JG Ballard reviews The Spectacle of Flight: Aviation and the Western Imagination 1920-1950, by Robert Wohl, in the Guardian.

I have read, and deeply enjoyed, Professor Wohl’s previous book on the subject of the cultural symbology of aviation, A Passion for Wings: Aviation and the Western Imagination, 1908 to 1918. I am quite looking forward to reading this newer book as well. The period covered in the latest book represents the zenith of aviation as a pop-culture referent. Therefore, it’s the period in which the aviation archetypes that have always gripped me first gained wide purchase in the popular imagination.

While I loved the prior book, I found it overly documentarian. This complaint probably stems from Wohl’s profession, that of historian. I craved not merely encyclopedic paragraphs stating who did what and how given expression of the symbology of flight was disseminated, but also what it may have meant at the time. That’s not to say Wohl doesn’t provide interpretation, only that documentation is his primary focus.

While I’m at it, what a treat it is to read Ballard’s typically dystopian dry wit on the subject. Maybe he’ll take a crack at it – Plane Crash, anyone?

(Given that my folks are currently winging off to this week’s god-knows-where – is it China? – my own black joke is really quite inapproriate. Let’s hope I lack reasons to regret come tomorrow.)