Ah, the Postmodern Era! That great revolution in thought and design against the Idealist Utopianism of the Modern (Steam-Early Atom) Era! The era of Punk and Deconstruction, of tearing down the old icons of the past and exposing the flaws inherent in them, the cracks in their very foundations!
The Postmodern, framed by philosophers like Derrida and Foucault, architects like Le Corbusier, sought to expose the faulty logic of utopian objective Modernism. It predicted the rise of "Virtual" over "Real", multifaceted over conforming, rizomes ("wiki") rather than roots ("heirarchial formatting"), internationalism over nationalism, androgyny over gender. It questioned our Scientific-Technological Certainty and Linear Progressivism.
Cyberpunk was a direct offshoot of Postmodernism and for many their first experience with Postmodern thought. Tome, in keeping with these Cyberpunk roots (or should I say Rhizomes?), has declared Dieselpunk a "Postmodern movement".
But is it? Are we? Certainly much of Dieselpunk has deconstructive aspects and plays ironic games with the Modern Era Postmodernism overturned, but there's a affectionate side to the satire, a real love and indeed longing for aspects of the modern era that always felt to me at odds with the alienation and aggitation of the Postmodernists. Certainly the multiplicity of times and styles and cultures and ideas within the Steam- and Dieselpunk cultures and movements are born of Postmodern and emulate similar trends in Postmodern Architecture, yet rather than merely ironically mocking the past, there's an underlying desire to partially rebuild it, Reconstruct aspects of it, and Reconfigure.
There's a feeling of loss for the certainties of old, the sense of Hope and Ideals lost in the muddiness of the Postmodern, and a desire to make something that "means something" in a world of moral/ethical/spiritual relativism. Sure, Futurism had that dark blind idealism side that led to Fascism, but does that make a desire for making the future a Better Place inherently authoritarian? Growing up in a world without icons or role models (all since thoroughly Deconstructed), where everything is tinged with jaded sarcasm and bereft of any hope for a better future not built upon the backs of our neighbors, is there anything left but the drudgery and servitude of the Cubicle as we march to an eventual Man-Made Apocalypse? if so, why bother doing anything, loving anything, trying or hoping for anything?
Enter *punk, with its retrofuturist facade and sense of hope and search for meaning, it's appreciation for the acheivements of the Modern Era and longing for the certainty and hope they perhaps felt. As much as it's a child and spiritual sucessor of Postmodernist counter-cultures like Punk and Cyberpunk, it's also in its own rebelion against those movement, fighting for hope, pride, decency, style, and love in a world where ugliness, rudeness, empty greed, hopelessness, and spite rule the day. It's almost...something new, derived from the Postmodern but trying to take the best parts of the Modern, somehow Postmodern, but not, or perhaps Post-Postmodern. Pre-Post-Postmodern?
IMHO, it depends on the artist.
Some of us are trying to demonstrate the irony of "punk" today by dressing in what could be identified as "conservative" clothing. It's the environment and the society that measures that irony.
Or, in other words, when everyone around you is wearing slashed clothing and sporting mohawks, the guy in the three-piece suit is the one making the statement. Take the suit out of the punk club, and the message loses its bite.
So, the irony is not mean-spirited or mocking, it's just ironic by way of contrast.
Postmodernism is so complex that it’s hard to write about it in a concise way. In fact, I’ve written what will be either a series of blog postings or possibly an article on how why I consider Dieselpunk as a Postmodern phenomenon and it’s over 1,400 words long. Therefore, here I’ll only post a very brief summary of my thoughts.
Decline of Modernity
It might seem contradictory to say that Dieselpunk is a product of the passing of Modernity but it’s my opinion that it is. In Dark Ottensian, we find a statement on the failure of Modernity with its emphasis on the underbelly of the Diesel Era. I would describe Hopeful Ottensian as a form of nostalgia for a utopia built on the principles of Modernity that failed to appear. Piecraftian Dieselpunk takes this criticism for Modernity to a new level.
Dieselpunk, while it has some individuals who have risen to prominence and whose influence has left a strong influence in the genre, has no founder or creator. Its origin is very organic and grassroots in that the members of the Dieselpunk community themselves are directly creating through discussion and sharing what is Dieselpunk.
