Paura in viaggio - Il disastro ferroviario come topos della narrativa moderna = Travelling fear: the railway disaster as a topos of modern fiction


Travelling fear: the railway disaster as a topos of modern fiction. If we want to trace the antecedents of the anxieties and fears generated by communication systems, we should first recognize a continuity between transport and communication (Abruzzese, 2003), and we should therefore inspect the history of transportation technologies. That said, the image of the shipwreck emerges, it does not matter if the shipwreck is wanted by men or by an evil fate. It is the central topos of many stories and ballads since the dawn of navigation, and it finds its counterpart in industrial modernity in the railway disaster. The railway disaster, an unavoidable possibility since the birth of the railway (Schivelbusch, 1988), is a topic little or nothing considered in the social sciences; on the contrary, the railway disaster is a topos. This topos was variously explored by literature and cinematography, since Charles Dickens, subject to post-traumatic stress syndrome for having himself been involved in a derailment in 1865, poured out his anxieties in The Signal-Man (1982), and Émile Zola made a train wreck the expected conclusion of his Human Beast (2013). And if the railway disaster is uncanny, disturbing for its unexpected arrival, especially for the unsuspecting traveler, its spectacularity has made it a perfect climax for cinematographic works ranging from the famous Cassandra Crossing (Cosmatos, 2008) to Wagon Lits with Murders (Hiller, 1977) and Hugo Cabret (Scorsese, 2012), the latter reinterpreting two really happened incidents. In the present work, it is our intention to trace some relevant uses of the topos of the railway disaster in literature and cinematography, highlighting its efficiency as a trigger of that perturbing feeling that remains one of the most relevant characteristics of modern narratives.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22840753n12p95

Keywords: fear; disaster; railway; literature; cinema

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