Tag Archives: academia

#SteampunkHands – On Crafting a Subcultural Lifestyle: Objects and the Search for Home in Steampunk (Part 5)

The Airship Ashanti in the 2015 Internationa Steampunk Symposium. They were that year's winners of the Airship Games.

The Airship Ashanti in the 2015 International Steampunk Symposium. They were that year’s winners of the Airship Games.

A Genre for our Times: Living Steampunk in Pursuit of “the Good Life”, A Conclusion

During my extensive involvement in the steampunk community, I have contemplated the meaning of what constitutes a lifestyle and whether that coincides with the personal beliefs one holds. While I began this paper with the intention of exploring the separation of ideology with lifestyle, I also believe that people who are heavily involved in the steampunk community hold a specific worldview. In my interviews with members of the community, I came upon a dozen different responses to the question, “Do you think steampunks have a specific ‘mindset’?” Many vehemently rejected the idea that there was one common mindset (thus, hinting at the collective notion of respect for individual opinions and a general distaste toward imposing one’s opinion upon others.) Many other responses, however, incorporated the idea that steampunks are artists who prefer looking at the world more creatively than the average person. Artist Tamara Lavery mentions that, “I believe it is a very fertile mindset. Many of those involved are makers. Artists, crafts people, musicians,….while going to an event and purchasing something amazing made by another is mad fun, most of us are also happiest making or at least “modding” for ourselves.”1 Another steampunk, author Leanne Renee Hieber mentions the commodification of subculture in her response, but with an anti-commercial, pro-community spin: “I think there are common themes. Craft and maker culture as valued commodity (I consider myself a “maker” too, I make books). History is alive and re-imagined in us. Play, fancy, fantasy, adventure and whimsy are also a valued commodity.”2

In fact, what I found in common in many of these responses is how many steampunks link a “steampunk worldview” (if it does exist) to a set of materialist ethics with the world that emphasizes the imagination as a method to break away from normalized constraints of society. The nineteenth century, more than a common focal point of interest, is considered the nexus point of the standards of our modern world. Steampunks view the Victorian era as the beginning of the end with the tide of industrial, social, political and economic changes that directly changed our lives for the worst. By returning to the Victorian, the steampunk aesthetic movement both celebrates a historical era of change while also integrating anachronistic elements into history in the romantic hope of undoing the past to re-create a better present. The idea is speculative in design, but realist in execution. The steampunk aesthetic movement is one method in which people project their utopian ideals onto the everyday.

Continue reading

6 Comments

Filed under Conventions, Essays

#SteampunkHands – On Crafting a Subcultural Lifestyle: Objects and the Search for Home in Steampunk (Part 4)

ICON 2010

Photo from ICON 2010. Image Credit: J.M. Coen.

A Wandering Utopia: The Steampunk Convention

Note: A part of this essay section was previously published in my 2011 TempleCon convention report here.

Convention spaces provoke migration. They act as a Mecca for people of common means but uncommon interests, who engage in pilgrimages across the country to one destination in order to commune with each other. Convention spaces are also known in shorthand as the “con space,” a term that can allude to the Latin word contra (“to oppose, to argue against,” “pro or con”), to trick (“to con someone,” “the con game”), to illusion and mystification (“to confuse”). The term “con” when speaking of “convention” on the other hand, comes from the Middle English word connen, meaning “to study, know, or pursue.” Both divergent entomologies become relevant when describing a steampunk con.

