The essay analyzes the interrelationship between media technologies and the development of mobility based on a concrete historical constellation—the emergence of automobilism and its representation in literature and film between 1900 and 1920. The focus lies on Western European countries and most notably on Italian and German literature as well as British, German, and French films. During that period, the portrayal of the automobile in these countries shows a dominant pattern: due to their speed, cars seem to embody a destructive power per se. This is expressed by numerous violence-related scenarios. However, the accentuation of destructive tendencies cannot only be described as a response to increased risks. Rather, they are a product of media technologies and media-specific aesthetics, too: film, establishing itself as a new media form experimenting with “dynamization“ and destruction; and literature, responding to the new visual media using dynamic language and the demolition of traditional poetic forms. Consequently, the noticeable surge in technology around 1900 created new and different types of mobility in the areas of transportation and media, influencing each other.
Automobilism, Early Cinema, and Literature, 1900-1920
A Media Conference Report
The European Network for Cinema and Media Studies (NECS) held its fifth annual conference “Urban Mediations” from June 24 to 27, 2010 in the European Capital of Culture 2010, Istanbul. A wide variety of scholars and researchers in the field of cinema, film, and media studies, but also archivists or film and media professionals were invited. The broad scope theme of “urban mediations” provided ample opportunity for extensive analysis and discussion of media and urbanity theories by the attendees. In more than 80 panels, with four talks each, various questions could be discussed. For example: How are city spaces represented and created in different media? What urban practices and aesthetics develop when using “media”? To what extent do new media forms influence future urban developments or make them possible in the first place? How does media shape city-human interaction?
On the Historical Alignment of Media and Mobility
Dorit Müller and Heike Weber
In a nineteenth century context, traffic could mean both communication and the transportation of goods and people. For instance, the German term “traffic” (Verkehr), referred to “communicating” (verkehren) and to “traffic”/“transportation” (Verkehr). Historically speaking, before the age of telegraphy, any communication over distance required the physical transport of a message or a messenger. Many authors, thus, identified the latter as a fundamental caesura in the relationship between media and mobility, uncoupling media from their previous reliance on physical movement. At the same time, telegraphy and the railway formed a paradigmatic symbiosis that enforced the ongoing duality between media and mobility: traffic depended on and sometimes boosted communication and vice versa. Hence, traffic and media were not disconnected as such, but their connections were rearranged and new ones emerged while others such as the postal services persisted.
Florian Krobb and Dorit Müller
Travel is a special form of human mobility that is subject to different historical conditions and one that, deliberately or not, always entails knowledge acquisition and knowledge transfer. Travel facilitates the encounter with peoples, ideas, and material artifacts. In the age of Enlightenment, the nexus between travel and knowledge gained a new intensity, as the movement beyond the known turned into a specific scientific project with manifestations in theoretical reflection as well as literary practice. In the special section on Travel Writing and Knowledge Transfer contributors from the fields of Literary and Travel Studies investigate how human mobility gains epistemic significance in the exploration of nature and foreign cultures. The articles focus on conditions and forms of knowledge production while traveling (itinerant knowledge). They analyze how observations, experiences, and reflections made on the move are molded and transformed in fiction and nonfiction, and they discuss the impact on European cultural and intellectual horizons.
Gijs Mom, Georgine Clarsen, Nanny Kim, and Dorit Müller
What is mobility worth? What is the value of a trip? These questions have many answers, which depend on who is doing the trip, and where, for what purpose, and using which vehicle, as well as what happened before.
Gijs Mom, Georgine Clarsen, Liz Millward, Dorit Müller, Mimi Sheller, and Heike Weber
The fluidity of modernity has surely reached the outskirts of the earth when even the new Pope Franciscus admonishes his cardinals that “our life is a journey and when we stop there is something wrong. […] If one does not walk, one gets stuck.” The current economic crisis has enhanced the fear of congestion and the interruption of flows: the circulation of capital in the first instance, but also of people and stuff, and of ideas and knowledge. It is time to rethink mobility.
Gijs Mom, Georgine Clarsen, Nanny Kim, Cotten Seiler, Kurt Möser, Dorit Müller, charissa N. Terranova, and Rudi Volti
In 1873 Edouard Manet finished his famous and beautiful “Railroad” painting. In it a woman in a blue travel coat, sitting on the stone base of a gate, stares us in the face, looking up from her book and gazing through us as if digesting what she just read, a little dog sleeping on her lap. Next to her a girl (her daughter?) stands with her back toward us, a big blue bow on her white Sunday dress, gripping the gate bars and looking through them at … a cloud of steam. No train in sight. They are waiting, for what, for whom? Perhaps the girl’s attention is not drawn by what she sees but by what she hears: a steam valve must be hissing loudly.