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The Air-Conditioned Nightmare: 05/30/21
The Air-Conditioned Nightmare by Henry Miller is a collection of essays on life in America from a recently returned ex-pat. It's similar in concept as Bill Bryson's books, but separated by fifty years. This post isn't going to be a review or analysis per-se. Instead it's about why I decided to not finish reading it (and thus rate it one star).
In 1995 when I was attempting to get into UCLA's PhD program in the film and television department, I put together a proposal around American roadtrip films. At the time I was into semiotics and wanted to look for ways in which real life coding of road signs, road markings, and other roadside signage would inform narrative structure. To do so I would need to understand the history of the automobile, city and urban planning, and highway design. I spent eighteen months researching and reading and didn't get into the program. So I set the project aside.
Twenty years later while talking to a friend who was embarking on her own research project, I mentioned my shelved project. She got me excited to revisit my research. It was in the process of tracking down the books of my original project that I added Arthur Miller's book. I was still convinced that understanding the automobile was key.
Two years into the revised project I realized that the vehicle wasn't important. In fact many of the pivotal sources for the 2015 version of the project didn't even involve vehicles. See my essay, Getting there: it's the road, stupid. But by this time, I already had purchased a copy of The Air-Conditioned Nightmare.
Now three or so years later (or five going on six years into the project), I have finally made the effort to read Miller's book. What his essays contain are long, nearly stream of consciousness paragraphs inspired by a particular local or situation as he traveled around the United States. His essays reveal him to be a typical white cis-gendered privileged man. His voice is the piece of equation I'm least interested in.
The white man in his fancy automobile on a roadtrip type of literature has been analyzed to death. There is no need to mine this area further. See There are 216 road narrative stories I'm interested in to understand why I set aside Miller's book.
Finally, there's a lot of racism and classism worked into The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. I don't care to read his views on ethnic groups he wasn't part of. The other as tourist stop is another done-to-death topic in road narrative analysis that I won't be doing as part of my project.