Cons are understood as being a transitory form of escapism, where people enter from the mainstream world and are transferred into a heightened hyper-reality of Othered existence, before departing after a few hours or a few days to re-enter normalcy. At the same time, the convention space is nomadic, moving across city limits and state lines (and some, even, becoming virtual on the Internet)1. Sprouted by whims and fan passions, fan cons become hatched in backwater small towns and major metropolitan areas, each catering to the localized whims of the community’s populace. Cons, then, can be considered festive realms of liminality, a carnival space that Susan Stewart would identify as, “a reply to everyday life which is at the same time an inversion, an intensification, and a manipulation of that life, for it exposes and transforms both pattern and contradiction, presenting the argument and the antithesis of everyday life in an explosion that bears the capacity to destroy that life.”2

Of course, the concept of the fan conventions isn’t new and doesn’t pertain to steampunk subculture alone. My choice to include the con space as part of steampunk lifestyle, however, is connected to the increased attention by steampunk participants to the importance of holding a convention in their local community and the integration of convention-going with sociability for subculture participants. Moreover, unlike the assumption that these conventions are seen as breaks from the everyday, I argue that convention and event life in the steampunk community is seen not as an escape, but as a heightened utopian space that is reflective of community members’ everyday practices, interests and relationships.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Conventions, Essays

#SteampunkHands – On Crafting a Subcultural Lifestyle: Objects and the Search for Home in Steampunk (Part 3)

Lebanon County Historical Society's Stoy Museum replication of a Victorian Barber Shop. Click for source.

Lebanon County Historical Society’s Stoy Museum replication of a Victorian Barber Shop. Click for source.

Retro-Fitting the Technologies of the Self

I first heard of the Steampunk Salon through Meet-up.com, a social website. The NY Steampunk – Artists & Enthusiasts network was started in late 2008 and has over 600 members throughout the state, though a sizable number of them reside in New York City. Many of their events are based in the metropolitan area, from museum trips to picnics to community art projects, like arrangements for float in Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade. One of the consistent events is the literary salon that takes place in Midtown East, hosted at the business of Romain Pallardy, hair stylist. The pun on the dual meaning of “salon” sounds a bit cutesy to be coincidental, and steampunk in general has been known to create spaces with a cheeky wink and a nod.

***

Finding Romain’s Salon is a bit tricky; one cool fall evening, I arrived at a bustling city street in Midtown East and didn’t see a storefront, for the Salon lacked a street sign, in contrast to the flashy hotel logos and restaurants surrounding it. The plain-faced building squeezed in this ritzy area could have been another forgettable residential building; alongside the row of pearly doorbell buttons, though, it wasn’t difficult to spot the one marking Romain’s business. In neat ink penmanship beneath a strip of plastic was the word “Salon,” as intriguing in its simplicity as Alice’s bottles and cakes marked “Drink Me” or “Eat Me.” The doorbell’s built-in camera blinked upon pressing the buzzer; my face flashed back in miniature before I was buzzed in. I climbed a nondescript, narrow stairwell to the second floor and arrived at a simple office door labeled in black-lined gold lettering: “Romain Parllady: Salon.”

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Conventions, Essays

#SteampunkHands – On Crafting a Subcultural Lifestyle: Objects and the Search for Home in Steampunk (Part 2)

Victorian Carpenter's Kit

Victorian Carpenter’s Kit

“Home is a Woodshop”

Among my books on my self stands a French vodka bottle, sliced clean across the middle; this bottle I had cut myself using a diamond-edged rotary water blade. The process was not perfect, and chipped edges serve a cautionary purpose when I pick up the glass. A candle sits inside it, unlit, on my shelf, yet it nevertheless reminds me of the place where it was made.

***

In the shadow of the George Washington Bridge, I stood by the iron-barred gateway situated between two gray-faced, indiscriminate pre-war apartment buildings, dialing a number off my smart phone. An icy blast of wind coming in from the water cuts through my layers and my fingers tremble over the key pad. A warm, older voice answered, “I’ll be right up,” and in a minute, Stephen Ebinger, a broad-shouldered man with a peppery beard and Santa-Claus eyes, opened the gate. The stairs descended to the subbasement level and I teetered downwards precariously, clinging to the rust-stained railing. I followed my friend through the building’s back door into the basement apartment that serves both as his home, as a fully-equipped woodshop, and as the Steampunk Co-op in northern Manhattan.

