Airport Reading and the Musealization of Non-Space

Just returned a few hours ago from the SAMLA conference in Atlanta, where I chaired a panel on documentary and autobiography. While the panel deserved a much larger audience, I did enjoy both papers, and Darren’s discussion of the films of Caveh Zahedi left me wanting to see more of his films (including I am a Sex Addict, which Darren reviews/analyzes here) . But SAMLA was, more than anything, about returning home to the city where I’ve lived most of my life, this time as a conference-goer.

Because my family still lives in Atlanta, I spent most of the weekend with them, celebrating birthdays (my parents and sister all have birthdays within two weeks of each other), buying clothes, and catching up. My sister and I are in the process of talking my father into taking an adult education class on memoir writing. My mom still works, but he’s retired and has more nervous energy than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s also a bit of a storyteller and growing up in Birmingham in the 1950s and ’60s, he witnessed the effects of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement firsthand. He’s feeling cautious, he claims because he’s not convinced that anyone would be interested in hearing what he has to say.

But what I planned to write about was the experience of returning to Atlanta in the position of a tourist of sorts, staying in hotels and eating in restaurants that I often rushed past in my car, not really seeing the parts of the city that I knew best. Or, instead, to talk about the strangeness of seeing Hartsfield-Jackson airport’s exhibit of Zimbabwean art along the moving sidewalks between baggage claim and the airport’s terminals. I’ve been thinking about the concept of nonspace this week after a discussion in my senior seminar, and the sculptures along the sidewalks have always compelled me to slow down rather than rushing hurriedly through the airport. Of course the art is there as a means of making airport delays more tolerable, but the contrast between the hurry associated with air travel and the leisure associated with viewing art has long been jarring to me.

And more than anything, I wanted to mention the books I picked up to make the waiting and the zero time of flying more palatable. Unlike KF, I’m usually not that productive in airplanes and airports. My crowded planes made anything other than reading difficult, and the intervals between waiting and movement often make it difficult for me to concentrate. So when I fly, I’ll usually pick up a novel or some other form of light (non-professional) reading. On this trip it was Russell Banks’ new novel, The Darling, which I’m very much enjoying. I’m only halfway through the book, which focuses on a member of the Weather Underground forced to flee to Liberia in the early 1970s, but thus far I’m finding it a compelling read (hopefully I’ll have more to say later).

There’s no reason to connect these loose threads from my weekend, other than to note that strains of autobiography and memory seem to be creeping into my thoughts a lot this weekend. Plus after a weekend away from computers (my mom has a modem, but it’s slow even for a 56k modem), I wanted to find some way to jump back into the conversation.


  1. thanks for not being a zombie Said,

    November 6, 2005 @ 7:57 pm

    airport as mechanical toy

    David Toop, Haunted Weather: Music, Silence, and Memory (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2004): On 11 November I was standing in a check-in queue at Heathrow’s Terminal Three, on my way to Canada, when an announcement was broadcast, requesting ‘cooperation’ in…

  2. Darren Said,

    November 7, 2005 @ 1:18 pm

    That’s uncanny, Chuck. The Darling is currently sitting in the #2 spot on my to-read pile (right under Doctorow’s The March). I’m hoping the Banks novel will give me something to work with in the conclusion of my dissertation. Did you see the recent documentary, The Weather Underground? It’s a fantastic film. Of the recent political documentaries, I’d probably put only The Fog of War ahead of it.

  3. Chuck Said,

    November 7, 2005 @ 1:30 pm

    I liked The Weather Underground, too (here’s my review), and my interest in the group inspired me to pick up Banks’ novel, which continues to grow on me, even though I probably won’t have time to read very much of it this week. In retorspect, I really admire how the film uses archival footage, such as home movies, to show how the group traded in images for their charismatic, oppositional appeal. Interesting coincidence.

  4. Darren Said,

    November 8, 2005 @ 1:24 pm

    Chuck, Caveh’s bringing Sex Addict to D.C. on November 15.

  5. Chuck Said,

    November 8, 2005 @ 1:34 pm

    Oh, thanks for the tip, Darren. I’ll try to catch it if I can (there was another screening at UMCP that I was planning to attend). And I’ll put this up on my main blog so that other DC folks can attend.

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