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Insane Run

Railroad and Dark Modernity

by Wojciech Tomasik (Author) Teresa Fazan (Revision)
Monographs 306 Pages
Series: Modernity in Question, Volume 14

Summary

This is a book about impending catastrophe. The metaphorical insane “run“ ends with the outbreak of the First World War. The book focuses on European culture of the late nineteenth century and the Polish contribution to it. The word “dark“ used to describe modernity is understood as a metaphor of gradual and permanent devaluation of the idea of progress, as a fading hope for the future of Europe as bright, predictable, prosperous, and safe. The “darkening“ also receives a literal sense. At the end of the nineteenth century, darkness found its way back to the public space – in the theaters, panoramas, dioramas, and “love tunnels“, which awaited the visitors of American and European amusement parks.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One The Gołuchowski Station and Other Attractions; and, On the Origins of Cinematography
  • Annex
  • Chapter Two A Kiss in the Tunnel: Three Heterotopies of Modernity
  • 1. In the Tunnel
  • 2. In the Cinematograph Room
  • 3. In an Express Train
  • Annex
  • Chapter Three A Catastrophe’s Productivity: Monte Carlo, March 10, 1886
  • Annex
  • Chapter Four Insane Run…
  • 1. “Dramat w tunelu” (A Tragedy in the Tunnel; 1889)
  • 2. “Pociąg” (Train; 1897)
  • 3. “Zuch dziewczyna” (A Brave Girl; 1911)
  • Annex
  • Chapter Five The Assassination of Świnica: About a Railroad That Never Happened and a Problem That Remained
  • 1. Prolog
  • 2. The Death of Rudolf Zakopiańczyk
  • 3. “The Wholesale Opening-Up and Enjoyment Nature”
  • 4. The Świnica Station
  • 6. The Railroad Worm
  • 7. Epilog
  • Annex
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

Bibliographic Information published by the Deutsche
Nationalbibliothek

The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche
Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data is available online at
http://dnb.d-nb.de.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A CIP catalog record for this book has been applied for at the
Library of Congress.

About the author

The Author
Wojciech Tomasik is a Professor of Polish literature at the Kazimierz Wielki University in Bydgoszcz (Poland). His research and publications focus on Socialist Realism, literary theory, and cultural history of railroad.

About the book

Wojciech Tomasik

Insane Run

This is a book about impending catastrophe. The metaphorical insane “run“ ends with the outbreak of the First World War. The book focuses on European culture of the late nineteenth century and the Polish contribution to it. The word “dark“ used to describe modernity is understood as a metaphor of gradual and permanent devaluation of the idea of progress, as a fading hope for the future of Europe as bright, predictable, prosperous, and safe. The “darkening“ also receives a literal sense. At the end of the nineteenth century, darkness found its way back to the public space – in the theaters, panoramas, dioramas, and “love tunnels“, which awaited the visitors of American and European amusement parks.

This eBook can be cited

This edition of the eBook can be cited. To enable this we have marked the start and end of a page. In cases where a word straddles a page break, the marker is placed inside the word at exactly the same position as in the physical book. This means that occasionally a word might be bifurcated by this marker.

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Introduction

On an illustrated correspondence card, I saw a witty drawing depicting Jungfrau mountain as a charming virgin, and the neighboring mountain Mönch as a harsh old man, who looks in horror at the locomotive climbing the serpentine tracks and passing the tunnels of the virgin mountain, and then bitterly cries out: Fin de siècle!

– Teofil Gerstmann, “Letters from Switzerland”, Gazeta Lwowska, 183/1898.

Even a great disaster brings progress.

– Marion K. Pinsdorf, “Engineering Dreams Into Disaster:
History of the Tay Bridge”, Business and Economic History, 2/1997.

This is a book about impending catastrophe. The metaphorical “insane run” ends in the outbreak of the First World War, as my narrative stops on June 1914 and crosses this temporal threshold only on several occasions. Moreover, this is a book about smaller-scale catastrophes, which from today’s perspective were harbingers of the greater disaster of war. However, allow me to calm you, dear readers, this book focuses on European culture of the late nineteenth century and the Polish contribution. Insane Run describes the period called “fin de siècle,” “la belle époque,” or “modernism.” Thus, the book reflects on a period that, on the one hand, was part of a whole sometimes called by experts “the long nineteenth century” and, on the other hand, it was easily distinguishable from that whole. The double status of this period at the turn of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries occasionally leads to terminological misunderstandings. The word “modernism” sometimes labels the whole culture of the nineteenth century, but it may also serve to capture only those elements that enriched the culture at the turn of the nineteenth century. In my book, I will consequently refer to modernism in the first sense as “modernity,” and the period identified as modernity with the term “epoch of modernity.” In this epoch, I will focus on its last decades – which is modernism in the second sense – and justify my argument that the two form a peculiar unity.

