Heart Happy (cathy_edgett) wrote,
Heart Happy

Sensory Awareness -

 In the book Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit, she discusses a passage in Life Magazine in 1998 that talks about a momentous event, the advent of the train. "On September 15, 1830, foot power began its long slide toward obsolescence. As brass bands played, a million Britons gathered between Liverpool and Manchester to witness the inauguration of the world's first fully steam-driven railway.  Despite the death of a member of Parliament who was run down by the train at the opening ceremony, the Liverpool and Manchester inspired a rash of track-laying around the world."

Solnit does not see this event in a positive way. "In a way the train mangled not just that one man's body, but all bodies in the places it transformed, by severing human perception, expectation, and action from the organic world in which our bodies exist. Alienation from nature is usually depicted as estrangement from natural spaces. But the sensing, breathing, living, moving body can be a primary experience of nature too: new technologies and spaces can bring about alienation from both body and space."

She quotes Wolfgang Schivelbusch who wrote The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the Nineteenth Century.  "Early railroad travelers, characterized this new technology's effects as the elimination of time and space, and to transcend time and space is to begin to transcend the material world altogether - to become disembodied."  "The speed and mathematical directness with which the railroad proceeds through the terrain destroys the close relationship between the traveller and the travelled space.  The train was experienced as a projectile, and traveling on it as being shot through the landscape - thus losing control of one's senses ....The traveller who sat inside that projectile ceased to be a traveller and became, as noted in a popular metaphor of the century, a parcel."

Solnit continues.  "Speed did not make travel more interesting, Schivelbusch writes, but duller."  People began to read on the train and complain of boredom.   "Watching a movie on a jetliner 35,000 feet above the earth may be the ultimate disconnection of space, time, and experience."  

Paul Virilio writes.  "From the elimination of the physical effort of walking to the sensorimotor loss induced by the first transport, we have finally achieved states bordering on sensory deprivation.  The loss of the thrills of the old voyage is now compensated for by the showing of a film on a central screen."

I remember science fiction of years ago that predicted we would just be brains by now, and yet, here, we are, pretty darn aware, I feel.  I think most of us notice the sunrise and sunset.  I never see the bay that my heart doesn't exclaim.  When I went to UCLA, I was a tour guide.  I had a chance to be in a room of total darkness and silence, sensory deprivation.  I heard and felt myself.  I think we can ride on an airplane, or in a train or car and be aware, and I think we need to be aware enough to do so.  I see many people with a cel phone attached to their ear.  Often, they are with children, in the grocery, or pushing their child in a stroller.   Sometimes the conversation sounds so one-sided and meaningless, I wonder if anyone is even on the other end.  Who is listening?   I wonder how it would be for the child if instead the mother, and usually it is the mother,  pointed things out to the child, or listened to what the child pointed out to them.  

Matisse said, "Space has the boundaries of my imagination."  Let us live there.  

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