Feeling Time

After being without a car for a couple years it was both frightening and exhilarating to get behind the wheel again. My job requires that I drive and I drive a lot, about 500 miles a week. I'm not excited about this mileage and I think it has even paid a toll on my right knee. I went from a lifestyle of cycling, walking, and using public transit to one of sitting in a car that takes me to a desk where I sit all day. The one redeeming feature of all this is the privacy to sing loudly to oneself while driving down rural roads. In fact there was something very pleasing about seeing the open road and empty landscape, perhaps because it had become somewhat foreign to me after living five years in a city.


Afraid of becoming bored of these long drives, I would take my '84 diesel Mercedes down minor roads sometimes unpaved. It was all very romantic, much like the American authors and poets said it would be. Indeed driving is a very American pleasure, rehearsed in many facets of American culture. This is especially true in American country/folk type music where so much focus is placed upon journeys or the freedom of the open road.

But the sentiment is more universal going beyond an American culture of westward expansionism. For example this was true for cycling in places such as France as early as 1904 where audax or randonneur type of events were first held.  Since I began cycling more seriously it is this type of riding that has captured my attention most. It is long distance riding, usually solitary and self supported, and is non-competitive.

I participated in a brevet earlier this year that took me to the coast of california. It was a strenuous 200k that took me seven hours to complete. At many times throughout the event I questioned why I was doing it. Just so I could say that I did?


I'm beginning to wonder if the pleasure derived from activities like these has much to do with feeling time. Sure, in literature or other arts, the road and passing through it, may take up a multiplicity of symbolic meanings. But I wonder if they converge at this sensation of feeling time. So what might it look like to feel time exactly? I recently spent some time driving a more modern vehicle and it surprised me how different the experience was. My old car takes some effort, to turn the wheel, to press the pedal and most significantly you feel the road. You feel the distance covered, not as much as you do on bicycle but there is a greater connection to the road than you feel in newer vehicles. I'm aware this is not feeling time directly, but do we not feel time through movement?

And therein lies the problem it seem. So much of our concept of traveling, crossing distance, is romanticized in art as much as it is romanticized in ideals such as westward expansionism or colonialism for that matter. It seems that for any of these travels to become romanticized there needs to be feeling of time. Strangely, like my own personal experience, this is often caught up with crossing distances. It is as though we conflate time with movement because both present a similar feeling of time.

I'm reminded of the film Voyage in Italy by Roberto Rossellini. It's one of my favorites and involves a couple driving south (all the way from England I believe) to Italy.


As is usually the case, the road allows for the possibility for plot. I wouldn't say that this film is a roadtrip film per-se but the journey is important for setting up conflict. If we look beyond the marital conflict in the film towards the cultural conflict, we see that in part this conflict has something to do with perception of time or how this couple from the north experiences time differently from their Mediterranean others. 


But it isn't just the scenes from within cars that we identify as journeys. There is a "journey through time" that takes place. Again, while such a phrase is widely used, it does not in fact mean what it implies literally, that is, time travel. However, the characters will constantly be confronted with relics of the past such as statues, emotions, and just facts about the past. In fact, much of the film involves characters passing time, often walking as they absorb the past. As viewers we feel this time through long takes that allow us to experience this time as well. 

We still approach the question: Why does a journey need to be used in order to feel time? Is it just the closest we can get to its cousin, time travel? Why do we conflate these types of movement? 

Perhaps it is because we have a very spatial concept of time. Any sentence that uses the verb to go with the concept of time demonstrates this. "If I could go back in time..." for example would be such a phrase that implies a distance covered. Surprisingly it seems that the phrase and title "Back to the Future" is much more accurate because it leaves off the verb to go. It seems purer in its conception of time as it implies no distance except for the linearity of the word "back." 

I hope to return to these questions in a future post as I recently re-read Tarkovsky's piece on "time pressure," in which he describes a feeling of time and how this is important in the editing process of his own films. 

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