Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and the Wings of Technology

It's 110 years today since the birth of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the French writer, aviator and author of “The Little Prince”. A few days ago I stumbled upon the following quote from his book about airplanes "Wind, Sand and Stars":
"The central struggle of men has ever been to understand one another, to join together for the common weal. And it is this very thing that the machine helps them to do! It begins by annihilating time and space."
This is a futurists vision which in many ways continues to prevail in a world where its actual realisation is reaping havoc with the environment. The problem is not so much our wish to be together but rather our more traditional technologies for achieving this and the attitudes we've developed as a consequence: our desire for the annihilation of space in particular (most often under the auspices of conserved time).

We've all noticed that the faster we travel, the more energy is expended but have we really noticed that the faster we travel the smaller the windows of the vehicle we're travelling in and the more reduced our connection and concern for the space we're passing through? Landscape is becoming something which we no longer wish to dwell in but which we wish to diminish or overcome.

Whatever happened to the idea of being in the moment, of enjoying the journey rather than the destination? Why the great rush and impatience?

A couple of months ago I was due to give a public talk about my art practice in a museum in northern Germany. Unfortunately I was unable to make the journey because of the volcanic ash cloud floating over northern Europe. The curator of the exhibition asked me if I would be able to catch a train instead, but the thought of a long train journey to London followed by an overnight stay and a trip across London to catch the plane followed by another train journey to the museum didn't exactly fill me with excitement. Instead I suggested presenting the talk via Skype and this is what eventually transpired. It wasn't perfect by any means but I'm in little doubt that in future we will see a lot more of this kind of thing because it simply makes sense. If it's really an annihilation of space that we desire then we should probably avoid those polluting little high velocity capsules we travel around in as much as possible.


Theresa said...

Great post.

I've been thinking a lot about this actually. I recently took the train from London to Glasgow, because I had to leave my passport with the US Embassy for visa purposes. Although at first it seemed like a hassle, I secretly was happy that I was forced to take the train. The journey may be longer, but it is definitely calmer. No waiting around in lines at the airport, no struggling for seats with other low-budget airline passengers. You just go to the station, get in, and you can kick back and relax for 4 hours. I miss train rides, as as child I loved them (not to mention the Robert Louis Stevenson poem "From a Railway Carriage") and hate that they are getting more expensive than flights. I confess I would still gladly hop on a train, pay extra and waste time just to go "faster than fairies, faster than witches":

..here is a mill and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone for ever!


J. Hamlyn said...

That's brilliant Theresa, Thanks! I never knew of that poem but have now found it on YouTube too:


Vivian Oblivion said...

Or perhaps because of our desire to annihilate space, we continue to pollute using those "high velocity capsules."

Could the decline of NASA in the US be a sign of the reinstatement of space/landscape appreciation? Maybe we reached our limits (fiscally and figuratively) or just got bored with "outer space;" either way, I think the NASA decline is indicative of a cultural turning point.

J. Hamlyn said...

Hmm, I imagine it's much more likely to be fiscal than boredom. I hope you're right though - much as I love space exploration.

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