Did anyone else read this passage slowly or was it just me? Comparing The Mad Train by Henry Poulaille with The Origins of Surrealism by Charles Moffat, edited by Suzanne MacNevin; I find that Poulaille mirrors some of the views of Salvador Dali where the “three constants of life were sexual instinct, the sentiment of death, and the anguish of space and time” (Ballard i). I feel that Poulaille’s work is more on the side of Veristic Surrealists as opposed to Automatists and that his subconscious images have meaning.
Maybe this is grasping, but Poulaille’s story may not be about sexual instinct, but more about both sexes dying during the war. This is a clear intentional focus as men were mostly the ones in the trenches during WWI. Women lose men through death and the returning men are lost to PTSD, which disrupts society, brings confusion, and “no one will escape” (Poulaille 41) in this post-WWI world. Poulaille and Dali relate more with death, space, and time.
Poulaille expresses that the destination is “death, collision” (Poulaille 44), and “the passengers are mute with horror” (Poulaille 46). This makes me think that society is still dealing with post-WWI trauma with no solutions. He also gives meaning to the dream by saying “the train is crossing a land of nightmares. Everything has lost its character” (Poulaille 41). I feel like all one thousand passengers are trapped and they can only watch from the inside as their fate is decided by the two men in the cabin. I guess this would be similar to how a military battle scene would work for a soldier. A soldier is given a command and they follow the orders unable to change their path. The focus here seems to be the inability to make your own choice, you are at the mercy of the cabin boys or the war commanders. I wonder if this increased the opposition to the draft?
Poulaille displaces space and time similar to Dali, in that the passengers are confused, silent, and paralyzed. Maybe this dream is a reenactment of a specific war scene and the landscape that is rushing by is like the bullets flying over your head. The train goes a “kilometers [every] half [a] minute” (Poulaille 44), which is 74.5 mph. In the 1920s the Ford Model T would travel at 20-28mph, so this train’s speed would seem unstable and lead to the reader questioning the reality of time and space. The illustrations like the lake appearing to go "out like a glow-worm” (Poulaille 44) gives the image of fantasy. I wonder if this leads the reader to get an out-of-body feeling. At this point, the reader might be questioning how all this is possible or what is reality.
This last comment is a little off-topic, but why is the number one thousand mentioned 6 times in this story? What is the significance of that number during the 1920s? Is it biblical?