Back in the day I found the name “cyberpunk” utterly cringeworthy. But William Gibson’s sprawl trilogy did do what punk did, which was to aesthetically critique socio-economic conditions through art. Gibson’s Reagonomic future seen through the eyes of those that it chews up and spits out is in its attitude recognisably punk.
Colourful Aesthetic Resistance Not Dreary Doctrinal Compliance
Steampunk has a BBC4-documentary bourgeois tweeness to it, but it’s important that the neccessary corrective to this doesn’t go too far in the other direction. Steampunk isnot and cannot be pre-or anti-industrial without becoming aesthetically and politically incoherent. Luddism is not the model. Rather in steampunk the technology of industry has gone out into society rather than sucking society into it. It adorns the individual rather than the individual adorning it. It is in the mapping from this fantasy to our peak oil techno-social reality that Steampunk’s critical value lies. Trying to make it more literally and doctirnally political would destroy that criticality.
Touched By The Hand Of…
Steampunk is a natural complement to Goth. Both are an ironic romantic stance using the aesthetic resources of historic iconography, whether haunted castles or satanic mills. Both involve dressing up and acting out without taking yourself too seriously. And both are an aesthetic resistance to the totalising schemes of society and its opponents. Like Adorno’s critical autonomy of art, youth culture is critical to the extent that it is not literally political. Goth and Steampunk exemplify this. Not Verne or Stoker, but Verne *and* Sotker!
Beware The Seductive Aesthetics of Fascism
Some of the Dieselpunk blog posts and photos of costumes I’ve seen recently have started flirting with the aesthetics of mid-20th-century European design. One of the dangers of looking at that time and place from the outside is that people will homogenise it. Which given the division between free and totalitarian states that characterises the period would be a terrible mistake. The machinery and fashion of the fascist states were so aesthetically striking because of what they had to conceal ethically. Don’t make your boots too shiny.