CEKAS Seminar: Dominic Smith

CEKAS Seminar: Dominic Smith

Dr Dominic Smith (Dundee)

‘Disastrous Communication: Benjamin Walter’s “The Railway Disaster at the Firth of Forth”’


- 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 2018, 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 talk fills in some of the blanks surrounding the history of 'Railway Disaster' to give these transformations context. Part two then describes how the piece figures as part of a ‘Localising Philosophy’ educational project I have been working towards in Dundee. In part three, I position this work on ‘Railway Disaster’ as continuous with an approach to philosophising with and through technologies pursued in my 2018 book Exceptional Technologies.

This talk will take place online. For more information and link to the talk, please contact Federico Luzzi: f.luzzi@abdn.ac.uk

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