times cryptic view, Virilio leaves the reader with a powerful image of the historical transformation brought about by the slippage between passengers and spectators, which results in the demise of the sovereign subject. The huge lines of spectators jostling for position at the movie-house may have all but disappeared, but they have merely reformed into the orderly lines of cars joining the freeway each day at the same precise hour. As I will discuss in more detail in the next chapter, modern forms of entertainment are in this way primarily concerned with the management of the masses, with the circulation of crowds.

Anne Friedberg has convincingly argued that machines of mobility (such as cars, trains, elevators, escalators etc.) provide the contemporary subject with a new kind of virtual mobility, “the mobilised and virtual gaze of the cinema”. In her analysis of the relationship between modern and postmodern forms of spectatorship and consumption, she argues that

the coincident development of department store shopping, packaged tourism, and proto-cinematic entertainment began to transform this mobilised gaze into a commodity, one sold to a consumer/spectator. These forms of commodified visual mobility, once only available to the imperial cities of the first world, gradually became a global standard of modernity.

Such a view sits very well with the idea that the industrialised landscape is a spectacle of commercially integrated attractions oriented to the “mobilised virtual gaze” of the spectator/passenger/tourist. Not surprisingly then, the conditions for cinema spectatorship are also to be found in a number of ontologically distinct social and technological realms. Another way to put this might be to say that in the so-called information age, our experience of reality and the structure of the environment is radically changing on the basis of our involvement with new media forms.

Marshall McLuhan certainly thought that new technologies, especially media, influence the development of new environments:

To say that any technology or extension of man creates a new environment is a much better way of saying that the medium is the message. This environment is always ‘invisible’ and its content is always the old technology. The old technology is altered considerably by the enveloping action of the new technology.

Schivelbusch presents a similar idea with more historical rigour than McLuhan. As I have already indicated, The Railway Journey provides an extremely helpful method of working through the ideas of motion and travel at stake here. Writing in the spirit of Walter Benjamin, Rudolph Arnheim and Siegfried Gideon, Schivelbusch analyses the new forms of consciousness that arose from encounters with new technological objects and forms. We might also usefully consider the perceptual and material formations associated with an emergent modernity in the terms of Benjamin’s influential “artwork” essay. Although it may have been so over-quoted as to render any further reference to the essay futile (some have even called for a moratorium on any mention of this particular essay under any circumstance!), it is worth referring again to this extraordinary piece in the present context. For it is here that Benjamin begins to focus upon the manner in which “mass perception” adjusts itself to a shifting “reality”.

Every day the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at very close range by way of its likeness, its reproduction”¦ To pry an object from its shell, to destroy its aura, is the mark of a perception whose “˜sense of the universal equality of things’ has increased to such a degree that it extracts it even from a unique object”¦ Thus is manifested in the field of perception what in the theoretical sphere is noticeable in the increasing importance of statistics. The adjustment of reality to the masses and of the masses to reality is a process of unlimited scope, as much for thinking as for perception.

Under the conditions of modernity, objects and places have been removed from their shells, extracted from their unique place in the world. The closer we get to the object by way of its reproduction, the further it is detached from its original context. The adjustment of reality Benjamin refers to is made manifest in the realm of perception, which has been “mechanised” to match new conditions of production. In turn, the masses have been “adjusted” to the new conditions of modernity. It is this “universal equality of things” that comes with mechanised and kineticised forms of reproduction (the photograph and the cinema primarily) that I want to explore a little further here. In order to do this it is worth making a short detour through a related history “” not of mechanical reproduction, but of movement per se.

Apprehending Movement

In his monumental history of mechanisation and the rise of mass production, Siegfried Gideon recognises the fundamental importance of finding an adequate explanation of movement in order to account for the degree to which modernity has moved beyond Greek foundations of geometry. For Gideon, it is the “urge to explore movement “” that is, the changing in all its forms” that has allowed us to determine “the channels through which flow our scientific thought and ultimately our emotional expression.”

Gideon traces the first graphical representations of movement to the fourteenth century. Unlike earlier representations that perhaps could be considered to represent movement (cave paintings, hieroglyphs and the like), the 14th century saw a fundamental shift away from an Aristotelian view of the cosmos “” the world of eternal ideas and unchanging constants. The ancients had no need to theorise movement, as the world that they conceived of was “something reposing in itself”¦ something that had been in existence since the beginning of time.” It was the French Scholastic and Bishop of Lisieux, Nicolas Oresme, who first developed a graphic method to represent speed, velocity, movement and acceleration. According to Gideon, it was this fundamental shift in thought and representation that enabled 19th-century thinkers to dramatically rethink mathematics and representations of change “” i.e. the apprehension of movement.

