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Introduction to the road narrative project: 03/09/18
The road is an integral part of the American narrative experience. It is part of the day to day American experience and has been long enough to be a central motif in non-fiction and fiction alike. The road for better or worse has defined the American footprint and continues to influence American texts.
This website site, while also a book review blog, contains a growing collection of road narrative essays and reviews of road narrative books (fiction and nonfiction).
From 1995-1997 I was a critical studies (film theory) graduate student at UCLA. At the time I was living in Pasadena as my husband was a graduate student at Caltech. With Los Angeles traffic being what it is, I faced between a two and four hour commute each day, giving me lots of time to think about school and about the roads I was driving.
The time on the road with my mind full of the films we were discussing made me realize that the road and road markings and roadsigns were used in American films as a secondary, shorthand language or punctuation to further the narratives. Some genres took greater advantage of these road narrative tropes (the road trip film, being an extreme example) but the vast majority of American films used these tropes, these visual clues. I decided I would make this shorthand language my focus of study for my PhD thesis.
The PhD plan didn't happen and my life took a huge detour. In 1997, I started my website, Puss Reboots, originally to do freelance web design. The site, though, (as all sites do) needed content, and I was the only one to write it. As my career evolved and I stopped freelancing, the website became a blog and that blog eventually became a dedicated book blog.
In 2015 during on online conversation (via Twitter) with a friend who is a current grad student working on the regionalism of American food, I happened to mention my old road narrative project. She encouraged me to restart the project for my own fun. I agreed and have been working on it since then. My first toe dip back into the project was Culture is our Business by Marshall McLuhan. On the my Tumblr companion site, I didn't even use the "roadtrip" or "roadshow" tags I later used to track the project.
Primarily I began with reading. I dug out my old notes and bibliographies and started there. Initially I wanted to track down the connection between the semantics of the actual, real-world, American road system to see how it developed and to see if its development tracked with the development of the tropes used in American film and literature.
I also wanted to re-familiarize myself with the early days of the automobile. I wanted to see if that time line again had any influence on tropes I knew as a late twentieth-early twenty-first century consumer of American film and literature.
The tools for research and my skills as a researcher have improved over time and the answer the questions I had been struggling over in those initial two years were easily answered — and I realized, had been discussed at length by many other theorists.
The official re-launch of the project, began with a post announcing a change in policy on my blog: Replacing ARCs with Research. In it I described my project as:
"the interplay between the English language (and more specifically U.S. English) and the road. In the middle of all of this is the road trip story, or even the experience of the road trip as a form of vacation."Suffice it to say the project has evolved significantly over time. For now, though, here are the basic sections (as of March 2018) to the project.
I plan to write and post at least one road narrative essay each month. Ideally the postings would be one a week. As I write more I will organize my road narrative project into a more coherent section on this website. Essays and reviews will continue to be posted as part of the daily blog but will also be indexed by theme for better searching and later reading.