Pascoe - Introduction ENTERING AIRSPACE Airspace was once...

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Unformatted text preview: Introduction ENTERING AIRSPACE Airspace was once so simple to comprehend. English common law guaranteed the bearer of a fee title — a manor in Hounslow, West Middlesex, say — that his fiefdom stretched as far as the Heavens above and deep into the Earth. DeSpite the fact that the terms of this ownership could be imposed only at or close to the ground — the level at which one might cultivate or construct — that perception of privilege gave landlords an extraordinary sense of infinite power. in epic fashion, the law exploited a third dimension, connecting man, the gods and the Devil himself; but it was too easy a bargain: Faustian ones always are. In due course, with the advent of powered flight, the price would have to be paid. As the basis of air-traffic systems, the newly estab- lished operational and legal abstractions — namely, airways and flight paths * ensured that airspace would become a complex, crafted network invisible to the spectator on the ground. Now enshrined in international legislation as that zone of strict enforcement above a country, where rules of sovereignty apply, and where ignorance or infringement can be lethal, airspace is divided into several discrete areas of control? The most secure, ’Positive Controlled Airspace’ (PCA), ranges from 18,000 to 60,000 feet above sea level; between these altitudes, at various levels, transverse the commercial airways, the 10-mile—wide superhighways of the air. All movements here are subject to regional and national air traffic control clearances and orders, and must proceed on the basis of instrument readings alone; pilots must not rely on what is visible through cockpit win— dows. The next discrete area, ’Terminal Controlled Airspace’ An aerial view of Los Angeles International Airport, 1996. (TCA), reaches up from ground level to a fixed safety height of between 3,000 and 6,000 feet, under the aegis of, and Within sight of airport authorities (weather permitting). It is this exclu- sive zone that is the subject of this book, the site of complexes large enough to be regarded as fully self-contained cities with lives and names of their own, and also the location of the most hazardous of aircraft manoeuvres e take—off and climb—out, final approach and landing. A basic premise here is that it is not simply through the basic physical manifestations of airspace that we can discern the shapes of our modernities,‘ we must also be aware of its repree sentations. Versions of airspace are so common that twentieth- century culture resounds with whirling propellers, the whistling roar of jet engines and the shockwaves of accidents smashing into the vacuity of the terminal. Airports, lying as they do at the threshold of airspace, should be treated not as the sterile transitory zones with which we are all familiar, but as 'vessels of conception’ for the societies passing through them. More than any other building type of the last century, their The runway at Milan Malapensa International Airport under construction, 1958. 10 being seems to depend on cultural identification no less than architectural use, on their aesthetic properties no less than tech— nological function. Yet such manifestations in photographs, poetry, novels, theatre and cinema seem to be almost unduly overlooked when set against the overall mechanism of the air- port itself, whose morphology is best vieWed not as a discrete structure, but as an array of functionally diverse spaces designed on various scales, a network of ticketing checks, secu- rity searches, customs inquiries and transit zones through which food, fuel, mail, cargo, baggage and air traffic are circulated. Airspace provides a familiar sequence of services for travellers, the most fundamental of which may be lavatories, telephones, bureaux dc change, restaurants, duty-free shops, news stands, as passengers ’in transit’ are forced to proceed in ways that pre— vent them from seeing that the expanse through which they are flowing is a state within a state, a fragmentary territory nipped off from the ordinary him of the urban fabric. In ’Narita’, the poet Allen Curnow described ’the door for arrivals’ and ’the door for departures’ at Tokyo International Airport, and claims that ’Between the two the meantime is all there is. / It passes of itself.” There is a larger aspect to the ’meantime’, for, as the nov— elist Brigid Brophy claimed in I n Transit, a work set entirely in a departure lounge, to be in airspace means to ’perpetually or for a simulacrum of perpetuity remain in the present moment, in at least semi-sempiternal transit between departure from the past and arrival at the future.’3 As is so often the case, Brophy’s rep- resentation attributes to the airport a certain philosophical dig— nity that derives from its being considered a symbolic instrument, endowed with mysterious prOperties and seduc— tive charms, surrounded by taboos