American Road Narratives: Reimagining Mobility in Literature and Film: 07/04/17
American Road Narratives: Reimagining Mobility in Literature and Film by Ann Brigham is a critical analysis of the American road narrative, beginning with the early memoirs and novels of the 1910-1920s, and ending with the post September 11th literature.
Brigham sees the road narrative as "a mode of engagement" with "space, society, or identity" (p. 4). On this we agree, though the what and how that discourse happens we don't. For Brigham, the road narrative discourse changes in specific ways in specific eras. The earliest years were about assimilation — learning how to be American through a road trip — or proving to others that one is a American by taking a road trip. For the post War years, it's a rediscovery of the masculine self. For the 1980s it's a re-examination of Feminism in a space codified as masculine. The post September 11th narratives are again about assimilation and a scary America first attitude.
For the outlining of her thesis, Brigham looks at the exemplars from each era:
But there's no examination of the aberrations in the genre. There's no discussion of books or films that don't comfortably fit into their decade's cubbyhole. While the reading of these texts is different — focusing on the interaction of traveler with their social context across space and time — there is only one type of discussion explored for each era.
My approach to the road narrative was originally very similar. Back in 1995, I started with the idea that the semantics of the road — of actual real world roads, roadsigns, highways, their infrastructure, their support systems, and so forth had been so well codified as to be their own proto-language. These signs were something that had been assimilated in the American experience — something that could be then used to create narratives that could be universally understood by an American audience. In the last two years of actively re-addressing this thesis, I've read enough of the early texts to see that the codification of tropes and motifs predates the standardization of roadsigns and the building up of infrastructure.
My research happened to coincide with the beginnings of the We Need Diverse Books movement. I realized I needed to look for other voices — other ways of constructing road narratives. The road narrative isn't for a single dominant voice in any given era. It is there. It is part of the American psyche, built out of national and regional memories, folktales, traditions.