The End of the Metanarrative
This issue of defining Dieselpunk takes us to another postmodern feature of it, which is the questioning of the grand narratives or metanarratives that in the past regulated our lives. In Postmodern thought, metanarratives are no longer possible. The best we can hope for are individual narratives that gives each of us individual meaning but can't be considered universal and unchanging.
Applying this to the subject at hand, no one person can say what is or isn't Dieselpunk for everyone. What is Dieselpunk varies from person to person.
Finally, there is deconstruction that, while originally a literary process, reexamines a subject by exploring its opposites such as principles and counter-principles to discover a new understanding. It also evaluates the role of the observer in shaping rather than describing the subject matter.
Dieselpunk practices a form of deconstruction, in my opinion, with its near obsession with "What If?" scenarios. We compare the actual historical events and cultural elements of the Diesel Era and explore the possible alternatives had circumstances turned out differently. These various alternative histories allows us to distill specific aspects from the events and culture of the historical era and to then reconstruct them with our contemporary sensibilities to create a new paradigm that we call Dieselpunk.
I’m not sure I made a good case but those are my thoughts on the matter.
No doubt that "nailing down" Postmodernism (PM henceforth) is like nailing down jello. Rather the very nature of the times and philosophy. A philosophy/movement/cultural observation/etc. founded on the Heisenbergian uncertainty of finding anything solid, be it a Metanarrative, a Platonic Ideal, or an absolute and perhaps best illustrated by the ultimate diversity and decentralization of the Internet, is going to be impossible to quantify. (And Larry I, for one, would love to hear your thoughts on PM sometime...perhaps here's a place to start reiterating them.)
Of course in building "individual narratives" (like DP) we are, perhaps, seeking to fill that post-Neitzschean void that Modernist movements failed to achieve, and doing it perhaps somewhat ironically, knowing that the Ultimate is perhaps an illusion. In that way DP is very much in line with the flow of PM. The inherently decentralized, internet-based nature of the culture is fully in keeping with that Rhizomatic worldview. We challange the simplicity of Modern-era utopianism or flat-out demolish it in Piecraftian ways.
Yet much of what bothers me and many others, including some of those deep into the PM Core like David Foster Wallace, is the overarching sense of cynicism. (Note to Tome: Wallace predicted back in 93 that the rebel of the future would be of the very nature you describe; see the quote here). Much of the PM narative seems to be one that Artifical is Real, Belief is Ignorance, Striving is Directionless. "There can be no Metanarrative or Absolutes, so why fucking bother believing in anything?" seems to be the underlying subtext in much of it, and certainly seems to be at the heart of the general selfish juvinile apathy that rules much of current culture, at least here in the eastern US. It seems as though most "true believers" in anything we seem to encounter are Koolaid Sippers who buy a narrative's propaganda hook, line, and sinker, be they judgemental evangelists, Party Wonks worshiping the Golden Donkey or Golden Elephant (to the ever more apparent direct harm to the nation's well being), self-centered closed culture movements, or others so blindly wrapped up they make you question the point in believing anything. Protests are publicity stunts. Grassroots activism quickly gets hijacked by special interests. Everything's a scam, trying to sell you something, claim your soul/mind/thoughts/hopes, trying to fuck you or get you to fuck someone else...all that artificiality and empty authority Punk railed against, only it got worse.
It makes you hopeless. All the role models have been exposed as frauds or hypocrites. All the promises have been broken or hijacked. Nothing's real, nothing's true, and nothing matters, so why give a shit about anything?
Yes, not all of PM aspires to such "Meta-cynicism", but so much does...particularly many of the "big names". Many of the core philosophers in framing the philosophy are/were bitter Marxists disillusioned by the squandered promise of the USSR, railing against all belief in anything. Moral relativists who felt nothing was worth fighting for, since all is an empty shell in the ugly throes of Late Capitalism (is it any wonder so many postmodernists comitted suicide?).