It is in this lineage that we can consider the work of French physiologist Etienne Jules Marey. His first studies, based on a graphical treatment of the circulation of the blood give us an indication of Marey’s desire to accurately measure and represent movement in all its myriad forms. He was not at all concerned with a photographic representation, but with the invention of a visual form which could reveal the “language” of movement that escapes the eye. His motion studies capture movement on a single plane and from a single point of view in order to reveal a new abstraction of bodies in motion over time. His striking images of a subject or object’s trajectory instigated a new manner of conceiving motion. Abstracted, mechanical and revolutionary in aesthetic form, Marey’s work was quickly appropriated by an epoch that required ever more precise ways of rationalising movement in the manner of a machine: to see the shape of movement that had heretofore eluded human perception.

The intense interest in circulation, movement, flows, and rhythm that we find in 19th-century art, science and letters marks the great shift from the static pre-industrial world to the mechanised world’s new modes of perception-in-movement. Indeed, circulation and movement “” its visualisation, its characteristics, its measurement, its regulation and mechanisation “” became key problems for turn-of-the-century thought to overcome. As Christoph Asendorf puts it in his penetrating study of the perception of things in modernity, circulation

is the eternal idea of the commodity-producing society. Hobbes responds to the astronomers’ discovery that the earth does not stand still but revolves about the sun by claiming mobility for persons and things as well”¦ Mobility is defined as freedom and freedom as mobility. At the beginning of industrialisation, liberalism makes a program of commercial freedom; things are set in motion. (my emphasis).

Circulation and movement is the Janus-faced god of 19th century capitalism. Things no longer exist in a stable spatio-temporal realm, but are apprehensible only in motion and, somewhat paradoxically, in their radical isolation from their given context. As early as 1799 the Romantic writer Novalis could say that the “commercial spirit is the spirit of the world”¦ It sets everything in motion and ties everything together.” There is no better example of this than money. Abstracted and set in motion the world over, it is the circulation of currency that guarantees the world of things and the flow of commodities.

Although it is a historical commonplace to note that cinema is closely related to Marey’s visual techniques by virtue of its ability to graphically inscribe a series of discrete motions over time and through space, it is worthwhile investigating this idea a little further. As Gilles Deleuze reminds us in Cinema 1, it was Henri Bergson who was among the first philosophers to formulate a thesis on the “false movement” associated with the cinema. Rather than record and reproduce real movement, the cinema divides movement into discrete units of finite duration, and re-projects them in order to create the illusion of movement. It is the work of human perception, Bergson argued, that “solidifies into sensible qualities the continuous flow of things”. Working at the College de France in 1902 (where Marey also was conducting his research), Bergson’s writing on time can also be read as a commentary on his colleague’s groundbreaking work.

In just the same way the multitudinous successive positions of a runner are contracted into a single symbolic attitude which our eyes perceive, which art reproduces, and which becomes for us all the image of a man running. The glance which falls at any moment on the things about us only takes in the effects of multiplicity of inner repetitions and evolutions, effects which are, for that very reason, discontinuous, and into which we bring back continuity by the relative movements that we attribute to “˜objects’ in space.

The cultural historian Anton Rabinbach argues that Marey’s role in these debates has been consistently overlooked, and that Bergson’s own work on the spatialisation of time owes much to the physiologist’s extraordinary work. As is amply demonstrated in Marey’s chronophotographs, what “we perceive as movement is only “˜discontinuity’ that is spatially “˜fixed’ by consciousness.” Though this is beyond the scope of the present work, contemporary criticism and film studies would benefit enormously from a reconsideration of Marey’s work in this light.

