Speed, Escape, Memory and the Body

“’How come they have no fear when they are behind the wheel?’ What could I say? Maybe this: the man hunched over his motorcycle can focus only on the present instant of his flight; he is caught in a fragment of time cut off from both the past and the future; he is wrenched from the continuity of time; he is outside time; in other words, he is in a state of ecstasy; in that state he is unaware of his age, his wife, his children, his worries, and so he has no fear, because the source of fear is in the future, and a person freed of the future has nothing to fear,” (Kundera 1-2).

To ESCAPE is in essence, to feel as if one has departed from REALITY, and is experiencing the VIRTUAL. I say “feel as if” because these categories are socially constructed, nonmaterial concepts often experienced through engagement with the material (like the corporeal body and the motorcyle). “Social systems produce nonmaterial as well as material structures. The processes that sustain a social network are processes of communication,” (Capra 91).

The biker is OUTSIDE OF TIME because TIME is a socializing material. “Our ability to hold mental images and project them into the FUTURE not only allows us to identify goals and purposes and develop strategies and designs, but also enables us to choose among several alternatives and hence to formulate values and social rules of behavior,” (Capra 85). By ESCAPE through an increase in SPEED,
the FEAR of the FUTURE [or TIME], which we cannot control, is lost.

“All of these social phenomena are generate by networks of communication as a consequence of the dual role of human communication. On the one hand, the network continually generates mental images, thoughts, and meaning; on the other hand, it continually coordinates the behavior of its members,” (Capra 86). Through machines of speed, we travel physical networks under the appearance of autonomy and agency, two key structuring elements of communication networks. As
Kantian reason reminds, freedom of thought positively sustains social servitude.

Zizek uses this logic at the start of his, Welcome to the Desert of the Real! , which serves his discussion of the Real in relationship to politics and global capitalism. Though frantically mobile, a more fundamental immobility is concealed, from which a “growing inertial of social being/life” results, (Zizek 8-9). With a similar reversal of the dialectic, he describes Virtual Reality and the Real as an experience wherein “’real reality’ itself [is] a virtual entity,” (11). For me, Zizek’s discussion leads to the collapse of the categories of the Real and the Virtual, and exposes their social construction.

Thus, the notion of MOBILITY is connected to notions of FREEDOM. Kundera's motorcyclist uses the technology of the to feel as if he is in control, as if through the ESCAPE of the BODY in SPEED, he can control TIME and hence his relationship to REALITY, or experience lived and relived via MEMORY.

“There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting. Consider this utterly commonplace situation: a man is walking down the street. At a certain moment, he tries to recall something, but the recollection escapes him. Automatically, he slows down. Meanwhile, a person who wants to forget a disagreeable incident he has just lived through starts unconsciously to speed up his pace, as if he were trying to distance himself from a thing still too close to him in time. In existential mathematics, that experience takes the form of two basic equations: the degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting,” (Kundera 39).

The difference between perceiving an experience of VIRTUALITY versus REALITY is in MOVEMENT. SPEED dictates the experience of virtuality as a state of ESCAPE; if it is made through the technology of the motorcycle, for example, the experience of Virtual Disembodiment comes quickly, and if we move slowly, it takes longer to forget the Reality of lived experience. The opposite, to directly record it (as in photography), is an attempt to etch the experience onto one's memory. This will be discussed more in relation to Gabriel Orozco's work.

“A run begins the moment you forget your are running.”

I heard this quote a lot when running track in college. I am interested in how the body inscribes memory as does the mind. “Muscle memory” is the body’s accumulated “knowledge” or experience of physical stress endured over time. This is how the runner increases her/his fitness level, improving the speed at which the runner can complete a distance. If we speed up to forget (in the mind, as in the Kundera quote), we increase the speed of the body’s movement. In so doing, the body is encoded with the memory that such a speed has been run for a certain distance, and this corporeal memory is what informs subsequent running events. Thus, even if we attempt to disembody our subjectivity from experience, inevitably it seems some recording of this is inscribed onto the body.