The Kinematic Subject

The Vehicular Experience of Speed and Automobility in Virtuality/Reality

Speed was the distinctive drug of modernity, a stimulant and intensifier akin to those analysed by Balzac . tea sugar tobacco, coffee. (Schnapp, 13)

If this is so, then what would be the drug of postmodernity, if such a construction exists? Modernity was an age of new speeds; an age of technological breakthroughs that saw the increase of speed in transportation and communication. Postmodernism can be said to be a cultural phenomenon, most often associated with the future: science fiction, hybridity, cyborgs. Yet as Schnapp argues, we have essentially been motile from the time we first mounted a horse’s back (1999). Through the similarity in experience between the vehicles of modernity and postmodernity (iconically, the automobile and the computer), a question arises of whether there really is any difference between the social constructions of modernity and postmodernity, and if there really is such a construction as the postmodern.

Can speed be an aporia? The limitation of light speed poses an aporia of objective speed limitation. In other words, the limitation of speed means that speed is an aporia (of the first type). If Aarseth concludes that the consequence of actions that solve puzzles and other aporia are epiphanies (1999: 34), then what 'action' causes the epiphany of speed? The answer comes if we classify automobility as an action or sequence of actions that comes in the process of mobility and navigation. Csikszentmihalyi writes:

it is fair to say, however, that Laski and Maslow looked at ecstasy as a fortuitous epiphany that happened more or less by itself, rather than a natural process which could be controlled and cultivated. (1990: 251)

This indicates that ecstasy is the epiphany of speed. The negotiation of aporia by the process of automobility requires dynamic acceleration (of forward momentum and sideways cornering) that results in the realtime feedback of epiphany in the form of ecstatic movement. What is important here is that traditional notions of action in virtual environments require time for the cause and effect to occur. In the video game Doom (1992), one hits a switch, and a door opens. This is a singular action-reaction event, which can be repeated throughout an environment to form a series of aporias, ‘epiphanised’ one by one. With speed however, there is no singular event, as each turn or acceleration forms an alteration of the broad aspect of speed. Speed requires a continuous flow of movement, in which aporia is ‘epiphanised’ in realtime. In the experience of flow in ergodic art, epiphany is no longer a sudden occurrence, but becomes an enduring manifestation of enjoyment.

In that ecstasy is the epiphany of speed, and that ecstasy can be controlled by the driver, Csikszentmihalyi’s observation that the process of the aporia-ecstasy-epiphany loop is natural is incorrect. Rather, the realtime realisation of aporia and epiphany through vehicular movement is a natural phenomenon as it can be ‘controlled and cultivated’.