In his 1933 essay, “The Thoughts that Made the Picture Move”, Rudolf Arnheim pursues this question further. He asks why humankind has been able to make extraordinarily accurate “pictures” of the world, but has been unable to render “motion by motion”. Given that processes of sound recording are able to render the event of a musical performance as a mechanical manifestation of the reproduced object itself, why is the reproduction of motion in the field of vision so difficult? “In the reproduction” he writes, “the tracks that have been obtained in this manner act like rails and thus help produce a movement that is practically identical with the original one.” Significantly, he does not argue that sound recordings duplicate sounds, only that they can accurately reproduce the movement of sound in the manner of the railway. Though Arnheim mistakenly locates the reason for this in a universal desire in man “to make likeness of his environment”, his error allows us to make an interesting link back to Benjamin’s artwork essay. Arnheim suggests

Whatever the psychological causes of the wish to make likenesses may be, it will suffice here to point out that making images of events is even more important than depicting objects in their static shapes and colours because the fundamental biological reaction is that of reacting to happenings not that of contemplating objects. (my emphasis)

Here, Arnheim touches upon the connection between distraction and movement. The static, contemplative universe has been replaced by the mechanical imaging of events, found in Benjamin’s famously formulated concept of distraction. As Miriam Hansen puts it,

Benjamin stresses the importance of film, not only for the manner in which human beings present themselves to the apparatus, but also for their effort to represent “˜to themselves’, their industrially changed environment. This implies an aesthetics of film that utilises the camera’s exploratory, cognitive, and liberating possibilities.

Mechanics and technique aside, film brings with it a new perception-in-motion that functions equally in the cinema and in “the world”. The motion effects created on the screen find their reflection in the motion landscapes we “create” by mechanised movement through space. Critics who try to reduce the perceptual structure of film to its mechanical basis do not acknowledge the manner in which films are routinely perceived as representing continuous motion (even if this is “a trick of the eye”). As Sergei Eisenstein put it, the challenge for art of the 20th century is to discover and to develop the aesthetic means by which the “synchronisation of the senses” can be achieved.

More recently Vivian Sobchack has emphasised the phenomenological incorporation of perception into the body, or in her terms, into the elaboration of a “film body”. Arguing against more literal-minded accounts of the cinematic apparatus, Sobchack reminds us of how, for all intents and purposes, audiences perceive film as continuous motion, and not as a discontinuous flow of static images. Though the technical approach certainly explains how cinematic movement is mechanically achieved, “¦ it does not address our experience of what cinematic movement is and what it means. Thus, it does little to further our understanding of what the moving picture is and from whence it gains its significance. As Hugo Munsterberg wrote in 1916, “˜The perception of movement is an independent experience which cannot be reduced to a simple seeing of a series of different positions.’

This “independent experience” of motion-pictures has an important, though not exclusive role to play in perception and in the organisation of contemporary space made “sensible” for “mobilised vision”. According to Anne Friedberg,

[t]he virtual gaze is not a direct perception but a received perception mediated through representation…. The mobilised gaze has a history, which begins well before the cinema and is rooted in other cultural activities that involve walking and travel…. The cinema developed as an apparatus that combined the “mobile” with the “virtual”. Hence, cinematic spectatorship changed, in unprecedented ways, concepts of the present and the real.

Of course, the experience of flanerie is not reducible to cinematic modes of perception. Far from it. The apprehension of movement by the mobilised subject is a profoundly multisensorial experience, of which the cinematic mode of perception-in-motion is but one of a number of “sensory logics” that join together to constitute the form of perception that Freidberg calls the “virtual mobilised gaze”.

Recent developments in the field of psychology and neuroscience confirm the view that perception is dependent on multisensorial input to make a complete “image of the world”. Though there is little literature in the field that refers to the “intersensory” or “multisensory” dimension of human development, researchers are increasingly turning to the question. The relatively recent publication of an anthology entitled The Merging of the Senses addresses precisely this need for further research into the inter-relatedness of bodily cues and perceptions associated with motion (including mechanised and electronic simulations). Indeed, this is the kind of work that scientists and engineers involved in the creation of virtual environment systems are concerned with when they create flight simulators and other similar perceptual machines.

Of primary concern is the idea that one sensory system can influence another. To what extent, say, do auditory sensations impinge upon other distinct senses “” for example, vision or sensory motor skills. In seeking an answer, psychologists have on occasion used the example of cinema to describe a variety of “kinaesthetic effects”. Central to this new interest in the merging of the senses is the “ventriloquism effect”, which refers to the degree to which vision can influence “proprioception” (the sense of bodily unity, balance in space and equilibrium in motion), auditory judgments and the like. According to the authors of The Merging of the Senses, vision predominates.

The power of visual stimuli on other sensory experiences is perhaps best illustrated by the effects achieved in some films shown in specialised theatres and planetariums. By mimicking the visual cues associated with a bush plane navigating through a rugged mountain range or one of the roller coaster rides so attractive to terror-seeking children, they initiate not only very real vestibular sensations, but a wide range of interesting visceral sensations as well.