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Conventions, Essays

#SteampunkHands – On Crafting a Subcultural Lifestyle: Objects and the Search for Home in Steampunk (Part 1)

A picture of my steampunk self way back in 2009 during one of the first events I attended in NYC for International Steampunk Day

A picture of my steampunk self in 2009 during one of the first events I attended in NYC for International Steampunk Day

Thinking about my contributions for “Steampunk Hands Around the World” this year made me reflect upon my time spent in the community. There have been highs and lows, and admittedly enough, I had no idea how much my life would change in the past eight years because of this aesthetic and the creative community inspired by it. One of the reasons why I have stuck around has been the belonging I have found through the people, places, and things we have created.

A few years ago in graduate school, I took a class called “Performance of Everyday Life”, which interrogated how we understand ourselves and the way we move through the world as acts of performance. From religious ritual to amateur hobbies, from gender roles to cosplay, from sports to clubbing to fashion — what all of these activities have in common is the idea of how different levels of theatricality, presentation, and action is incorporated into our daily identities.

My final paper was an ethnographic study contemplating making and community spaces in New York City and the convention scene.  Reading this over, I see how this can be interpreted as a counterargument of a recent critique of the maker movement written in The Atlantic. Unlike The Atlantic‘s critique of the capital-driven, competition-oriented DIY movement, I think steampunk community’s values provide an alternate view to making which is tied into group identity and fostering spaces of non-competitive creativity that values both traditional masculine and feminine arts.  Artistic camaraderie endows the steampunk object with affect value that grows into something greater than the object itself.  Though it was written in 2012, and some of the steampunks featured in this article I have lost touch with or left the community for one reason or another, this essay overall embodies many thoughts I have about the inherent beauty of creation and sense of home I get with fellow steampunks. This is, more than anything, a love letter to an art movement.

I’ll be posting a new part of this essay every Sunday this month.

Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under Conventions, Essays

Updates: New Books & New Conferences

SteamingVictorianPBK-2

Click to order on Amazon.

Exciting news everyone, which as news tends to do, comes in threes.

First of all, Steaming into the Victorian Future is now available in trade paperback! Now instead of paying $100+ for this collection, you can get the trade paperback for less than $25. This is the very first academic collection of steampunk essays, and, for those interested in helping this scholarship grow, please purchase a copy of the book. I’m being honest here — we have been very grateful for the support our publisher as given the editors Julie Ann Taddeo and Cynthia Miller by creating this low-cost edition, but in order for steampunk academia to continue, we have to show support with our wallets as well. If you are interested in writing or teaching about steampunk for the classroom, consider adding this to your bookshelf.

Already, this book has earned some great press from the Academy and the SFF community.

Winner of the 2013 Peter C. Rollins Award in Popular Culture Studies

Steaming into a Victorian Future looks at the potential that steampunk has to be a contributor to social change through consideration of its past and present. This collection is vast in its scope, critically evaluating ‘texts’ from an array of genres from the past, present, and future of this literary movement and its surrounding subculture, and is as valuable as an introduction to steampunk and its possibilities as any of the fiction collections available.” (Monsters and the Monstrous academic journal)

“The English major in me just finished up dancing a little jig. I always enjoy reading essays on steampunk, but there are essays… and then there are essays. Oh, yeah. I enjoyed it. Every. Single. Page.

If any fellow steampunk fans out there want some solid validation of our favorite genre and its literary effects, this is your book.” (Wired.com)

In other news, Steampunk World is on its way to the presses soon, you can check out the Table of Contents posted on SF Signal.

IAFA

Finally, I’m excited to say that I’ll be attending the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, an annual academic conference about SFF in Orlando, Florida. I won’t be presenting, but there representing the Tor Books crew, since the theme this year is “Fantastic Empires” and Guests of Honor line up include Nnedi Okorafor, Ian McDonald, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay (Scholar), Jr., and Brian Aldiss (Emeritus).

