His son accidentally reveals the truth:
“The truly distinctive feature of modern life,” he wrote, “is neither the unattached individual nor the unconstrained state. It is what comes in between them: society.” The advent of the railway marked this historical turn. Riding a train became the physical embodiment of a society moving collectively—not just through space, but through time.
This was the metaphor for trains that the historian Tony Judt, perhaps with a healthy dose of deformation professionelle, firmly held. What strikes me when I read him on railroads, though, is how his writing bears strikingly little resemblance to the man I grew up with—Tony as a private individual, and as a father.
For that Tony, the railway was decidedly solitary and ahistorical. The two trains he cared about the most—one in a tiny Swiss town called Mürren, the other in a slightly larger but also tiny Vermont town called Rutland—were not about going somewhere collectively. They were a way to enter a state of timelessness where the past didn’t matter—where history didn’t exist.
The expression “deformation professionelle” is a new one on me, since I’m just a working class dummy and all.
Sounds an awful lot like something the rest of us call “careerist CYA bullshit.”
Frankly, the collectivity of trains, and their fixed routes, have always bothered me, as opposed to the far superior independence represented (and encouraged) by he American automobile.
I can’t help but wonder if the “train” mentality has poisoned the European (and Indian) mind — or maybe their poisoned minds led them to embrace them.
Certainly, the Holocaust would have been impossible without trains.