Speed, the sensation one gets when driving fast, was described by Aldous Huxley as the single new pleasure invented by modernity. The Speed Handbook
is a virtuoso exploration of Huxley’s claim. Enda Duffy shows how the experience of speed has always been political and how it has affected nearly all aspects of modern culture. Primarily a result of the mass-produced automobile, the experience of speed became the quintessential way for individuals to experience modernity, to feel modernity in their bones.
Duffy plunges full-throttle into speed’s “adrenaline aesthetics,” offering deft readings of works ranging from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, through J. G. Ballard’s Crash, to the cautionary consumerism of Ralph Nader. He describes how speed changed understandings of space, distance, chance, and violence; how the experience of speed was commodified in the dawning era of mass consumption; and how society was incited to abhor slowness and desire speed. He examines how people were trained by new media such as the cinema to see, hear, and sense speed, and how speed, demanded of the efficient assembly-line worker, was given back to that worker as the chief thrill of leisure. Assessing speed’s political implications, Duffy considers how speed pleasure was offered to citizens based on criteria including their ability to pay and their gender, and how speed quickly became something to be patrolled by governments. Drawing on novels, news reports, photography, advertising, and much more, Duffy provides a breakneck tour through the cultural dynamics of speed.
Introduction: The Adrenaline Aesthetic: Speed as Culture 1
1. Speed Theory 17
2. Thriller: The Incitement to Speed 59
3. Gaining Speed: Car Culture, Adrenaline, and the Experience of Speed 111
4. Blur: Rapid Eye Movement and the Visuality of Speed 157
5. Crash Culture 199
Epilogue: Overdrive 261
“The Speed Handbook is a tour de force, a crash-course in speed and space. The effervescent prose and the quicksilver deployment of Enda Duffy’s scholarship are such that the book fairly vibrates with insight and cogency. As Duffy catalogs speed in its many indices and instances, most of the familiar genres and all of the modernist pieties we thought we knew are overturned. And the rubric of speed gives Duffy license to range over the domains of children’s literature or contemporary advertising or car races with the same lavish attention he gives to avant-garde art or modernist totems such as James Joyce. I am deeply impressed by this book and indebted to its energy, salience, and comprehensiveness.”—Jennifer Wicke, University of Virginia
“The Speed Handbook is not just a dazzling book but a necessary one. There is nothing else like it. Enda Duffy insists on the political stakes of speed, persuasively connecting the emergence of speed as the ‘only new pleasure invented by modernity’ with commodity fetishism, the sensorium, gender, ‘endocolonization,’ ‘adrenaline aesthetics,’ and social control. This superlative work will become required reading for scholars of modernism, historians of technology, materialist critics, and even egg-headed car lovers.”—Paul K. Saint-Amour, author of The Copywrights: Intellectual Property and the Literary Imagination