Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Textual Life of Airports

I'm currently finishing my book The Textual Life of Airports, which will be published by Continuum this coming fall.

Here is a brief abstract:

This book is about the common stories of airports that circulate in everyday life, and about the secret stories of airports—the strange or hidden narratives that do not always fit into ordinary notions about these sites. The book considers how airports figure into a U.S. imaginary: as sites where individual identity is confirmed, as places of public display, as contested zones of private space and security, and as complex arenas for nationalism and patriotism. The book also reflects on the philosophic problems that airport narratives house: contradictory senses of time, disoriented feelings of belonging or exile, and confused perceptions of space and place. Ten chapters cumulatively demonstrate how airport stories permeate the culture of flight.

The Textual Life of Airports turns to literature not merely as one form of cultural representation among others; rather, I treat literature as a critical method for thinking about how airports function culturally, socially, psychologically, philosophically—and finally, ecologically. I argue that airports depend on textuality to a great degree, as much as for their straightforward operations (such as the daily performances and narratives that play out all the way from the check-in stand to the departure gate), as for their everyday mysteries and inoperative moments (for instance, how a thousand unique stories can be contained in and canceled out by phrases like “weather delay” and “lost baggage”).

Throughout this book I linger on how airports read, or how they are interpreted in a range of contexts. These readings and interpretations can tell us a lot about how and why humans travel by air: what beliefs humans invest in flight, and what mysteries still lie beneath the sky, on the ground.