by Bodwyn Wook
The distinction between late-modernity and our gummy ‘postmodern’ age is this same ever-expanding universal grubbiness of the common life lived by all. This experience everywhere shudderingly a bit sticky to the touch is become the congested hallmark of our whole bodily life, and, most notably, of everything to do with mass transportation including air travel. In London the English quarrel over the building of a fifth runway at the old London Airport, at Heathrow, or ‘Heathrow’ as it is simply called to-day. This is but the unfolding of a new installment in the old cycle, of a kind of escalating loss of value, hand in hand with a sequence of transformative assaults by the generations, on Nature:
The vast terminals in the post-contemporary distance as white and shimmering as Mecca, and the pyramids, are, now, a far cry from the late-modern vision in the film above, of the building of the first new London airport of 1946. And thus when the unwary traveller to-day draws near, the glistening belvedres are discovered smelly within of disinfectant meant to mask the reek of stagnant drains, and they are bathed in stagnant airs from overborne central airconditioning. How different a matter is all this disgusting and international-styled anti-rococo, from the blissful novelties of the old-time boarding-tent of empire days!
This picture is from: http://www.airwise.com/airports/europe/LHR/LHR_07.html
One has in contrast the dire impression of latter-day un-saintly systems, sanitary and other, all just not quite able to keep up. This bleak sensation of ‘when they just do, they only just’ is just only reinforced by the stereotyped response of credentiallised public administration. Their main ‘idea’ is to build yet more of it all. This syndrome of an endless vista of Heathrows girdling the Earth is both a direct result of inflation in history, as pointed out by emeritus historian John Lukacs, and it is the very archetype of all this weighty muchness, of nothing much but ‘more’. Inflation is a condition of diminution of worth that afflicts not only money, but value generally. The example in the case of air travel is explicit: the more persons thronging the skies, the less intrinsic the experience — not to mention the more heinous and repellent. The paradox is that in early days, under overtly primitive conditions underneath the RASC 1946 surplus canvas (waterproofed), the experience of air travel to and from Heathrow, to and from the airports of the World then, altogether was far more a matter of significance. This was and is precisely the inverse of the frequency with which the halfwits today of all classes cram together at the airport. As always when viewed accurately in the light of Nature, the real purpose is to spread epidemics and germs. Like their cosmopolitan betters of two generations before, only much more jammed, latter-day airline passengers are wadded in their smudged high-pressure plastic tubes. In there they peer out of greasy windows between the fingermarks and are catapaulted by technological gimmicks they cannot understand, stuffed and thrust and scattered through gritty airs by the impossible phantasy of flight, above all from themselves. This rooted hopelessness in it all, the twining ivy pessimism burning in secret at all our ankles, is indeed the bathos and the downward suck of horror undergirding any travel. The only difference — it is the sole distinction possibly between modernism, and this — is that air travel is now no longer the private preserve of a languid small and post-empirical, degenerated, caste, not a few addicted to pharmaceutical morphine. Hence, in a methadone age, travel by this mode of levitation above the ground is no longer ‘sophisticated’, not a bit of it, no more than it was ever particularly an affair of actual culture. Only the aeroplanes then were things of beauty in a way these sub-rockets of the underfolk of to-day most certainly are not! Now-a-days when so many gobble Vicodin only to quell their pre-flight jitters and just in view of the generallised ugliness of it all, one just cannot only now be absolutely sure that we are only not just getting the made-for-Tee Vee boogey-moslems we deserve….
[Emmett R Smith all text-rights reserved 4 February 2009]