Several years ago, a man by the astonishing name of Breedlove became the holder of the world land speed record. He did this thing at Bonneville Salt Flats, in Utah, in a rocket-powered car called The Spirit of America. For two runs over a one-mile course, this Breedlove averaged a little over 600 miles per hour … slightly faster than the legally established speed of a passenger jet. Had the ride been uneventful, we may expect that he would have had nothing at all to say about it. But, as it turned out, something did happen.
At the end of his second run, at a speed of about 620 miles per hour, as he was attempting to slow down, a brake mechanism exploded, both chutes failed to operate, and the car went entirely out of control, sheared off a number of handy telephone poles, topped a small rise, turned upside down, flew through the air, and landed in a salt pond. Incredibly, Breedlove was unhurt.
He was interviewed immediately after the wreck. I have heard the tape. It lasts an hour and 35 minutes, during which time Breedlove delivers a connected account of what he thought and did during a period of some 8.7 seconds; his narrative amounts to about 9,500 words. In the course of the interview, Breedlove everywhere gives evidence of condensing, of curtailing; not wishing to bore anyone, he is doing his polite best to make a long story short. His ecstatic utterance represents, according to my calculation, a temporal expansion in the ratio of some 655 to one. Proust, Joyce, Beckett, seem only occasionally to achieve such explicatory plenitude.
But perhaps Breedlove’s most amazing remark came before all that. Rescuers, expecting to find him mangled as by a tiger, discovered him, instead, intact, prone at the pool’s edge, still half in the water. He looked up and said to them, very distinctly: “For my next act, I’ll set myself on fire.”
Excerpt from Hollis Frampton: Circles of Confusion, Visual Studies Workshop Press, New York. 1983