Rear-view mirror: vision, time, modernity and the anthropocene
Garbutt, R 2017, 'Rear-view mirror: vision, time, modernity and the anthropocene', Continuum, vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 277-284.
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The rear-view mirror is a metaphoric favourite in popular culture. This exploratory essay positions the rear-view mirror as, predominantly, a quintessentially modern device for reimagining the past and its relationship to the present and future. Combined with that icon of modern economies, the motorcar, it gives a sense of a paved journey towards the future while from the driver’s seat allowing a framed, receding view of the past. With distance that past can be critically held: ‘it now makes sense’. This sensemaking relies upon a spatial rendering of time that makes past, present and future concrete. However, this dominant metaphor of the rear-view mirror in popular culture is supplemented by less certain uses: it can also evoke the uncanny; bring spectres from the past into the present; or heighten our enmeshment with structural power. This essay explores this terrain of the rear-view mirror in examples from radio, song, music video and film, and then questions the efficacy of the metaphor in the anthropocene. The rear-view mirror, then, is an entry point for considering our engagement with the past, present and future, and how and where is our gaze directed and for whom.