Though we may interpret psychology’s findings in a somewhat “non-psychological” fashion, it is worth noting the degree to which those interested in the mechanics of perception “” of motion, vision, sound, touch, smell etc. “” are concerned with exploiting the findings of this discipline. That is to say, this discussion is of more than theoretical interest to those who are interested in modelling and reproducing visceral sensations. It is precisely this ability to mechanically reproduce certain modes of perception that allows engineers to produce flight simulators, driving simulators, and indeed the “entertainment simulators” that are found at contemporary amusement complexes. Without wanting to labour the point, each of these is crucially concerned with the electro-mechanical production of movement that must be “sensibly” apprehended by the viewer/participant.

As we will discover in chapters to come, contemporary entertainment deliberately stimulates a variety of senses at once, and not just visual and auditory “receptors”. It is this electro-mechanical reproduction of proprioception that is maximised in contemporary action cinema and theme park attractions alike. One could argue that mainstream cinema and 20th-century entertainments have always activated “neurovestibular signals” and “sensory attractors”. They do so in part by simulating forms of perception-in-motion that have definite correlates in the wider world of sensory experience “” such as train- or car-travel.

However, as I have argued, this new form of mechanised perception has profoundly altered earlier relations between the body and the space it inhabits “” or better, the space through which it travels. In order to illustrate how completely this process has transformed everyday life, I briefly want to trace the rise of mass travel.

The perceptual logic that pertains to the cinema also figures in the “mechanical” and “electronic” flow of images and places under the sign of tourism. As I hope to make clear, there is something suspiciously circuitous about a technological system that promises to provide a mechanical means of escape from the woes of the machine age.

The Travel Circuit

In his 1956 article, “A Theory of Tourism”, Hans Magnus Enzensberger attempts to explain why tourism, as “something of the people still lacks historical self-understanding.” Unlike many critics of tourism, he seeks to reinstate a dialectics of travel in terms of the potentially revolutionary desire to escape the bounds of everyday life. Though he notes the mass-produced nature of travel (as do a great many writers), he also pinpoints how
the yearning for freedom from society has been harnessed by the very society it seeks to escape. An industry has been established to manufacture deliverance from the industrial world; travel beyond the world of commodities has itself become a commodity.

It wasn’t always so. From antiquity to the mid-19th century, travel was something that directed its followers away from society. Travel (and later the Grand Tour) was reserved for the rich and the adventurous, the noble and the powerful. Before the advent of the railway, travel was at best difficult and at worst an endurance test undertaken to improve the character and knowledge of an elite few. It entailed long periods of time away from home, and required sufficient economic means to cover the high costs of transportation, tutelage and long-term accommodation. With the advent of mechanisation and the growth of mass transportation, travel assumed a new popularly accessible form, opening up the possibility of travel to the masses.

Because of the enormous capital investment required to operate new long-distance railway lines (intra-national and intercontinental) and the palatial hotels sited at strategic junctions, travel needed to be sold in large quantities to the consuming public. In this manner the guided tour became the mass-reproducible commodity that offered the greatest returns to investors at the lowest cost to consumers “” because of the significant increase in numbers of people who could begin to contemplate affordable travel. Along with diminishing consumer costs (which resulted in increased economies of scale, bigger company profits and rationalised networks of communication/exchange) came the convenience of certain guarantees and assurances made to travellers that their trip would be pleasant and above all, predictable. Very quickly, pre-arranged accommodation, ticketing, sight-seeing, and protection against thievery and disease became a standard part of the new mass tourism.

In the relative safety of the package tour, the 19th-century tourist simultaneously experienced a heightened illusion of danger (associated with earlier forms of travel) and the lessening of its likelihood. As Daniel Boorstin puts it, by the mid-20th century, the travel experience itself had been almost completely transformed into something “diluted, contrived and prefabricated”.

The modern American tourist now fills his experience with pseudo-events. He has come to expect both more strangeness and more familiarity than the world actually offers. He has come to believe that he can have a lifetime of adventure in two weeks and all the thrills of risking his life without any risk at all”¦ Expecting all this, he demands that it be supplied to him. Having paid for it, he likes to think he has got his money’s worth. He has demanded that the whole world be made a stage for pseudo-events.