The word “dark” in the subtitle expresses this peculiarity, characteristic for the epoch of modernity in two ways. The “darkening” should be understood as a metaphor of gradual and permanent devaluation of the ideal of progress, as a fading of hope that grew on the ground of rationalism, which painted the future ←7 | 8→of Europe as bright, predictable, prosperous, and safe; subject to bold and far-sighted projects. These hopes were long ignited by the dynamic development of science and technology. No invention served these hopes better than the steam engine; with no other invention did nineteenth-century people establish a closer and more durable relationship. In the first decades of the nineteenth century, railroad lines became an important part of the cultural landscape of the West. And it is the railroad that most clearly shows the insane run of modernity. In the moving locomotive, the modern world saw a symbol that confirmed the main direction of civilizational changes: the endeavor to subject nature to humans completely, so that it would be fully controlled. To make the most of nature, to tailor it to the human needs, to supplement it, to remake it, and to tune it rational “gardening” plans. The main impulse for these ventures stemmed from a philosophy captured by the popular metaphor of light: the “enlightenment.” The Enlightenment thought supports the birth of modernity, owing its radicalism to the event compared today with the cataclysm of the First World War: the Great Lisbon earthquake of November 1, 1755.

In contemporary research devoted to modern culture, we find an idea that modernity and catastrophes create an interdependent system, that the entire cultural nineteenth century develops as a derivative of conclusions from cataclysms and technological disasters.1 Those conclusions were often diverse and sometimes ingeniously practical. The rebuilt Lisbon was planned differently, as the city center saw a strict regulation of construction works, available only with a permit. Much more resistant to underground shocks than the ones destroyed, the new buildings emerged from a uniform plan carefully prepared by military engineers. Wide boulevards and vast squares replaced narrow winding streets of the capital city of Portugal. Lisbon became an urban structure that was better adapted to the needs of trade and one could now manage the city easier and more effectively: it was now a modern city. However, the 1755 Lisbon earthquake proved to be productive not only in the sphere of construction and – more broadly – social practice. It also gave a powerful impulse to the formation of opposition against treating cataclysms in religious terms: as a call to repentance and penance for sins. From resistance to passivity, there arose the Enlightenment rebellion against the indifference of God, against the unpredictable nature and ←8 | 9→its uncontrollable blind forces. The productivity of disasters is the most visible in case of disasters with the greatest range and the highest number of victims. Therefore, we may compare the Enlightenment shock caused by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake – later strengthened by the events of the French Revolution – to the size of the cultural transformations perpetuated by the First World War. This war affected the entire history of the twentieth century, as the atmosphere of postwar trauma engendered later radical political ideas. Fascism and communism emerged from pacifism and populism. The former stemmed from the moods of maimed young people returning from the front, while the latter from the conviction of elite’s betrayal and the conviction that European liberalism was ineffective as it neither managed to resist the war nor mitigate its effects. National Socialism surfaced from the humiliating defeat of the Germans and the conviction that the theory of evolution provides justification for the policy of “social hygiene” and legitimizes racist aspirations.

Henri Lefebvre views the relationship between modernity and catastrophes more radically. He declares that the concept of modernity primarily filled with content the statements and discussions of those who had to face the “darker” parts of the modern world and those who sought to answer why – against loud announcements and widespread expectations – the modern world constantly engendered social crises, contradictions, and confusion. Why did the progress of knowledge and technological development not eliminate but often increased human suffering?2 The assumption of such a relationship makes it easier to understand why the last decades of the nineteenth century proved particularly culturally productive. In other words, it helps understand why modernism only fully concentrated and emerged at the end of the century, though its features appear throughout the period? The end of the “long nineteenth century” (1880–1914) bristled with various “darker” elements. They had diverse characters and ranges, but my book focuses exclusively on the case of railroad disasters. I want to show how railroad events influenced European culture, how were they productive, what traces have they left in our symbolic space, and for how long did these traces remain. The expression “dark modernity” becomes clearer when seen from the following standpoint: I am interested in the “shadows” that – as it turns out – form the necessary backdrop of enlightened optimism. For the “darkening” of the epoch of modernity meant that its philosophical backbone was increasingly often and intensely used to defend the dreams of a happy, safe, and fully predictable order. One that can be achieved by the efficient use of knowledge and ←9 | 10→technology. One in which the individual’s freedom will not suffer when ensuring the security of whole communities.

