2020 Conference of the Modern Language Association of America
“To invent the train is to invent the rail accident of derailment” (Paul Virilio, The Original Accident 10). From the 19th century onward, the intervention of speed upon and across the landscape has created zones of contact between non-human animals and machines that resulted in numerous crashes, deaths, derailments and a wide variety of events that we know as accidents. With the speed of modern time, railway accidents involving humans and animals became a common theme of literary texts, travel books, journal reports, legal discussions, as well as photography and motion pictures. One of the early depictions of moving trains, J. M. W. Turner’s painting “Rain, Steam and Speed” (1844), captures the inherent danger posed by railways to wildlife, by inserting the shadow of a startled hare running on the tracks in front of the locomotive. Accidents may also be interpreted as an allegory for the sweeping speed of early fossil capitalism, as many nuanced, localized crashes are inevitable, gruesome, and disastrous to all innocent parties. Still more underlying clashes of different land claims and world views are to be examined.
We welcome submissions featuring transdisciplinary approaches to the scenes of railway accidents, foregrounding the intersection of the artistic, the cultural, the political, the economic, and the legal aspects of the encounters, as a way of problematizing entanglements between human, non-human, and machines. Examples of areas of inquiry activated by this theme include (but are not limited to) accident; noise, rhythm, and sound pollution; hunting; modernism and non-humans; proto-environmentalist literature; environment shaping and border-thinking; energy studies; resistance against rail construction, colonialism, and developmentist ideologies; rural and indigenous land; among others. We would like to highlight how these encounters disrupt geographic and political spaces, bringing to the table global connections, transnational encounters, and the remaking of spaces/landscapes.