Yet DP, to quote the Tenets you laid out, Tome, should "reach for the greatest heights imaginable knowing that he is supported by the experience of those around him". There's that Ottensian side that seeks to recapture that old Spirit of Progress with the stated goal of making something better, using our thoughts and energies to make a positive mark, not just line our pockets in empty avarice or give up and smoke crack in an alley. All through this site, the Gatehouse, Steampunk Magazine, and such there's an underlying current I've seen from at least a large portion of the *punk population that seeks something real. Sure, there's that ironic, playful side that, perhaps mockingly, perhaps affectionately, plays with that old blind progressivism, knowing that the Platonic Ideal is illusary. But at the core, when I read the words online, hear the music, see the artwork, there's a palpable striving for something. Steampunks using Victorian manners both ironically and counterculturally against prevalent rudeness, yet at the heart with a real message that "we're in this together, and we should respect one another." Community always at the heart. Mutual elevation always part of the vision. Making real and tangible and reliable DIY products rather than settle for the cheap disposable plastic. Regardless of whether they read Rand or Trotsky, most of the *punks I know aspire for something, however illusary, for they know that even if the perceived ultimate endpoint is a lie, the journey getting there lifts you, and those around you, up to something better. Who cares if the core is empty, it gives us something to build around, like a hurricane or Geodesic Sphere.
In this way, *punk reminds me of many of the "Post-Postmodern" (PPM) movements out there, like the New Sincerity, or the Metamodernists, both of whom seek, only somewhat tounge-in-cheek, to cast aside the cynicism and build new hope and decency in a world lost to cynicism. Ironically, it's also in direct opposition to the prevalent artifical Reality Show & iPhone slavery PPM culture Kirby derides as "Digimodernism" or "Pseudomodernism".
This "crossroads" of PM and PPM cultures and philosophies is what first made me wonder if we were at the vanguard of a new direction, much as those early PM stirings of the imediate post-WW2 era were the vanguard for the coming PM metaculture that would define the 60s-2000's. Hense "Pre-Post-Postmodern".
Hope that wasn't too rambling and confusing.
I should have joined this group a long time ago. Now I know why I feel at home here.
Unfortunately, I don't have the philosophy background to have more than a tangential understanding of PM vs Modernism. What I do know is that I like the multi-linear approach to knowledge and a distrust of radical logical positivism. I don't agree that that necessitates a rejection of underlying absolute truth or on a social level a search for common ground. I quite frankly formed my views as a preteen who was "naively" influenced by cultural cross currants present in the early 70s. The "hippy counterculture" and the revived interest in tradition evolved into movements at odds with each other but in my "naivete" I saw them as complimentary. The Waltons was a TV show that was very popular and provided a jump off point for my parents' description of the depression and New Deal and the values that came out of that era. It pulled together many of those now conflicting themes. For me this movement provides a modern opportunity to revive the best of those values in a similar way.
As you can guess from my postings I am not shy about throwing religion into the discussion. Somebody has to do it. ( I am a inclusive multiculturalist not a exclusive multiculturalist). The 30s were a time when people were morally conservative but often economically and even "socially" liberal. It was an era that fostered temperance, resilience, compassion, respect and humility. Religion, at its best, was a big part of that ( the Catholic Worker movement for example). There is no reason it cannot be part of the discussion of Dieselpunk philosophy. In that time it was not seen as nearly the repressive force that it is now ( at least in some circles). I guess that makes me a idealistic Piecraftian with overtly Catholic/"catholic" sympathies ; )
Sorry if I am rambling as well but I offer a non-technical voice to the discussion.
I'm glad you joined this group, Twizard. Far from rambling, I enjoyed reading your thoughts.
These should help to clear things up!
Notes on metamodernism website:
We will not be recreating the modernist weltanschauung, but neither can we persist in the tired old postmodernist tropes (ironic, noncommittal,cynical). Metamodernism is one of several "Post-post-modernist stances in the landscape of culture, critique, and philosophical inquiry. It posits that the appropriate condition is to oscillate between the modernist and post-modernist positions, to apply them to each other. Post-modernism as a movement per se has become moribund, but its effects have not been, and should not be, negated. Irony was the prevalent mode of post-modernism, but a tempered sincerity informed by both the progressive and objective spirit of modernism as well as the critical thinking and multifocalism of post-modernism is the mode of metamodernism. "Movement shall henceforth be enabled by way of an oscillation between positions, with diametrically opposed ideas operating like the pulsating polarities of some colossal electric machine, propelling the world into action. . . . We must go forth and oscillate!" –Metamodernist Manifesto
@ Ed: thanks for the link! I'm passingly familiar with Metamodernism and the somewhat related "New Sincerity", and both those influenced my thoughts on *punk in general as a "pre-post-postmodern" idea. It seems to me that a lot of the Metamodernist Manifesto's ideas towards renewed decency and idealism dovetail well with a lot of the ideals and goals I see coming out of the Steampunk and Dieselpunk cultures, hense much of the purpose of the original topic.