Each railroad disaster “darkened” the age of modernity. However, it is hard to resist the impression that the most productive day recorded in the history of the West was December 28, 1879, when a hurricane struck a bridge, which partly collapsed, taking with it the passing train, killing all of its passengers and the entire train crew.3 The Tay Bridge disaster shook Europe so badly that its echoes silenced only after the sinking of the RMS Titanic.4 This tragic event occurred in a place where modernity first showed its bright colors. The bridge at the mouth of the Tay River, the longest engineering feat of its time, was a work that inspired well-founded pride. Its designer, Thomas Bouch, gained fame and the title of a noble. Shortly after the opening ceremony on June 1878, Bouch traversed the bridge in a train with Queen Victoria as a warranty of its safety. At the end of December 1879, only after fifteen months of exploitation, a hurricane tore off the highest section of the bridge (high girders) along with the passing train. The report after the crash did not leave any doubts: the design of the bridge was poor as it did not account for wind forces, the construction was poor especially due to low-quality iron, and the maintenance was lacking. But if it was not for the conclusions from this tragedy, a second safer bridge that serves travelers to this day would have never been built. Conclusions from the Tay Bridge disaster influenced the structural safeguards applied to an even larger object: the bridge at the mouth of the Forth River. The disaster of December 1879 affected technological progress: more resistant elements made of steel took the place of cast iron constructions.

Almost every major railroad disaster from the end of the nineteenth century energized the cogs of modernization. In this sense, the disasters were culturally productive. After the catastrophe outside of the Irish city of Armagh in June 1889, British railroads introduced legal provisions that oblige carriers to use automatic brakes for the wheels of all coaches of the passenger train, which also stops the coaches at the moment of train formation breakdown. The earlier organization of train operations, based on time intervals, was replaced by blocking, which ←10 | 11→prevented a situation in which two trains would moving in the same direction would simultaneously appear on the same line. The American catastrophe in the Cascade Range on March 1, 1910, became a powerful catalyst to undertake research into the formation and development of snow avalanches. The beginning of modern psychiatry also coincides with the golden age in the development of railroad communication: the root of this branch of medicine were accidents and disabilities of previously unknown etiology. These are the insomnia that may occur among survivors after an incident, sudden anxiety attacks even among the unharmed by a disaster, or post-accidental “nervous fatigue.” The development of the modern insurance system would not have happened so quickly if it were not for the risks posed by the increase in train speed and the systematically increasing passenger traffic.

When the bridge over the Tay River collapsed, the event almost instantly found its reflection in art. In order to present the post-accidental scenery in the press, sketch artists used photographs or visited the site. The visual representation of the crash site was supplemented with numerous meticulous verbal reports. Almost instantly, the echoes of the tragedy emerged in literature. A literary historian can easily name a dozen works – including broadside ballads – usually written by amateur poets and disseminated in regions close to the site.5 These usually clumsy literary efforts may serve as the measure for the cultural productivity of a catastrophe. What is important for these anonymous ballads ←11 | 12→is mostly the very fact that they appeared, that the tragic circumstances forced someone to write, that people could not remain silent.6

Details

Pages
306
ISBN (ePUB)
9783631832189
ISBN (MOBI)
9783631832196
ISBN (PDF)
9783631832172
ISBN (Hardcover)
9783631831823
Language
English
Publication date
2020 (August)
Tags
nineteenth century popular culture technology in literature railroad disaster melodrama early cinema
Published
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 306 pp.

Biographical notes

Wojciech Tomasik (Author) Teresa Fazan (Revision)

Wojciech Tomasik is a Professor of Polish literature at the Kazimierz Wielki University in Bydgoszcz (Poland). His research and publications focus on Socialist Realism, literary theory, and cultural history of railroad.

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Title: Insane Run