On the Reverie and Detachment of the American Road Trip | Literary Hub

Roads furnish our imaginations with images of freedom. Journeys like Kerouac’s have come to stand for a sense of unimpeded progress and self-discovery, an open horizon connoting limitless possibility. Roads conjure what it feels like to be modern. They open up the world for us, but, as Emerson realized, they also dictate the direction we take. Roads accompany us for so much of our lives—how much time do any of us spend more than a hundred meters from a road, or out of earshot of their whispering voices?—and yet we have somehow trained ourselves not to really notice them at all.

In 1983, Vanity Fair commissioned the artist David Hockney to illustrate a story about the road trips Vladimir Nabokov undertook when he was writing Lolita. As he researched and wrote the novel in the 1950s, Nabokov crisscrossed the United States, driven always by his wife, Vera, in a 240,000-kilometer tapestry that stitched the east coast to the west. Hockney’s own road trip began with a journey through the Mojave Desert during an April storm. His subject was proving elusive, and the weather didn’t help. But the next morning, after some further desultory driving and photographing, Hockney proposed to his driver that they might find something promising at an intersection they had passed the day before. It took some time, but eventually they found it, and from the images he took over the next eight days Hockney would compose one of the 20th century’s most iconic images of the road.
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