Logistics Entry II: Daddy, What’s a Train?

Daddy, What’s a train? Is it something I can ride?

Does it carry lots of grown up folks and little kids inside

Is it bigger than our house? – oh, how can I explain

When my little boy asks me, “Daddy, what’s a train?”

-Utah Philips, “Daddy, What’s a Train?”

The second day of Logistics was a train ride through the Swedish countryside. We roll past small towns, industrial areas, fields and hills. It’s straddling space between a cut shot from Tarkovsky’s Stalker and a real-time train hopping video on YouTube. However, this is one of the most notably truncated areas of the film—and that absence invites discourse. 

Watching Prano Bailey-Bond’s film Censor is a jarring exploration of memory, loss, and the Deleuzoguattarian fascist that lives in each of our heads. It’s also a subtle exploration of our relationship to failing transit infrastructure. The protagonist, Enid, spends much of her screen time anxiously passing through underground light rail stations. 

Transit is often a site of horror in film. Midnight Meat Train, Train to Busan, Christine, Titane, we could do this all day. If you think of transit in a horror movie, it always leads to uncertainty—never utopia. 

Even the car ride at the end of Texas Chainsaw Massacre serves as a vehicle for horror. We manage to escape Leatherface, but, now knowing “who will survive,” we never know “what will be left of them?” Sally still lives in a world that has the potential for creating Leatherfaces and, from that, there is no escape. 

Transit is a site of collective anxiety. We are made anxious by both our sense of being caught in the gears and by the knowledge that freedom is so close. Our access to transportation is mediated by a larger position within a society designed for specific types of transit. Being forced to rely on increasingly degrading public transit infrastructure is the exact type of personal and social anxiety that summons the gothic. 

Each freight conveyance is a reminder that a Zune gets effectively free travel across the world, but this movement is largely inaccessible to—essentially—everyone along the path of said Zune. The workers mining raw materials, handling the shipping, selling Zunes in shops are all geographically stuck as a function of capitals movement.

All trains are ghost trains—their cargo is our lost futures. In this ghost train transit, we see the potential for utopian movement, but we can not access it.

Utah Philip’s song “Daddy, What’s a Train?” Was written decades ago, but the core message has only gotten more and more resonant. Logistics forces a re-integration of the presence of the vehicular technology of transit, but underscores our absence from it. These vehicles exist only to move Zunes from place to place—the presence of people is incidental. 

Hauntology is often summed down to the mere presence of ghosts, but that loses a depth to this conversation. We are those ghosts. We are in a process of becoming the ghosts of our own lost futures. Our absence from the mechanical systems of transit in Logistics is a haunting by absence.  

“Daddy, What’s a Train?” Speculates a future moment when children have no material connection to transit by rail, but by the age of this song, we have already been those children. Our memories have been shaped by a chain of events stretching several decades from the moment of that song to today. The central question of Utah’s song doesn’t lose relevance, but instead gains an increased hauntological weight.

This leaves us hauling a gothic potential. Everything is brutally, horribly possible. The same potentiality that creates our near-total absence of freedom of movement carries within itself the seed of the great revelry that is that movement’s return. There is the potential of a moment where ghost trains, and their spectral riders, roar into time-gnawed stations delayed, but finally back on track.

Ghosts are moments, potentials. Every act of memory is a necromancy. Our transit through Logistics dredges these haunted moments from rail to wave. 

—Cinecartographer Darrow