In response to two of the most celebrated philosophical texts on twentieth-century automobility – Jean Baudrillard’s America (1986) and Paul Virilio’s Negative Horizon (1984) – this chapter argues against the notion that driving at speed ‘suspends thought’ and is thus symptomatic of the blindness, amnesia and nihilism of post/modernity. By contrast, and through close readings of two North American ‘road trip’ texts written in the 1950s (Patricia Highsmith’s Carol (1952) and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957)), the chapter proposes that it is the pre-existing and/or psychological objectives that drivers and passengers bring to their road-trips (and other driving-events) that will determine the intrinsic quality of the experience. The symbolic association between cars and the desire for escape – especially in literary and other texts – overlooks the fact that that it is not speed per se that turns a driving-event into a ‘flight’ but rather the state of mind of the driver when he or she enters the car. While the drivers and passengers of one car, travelling at speed, may be notionally ‘blind’ to the landscapes through which they pass, those in another (or, indeed, the same driver on another occasion) may be fully aware of their surroundings.
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