Freeways, Highways, & Underpasses

As I read Tropic of Orange, I was immediately draw to the highway images.  Thanks to twenty-four hour news stations, I have seen many high-speed chases down 805, 1, or some other highway in LA.   While there are a few chase scenes in the novel–Gabriel and Emi after the woman and child in a taxi; the Jaguar and the bus–this wasn’t what attracted me to the highways . Rather, I was draw to the apparent use of the highway as map in the novel, albeit not one that is easy to trace.   

Yamashita is able to have her characters situate themselves in connection to the roads.  Sig traffic accidents happen, the “NewsNow” van arrives on the scene, cars pile up for miles.  Many homeless men and women, such as Manzanar, are described as living under it or compose music by it.  Goods such as oranges and body parts are transported along its veins.  Each character could be placed on or around the highway, thus creating a map of sorts.  However, I don’t think the map would lead the reader anywhere, but would be constricting in some points and expanding in others.  It was this idea that made me think of the staircase in House of Leaves that continually alters and changes on itself.   The highway, like the staircase, traps and confines characters to enclosed spaces.  Such as when Emi gets caught in traffic on page 58,  “Doing the Joan Didion freeway thang.  You know, slouching around L.A.  Sorry, babe, but it’s hard to feel exhilarated going five miles an hour.”  Other characters are situated and sometimes confined in cars–Buzzworm sets up a semipermanent headquarters in a gold Mercedes (186), Mara Sadat does a live TV broadcast from “the open hood of a rusting Cadillac” which is filled with dirt and to grow herbs and vegetables (191).  At other times, the highway seems to stretch in unusual ways, “Harbor Freeway.  It’s growing.  Stretched this way and that.  In fact, this whole business from Pico-Union on one side to East L.A. this side and South Central over here, its pushing out. Damn if it’s not growing into everything!” (189-190). These images seems to link with Foucault’s “Of Other Spaces” essay that we read many weeks ago.  He could bring to the table a discussion of the highway as a public or private space.  (I think a case could be made for its functioning as both.) On page 23, Foucault says, “We do not live inside a void that could be colored with diverse shades of light, we live inside  a set of relations that delineates sites, which are irreducible to one another and absolutely not superimposable on one another.” Couldn’t these “delineate[d] sites” be transfered to the way we view highways in the novel–a way in which to organize our lives?

Another way to look at the highways could be to see them as another character in the novel.  Adams briefly touches on Yamashita’s humanization of the highway, “The great flow of humanity [runs] below and beyond his feet in every direction, pumping and pulsating, that blood connection, the great heartbeat of a great city” (35).  Adams contrasts Yamashita’s anthropomorphizing of the highway to Pychon’s passive description.  As I was reading Tropic of Orange, I found that not only was the highway given human qualities, but in some cases it served as another character making an appearance in almost every chapter.