A summary of what to expect at the conference:

From space operas to medieval tales to seminal works of fantasy, imaginative fiction abounds in fabulous empires. ICFA 35 will investigate the widest range of topics relating to empire, including discussions of particular texts, analyses of the hegemonic and counterhegemonic forces of empire, evaluations of individual resistances to imperialism (and of empires striking back), and assays into various other aspects of the theme. We welcome proposals for scholarly papers and panels that seek to examine, interrogate, and expand any research related to empire and the fantastic.

Authors, agents & academics interested in meeting at the conference, feel free to contact me! I’m really looking forward to this. ^^

4 Comments

Filed under Announcement, Beyond Victoriana Odds and Ends, Conventions

Politics in Steampunk – A Sampling (aka “Why it Matters”)

Roger Whitson_1

Interrupting this blog for a special bulletin — or, rather, a bit of an intellectual endeavor. I’ve been talking with Dr. Roger Whitson of Washington State University about steampunk — and he is currently working on an MLA Special Session proposal on the subject — and what came up in our discussion was the role of the social media and how it fosters and records the process of cultural change. Steampunk, which has been both upheld as a ideological movement and downplayed as an apolitical fashion trend, is only as politically substantial as people make it to be. But the use of the aethernetz, however, democratizes the power of social opinions and magnifies the power of these conversations.  More importantly, however, all of these conversations create a more transparent picture of what cultural politics are actually happening on the ground, and opens up more possibilities of challenging “entrenched institutions”, as Roger explained to me, “…it is a politics that is removed from the exclusive analysis of the academic, the editor, and the expert, and placed into the hands of everyday people using social media.”

How can we gauge the political potential of our imaginations in the steampunk community?

Thus, Roger asked me to submit a brief response — at most 250 words — in reply to his questions: “What role do feminism and queer politics have in steampunk? What role should they have?” in order to assist his article on steampunk fandom and the digital archive.

And of course, being a steampunk, I rebelled, and, instead, unleashed this question to my fellow readers. To show a sampling of what political awareness the community has (and the application of that awareness to steampunk) I posted the above blog to Beyond Victoriana’s tumblr and another one to its Facebook page.  After the jump, I do give my response, but it cannot be one made separate from the responses of many, many others.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Beyond Victoriana Odds and Ends, Essays

What Do You Do with an MA in Steampunk?

Note from Ay-leen: This guest post for STEAMED! was published yesturday and I thought I’d share it here.

After four years of college, with plenty of knowledge in what a well-known musical has termed a “useless” degree (though, technically, more than in English – I double-majored with Russian), I arrived at the classic Quarter-Life Crisis. I’d been in the Real World, yet was second-guessing myself. Was my career path where I wanted it to be? Was this where I envisioned myself when I left my alma mater? Compared to my peers, after the economy died, I was lucky: working in publishing at a secure job with solid prospects. But something since undergrad came into my life that had reminded me how much I missed academia. Steampunk.

[Read “What Do You Do with an MA in Steampunk?” on STEAMED!]

Comments Off on What Do You Do with an MA in Steampunk?

Filed under Beyond Victoriana Odds and Ends, Essays

Steampunk Industrial Revolution, PortCon & Fashion Talks

A couple of cons coming up this month, and a special announcement:

In two weeks the revolution returns to Nashua, New Hampshire: the Steampunk Industrial Revolution will be telegraphed from June 8-10. From what I’ve heard, the theme is “Year of the Dragon” and the convention is preparing for an inter-dimensional beast to who visits this realm once every twelve years…with the smoldering threat coming from the heavens, can enough clockwork gadgets and a pirate ship bar be enough for this weekend? Yup, immersive storytelling strikes again at this con, and I’m looking forward to it.

