- "Thoughts about Orientalism, Imperialism & Steampunking Asia" - Ay-Leen the Peacemaker
- "What is cultural appropriation" - Ardhra
- "An Introduction to Edward Said, Orientalism, and Postcolonial LiteraryStudies" - Amardeep Singh, linked in Ardhra's article above.
"The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much." - Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
This blog of mine was originally intended as a space within which I could explore the various facets of this thing called Steampunk, as I encountered and explored them. So far, I've written mostly short bits on the superficial aesthetic stuff - the clothes, the accessories, the events I've attended. The deeper stuff, however, I find more difficult to write about in the confines of a blog post, in part because of time constraints and in part because I'm used to having 20 - 40 pages (typed, double-spaced, plus bibliography and notes) to explore topics in depth.
One of my concerns when first delving into Steampunk was the perception that this was yet another racial project by mostly white people, reifying an era of the past that wasn't nearly as jolly as the people looking backwards seem to think it was. Fortunately, while there is certainly a large amount of uncritical Victoriana to be found, there is also a good bit of critical analysis going on as well. I found Jaymee Goh's Silver Goggles blog fairly early on, along with Ay-leen the Peacemaker's Beyond Victoriana. Now that I've spent some time reading and digesting, I'm feeling a little more confident in my own ability to critically examine my own hangups, blind spots, and problematic opinions.
As a white male, it would be all too easy just to go along with the whole neo-Victorian aesthetic, dress in khaki and pretend to be at least comfortably upper-class without really thinking about what I already know from my sophomore-level history survey classes - the entire Victorian system was built on the notions of colonialism and empire, and has deep roots in a systematic treatment of colonies (and the colonized people) as raw material for the industrialization that is almost fetishised within Steampunk. Problem is, I'm one of those who has trouble just turning off the frontal lobes and enjoying things mindlessly (unless I'm whacked out on cold medication). I resent the anti-intellectualism that got me labeled a "nerd" back when the term was still one of approbation rather than celebration. I believe, along with Socrates, that “The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living.”
And so, with all this in mind, I'm trying to be very careful about my upcoming trip to SteamCon in Seattle. See, they have an event known as the Wayfarer's Brunch which is promoted as an opportunity for people to break out of a purely Western perspective on Steampunk, and celebrate "wonderfully colorful and diverse cultures" by donning "non-British steampunk ensembles" while having Sunday brunch. “How is this problematic?”, you may be asking yourself. After all, isn't this exactly the sort of thing I should be happy about, that there is recognition of a world beyond the borders of Great Britain, and even Europe as a whole within the alt-historical if not outright fantastical world of Steampunk?
More on that in a bit...