What has been in the past a travel log and diary sent in small packets to friends and loved ones has become this journal. Perhaps, in its meanderings, it will continue beyond its logical end; that is something to be decided. For now, it begins again in Las Vegas McCarren Airport, as I am about to depart for Hangzhou to teach for what now seems to be far too short a time. I make no representations or promises except to say that I will be neither excessively personal or academic—but friends and academics may disagree. C’est la vie.
Airports are the height of modernity. It is no accident that Marc Augé begins his anthropology of super-modernity with a trip to the airport. Unlike Augé‘s protagonist, I am guessing, I am a little less well kept. My automobile might be as insulated, but my garment bag is packed with dirty suits: a tacit awareness that good dry cleaning is likely easier and less expensive in the place I am going. Last evening was occupied by gluing a loose piece of turquoise into a favorite bracelet and contending with other evidence of my disorganization. Perhaps, in these small preoccupations, I am more like Augé‘s traveler than I care to admit.
Whether one defines modernity as a condition of displacement, isolation, or one of continual change, the airport, like the railway station before it, epitomizes them all. It is the intersection of shifting time, and people removed from gods and ground; those things that make the story of their place, if they have one at all. Borrowing a page from Hitchcock, we each become Cary Grant moving from scene to scene, handing our dirty suits to a porter for a sponge and press after each narrow escape. Somehow, however, we fair much worse in appearance.
In North by Northwest, Grant’s character boards the 20th Century Limited. Borrowing Augé‘s lens and definitions, it is easy to see in hindsight that these presumed conveniences were in themselves recognized experiential icons of aspirational super-modernity. It is, what the Henry Dreyfus paint stood for: the ability to transpose experience through space and across time. It is, in essence what I am about to do, even if in my casual way, I take it for granted.