Disastrous Communication: Walter Benjamin's Die Eisenbahnkatastrophe vom Firth of Tay

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)

Abstract

- February 1932, Berlin/ March 1932, Frankfurt: Walter Benjamin presents a live broadcast of a twenty-minute radio piece, ‘The Railway Disaster at the Firth of Tay’ (Die Eisenbahnkatastrophe vom Firth of Tay).

- May 2017, Dundee: A group of twenty 8–13 year olds meet for a two-hour comics and visual communication workshop. A quick survey shows that they know all about a famous railway disaster that befell the bridge linking Dundee and Fife across the Firth of Tay in 1879, but not about an obscure 1932 radio piece by Walter Benjamin, the translated text of which will form the stimulus for their workshop.

This essay charts a series of miscommunications and transformations occurring to Benjamin’s ‘Railway Disaster’ piece between and beyond these dates. Picturing Benjamin sitting alone in his radio booth in 1932, it is tempting to view ‘Railway Disaster’ as a communication that was disastrous: as symptomatic of a career going astray, or as a part of a constellation of Benjamin’s other radio works that allegorise the disastrous rise of European fascism. Placed in the context of an afterschool club without foreknowledge of Benjamin, however, another perspective on ‘Railway Disaster’ emerges: as a focus on a disaster that becomes a site for transmedial and intergenerational communication/miscommunication.

Part one of this essay fills in some of the blanks surrounding the history of this piece to give these transformations context. Part two then describes how it figures as part of a ‘Localising Philosophy’ educational project I have been working towards in Dundee. The ultimate aim of the essay, developed in part three, is to position this work on ‘Railway Disaster’ as continuous with an approach to philosophising with and through technologies pursued in my 2018 book Exceptional Technologies.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMiscommunication
Subtitle of host publicationErrors, Mistakes and the Media
EditorsTimothy Barker, Maria Korolkova
PublisherBloomsbury
Chapter12
Number of pages15
Edition1st
ISBN (Electronic)9781501363832
ISBN (Print)9781501363849, 9781501363856
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 14 Jan 2021

Publication series

NameThinking Media
PublisherBloomsbury

Keywords

  • Philosophy of Technology
  • Science and Technology Studies
  • Philosophy of education
  • Walter Benjamin
  • Tay Railway Bridge

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  • Cite this

    Smith, D. (Accepted/In press). Disastrous Communication: Walter Benjamin's Die Eisenbahnkatastrophe vom Firth of Tay. In T. Barker, & M. Korolkova (Eds.), Miscommunication: Errors, Mistakes and the Media (1st ed.). (Thinking Media). Bloomsbury. https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/miscommunications-9781501363832/