Steampunk in Victorian studies

from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kyle-cassidy-steampunk.jpg

I’ve been noticing a persistent, sustained interest in steampunk in the various mainstream outlets of geek culture (a phrase I use with affection) such as the Gawker blog io9. (For example: http://io9.com/5917187/gorgeous-portraits-of-steampunks-jetpack+wearing-superwomen) We could probably list dozens of examples of steampunkery in popular culture, from video games to movies to prog-rock concept albums and so on if we wanted to. I have a different question, though — one I’m asking as a fan and marginal practitioner of Victorian studies rather than someone trained and based in it. Has there been much substantial work on steampunk from within Victorian studies, as distinct from fields who study science fiction in the present? Is steampunk something that matters, or should matter, in Victorian studies these days, or has it run its course — and if so, what was that course? Continue reading “Steampunk in Victorian studies”

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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”

Aesthetics Old and New

Molly Porkshanks Friedrich's Mechanical Womb on display at the Oxford History of Science MuseumI expected to be able to hear Molly Porkshanks Friedrich’s Complete Mechanical Womb tick. It didn’t look as though it should pulse with life, but I did anticipate a mechanical buzzing or whirring. I was alone in the basement of Oxford’s history of science museum, at what the museum billed as “the world’s first museum exhibition of Steampunk art.” I’m sure the little figure in the gravid pneumatic tube was honoured by the Continue reading “Aesthetics Old and New”

Steampunk Bodies

Steampunk machines are real, breathing, coughing, struggling and rumbling parts of the world. They are not the airy intellectual fairies of algorithmic mathematics but the hulking manifestations of muscle and mind, the progeny of sweat, blood, tears, and delusions. The technology of steampunk is natural; it moves, lives, ages, and even dies” (4).

Colin Thompson, Steampunk GelaSkin

This is an excerpt from Professor Calamity’s “Steampunk Manifesto,” published a few years ago in SteamPunk Magazine. Though the argument is precipitous and somewhat hastily historicized (as I suppose every manifesto must be), it’s still my favorite statement on a mostly subcultural development that has yet to coalesce into an easily definable genre/movement/aesthetic. This particular passage addresses the steampunk project of de-sublimating technology through imaginative labour that returns bodies to machines. Continue reading “Steampunk Bodies”