and an air of danger a a repository of illicit pleasure, a conduit to the transcendental and a spur to repression. Consider the work of the French critic and philosopher Michel Serres, who, in 1993, published La Légende ales anges, a strangely haunting mélange of speculations about the modern fascination “with the transmission and deciphering of messages, and with 11 '. Ir An underground passageway leading from the main terminal of Roissy-Charles De Gaulle International Airport to a satellite terminal, 1975. the emerging global information networks that are transform— ing the globe. Much of Serres’ text is set within Roissy-Charles De Gaulle International Airport. Pantope is a ’travelling inspec- tor’ for Air France, permanently on the move. His friend, Pia, is a doctor at the medical centre; rshe stays in one place while everything else moves around her.’ Hence, they both exist as part of a much larger system of relations; ’between the two of them, a whole universe flows.’4 This universe is later identified as Newtown, a modern ’City of light’ which has its “centre everywhere and its circumference nowhere’ and is organized ar0und ’a single ribbon, the outside of which goes from a pedestrian footpath to a wide boulevard, or, if you prefer an airport runway’.5 Ultirnately, Newtown is synonymous with airspace, a network without localizable boundaries (other than the perimeter fence of the airfield) and extending towards the Heavens, where at any given moment, hundreds of thousands 12 E: z i of beings live. In the upper reaches of this vertical city, they remain 'absolutely stable, albeit moving at subsonic speeds’; Pantope’s address here is 'A34o; OSA-CDG; 14F: that is, seat F, row 14, of an Air France Airbus A340, en route from Osaka~Kansai International Airport to CDG. To live in airspace is to be defined in such encoded forms, as a virtual object, a bearer of messages: By means of this single highway, the intersections of which are constructed out of multiple choices, Newtown creates linkages between all spaces, whether concrete and abstract, of this world and of any other; it creates links between towns, houses and offices, women and men, science and information, idea and motions But also, and more particularly, between cities and men, women and emotions, offices and ideasf" The literary critic Christopher Ricks has written on the com- plex workings of the preposition ’between’, which, he observes, displays ’an intersection’ of ’three prepositional functions: Space, . "lime and Relation’, as Well as manifesting simultaneously ’a "pining and a separation, disconcertingly accommodating itself ' both to acts of mediation or meeting and to acts of obstruction or I. han- France Airbus A340 in flight over Nagoya, Japan, en route for Paris—CDC, 13 disjuncture’i Applying such perceptions to Serres’ Newtown, one might say that subjects within it are nothing other than go- betWeens. Pia admits: All we really are is intermediaries, eternally passing among others who are also intermediaries. But the question is where is it all lead- ing? Because I spend my life here, in this never-ending flow of pas— sengers, communications, conveyors, messengers, announcers and agents, because my work is at this intersecting point of a multitude of networks all connected to the universe I hear the sound of angels How else are we to understand these sounds in this hurly burly world where nobody actually lives and everyone's just speeding though.H Clearly, by way of this fundamental and immediate tension between movement and immobility, in terms of space, time and relation, Serres was drawn to the exciting aesthetic possibilities of the airport. Architecture, obviously, is an art of immobility, of frozen time, of suspended movement, and in a society where transit looks like flight, and where perpetual motion abolishes places, its practitioners seek to affirm the values of stability, iden- tity, presence, by resisting movement, by preventing everything becoming an indistinct flow. Such an affirmation is not a negative reaction; rather, it is a mediation between flight and confinement. Existing within the aegis of such an antithetical concept, airports should never be taken for simple thoughts; they are neither mon- uments to immobility, nor instruments of the mobile society, but instead, the improbable conjunction of both. As an architectural array, this nexus usually manifests itself in the thresholds of airspace itself: the airfield ‘ the arrangement of aprons, taxiways, runways — or the terminal, the intricate system which accomodates the flow of the travelling public. Yet airports should not be regarded as mere complexes, or even as machines meant to expedite people and cargo. Instead they should be seen as organic entities whose success depends on the ability to fit into the pre—existing infrastructure, and simultaneously adapt to the new technologies, economic trends, or social dynamics emerging in their environments. Airports also derive 14 their character from an ever larger