Driving Us Crazy: Fast Cars, Madness, and the Avant-Garde in Octave Mirbeau’s La 628-E8

In Octave Mirbeau’s La 628-E8 (1907), a fragmented autobiographical novel, the author recounts his fantastic experiences zipping around Europe in an early automobile. The novel depicts the experience of viewing landscapes in rapid flashes as aberrant or even insane. The author calls automobile travel a mental illness that impacts the mind and body. Recent scholarship has likened this change in perception to Impressionism and Expressionism. Interweaving nineteenth-century neurology with contemporary theory, I focus on the way in which new transportation technologies produce mental disturbances as well as creative vision. This connection can also be seen in later works of autofiction by F. T. Marinetti, Virginia Woolf and Jack Kerouac. I argue that La 628-E8 is an early example of posthumanistic fiction that blurs the boundaries between madman and machine as well as those between technology and text, thus contributing to a revolutionary aesthetic that is emblematic of the modern era.

Claire Nettleton
Volume 42.3-4