Though I do not necessarily share Boorstin’s views, his depiction of travel as a “Go Now, Pay Later” package, bought complete with certified insurance, remains convincing and vivid. He also highlights the extent to which the mass movement of people guaranteed a kind of “freedom-of-movement as mass-deceit”. Pointing to the enormous business of insurance that is part and parcel of modern travel, he shows how the “dangers” of travel have been “covered” by insurance policies that offer predictability and certainty. (I will have more to say about this “insurance society” in the next chapter.) According to Boorstin, when “the traveller’s risks are insurable he has become a tourist.” As with other forms of vicarious experience, mass travel provides what British sociologist Chris Rojek refers to as “the recurrence of reassurance”, whereby touristic experiences are packaged to “deliver” safe, reassuring, predictable environments.

Boorstin’s comments concerning lower class tourists are often snobbish and derisive, relying on the common (though rather spurious) distinction between (authentic) travellers and (inauthentic) tourists. Such a distinction is indicative of what Dean MacCannell calls “the rhetoric of moral superiority that comfortably inhabits this talk about tourists [which] was once found in unconsciously prejudicial statements about other “˜outsiders’, Indians, Chicanos, young people, blacks, women.”

From the point of view of this present study, it is more useful to consider tourism as part of a wider system of societal regulation that now extends to every known corner of the world. However, we must always remember to temper such generalisations with the rider that social regulation is never seamless or ubiquitous. That is to say, there are always zones of slippage and play, where everyday activities are contested and challenged, hence allowing for new possibilities of moving, of doing things. Like other commodity forms that have arisen as part of the mechanisation of motion, tourism is characterised by a circuitous logic that tries to regulate movement according to the dictates of capital. (Its success or failure can only be judged in specific instances.) Enzensberger describes something of this structure in the following passage:

The prerequisites for tourism are at the same time its consequences, and, in turn, its consequences are the prerequisite for its further dissemination “” just as electricity and magnetic field enforce each other in an oscillating circuit”¦ Originally conceived as something that redeemed its followers from society, tourism now brought society along”¦ Ever since tourism has been the mirror image of the society it is trying to escape. (my emphasis)

Such an “oscillating circuit” of mass travel ensures that the tourist finds it difficult to escape the vicious circle and ultimate confinement of travel’s inner logic. This is why contemporary travellers find the world is more and more a mirror image of the culture and society they have purposely left. Not only do we take the trappings of mechanical perception and industrial society along with us, but we do so in the knowledge that we will be returned to the exact same point from which we started. Home is hence a privileged site of travel. The round-trip holiday not only makes sure that we go back to work (at home/factory/office) as a matter of course, but that we return preferably a little more in debt (to the system that grants our leave). As “we point to the return ticket in our pockets, we are admitting that freedom is not our goal and that indeed we have already forgotten what freedom is.”

Mass tourism is, of course, part of a wider acceleration of movement, capital, information, and consumable images. The need to speed up the circulation of capital has more recently resulted in a worldwide economic transition, which is itself open to speculation, to cycles of boom and bust, and the subject of much heated debate . Whatever “globalisation” is, it is unquestionably an exercise in power, a continuation of the kind of uneven and unequal development exploited by earlier imperial and colonial powers. If tourism is indeed the largest single industry in the world, as many claim, it is inescapably a part of a global capitalism that must reduce turnover time, quicken circulation time, and sustain profits. As we travel from place to place, we are inevitably caught up in a complex circuit of representation and exchange, a web of differing and highly contested images of place that now necessarily circulate at breakneck speed.

In a wonderful essay entitled “City Views: The Voyage of Film Images”, cinema scholar Giuliana Bruno offers a very useful way into thinking further about the “spatial practices” of media and tourism. Focussing on the parallel “metropolitan transito” or “cine-cities” of Naples and New York, Bruno carefully maps out a kind of “architecture in motion”, a dual movement of bodies and representation engaged in a dynamic two-way exchange. Naples and New York are both tourist attractions, and a tourist’s nightmare. Their very history is intertwined with tourism, colonisation and voyage, and their relative apparatuses of representation. In many ways, their filmic image partakes in a form of tourism: cinema’s depiction is both an extension and an effect of the tourist’s gaze. Repeatedly traversed and re-created by the camera, Naples and New York have produced a real tourism of images. Shot over and over again, these cities have become themselves an image, a picture postcard.

Bruno demonstrates how the global “traffic in images” is not always (or indeed necessarily) in the service of social control, but that it can offer a space for negotiating the experience of displacement (which more properly speaking pertains to the immigrant, and not the tourist). Film is a way of “touring” the city, an extension of 19th-century dioramas and panoramas that “imaged” the city and distant landscapes, representing it in “consumable” form for the spectator-as-traveller. As art historian Angela Miller has argued, the craving for visual forms that corresponded to the rapidly expanding world “came to epitomise an international hunger for physically, geographically, and historically extended vision.”

