The Speed Handbook

Velocity, Pleasure, Modernism

The Speed Handbook

Post-Contemporary Interventions

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Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 18 illustrations Published: July 2009

Author: Enda Duffy

Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Cultural Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Theory

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.


“[A] a must-read for any speed demon.” — Colin Marshall, Santa Barbara Independent

“[A] brilliant book . . . .” — Howard P. Segal, Times Higher Education

“Duffy writes with style and passion on speed as somatic modernity. . . . “ — Brian Lennon, Modern Fiction Studies

“Duffy's book makes an important contribution with its meticulous analysis of the early culture of speed.” — David N. Lucsko, Technology and Culture

“Enda Duffy’s historical study of space and speed is a work of great breadth and immense utility. . . . While the active enjoyment of speed may in part antedate the modernist period, this well-researched and superbly-written book on speed, the automobile and the effects speed technology has on its human users in the first decades of the twentieth century, will be of great interest to both historians and scholars of modern literature, art and culture.” — J.B. Maney, Journal of Modern Literature

“The author is also, besides of being a thrilling writer, a great close-reader. The Speed Handbook considerably renews our interpretation of books like Heart of Darkness (read as a complaint against slowness, and hence much more ambivalent in its attitude against Western modernity) or Crash (read as an example of going backwards into the future, the analogy of sex and crash culture preventing us from seeing what is really new, namely the crash). But most of all it is an impressive attempt to reconstruct the speed culture as it emerged at the end of the 19th culture in all possible cultural spheres: publicity, journalism, popular culture, philosophy, and the social fabric in its whole.” — Jan Baetens, Leonardo Reviews

“The scope and ambition of Duffy's book demand attention from scholars of early-twentieth-century culture and of the cultural roles of technology. Scholars may not take up his calls for ‘speed criticism’ (47) and a ‘politics of speed’ (213), but they will be refreshed by his apt analyses of particular cultural products in the context of the car and stirred to pay close attention to the transformative effect of automobile life on culture. For students of the novel, Duffy's Handbook furnishes useful models for analyzing novelistic representations of the experience of speed across high and low genres. “ — Andrew Goldstone, Studies in the Novel

“This is at once a celebration of speed and a rigorous interrogation of the theory and concept of speed, a book that looks at the fascination with speed as it delves into its potentially lethal consequences. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers.” — G. A. Foster, Choice

“This is promising material, and the book will no doubt orient those new to the topic. Duffy makes a point of engaging multiple media. . . .” — Jessica Burstein, MLQ

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


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Price: $27.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Enda Duffy is Professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of The Subaltern Ulysses.

Table of Contents Back to Top
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

Notes 273

Bibliography 285

Index 293
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2010 Modernist Studies Association Book Prize

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4442-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4430-8
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