Monday, November 8, 2010

MRP Adventures: And the question is...

What can postcolonial criticism do for literary steampunk?

I've been working on narrowing down exactly what I want to do for my MRP. Coming off's Steampunk Fortnight and seeing these wonderful posts by Nisi, Amal, and Ay-Leen (and seeing them being cited in relevant places), and reading further commentary from Jeff Vandermeer (who, bless him, has been working really hard to showcase what I think really is the best of steampunk thus far), I really do think applying a postcolonialist approach to what's currently out under the steampunk banner in the form of literary criticism is totally in order to tease out the difference between progressive, interrogative narratives that really reflect the anxieties and aspirations of our time and old-skool skiffy.

So, really, basically, what I've been doing on this blog, but I want to map out antecedents and theorists that people can hark to when approaching literary steampunk with a critical eye. And what the results might be. 

This of course means I really need to up the ante in my reading and gather a list of primary works that would serve this purpose. 

I have a wonderful book called Unthinking Eurocentrism which I bought for a class ("Feminist and Orientalism") that we ended up not using, and it's a fascinating read (thanks Dr. Heffernan!). I think I quote it extensively in my section of "Colonial Chic or Stylish Subversion?" that Ay-Leen and I co-authored for Shira Tarrant. There's a great section called "From Eurocentrism to Polycentrism" (and after that it goes on to dissect cinema narratives) which really informs a lot of my thinking. I'm also reading up on more postcolonial theory (ya'd think I'd've learned more of it while in undergrad) with regards to literary criticism.

What I want to know is, would postcolonial theory find steampunk lacking? Would postcolonial theory rip it apart? In a bad way, even? I'm working from the assumption that it wouldn't, that instead, postcolonial theory can tease out sites of resistance in steampunk from which it can grow as a subgenre, adding on layers to the aesthetic. But how would it do this? What's in the steampunk postcolonialist's toolbelt, so to speak?

Merf. My goggles, they need polishing. 


  1. I still need to get Unthinking Eurocentrism.

    But to ask whether steampunk is lacking as a potential basis for a thesis--I don't think so, mainly because postcolonial theory was developed as a form of artistic social criticism, and steampunk's got loads of that going on. And your focus being on literature actually stabilizes the relevancy of your theory, because those books won't be changing as fast as the general cultural shifts would in five years (unlike my own topic ^_^;;)

    But I think to grasp the full extent of your topic, you *would* have to 1) narrow down what you define as "steampunk literature" and 2) I think you have to address the "proto-steampunk" or pulp influences in some way, at least in their relation to steampunk subgenre's current development. How old skool are you interested in reading? For instance, on my desk I have this book of Robert E Howard's "El Borak and Other Desert Adventures", which is an anthology of all the pulp adventure tales he wrote, which was set in the Middle East and Asia. Would you classify that as something relevant to your studies?

    (By the way, if you want it, I can mail it to you.)


  2. Oh I wouldn't want to go really old-skool -- that's reserved for my PhD: tracing the genealogy of proto-steampunk and pulp influences on current steampunk.

    But you're right that I'd have to narrow down what's defined as "steampunk literature". This is gonna take another post. Let me think on it; I may yet take you up on your offer!