The mechanisation of the entire travel process corresponds to the mechanisation of motion-in-perception. It becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between the before and after of the journey, as tourists are stitched into the “neo-colonial” landscape as consumers of a “global empire”. This dual process of exoticisation and banalisation of both image and place goes hand in hand with the new technological forms of vision and everyday inscriptions of home. As Bruno succinctly puts it,

[b]y way of cinema, emigration is transformed into a voyage (home). And, by way of cinema, the journey is completed. It is modernity’s travel: the emigration of film images.

Contemporary circuits of representation work at delivering pleasurable encounters with distant cultures in a manner similar to the re-mapping of the world according to popular routes of exploration, conquest and trade “” which has prompted at least one critic to draw the obvious military analogies implicit here . The rationalised circulation that has ensured the transformation of things into commodities has also determined the shape and form of the “travel circuits” we are able to encounter “” in the cinema, on television, or in a private automobile.

It is worth pulling back a little at this point, to remind ourselves that there are many possible disjunctions between the various rhetorics of movement, displacement and rapidity that inform practises of tourism. As Meaghan Morris puts it at the end of her extraordinarily canny article, “At Henry Parkes Motel”,

transport ceased to be a metaphor of progress when mobility came to characterise everyday life more than the image of “˜home and family’. Transport became, instead, “˜the primary activity of existence’”¦ It is mobility as a means of endlessly making prospects (or “˜progress’) for home-and-family that becomes, for many people, the primary activity of existence. And colonialism may be precisely a mode of movement “¦ that transgresses limits and borders. In and after colonialism, the voyage/domus distinction loses its oppositional structure “” and thus its value for announcing the displacement of one by the other in the “˜course’ of Human history.

Still, it is hard to shake the feeling that the closer we get to places and objects by way of electro-mechanical motion, the further they recede from view. This “re-adjustment” of the world to the prevailing conditions of capitalism continues unchecked. And yet it is also by way of this very process that we have learnt our own variegated languages-of-movement, diligently practiced by an army of fellow-travellers now mobilised the world over.


