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Rant #29
(published March 1, 2001)
by Fritz Swanson

There is a falseness in trains.

An optimism had, at the turn of the century, been invested in trains and their forward motion. Always moving forward, onward, golden toward the horizon. Trains to take you away from where you don't want to be. Trains that take you on to where you most want to be. Trains to take you on a summer holiday, to a resort, to a happy camp in the woods.

The train is an iron oven, a burning chest, a boiler producing power and energy and motion. Like the stove and the fire before it, the train is a place for comfort and closeness and warmth.

Trains have only three main cars: the riding car, the dining car and the sleeping car. And thus, like the fiery technologies which preceded it, the train is an encapsulation of the private inner space of home and hearth. Bed, board and fire. Just as the campfire cast a glow which transcribed the human space, just as the home oven or hearth spread only as far as the walls of the house, the train transcribes the whole of a country. The extent of a trains route is the extent of a safe home.

The train is the implicit social construct of society made solid and real. It is the central documentary expression of civility. As in the ancient world, civility is defined by the willingness of the countryside to open its arms and doors to the traveler. Societies are, have been and shall be judged on their civility. Thus it is with the Odyssey, a gaggle of wanderers moving from bad host to worst, the central theme of a post-war epic, the re-constitution of society through a re-establishment of civility. Trains were the 19th century response to this longstanding societal demand. The traveler, the citizen, always protected, warmed, fed. The journey itself became a sheltered space, an asylum from storms and cold and hunger.

Heat, comfort, closeness, security. The train is the literal document, the reality, the thing on which civilization is based. Full of meals and sleep and family and love, always on the move, at a modern speed, transforming the past into the future while you slept. Enter the sleeping compartment, drift away as the train pulls away from a childhood past and wake up the next morning an adult. The journey of both space and age crossed by a skeletal steel trellis bridge.

The train encompasses all of a country and the country becomes, implicitly, an entire home space. A perfect protected sphere where travel is unimpeded and life is free. The train is the experience of the nursery, closed, protected, warm and fed. The train is the promise of the nursery forever.

Auschwitz is to the train what the gingerbread house is to the woods. To subvert the truth of the train's security is to undermine the foundation of civilization. Just as every house on a journey may contain a wicked witch, now every train might end, terminal, at a shower and an oven.

The subversion of the train, the falseness of the train, is the death of truth and reality and safety. If the train is the nursery of the public space, and the train cannot be safe, we are safe no where. Our parents leer at us, hungry both sexually and physically. We are morsels exposed to the open sky like Prometheus on his stone. To receive is dangerous. To give is dangerous. All is encroaching. Fire burns everything.

The fact of the train subverted is the whole of society immolated. The baking oven, rich with the smell of cake and spice is warped, a crematorium in disguise. The wolf has crawled up through the dry vagina of our grandmother and become her. Has always been her. The dentures only covering fangs. He fills her out and howls. When we kill him, again and again, we fill his stomach with stones as a punishment for his denial of hospitality.

Stones are the children of the future. We hope that all of our grandmothers (wolves as they evilly are) had only been pregnant with stones, thus freeing us from the horror of the lives we have been born into. If only we had all been born stones. If only the breasts had been flint and the milk gravel. The trains are all driving deep into tunnels which lead only to fiery hells. The future is our grave, incinerating backward through time.

Dreams of the childhood trauma are all actually premonitions. We see forward along the line the fire which is drawing us along the track, beckoning. It is flickering, and we see the smoke rising ahead. The train is powered along by our own bodies, burning, And the food is our own flesh, baked, fried, spiced and seasoned. The beds are bodies in mass graves. The lampshades covered in the skin of brothers. Our teeth become our own rings of gold.

We are all in the forest now and the path has been lost. Secretly we remember that the path was carved by our parents and it leads only to the gingerbread house. Like Hansel and Gretel we are disposed of along that path because food is short and our parents are selfish hungry monsters. Or is it out of pity, wishing that they had only given birth to hungerless stones?

We will never know. All we see is a forest forever with no hope of food, or light or warmth or shelter. Only storms and wolves.

Trains are a myth. But what was the original subversion of trains? Was it the transformation of the nursery into a charnel house, re-directing our faith in trains toward the ovens of death? Or was it the obscuring of the forest and the woods we must travel across carefully by the delicate silk brocade of the sleeping carriage walls?

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