set of conditions ,' they stage, so to speak, an engrossing image of the aspiration to break out of the element into which we are born and to move into that in which we breathe. It is not, therefore, surprising that they are often experienced as such edgy zones, places in which to expe- rience oneiric moods, loss of agency and imprisonment within the confines of a technological system. As Andy Warhol put it: Today my favorite kind of atmosphere is the airport atmosPhere. If I didn’t have to think about the idea that airplanes go up in the air and fly it would be my perfect atmosphere. Airplanes and airports have my favorite kind of food service, my favorite kind of bath- rooms, my favorite peppermint Life Savers, my favorite kinds of entertainment, my favorite loudspeaker address systems, my favorite conveyor belts, my favorite graphics and colors, the best security checks, the best views, the best perfume sh0ps, the best employees, and the best optimism. I love the way you don’t have to think about where you’re going, someone else is doing that, but I just can’t get over the crazy feeling I get when I look out and see the clouds and know I’m really up-there. The atmosphere is great, it’s the idea of flying that I question. I guess I’m not an air person, but I'm on an air schedule, so I have to live an air life. I’m embarrassed that I don’t like to fly because I love to be modern, but I compensate by loving airports and airplanes so much.9 One should always be suspicious when nouns are pushed so wilfully into the realm of adjectives just so that they can be seen to work as terms of hyperbolic approval; here, Warhol suggests tautologically, airports are so ‘airport’. It is not to deceive by exaggeration that Warhol overshoots the mark in this way, but to allow the basic value, the underlying truth of what is insuffi— ciently valued, to appear. The very artless monotony is an effec- tive endorsement of the uniformities of air5pace, which offers commodity while at the same time narrowing one’s choices. The question might be posed: Who, in their right mind, would willingly suffer the deprivation that follows from the ’airport’ version of mind, a version screened off from reality and the external World, receiving only vicarious projections of things as they are? But that is the point; one must accept the insulation, or 15 start screaming. Brigid Brophy was attempting to do just this when she claimed: “Airport alone vindicates our century The true pure feel of the twentieth century is a rarity to catch on the wing. Catch it at airport. Sense yourself, at airport, at home; be, for once, in your own period."° The dumping of the definite article before ’airport’, turning a place into a state of mind, exposes Brophy’s hyperbolic approach to her own century. The truth that exaggerations such as these may convey relies on a principle well recognized by those approaching an airport, finally; occasionally, aiming to Overshoot the runway is the con— dition of not missing it. In the opening words of her novel Between, the British exper- imental writer Christine Brooke-Rose also responded to air- space by creating a world which, compounded simultaneously out of stasis and movement, reflected its own dislocation: ’Between doing and not doing the body floats.’ In her concep- tion, such space creates strange demands, especially on lan— guage; her text, written without any recourse to the verb ’to be’, shows that, for the subject moving in airspace, to be can only ever to ‘be-tween’.“ The novel begins: 'Between the enormOus wings the body of the plane stretches its one hundred and twenty seats or so in three on either side,’ a familiar enough description of the interior of a big jet, but it ends: ’Between the enormous wings the body floats’, which seems to refer to the great piers of the terminal at Orly Airport, where much of the novel is set. In between, Brooke-Rose flies a holding pattern around two locational figures, progress and containment, as the narrator is first presented travelling between cities in air- craft, and is then seen stranded in airports between flights. Such reversibility mirrors the condition of being suspended between ideologies, languages and countries; but such suspen- sion assumes many other forms too. It may take place in the womb-like interior of an aircraft, on the surface of the body, at the border between countries or even at the boundary between beliefs. Ultimately, however, within airspace, ’air and other such conditioning prevent any true exchange of thoughts.’ 