The con schedule isn’t up yet, but I know that I’ll be doing my standard panels, plus a couple new in-character ones (you’ll have to come to see what they’re about…) — and hanging out with cool folks such as Guest of Honor Dr. Grymm,  The Wandering Legion of the Thomas Tew, Jake von Slatt, Mr. Saturday & Sixpence, Platform One, and many, many more musicians, entertainers and other ne’er-do-wells!

And as a reminder later that month, I will be in PortCon in Maine from June 21 – 24, where Lucretia Dearfour and I will be their Steampunk Guests of Honor.

I’ll be hanging around this weekend, presenting two new events:

Costume as Character, Character as Costume – Friday 11 AM – 12 PM in the Monhegan Room
Steampunk Meetup – Sunday 10 AM – 11 AM in the Monhegan Room

Plus, news from the ivory tower: I am very excited to announce that Fashion Talks: Undressing the Power of Style is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com!

Waaaaay back in 2009 (!), Jaymee Goh and I co-wrote an article about the imperialist — and postcolonial — leanings in steampunk fashion, our first academic venture together. Now, the anthology it is included in —  Fashion Talks: Undressing the Power of Style from SUNY Press — can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com and will pub in September! Fashion Talks is all about the roles race, class, gender, and sexuality play in everyday style, and the other chapters range from Lolita and goth to hijabs and stripper shoes to emo and hipsters & more. If you are into fashion, pop culture, politics, and how all three collide, this book is for you. Read the description after the jump.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Announcement, Conventions

Updates: Crafting a Life in the Arts, Academics, et al.

First of all, I want to congratulate our winner for the Frank Reade giveaway:

Eric J. of Massachusetts, USA

Thank you everyone for participating! I know in the coming months, I’ll have more in store, so watch this space for more steampunk goodies. ^-^

Also this spring, you may have noticed a derth of updates on this blog. This hasn’t been because steampunk & multiculturalism has fallen to the wayside — far from it! For those not in the know, I am currently finishing up my MA candidate work at New York University with a focus on steampunk performance. This means all of my spare time has been dedicated to the books and what our little community means to pop culture at large.

A bit of a late notice to announce here, but tomorrow, I’ll be at Mount Holyoke College, my alma matter, for their annual Crafting a Life in the Arts event about how to develop a creative career. So if you are in the Pioneer Valley area, don’t hesitate to drop a line.

Additionally, a brief reminder that I’ll also be presenting “Race Matters in Amestris: On the Treatment of Disenfranchised Minorities in Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist “ at the Pop Culture Association/ American Culture Association National Conference from April 11 – 14th. I’ll be up bright and early Thursday, April 12th, for the panel on “Race, Interculturality and Construction of Identity” from 8 – 9:30 in Salon C.

And a nod to my fellow panelists:

Mae Mendoza
“We need to find a safe place:” Constructions of Mexican(/American) Spaces and Technologies in Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles 

Blithe Devon
Dusty Clockworks: A Clockwork Orange and Firefly Through an Intercultural Lens

Leanne Foster
Cyborg Utopia: Rejecting the Myth of Control in Twenty-First Century Post-Determinism Science Fiction

It’ll be a fantastic opportunity to talk with fellow like-minded scholars and geeks. ^-^

Additionally, Beyond Victorana is now an academically-credited source! Christine Ferguson, a researcher from the University of Glasgow contacted me back in 2010 about an article she was working on about steampunk politics. Her piece “Surface Tensions: Steampunk, Subculture, and the Ideology of Style” has recently been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies and she refers to several pieces hosted here, calling us “a groundbreaking postcolonial steampunk blog.” Her assessments about ideologies of steam is an astute contribution and adds to work by previous academics and observers (and will able be a great help in my own research… hint hint for a bigger announcement later this year.)

Updates will continue to be sporadic for the next couple of months, but rest assured that what comes up will be worth it. ^-^

In addition, if you are interested in being a guest blogger, please don’t hesitate to contact me for details.

Comments Off on Updates: Crafting a Life in the Arts, Academics, et al.

Filed under Announcement