Essay, Research Paper: Railway Journey By Schivelbusch 

Book Reports

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The thesis for Schivelbusch’s book The Railway Journey seems to be that the
railroad altered the traveler’s perceptions of space, time, distance, nature
and the senses. Although the means of a quick and reliable mode of transport was
and is an important part of industrialization, it denaturalized and
desensualized the passengers (Schivelbusch 20). Shrinking and reshaping the
world it touches with industrial fingers and alienating the riders to the world
around them. With fast and reliable steam power engines replacing previously
expensive and unreliable natural sources of energy such as water or animal man
is released from the constraints of nature. These engines do not succumb to the
whims of weather or exhaustion and are reliable enough to keep and daily
regulated schedule despite wind or rain. Yet, by replacing the age-old use of
the horse and carriage and through sheer speed they have made the world smaller
and more accessible to the people. Where in the olden days people experienced
every step of the way with their senses now all they have to do is step on a
train and step out onto a different place. The railroad has annihilated the
space and time, which were characterized by the old transport technology (36).
To the perception of the people who had previously experienced every step of
their journeys the world seemed to have shrunk. The detachment of man from
nature and his perception of nature is finalized in the construction of the
railways (20). Since the ideal railway is hard, level and straight, they were
not laid out sympathetically to the landscape but instead cut and carve their
way through in a straight line. Nothing gets in their way, not river mountain or
canyon. The riders of these straight speeding bullets see nothing but a
disorienting sight of the landscape shooting past to quickly for them to focus
on. The train creates a barrier between themselves and the landscape making them
detached viewers of an untouchable scene. This barrier is later enhanced by the
telegraph poles that began to be widely used to regulate railway traffic. Now
“the traveler perceived the landscape as it was filtered through the machine
ensemble (24)” The use of railways to transport goods began to be felt in the
very architecture of the time. With the use of availability of previously hard
to acquire items, such as glass and steel, the “railroad reorganized space
(45)”. These new materials bent the contrast between light and shadow making
it uniform and absent of contrast, a disorienting combination to people used to
rock and wood. In the very beginning of the book, culture is described as having
an organic quality, if so it is now an inorganic culture. This culture is now
detached from the organic. As the railways expanded their reach they began to
affect the “special presence (40)”of various commodities and towns which
were once associated with a certain region. This desensualization of the regions
is described as losing their ‘auras’ and so no longer have the special
qualities that it once has. No longer do people have to travel long and rugged
distances for a certain fruit or to visit a certain town, now they only have to
hop on a train then hop off. Thus the perception of individuality is lost. The
changes of perception that the railway caused are precursor of the
denaturalization and desensualization that is abundant is modern industrial
society. Schivelbusch’s book gives interesting evidence to this thesis. By its
manipulation of the world by the railways which altered the old world views of
travel and nature it changes the definition of man’s world view and the place
man sees himself as being in the landscape around him.
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