Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Single Man - Freeway...the "Free" is Questionable

"There's always a slightly unpleasant moment when you drive up the ramp which leads onto the freeway and become what's called 'merging traffic.' George has that nerve-crawling sensation which can't be removed by simply checking the rearview mirror: that, inexplicably, invisibly, he's about to be hit in the back. And then, next moment, he has merged and is away, out in the clear, climbing the long, easy gradient toward the top of the pass and the Valley beyond" (Isherwood 34).

George's exhilaration in merging onto the freeway expresses a rare moment of his cohesion with others. On the freeway, he is successful by blending in among cars, not by distinguishing himself from others as he does at the college. The casual fluidity of his driving allows him to retreat into his subconscious as the "chauffeur" in him unconsciously controls the car. George's participation in this aspect of normal city life is remarkable in contrast to recalcitrance elsewhere, but remains characteristic because his subconscious is his favorite focus throughout the novel. Even in driving among a horde of other cars, George is barricaded by the protection of his own car and remains very much within himself and isolated as he drives.

The sensation that George has is one that I've frequently experienced myself, which suggests that isolation and marginalization are definitely inherent in L.A. everyday life. How truly can one "merge" with others within the daily stream of life, anyway? Isherwood suggests that, really, not at all. The phenomenon of daily isolation in cars that still demands that those driving behave as a whole unit, following the direction of traffic in a uniform manner, is mind-boggling. We are part of the herd, yet enclosed in the hectic struggle of our own schedules and personal insecurities. Collisions in morning "merging traffic" are the sole contact between humans in modern L.A. society, the only way to deviate from the normative. Isherwood presents as George as someone who unsuccessfully strives towards a collision throughout the entire narrative; it is as though he wants to test himself against the merging stream of human-looking, Coke-drinking "American" robots whom he encounters.

A photo of the L.A. freeway system...really quite a scary, futuristic image of what we are dealing with. Definitely looks like a wasteland to me.

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