“Novel Forms of Immanent Death”

“Novel Forms of Immanent Death”

My thoughts on accidental phenomena in Victorian material culture have been a long time coming, so I apologize for my inability to sit my butt down and write. Having done so, finally, I want to focus on a peculiar, but actually quite commonsense, aspect of Victorian social theories of accidents and catastrophes, namely the period’s realization that new forms or types of accidents could have significant future payoffs with regard to accident prevention. Our own “risk society” is so preoccupied with the travesties of large-scale industrial or environmental disasters that it sometimes seems, especially if we compare ourselves to the Victorians, that we have lost any sense of forward thinking. Perhaps, rightfully so, because it’s a hard sell suggesting that major catastrophes and disasters can teach us something about how to prepare for future accidents, or even teach us something about living in a industrial-capitalist economy. We’d rather believe, perhaps naively, that there won’t be any future industrial catastrophes, that it can’t happen here, whatever “it” is. Continue reading ““Novel Forms of Immanent Death””


Out-of-place technological artifacts and productive unease

time travelling cell phone user
An alleged time-travelling cellphone user caught on film in 1928

Gregory’s last post on Babbage and railroads, illustrated by that arresting Montparnasse train wreck photo, got me thinking about Victorian visual technologies and their ability to register accidents as phenomena. At the same time, Daniel’s analogy between aircraft data recorders (black boxes), on the one hand, and Babbage’s proposal for their 19th-century railroad equivalents, on the other, got me thinking, too, about technologies with unexpected histories. We know that 19th century technologies like film and photography changed how people thought about time and experience, but there’s also something about 19th century technologies that makes them seem, themselves, prone to accidents of chronology. The conspiracy-theory subgenre of pseudoarcheological “out-of-place artifacts” seems like good fodder for the kind of alt-history thinking that Victorian studies has absorbed from steampunk. Continue reading “Out-of-place technological artifacts and productive unease”