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where

Easy Riders is truly a quixotic enterprise. Just like Cervantes' wanna-be-knight of yore, we've set out on the road, aiming at the impossible, to produce an unabridged anthology of U.S. American cultural artefacts that are, in one way or the other, concerned with some concrete or metaphorical road; and to come up with an exhaustive survey of all thinkable meanings that the concept of the road has so far assumed in U.S. American sociocultural history. Or in other words, fearlessly and stoutheartedly to brave the giants.

There is a small—yet significant—difference between Don Quixote and us. Cervantes' anti-hero was pretty surprised when the giants turned out to be nothing but windmills. We know that our quest is doomed from the beginning. The dark forces that block our path to true chivalry are the boundless scope of available material and the narrow limitations of our resources, human and otherwise. But hey — will that keep us from mounting our steeds? Certainly not. Not refraining from a ride that has no end, we, the gallant riders of the postmodern age, are going to try to track down whatever variants of the road there are in novels, songs, poems, films, short stories, music videos, commercials, or what have you. And we are going to try to make the results available to you on this site. So, if all this sounds to you like a project for decades to come, and if you, too, want to be a man or woman of La Mancha, feel free to join in and assist us. (e-mail)

 

why

This site is, well, about the diverse manifestations of "the road" in U.S. American culture. But wait: why the road? Why have we chosen an outdated mode of travel, an anachronistic remnant of mankindīs belief in civilization and boundless progress, a timeworn symbol of a questionable freedom as the focus of our attention? Or, in a nutshell, why Born to Be Wild, Easy Riders, and On the Road, when there is techno, rap, and hip-hop, Pulp Fiction and The Horse Whisperer, and—yes, the Internet?

Our project has not been guided by feelings of nostalgia (only, that is, though sometimes we are not quite sure about that.) We believe that in the U.S., especially in our century, the road has been a concept so powerfully present in public perception (in cultural memory, in the collective cultural experience—you name it) that its importance can hardly be overestimated. From folk ballads and travel blues standards to the road hymns and commercial block-busters of rock superstars; from 18th century travel accounts by little-known writers to Sal’s and Dean’s restless crossing and recrossing of the continent in Kerouac’s road epic; and from Fonda’s, Hopper’s, and Nicholson’s famous search for the America of the 1970s to Thelma’s and Louise’s female bonding. In music, in literature, and in film, conceptualizations of "the road" have served so many purposes and have been put to so many (ab)uses that a backward glance upon the places that have been traveled and the things that have been passed by, picked up, or abandoned along the way has appeared to us as an idea as good as any.

 

what

Perhaps the title of our project is a bit misleading. Easy Riders isn't about reaching a final destination (where). So, as our primary aim is to be going, not to get somewhere, the question is rather, "What we hope to be doing along the way."

To put it differently: with this project, the process is more important than the result. Those of you, especially, who feel a slight inclination towards "Eastern Philosophy" know that arriving is not what counts; the path is more important than the destination; along the way is where the traveler finds, or does not find, true fulfillment (and it is not for nothing that Buddha has chosen the metaphor of the road). For us, this is to say that the megabytes of linked data in the form of this WWW site which you are viewing this very moment is nothing but a reflection of the current status of our ongoing search for the road (and even to supplant current status with latest result would be wrong in this context, for it suggests a development towards an terminal point, a definitive point of arrival somewhere in the future). Regard this search as just another incident of an unending quest, like that of Kerouacīs riders who were not overtly concerned about where they would end up; consider it a hedonistic refusal to produce final meaning, to arrive at ultimate conclusions; think of it as a joyride by folks who love working their way through, digging into, talking about American culture and who do not intend to take themselves and their jobs too seriously. From whatever angle you choose to view this project, do not forget that we actually want to have—and do—and want you to have—fun with Easy Riders: On the Road in American Culture.

 

how

We have never been particularly ardent devotees of the written word — of the written word only, that is. Yes, whether any critical project can do away with writing for good may be questionable. We believe, however, that the presentation of images and sounds can be an equally effective means of comment and critique; and for incorporating text, images, and sounds in one and the same document, the Internet—strictly speaking, the WorldWideWeb with its particular hypertext-format—is a unique tool.

Such a combination of different media seems particularly useful for a project concerned with, among others, literature, film, and music. We feel that we should not merely be writing about all the books, movies, and songs, but offer you all the interesting quotes and excerpts, pictures, chords, and tunes firsthand. This, we believe, is where true fun comes in.

At the same time, we believe that the format of hypertext allows for experiments with the formal possibilities of cultural criticism. In creating a WWW document, we can leave the beaten track of the traditional critical essay, its narrative linearity and closedness, and venture into the wilderness of the HTML protocol. There, we will try to play with virtually three-dimensional multimedia narratives which, in trying to foreground the role of the reader and open up rather than close meaning, may quite possibly ask more questions than they can answer. By employing these fascinating possibilities, we turn our backs on didacticism and notions of lecturing, and instead create an environment that encourages you to explore critically what we are putting together.

And, yes, lest we forget the purely pragmatic reasons for using an Internet website as our vehicle: never has publishing been so easy—and on a worldwide scale, too! And hardly ever has it been less difficult to encourage you, the readers, to provide feedback and criticism and to participate directly in this project!

 

Comments, suggestions, and potential contributions are welcome as this web site wishes to be open and encourage participation.
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(easy.rider.anglistik@univie.ac.at)


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