River of Shadows #reading

By comparing and contrasting the invention of photography with the railway, Solnit comes to the crux of their difference. Photography is a new technology, which by definition is moving human society forward, yet its aim is to look back. By immortalizing the past, photography, much like writing, increases the time knowledge is recollected for. Similarly, the railway, and other forms of locomotion, drastically changes the way in which people lived, by opening the possibility of seeing more than one place throughout a lifetime. In some ways, photography was a response to locomotion, trying to freeze the time which was going much too fast due to locomotion. Though I agree with this point, I feel that Solnit may have misinterpreted Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote of ‘Not only is distance annihilated, but when, as now, the locomotive and the steamboat, like enormous shuttles, shoot every day across the thousand various threads of national descent and employment, and bind them fast in one web, an hourly assimilation goes forward, and there is no danger that local peculiarities and hostilities should be preserved.’ Solnit claims that Emerson ‘approves of the erasure (of local character)’. However, Emerson was part of the transcendental movement, born in New England. This philosophy was greatly opposed to the industrial evolution, and stressed a return to nature. Transcendentalists were particularly upset by the locomotive as it is mentioned in many of their texts. Though I think she misinterpreted this quote by Emerson, I agree with many of the points Solnit made, and she made me consider the relationship between technologies born around the same time.


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