1. Joan Dideon, Play It As It Lays, London, Penguin Books, 1971, p. 16.
2. Indeed, though it is beyond the scope of this work, there is surely a history waiting to be written on the relation between the car, the landscape and the cinema “” starting with mainstream road movies(such as Two Lane Blacktop, Easy Rider, Mad Max, or Duel), avant-garde film and video projects (such as the Cantrills’ Passage, Ant Farm’s Media Burn, or Chip Lord’s Motorist) and the art of people like Ed Ruscha and Julian Opie. For a recent collection of essays on road movies, see Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark (eds), The Road Movie Book, London, Routledge, 1997.
3. Anne Friedberg, Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1993, pp. xi-xii.
4. John Jackle and Keith Sculle, The Gas Station in America, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994, p. 14. See also Chip Lord’s Automerica: A Trip Down Highways From World War II to the Future, New York, A Dutton Paperback, 1976, for an intelligent personal account of the impact of the car in art, architecture and the performance of the everyday.
5. Many popular histories of the automobile focus almost exclusively on the evolution of the car in North America. For introductory texts on the car in Australia and the rest of the world, see for instance Charles Pickett, Cars and Culture: Our Driving Passions, Sydney, Harper Collins Publishers, 1998; Alan Davies et al, Going Places: A Pictorial History of Transport in New South Wales, Sydney, Honeysett Publications, 1989; and Julian Pettifer and Nigel Turner, Automania: Man and the Motor Car, London, Collins, 1984.
6. For a related discussion, see Manuel Castells, The Rise of Network Society, Oxford, 1996.
7. For a good introduction to the manner in which cultural identities are being reshaped under conditions of a postmodern geography in the communications environment, see David Morley, and Kevin Robins, Spaces of Identity: Global Media, Electronic Landscapes and Cultural Boundaries, London, Routledge, 1995; for a general discussion of these issues in a cultural context, see Elizabeth Jacka (ed.), Continental Shift: Globalisation And Culture, Double Bay, Local Consumption Publications, 1992.
8. Reyner Banham, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, Pelican, England, 1973, p. 23.
9. Beatriz Colomina talks about the encounter with modern architecture in similar terms: “It is a space that is not made of walls but of images. Images as walls. Or as Le Corbusier puts it, “˜walls of light.’” Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media, Cambridge, MIT Press, 1996, p. 6. See also William Mitchell, City Of Bits: Space, Place, And The Infobahn, Cambridge, MIT Press, 1995; and Tarik A. Fathy, Telecity: Information Technology and its Impact on City Form, New York, Praeger, 1991, for useful commentary on the ways in which the metropolis is being transformed by information technologies and the “logic of new media”.
10. Sharon Zukin, Landscapes of Power: From Detroit to Disney World, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1991, p. 16.
11. Where mass transport delivers people and goods to places, television and other electronic forms of communication such as the World Wide Web, deliver people to corporations. It is this reversibility of flows of exchange that appears not yet to have reached its limit.
12. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume One, London, Penguin, [1867] 1976, p. 209.
13. Jean Baudrillard, “The end of production” in Paul Foss and Julian Pefanis (eds, trans), Jean Baudrillard: Revenge of the Crystal: Selected Writings on the Modern Object and its Destiny, 1963-1983, Sydney, Pluto Press, 1990. See also Jean Baudrillard, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, Charles Levin (trans), Telos Press, St. Louis, 1981.
14. Paul Virilio, The Aesthetics of Disappearance, New York, Semiotext(e), 1991, p. 63.
15. Virilio, 1991, p. 62.
16. Virilio, 1991, p. 64.
17. Anne Friedberg, Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1993, p. 4.
18. Marshall McLuhan, Counterblast, London, Rapp and Whiting Ltd, 1970, p. 31.
19. Walter Benjamin, “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction”, in Illuminations, Harry Zohn (trans), New York, Schocken, 1969, p. 225.
20. Siegfried Giedion, Mechanisation Takes Command, New York, Oxford University Press, 1948, p. 14.
21. Giedion, p.14.
22. Christoph Asendorf, Batteries of Life: On the History of Things and their Perception in Modernity, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993, p. 57.
23. Novalis, in Paul Kluckohn and Richard Samuel (eds), Schriften, Vol 3, Stuttgart, 1977, p. 195; quoted in Christoph Asendorf, Batteries of Life: On the History of Things and their Perception in Modernity, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993, p. 17.
24. Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, Arthur Mitchell (trans), New York, 1911, p. 272.
25. Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer (trans), London, George Allen and Unwin, 1911, p. 277.
26. Anson Rabinbach, The Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue, and the Origins of Modernity, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1992, p. 111.
27. Rudolf Arnheim, Film as Art, London, Faber and Faber, [1958] 1969, p. 137.
28. Miriam Hansen, “Of Mice and Ducks: Benjamin and Adorno on Disney”, South Atlantic Quarterly, 92/1, Winter 1993, p. 30.
29. Sergei Eisenstein, The Film Sense, Jay Leyda (trans, ed.), London, Faber and Faber, 1943, pp. 60-91.
30. Vivian Sobchack, The Address of the Eye: A Phenomenology of Film Experience, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1992, p. 207.
31. Friedberg, p. 3.
32. See for instance Sanford J. Freedman, The Neuropsychology of Spatially Oriented Behavior, Illinois, Dorsey Press, 1968; Bruce E. Goldstein, Sensation and Perception, New York, Brooks/Cole Publishing, 1996; R.L.Gregory, Eye and Brain, London, World University Library, 1966; Paul Rodaway, Sensuous Geographies: Body, Sense and Place, London, Routledge, 1994; Barry E. Stein, and Alex M. Meredith, The Merging of the Senses, Cambridge, MIT, 1993. For a helpful “lay” discussion of proprioception as “the eighth sense”¦ the body’s innate sense of its own position”, see James Elkins, The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing, San Diego, Harvest Books, 1996, pp. 136-140.
