Thursday, December 17, 2009

Orientalism In Any Other Form...

 This was originally a Twitter rant and then I realized I'd already made several tweets and still wasn't finished, so I thought I'd bring it on here.

Minh-Ha at Racialicious has an amazing post up on a modern example of Orientalism which everybody should read. She nails it here:

Lagerfeld seems to anticipate this critique when he argues that his short film represents “the idea of China, not the reality. It has the spirit of, and is inspired by, but is unrelated to China.” Without meaning to, Lagerfeld describes precisely one of the core truths of Orientalism (a system of Western knowledge that, as Edward Said explains, “had since antiquity [imagined the Orient as] a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences”). Lagerfeld’s China, like the Orient Said discusses, is a European/American invention.
 It's a brilliant send-up of everything that's wrong with Orientalism, and yes, steampunks are utterly susceptible to this.

The last time I bothered engaging on a discussion of multi-culturalism within steampunk, it ended up being a long discussion on exactly what multiculturalism is, and how nothing is sacred. In fact, there was a lot of "people should feel free to share their culture," which contains the damning implication of "if you're possessive over your culture, then you're selfish, which makes you a bad person."

To which I say, so fucking what? Why the hell should I let the majority take what is already not mine, because of colonization in the past and present, and regurgitate it in their own vision, their own ideals? We have done that for years - taking Western ideals and imagining them to be the best, to be better than us. When Westerners do the same to us, it is without the same respect, but all the idealization and projection of what they think should be our identity.

When I hear, "I would love to see [marginal race] steampunk!" I immediately think, "what for?" For who is this show of multiculturalism? What sacrifices are you willing to make to ensure that the very culture you think should be a part of steampunk has its place? I have never seen anything like that. Instead, it's a bunch of white steampunks coming up with ideas inspired by marginal cultures. Cultural appropriation at its best, which, as said by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, "leaves its living sources on the margin, and pats itself on the back for being so cosmopolitan."

Lagerfield's argument is so very seductive - "we're not hurting anybody", it seems to say. "We're simply re-imagining them in what we would like them to be." It is like taking a human partner and making them do things that they feel doesn't suit them - "I love you and would never hurt you. I just think you should do this and that and this because it would make you even better," even as it erases who they really are. It's seductive because it does not overtly destroy, overtly hate. Instead, it shows a form of love, affection, for this thing which isn't really there, and must be built - must be tamed and civilized before we can trot it out into fine society.
So it is when steampunks try to re-imagine the Orient and re-make it in the image that they want it to be: basically, you just have to create a new map that erases the current map, create new peoples that erase the current peoples, and re-discover these strange savage lands all over again.

Here's the thing, steampunks: when you try to re-create the spirit, and only take the good, of exploration while ignoring the bad of it, and acknowledging that the bad of the colonial past has had truly harmful effects on people today, you betray the anti-racist movement, the same way white people who have taken the helm as white gatekeepers for racialized bodies have, you re-create colonialism, which once again seeks to assert a specific culture, all in the name of fun. You may not do this consciously, but without acknowledging the true past, your "mockery" of the past (and indeed many steampunks claim to want to mock the past by aping historical attitudes) merely becomes a re-creation.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Repost: What's a Wardrobe Worth?

This is a post I wrote in September while musing on steampunk wardrobing, its always-possible co-opting by mainstream capitalistic ventures, and other ethical questions.

Repost: From A Former Colony

This is a post I originally wrote back in July about the exploration theme I occasionally encounter on the internet.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Contact Jha

I have several methods for communication. It's pretty much guaranteed that I will respond to at least one method if you attempt to try as many as possible. If I don't respond to you, then it's probably because I don't want to.

To e-mail me - username: jhameia.goh - domain name: gmail

You can also message me at any of the forums listed.

My primary chat system is MSNM - ID:

My primary blog is Intersectionality Dreaming. I have other spaces on the internet as well: LJ, DW, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Intersection of Race and Steampunk

This essay was written for Racialicious, as  a kind of primer for a PoC audience on what steampunk is and why PoC would be interested in it. Originally posted here (back in June 2009, a little after RaceFail), it was very well-received and continues to be a point of origin for me. I heartily recommend going to the original link to read the comments to my article (of which there are 58, so definitely aren't being reproduced here).

