An Ordinary Journey? Getting on the Road, a Place Both Imagined and Realistic

Friday, 20 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Simon LAFONTAINE, Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
The present communication addresses the road as a place of contrasts and contingencies in order to discuss the ambivalent logic of experience and action in everyday lifeworlds. Yet such an account depends on a renewed awareness to randomness, creativity, and historicity just as much as to the significance of cultural structures and available meanings in this context.

Comprehensive interviews conducted in Brussels with car drivers about their everyday journeys are mobilized to emphasize the “intermediate” time-space of the road. In fact, the system of automobility impacts travellers’ more or less explicit itineraries, motives, projects, and plans for life in such a way that it may prompt differences in meaning and flexible coordination of action and interpretation in occasions, accidental episodes and encounters on the road. Remoteness and relatively vacant landscapes combined with the incessant flow of diversified social biographies constitute an exemplary case to explore a specific orientation toward the upcoming experience, namely the unexpectedness of events.

In order to flesh out this orientation, literary realities drawn from contemporary American road novels are brought into discussion. Fiction acts here as an analyzer of implicit strata of meaning which are more or less unnoticed and taken for granted in everyday life. Wandering is a form of experience of space freed from the temporality of the project, with its typified goals and expectations. It is often depicted as a restless impulse to move forward, an openness to the future and its possibilities. Proposing the hypothesis of a continuity between the quotidian and the exceptional, the present communication works to understand how the structures of the motorized time-space, embodied through taken for granted typifications and routines, continuously shape the upcoming experience and pave the way to an active readiness to cope with the surprising features of events.