By the Way: Research on the Roadside

Elsa Court image

It was not always clear why I, a non-driver in my late twenties, had chosen to research the road and its architectural landscape. My PhD studied representations of the American roadside and its commercial structures – the motel, the gas station, the highway service area in its various denominations, the roadside café, the toilet cubicle, and, occasionally, the roadside sign – as global icons of modern America. This liminal spot between land and road, capitalised upon to ease the fluidity of motorised motion, seemed especially meaningful in the American landscape, where the land is vast and roads cut through desert and empty prairies.

The roadside as space spoke to my sense of the road as a passive traveller and reader of literature. As a representational space, I thought, the roadside is often paradoxically a dead-end: an embodiment of indirection and loss. Continue reading

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Your PhD, Your Brain, and Your B-Movies

Your brain – big, buxom, full of neurons, and a pineal gland, and an amygdala, and a basal ganglia, and then some – is what is doing your PhD. It reads your stuff, it writes your stuff, and it decides which Sainsbury’s korma to microwave whilst you email your supervisor to postpone your stuff.

“Everyone has a hidden emotional motive behind their PhD,” my friend always says, “what is yours?” Day to day, I write about connections between contemporary French philosophy, cinema and neuroscience, so I like to think that I was always aware of the brain. Since undergoing an out-of-the-blue Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy this Christmas due to a rogue blockage in one of my brain’s water tanks, however, I could not be more aware of it.

I have realised more than ever that I owe it to my brain to figure out who it is and what it does. So as well as using it to think about other brain-workings in French philosophy and cinema, I have decided to get to know my own much better. I have decided that I’m going to treat this throbbing alien in my skull with the respect it deserves – like the true Genovian princess it really is – and that this journey might as well be a voluptuous, bawdy experience, and needn’t necessarily start with the MRI scanner.  

An unforeseen delight which has emmerged from my research – between libraries and hospitals and cinemas – has been the brain B-Movie. B for Brain, if you can stomach that degree of tweeness. Whatever your own reason for wanting to explore the brain writing your PhD, here are three gloriously campy places to start:

The Brain from Planet Arous

This 1957 favourite, directed by Nathan H. Juran, does exactly what it says on the tin. A brain-shaped alien by the name of Gor descends to earth and takes over the body of a young scientist, using his powers to destroy the planet bit by bit. Meanwhile, another of the brain-shaped race also descends to earth, explaining that Gor is a wanted terrorist on their own planet. It is found that Gor’s weak spot is his Fissure of Rolando, or the central sulcus: a line that separates the parietal lobe from the frontal lobe in the brain. Continue reading