16 The tendency towards enclosure and fixed meanings within his topos is political and personal, as well as spatial — hence, Brooke—Rose’s description of an arrival at Orly: the concrete corridor encased in glass slopes up straight from the tarmac where the yellow bus has stopped, and on into the airport hall of clean glass galleries coffee—bars teak Stairways with wide frightening space between the steps and queues of plastic luggage moving unowned, unmastered up the conveyor belt over the edge and straight along toward the small metal swing gates where men half—hidden in booths consult secret lists with a quick lift of the eye on to this or that face.” This is a place of enclosure, of clean lines and straight edges, of conveyor belts and constant surveillance; in this world of arbi- trary negativity (’unowned’, ’unrnastered’), any possibility of escape is forestalled. Even a stairway, with 'wide frightening space between the steps’, is too contained ever to be regarded simply as a 'flight’ of stairs. When the contrary tendency towards flight does emerge, the erosion of borders is inani- fested most explicitly in terms of language: one day even airports will have no frontiers and no passports per assistere anche una persona priva de conoscenza. Aber natiirlich. He stands by his pigskin holdsall his thick black briefcase in his left hand, shaking the right with the president of the congress the secretary the most important delegates male elderly female and doesn’t introduce his team of three interpreters English — German French s German English — French besides himself French into English and they simul- taneously stand about and smile in English German French.13 Translation becomes the central metaphor for escape; the narrator, EII interpreter by profession, crosses the borders with such ease :hat origin and destination, the here and there of air travel, cease to be antithetical states. For airports to exist without frontiers would mean, of course, that the zones the authorities once so strictly contained had become multiple, and ubiquitous ,' having emerged from airspace, such places would be co—terrninous with :he modern world."4 17 wanting to. And over and above this doubleness, streaking like exhaust trails through all airspace, is the sensation of imminent disaster. Technology may have extended the powers of the human to manipulate, domesticate and transform the elements which surround us; once deployed, however, this power then demands that its scope be extended ever more fully, with the consequence that these powers escape our abilities to manage them. Hence, an overwhelming cloud of catastrophe pollutes airspace, which in turn only creates the desire to escape still fur- ther, to accelerate away from established holding patterns. HOPELESS DEPARTURES Flight is, broadly speaking, a sublime combination of attitude and motion. When an aircraft is in the right attitude — that is, once it has struck the precise ’angle of attack’, the point at which the wings are set in regard to the lengthwise axis of the plane, and once it has reached sufficent velocity so that the nose is lifting — it cannot but leave the ground. At the moment at which it begins its ‘rotation’ and its nose lifts, a flying machine such as Concorde is pushing into the air at over 250 mph. The wing, so rigid and awkward on the ground, is now an alu- minium blade sufficiently sharp and delicate to slice through interfolding tissues of air and lean into the void. Its four giant Olympus turbojets — engines originally developed to power the Vulcan nuclear strike bomber — are burning fuei at a rate of 8 gallons a second, and, as the plane begins to climb, the temper— ature of its exhaust gas will reach 1000”. The effect of this inter~ play of thrust and lift is both to frighten with threats of constraint and to beckon with hopes of flight. The ambient air, so thickly present over Heathrow, will be filled with the crack— ling, rocketing boom that I. H. Prynne described in his ’Airport Poem: Ethics of Survival’ as ’the century roar', a sound which, at well over 100 decibels, measures out the terminal point of the epoch of flight: ’The century roar is a desert carrying / too 19 An Air France Concorde, 1977. much away; the plane skids off / with an easy hopeless depar- :ure,’ undertaken seemingly without friction, but also, perhaps, without control; to be so much a part of such a ’hopeless’ move— ment is to be confirmed as a passive subject, a mere Spectator.” On a spring afternoon in 1997, the photographer Wolfgang Filmans, standing on the threshold of a runway at Heathrow, pointed his camera in the direction of this ’century roar’. The result, one of a series of photographs exhibited the foll0wing year under the title Concorde, carries that familiar sense of a dis» possessed spectator watching aircraft take off, but places it within a vanishing perspective set against a background of sky iiat seems variously to be framed by, or infinitely far removed from, the architectural manifestations of airspace; the distant terminals glistening in the fading light. Built to exclude unau- i'iorized intrusions, the tall perimeter fence seems highly secure, to military standard; prefabricated concrete panels are sur— mounted by wire mesh, and topped off with barbed wire. In the still, chill air, several pieces of shredded translucent plastic, the :emains of wind-blown carrier bags, dangle limply from the wire, while in front...
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