@ Twizard: very glad you joined! My posts were feeling forgotten! :-( Wish I'd noticed your post earlier! I see absolutely no reason why personal religious beliefs would be at odds with DP. Sure, there's little room in my mind for the closeminded judgementalism of groups like the Moral Majority and Phelps' crew, but I likewise grow weary of the growing "athiest evangelism" out of people like Dawkins that seek to belitle the faithful out of spite and moral superiority (not so different, eh?). While I'm far from one of the faithful myself, I see the good that can come from it and how it has positively affected many of my friends' lives and so I choose to embrace any who would seek better mutual love and acceptance regardless of what the "last line of their dogtags" say. I consider DP "agnostic" to the faith(s) or non-faith of its followers.
I can't believe it has taken me so long to get back to this discussion! Cap'n Tony, I am somewhat where you are on matters of faith. I think that analogously to religionists, atheists are making claims based on a belief system that purports to be all-encompassing, but which actually mistakes a theoretical position for reality.
By this I mean that just as religionists have sacred texts or revered traditions (Torah, Bible, Koran, Popul Vuh, Mahabarata and Vedas, Spiral Dance, etc.) that are anointed to be metaphysically authoritative, atheists have what I call fundamentalist materialism, resulting from the inability or disinclination to consider or fathom that something might be real or functional that does not admit to the limited perceptual/analytical matrices of experimental methodology and mathematical inquiry. Logical positivism has been a very successful modality of thought in philosophy, leading to all of the science and technological marvels and plagues with which the planet is now suffused.
Unlike the claims of religion, the processes of science can be seen to work reliably in pragmatic terms. We do not however know that measurement is the only way to determine reality, or even applicability. We tend to equate (yes, equate, exactly!) measurement with validity. The convergence only applies within a certain frequency. It is the one which our bodies are best equipped to discern; that says a lot about us, but not much about the extent or possibility of objective reality. Physics has exhausted the range of this methodology, and has become tortuously embroiled in semantic thought experiments that can, as yet, have no experimental corollaries in the physical world.
This all leaves me in a position I usually refer to as Transcendental Agnosticism, Which means I question religious AND materialist assumptions about epistemology, metaphysics (if any), cosmology, perhaps even logic. My positions on all of this have remained remarkably stable since the 1980s, but I have become aware over time of thinkers who explore these subjects. These include Count Korzibsky, the author of an excellent book titled General Semantics and Robert Anton Wilson, a very unusual science fiction writer and Joyce scholar, who blew my mind repeatedly as I worked my way through his extensive bibliography (especially The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, The Cosmic Trigger I and II, and Coincidance.Recently I've been reading Philosophy in the Flesh by George Lakoff, which digs very deeply into the relationship between epistemology and embodiment.
I love the things I'm seeing from the metamodernists, and feel like my philosophical home is in that place/mode, much as I think my cultural home is here in the Dieselpunk milieu and in the other retrofuturist and allied artistic manifestations such as New Weird America, Tiki/Space/Atomic Culture, and so on. Re-examining these with a what if and why not attitude adds a whole new dimension to our experience of them. We are repositioning and looking at these cultural crystals from different angles, not just the flatland planes of linear time. The possibilities are endless!
Hi all. I just got done reading an essay on slipstream by Bruce Sterling (his second one, I think). I read some Kathy Acker back when I was in college, as well as some Pynchon, so I think I kinda get what slipstream is, although if you backed me into a corner and demanded that I define it... not so much. Anyway, I was wondering if you all see dieselpunk fiction as a form of slipstream. As I was reading the Sterling article I kept thinking about whether it fit or not. I think not, but I wondered if maybe that's just my limited understanding of slipstream talking.