[rough draft] Steampunk: Abstract

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

This is just a rough draft of the abstract I am working on for a paper about Steampunk. I wrote it just today, so I realize a lot of this needs to be fleshed out more. The deadline is November 10th, though, so luckily I have some time.

Abstract: “Steampunk in the Posthuman World: Insecurity and Transcendence”

Marshall McLuhan believed in the future of the humanistic machine and, as a culture, we have seen this with the visionary actions by the late Steve Jobs and others at Apple. McLuhan wrote of how we dwell in our machines where tools become an extension of the human. As one examines the world today watching people interact with cell phones and Apple products, McLuhan becomes a prophetic voice. One of the most interesting aspects of the human and technological inventions comes forth through Steampunk.
Steampunk, in a sense, has become a cultural instrument. Steampunk suggests a way where a person can literally inhabit a “humanistic machine.” But what the question arises as to what is Steampunk besides just an aesthetic or cultural movement? In my perspective, Steampunk responds to and represents our insecurities about our human selves in the face of technology. Will we lose ourselves to the machine, one must ask?
Looking backward to Victorian culture through Steampunk helps answer this question considering Victorian’s emphasis on ghostly tales. In Victorian ghostly literature, such as in Henry James’ Turn of the Screw, it becomes clear that the ghosts are not outside of us, but that we are the ghosts. In other words, the man walking into the haunted house is himself haunted. My question is that what does this say about self and what does this say about the human self in a posthuman world through the Steampunk movement? My paper will focus on how themes within Steampunk speak to our insecurities in a posthuman society.
Posthumanism does not just speak to insecurities, however, but also represents a presumed lack of balance between human and the machine. My paper will further articulate how Steampunk represents our lack of balance in regards to culture and the global arena. In a world where we can connect instantly with others from around the world, how do we maintain our sense of self, of our own culture, with so many emerging influences? In a sense, it is interesting we have turned to Victorianism (in this case Neo-Victorianism), since Victorianism focused on control, both self and social control. But with so much technology, how can we enforce that sense of control, how can we regain balance? Steampunk seems to give us answers to this and this need for control is one thing my paper will discuss. (My own comment: I know. There is work to be done.)
Despite these negative readings, one cannot ignore how Steampunk also represents a powerful movement toward making a positive and powerful use of our technologies. My paper will end discussing how Steampunk can give a culture lost in its machines a voice. This portion of the paper will focus on the transcendence of Steampunk—how steampunk can help the human transcend the hold of the machine and cause human and machine to meet with mutual purpose. (My own comment: I don’t really like the last part of this last sentence–I’m working on this. I need to do some more thinking of the transcendence idea anyway.)

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