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The Incident at Modane

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This article uses a recent event – disruptions to tourism by 2009's Icelandic volcanic ash cloud – as a cultural pause within which to reflect on the nature of history and modernity. It asks how we look at history and what we look for in history. It compares today's tourists with those of the eighteenth-century ‘Grand Tour’ with an emphasis on Rome. It refers to the historical methods of Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer, and also to Sigmund Freud's ‘screen memories’. Films by Michelangelo Antonioni and Peter Bogdanovich appear before the probing meditations turn up a historic catastrophe in Modane, France; an event that then becomes symbolic of our plight as dependent ‘passengers’ in a modernity, which we have falsely presumed to know and direct.

Keywords: Antonioni; Eyjafjallajökull; Grand Tour; L'Eclisse; Modane; Rome; Walter Benjamin; ash cloud; screen memories; volcano

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: May 1, 2011

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