The railway modeller as Ubermensch


I spoke at the launch of Stephen Knott’s book Amateur Craft as part of Liverpool Hope University’s Cornerstone Festival last week. Stephen’s book is about the pleasures of making but it is also about amateur craft as an industry: the market that developed from the late nineteenth century for artists’ sketch blocks, watercolour paintboxes, paint in tubes, prepared canvas, watercolour cakes, paint by number kits, toolboxes, portable workstations, poultry fattening pens and chick-feeding runs.

I particularly liked the chapter on model railway enthusiasts, and the pleasures of miniaturization:

‘The small scale of model train layouts situates the maker, or the operator of the model, as a God-like figure looking over all activities within view … Could we go as far as to say that the railway modeller is the closest realization of Nietzsche’s Übermensch, reaching the goal of “self-overcoming”? … Clearly not. The modeller’s God-like control is only a temporary affair that sits alongside a variety of less Nietzscheian activities and, like Superman who changes back itno the journalist Clark Kent, the modeller returns to an everyday persona.’

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