33 It is also more than a coincidence to note that engineers working with film, television and virtual reality have been concerned with the ways that “oculomotor stress”, nausea, and general disorientation can be directly caused by the simulation of motion. In the jargon of the field, if there is a discrepancy between the “dynamic apparent self” and other “patterns of vestibular stimulation”, nausea will result. A good discussion of the problem can be found in Sheldon M. Ebenholt, “Motion sickness and oculomotor systems in virtual environments”, Presence 1/3, Summer 1992. For a parallel discussion of a similar kind of “fatigue” associated with television viewing, see Peter A. Snell, “An Introduction to the Experimental Study of Visual Fatigue”, (originally published May 1933), reprinted in SMPTE Journal, January 1991. A significant body of scientific literature also relates to unpleasant everyday sensations associated with everything from elevators to roller coasters. For an indicative example, see Malcolm M. Cohen, “Elevator Illusion: Influences of Otolith Organ Activity and Neck Proprioception”, Perception and Psychophysics, 14/3, 1973.
34. Stein, and Meredith, p. 4.
35. Hans Magnus Enzensberger, “A Theory of Tourism”, Gerd Gemunden and Kenn Johnson (trans), New German Critique, 68, Spring/Summer 1996, p. 120.
36. Enzensberger, p. 129.
37. There is an increasingly large body of literature pertaining to tourism. Dean MacCannell’s The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class, New York, Schocken Books, 1976 is one of the most cited works, and provides a good introduction to the rise of mass travel. Meaghan Morris has written one of the most helpful critical texts on theories of travel in the context of feminism and cultural studies, providing an incisive critique of MaCannell, Virilio, Baudrillard and other “postmodern” critics: “At Henry Parkes Hotel”, in John Frow and Meaghan Morris (eds), Australian Cultural Studies: A Reader, Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 1993. A good overview of tourism in North America is to be found in John A. Jackle, The Tourist: Travel in Twentieth-century North America, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1985. Besides Enzensberger’s essay above, it is worth mentioning Daniel Boorstin’s The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America, New York, Atheneum, 1975, as it contains a very useful chapter on tourism. Chris Rojek and John Urry’s Touring Cultures: Transformations of Travel and Theory, London, 1997 is also worth highlighting. Though there is insufficient space to mention all the pertinent works in the field, there are three particular examples of books that attempt to critically evaluate notions of travel in terms of literature, post-colonialism, and film studies (respectively): Caren Kaplan, Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses of Displacement, Durham, Duke University Press, 1996; Ali Behdad, Belated Travelers: Orientalism in the Age of Colonial Dissolution, Durham, Duke University Press, 1994; and E. Ann Kaplan Looking for the Other: Feminism, Film, and the Imperial Gaze, New York: Routledge, 1997.
38. Boorstin, pp 79-80.
39. Boorstin, p. 91.
40. Chris Rojek, Ways of Escape: Modern Transformations in Leisure and Travel, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1993, p. 205.
41. MacCannell, p. 9.
42. Enzensberger, pp. 128-131.
43. For the record, it is also probably worth noting that tourism itself has become increasingly politicised, at least from the point of view of those who are the biggest losers in globalisation. Guerilla groups, rebel forces and political activists now routinely kidnap and in other ways violently target western tourists, who represent “living proof” of such inequalities. The disruption of “security” sends shockwaves through the west: witness the recent slaughter of innocent tourists in Egypt and Uganda, or the kidnappings in Africa and Latin America of oil workers, who are similarly tangible representations of first world exploitation of finite third world natural resources.
44. Enzensberger, p. 135.
45. For more detailed discussion of these issues, see David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change, Oxford, Blackwell, 1989; Edward Soja, Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory, London, Verso, 1989.
46. An informative summary of the salient features of the new capitalism and its impact upon the developing world can be found in Martin Mowforth and Ian Munt, Tourism and Sustainability: New Tourism in the Third World, London, Routledge, 1998.
47. Giuliana Bruno, “City Views: The Voyage of Film Images”, in David B. Clark, (ed) The Cinematic City, London, Routledge, 1997, p. 47.
48. Bruno has addressed this question more fully in her book-length study of how the films of Elvira Notari recreated the motion of a journey for the spectator in Streetwalking on a Ruined Map: Cultural Theory and the City Films of Elvira Notari, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1993.
49. For an impressive study of the panorama in all its permutations, see Stephan Oettermann, The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, New York, Zone Books, 1997.
50. Angela Miller, “The panorama, the cinema, and the emergence of the spectacular”, Wide Angle 18/2, 1996, p. 35. Miller elaborates on Oettermann’s argument that the 360 degree view offered by most European panoramas “did not adequately answer the needs of American audiences. The development of the round into the moving panorama satisfied the optical (and geographical) hunger of American audiences by artificially compressing space in a manner anticipating mechanised travel”, p. 38.
51. Bruno, 1997, p. 57.
52. “Military analogies come to mind. Tourism is a parody of total mobilisation. Its headquarters resemble the facilities where the movement of troops is being planned”¦ The person guiding the tour assumes the demeanor of the commander of a regiment”, Enzensberger, p. 131.
53. Meaghan Morris, “At Henry Parkes Hotel”, in John Frow and Meaghan Morris (eds), Australian Cultural Studies: A Reader, Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 1993, pp. 271-272.