Saturday, February 09, 2008

Freed from the old perspective

In The Spectacle of Flight: Aviation and the Western Imagination, 1920-1950, Robert Wohl describes how writers experiencing flight for the first time started to see landscape differently - both in terms of viewpoint and speed. Paul Morand, for example, in Fl├Ęche d’orient (1932) noticed the absence of familiar sites: ‘the blue bottoms of leaves, the stratified facades of mountains, the colonnade formed by a forest, the dark pockets of valleys, and human beings...’ Instead the, world looked ‘like a painting that has been freed from the old perspective and yesterday’s colours.’

The analogy with abstract painting occurred to other writers. Ernest Hemingway flew from Paris to Strasbourg in 1922 and saw below ‘brown squares, yellow squares, and big flat blotches of green where there was a forest. I began to understand cubist painting.’ Gertrude Stein looked down at the American landscape and saw “all the lines of cubism made at a time when not a painter had ever gone up in an airplane. I saw three on the earth the mingling lines of Picasso, coming and going, developing and destroying themselves. I saw the simple solutions of Braque, I saw the wondering lines of Masson...’ Stein concluded that ‘as the twentieth century is a century which sees the earth as none has ever seen it, the earth has a splendour that it never has had...’

1 comment:

arcady said...

The streamlined shapes of the Art Deco movement also seem reduced to the outlines that would be visible while moving by at high speed, though perhaps terrestrially rather than by air. Well before that, the preference for broad sweeping lines in the English landscape park coincided with the development of better wheels and much faster carriages...