Friday, March 25, 2011

Deferral unDreamed

Danna Haraway wrote in her book Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium that the Second Millennium is the age of promises. This was in 1997, but this idea still does have some relevance today: we work hard to get money to reward ourselves; the cure for cancer is just around the corner, if we raise enough money, have enough funded scientists, make people more aware; and (as she points out) you could stop aging if you used the right kind of beauty products. Advertising is a great medium for promises like this: use this product and your life will improve in some way. Certainly, this works -- I do think Advil is an amazing life-improvement tool, for example.

But the concept of promise also implicates the concept of deferral: work harder, longer, to get more pay, to afford these grand promises. When I was a child, it was drummed into me that parents raised their children well, because well-brought-up children provide for aging parents: a just reward for the labour of child-rearing. How many of us have heard, "I can't wait to get out of high school"? How about, "I can't wait to move out / get a real job / retire"?

One could say that we are moving beyond this age of promises; whenever I hear people complaining about how kids are so entitled these days, I wonder if it's really a case of entitlement, or maybe, the new generation, of which I could be a part of, is simply not willing to defer dreams anymore. I think there's at least a subconscious awareness that promises don't actually work, that taking too long spells the dissipation of the dream, in North America, if nowhere else. What does it mean, beyond an inter-generational conflict of younger people getting frustrated at older people who are still in power, who still believe in deferral?

But for now, let's say that we live in a time of great promises.

What does this have to do with steampunk? Why the title of this post? Well, allow me to posit that a condition of this consumerist society is frustration at the deferral of dreams, of promises of things to come in the future. This futurity, which in the past would have meant a promise of happiness, a blank slate upon which to inscribe our fortunes, of never knowing what we're going to get and it could be pretty awesome, is looking pretty bleak for us: the job market is slender; the middle-class is shrinking; wars are still being fought by First World Countries despite the fact that First World countries are supposed to be fucking civilized. I remember a joke a while back, when I first graduated, among my batch, that if we didn't know what to do with ourselves, we could go teach English in a foreign country... it was a workable way of deferring the tough job of Figuring Out What To Do For The Rest Of Your Life.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Steampunk Postcolonialist at Nova Albion

Heads-up, faithful readers! Uh, if you're still reading that is. Silver Goggles has been neglected in favour of grad school and until term papers are done and dealt with, there's not a whole lot I can do about that. I'll post my final MRP proposal if that'll make you happy, though. I also have some thoughts about steampunk and Judith Halberstam's notion of queer time. 

Anyway, this is a general announcement that I will be at the Nova Albion Steampunk Exhibition this weekend. My schedule is as follows:

Saturday:, 1pm - 2.20pm - Steam Around the World (presentation with Ay-Leen the Peacemaker of Beyond Vctoriana)
Sunday, 11.10am - 12.20pm: Steampunk as a Philosophical Arena (panel with Liz Gorinsky and Francesca Myman)

I plan on attending Vernian Process' concert on Friday night, so I'll either be napping on Friday afternoon or sleeping in on Saturday morning. Ay-Leen and I arrive at the hotel late Thursday night (I'll be running straight from class to home for my airport shuttle), and leaving Monday evening. So, if you see a chick dressed like this or this, the likelihood that it's me is pretty high, so feel free to say hello. If you do not find me on my lonesome, I'm more or less likely hanging around James Ng, Airship Ambassador Kevin Steil, or Ay-Leen. This does not foreclose the opportunity to say hi, though. You may also want to bring cash, because Ay-Leen might well rope me into selling these awesome buttons to fundraise for Shelterbox!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

MRP Adventures: The Project of Steampunk

I'm drafting my proposal for the fourth time, and my supervisor has asked me an interesting question: "what is the project of steampunk conceptually/intellectually/philosophically?"

I'm extremely leery of questions like this, because I've gotten into so many arguments about this very question, which is, basically, "what is the point of steampunk?" It is up there and related to questions like: What is the one true way of doing steampunk? What is the best definition of steampunk? And historically, people like me, racialized, marginalized and commodified, have never gotten the chance to define these answers, and we know the danger of assigning a singular answer. Single answers and single definitions are the stuff of exclusion.  I don't want to be the person who explains what steampunks do, because steampunks don't do anything specific -- steampunk is performative in so many ways: What is Jeni Hellum trying to do with Multiculturalism for Steampunk? She's trying to have fun and expand the playing ground. What is Ay-Leen trying to with Beyond Victoriana? She's trying to engage with histories of colonization and expand the modes of engagement. Two similar performances, for very different projects. It doesn't make one better than the other, because both are valid approaches, and both are valid ways of thinking about steampunk.

I can, however, tell you what can be accomplished with the steampunk aesthetic. I can tell you what elements are found in steampunk that can be added or dropped at will. I can deconstruct steampunk. But I could never tell you what the main point of steampunk is. It's like asking me, "what's the point of a frou-frou skirt?" I could tell you the history of the frou-frou skirt, explain to you what it looks like. I could even explain what an outfit aims to accomplish with the addition of a frou-frou skirt. But a frou-frou skirt on its own? 

But Jha! I hear you cry, are you equating the steampunk aesthetic, with all its complexities and connotations and manifestations, with a frou-frou skirt, a decorative article of clothing? Yes, yes, I am. Can't a frou-frou skirt be utilized to make a point? To queer a suit, to announce a mood, to showcase a style? Can't a frou-frou skirt be part of such projects? Yes. And the same with steampunk. We just happen to be able to say more about steampunk, because its history and trends and relation to reality and, most importantly, usage all point to states and ideals and assumptions and mores of society. This is important work! But I refuse to assign a project to steampunk. It's a murky-assed aesthetic, not a life-defining philosophy.

Which means I have to figure out a way (through all this already) to talk about what MY project with steampunk is, which is to expand the subgenre and challenge imperialist narratives in literature using the steampunk aesthetic.

ETA: I decided I had to re-write my introduction explaining what steampunk is, because since starting the proposal I've had conversations that points me to more accurate origins for steampunk than what I keep saying (oh but departure from my script is so hard!).