This essay is divided into four sections: a brief description of steampunk; problems specific to steampunks of colour; my personal context; and possible roles for PoC within steampunk. In many ways, this essay is very rudimentary, and my views have been very much informed by a great deal of other readings since then. Nonetheless, despite its very 101 tone, I hope you enjoy it.

Comments Policy

As you may have noted, I am pretty lax with my diction and conversation. I generally do not have a comment policy, so there are only a few rules:

#1 Be clear on the terms of discussion. If I am discussing a specific, localized context, try not to compare it to a context that has little to no relation to it.

#2 Don't be a jerk. I will call you out on any jerkiness you display. Even if you use proper language and talk nicely, you can still do/say jerk things. And I will call you out on what you did/said.

#3 Don't get defensive if someone calls you out on your jerk behaviour/statement. If it ain't about you, don't make it about you.

#4 Moff's Law is in effect. I presume that here, you will be aware of all Internet traditions.

#5 Be awesome to yourself and your fellows. (I had to end this list on a positive note.)

About Silver Goggles

Silver Goggles is the pet steampunk project of one Jaymee Goh, or Jha as she is known in many places on the Internet, to explore the possibilities of applying postcolonial theory within the literary and roleplaying aspects of the steampunk phenomenon in order to expand the current narratives to include those that center experiences, voices, and perspectives that are traditionally subaltern or marginalized in a larger Eurocentric context. It is the off-shoot of Intersectionality Dreaming.

The purpose of Silver Goggles is to deconstruct narratives in steampunk, with a particular focus on the issues of colonialism, imperialism and politics, as they appear within steampunk literature and/or roleplay, in order to de-center the traditional Eurocentric focus. Using a wide range of postcolonial, post-structuralist, post-modern, race and feminist theories, Silver Goggles will analyze the language / discourse of steampunk that drive and/or reinforce current trends and representations of steampunk elements. Other strategies used to critique overarching themes that maintain the Western hegemony and seek empty spaces where formerly colonized voices may begin to find voice within steampunk narratives will consist of media studies, applications of larger conversations such as RaceFail, focused reviews and analysis of steampunk and other postcolonial texts as well as the use of meta-analysis (because there is no other singularly more convenient way of doing this, not because I'm trying to be clever here).

The overall goal of Silver Goggles is to search out and produce strategies for the promotion of racial diversity within steampunk. There will also be a focus on other traditionally marginalized narratives, albeit lesser as it will not be the top priority of this project. Among the lesser endeavours of Silver Goggles, however, is not to promote "colour blindness", racist narratives, stereotypes, nor generalizations of whole groups. I fully recognize that in my course of study, I may commit any one of these mistakes, and will ensure that I address them properly as they are pointed out to me.

While many of the posts in question will address my readings, the tone of the posts will vary between formal / academic and informal / conversational, depending on the purpose of the post. On occasion, I may slip into the Malaysian basilect (I know, WTF right?) for kicks. I may or may not provide translations for any non-English diction I use (but you can always ask). As a member of a visible minority group, I will occasionally be frustrated by any conversations and discussions of [race / gender / other related topics], and my upset will be plain to see. I assure you that there will be no cause for alarm. Unless you're the one who triggered it. Readers are advised, thusly, to acknowledge that less-than-savoury language will be used on occasion, and are strongly discouraged from using the tone argument.

It is my hope that Silver Goggles become a safe space for all visitors, in particular those who identify as persons of colour (PoC), visible minorities, or of non-European descent. (This does not mean that it will inherently be an unsafe space for those who do not fall under these descriptions. Please do not be willfully obtuse.) As such, comment moderation for posts older than 7 days will be turned on (and to enable me to keep track of comments). I will endeavour to root out inflammatory, triggering comments as I see them. I predict the occasional failure in presenting all readers a perfectly safe space, and hope you will bear with me.

This blog, therefore, is written by a PoC, for PoC. It is my pleasure to welcome you here and I look forward to wearing these silver goggles and embarking on this adventure.