Monday, May 28, 2012

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Vieux Nouveau

I was thinking the other day about Steampunk and how the last time this art form appeared...

Last time?
Of course, didn't you know?... I should have thought that one who was versed in anachronistic artforms that you would have remembered. But then perhaps you are too young. It also didn't look exactly like its present form, it never does, so you could be excused for not realising. A micro history to follow.

Steampunk is a revival of Art Nouveau. Shall we say, Old Nouveau, Vieux Nouveau. For the Art Nouveau creators the industrial revolution was all too present, so the recombinant elements were: industrial processies and organic forms. After the horror of WWI it was commodified into Art Deco. You will note the depiction of women goes from romantic and soft, to totemic and mechanical. After WWII the shocked art community and the boomers who followed attempted to obliterate all history.

So now in this Post Post Modern world we find that our architecture is either utilitarian and brutalist, egocentric and ostentatious, or faux historical. Now to be fair to the faux group, at least they comprehend that there is something alienating about the two previous categories. New Urbanists and some designers have been working on these problems for some time now, they also fall into this melange of anthrocentricity and technology.

As in the last attempt to marry our technological propensity with the realities of our feeling bodies there came the co-option. As I've read elsewhere refered to as the "second artist effect." That being, the first artist is inspired, the second copies, and often poorly. Steampunk may go the way of Hippie (itself a Rousseauian type revival) consisting of people who like to dress up and party, obliterating the meaning behind the movement. I think Steampunk though has some advantages over the previous incarnations.

we are conversant with co-option, and commodification. This dross is inevitable, and perhaps useful. It is the effluvia, the compost of creation. From it we can grow better things which will themselves be swallowed up into the vortex of cultural garbage. It is part of what we accept as the continuous change of the world, and hints to the upcycling of our civilization.

because of our interconnected communication networks we can now see that the more links any idea has, the more robust its presence. This means that just as with Hippie before it, Steampunk must infiltrate all aspects of life to the deepest extents. The 'conservative effect' will tone down much of the most exuberant aspects. Indeed Steampunk, instead of being co-opted by the consumer-goods machine, needs to become a co-opting entity. Like its octopus emblem, it needs to insinuate itself into everything, not just fashion and fiction.

in a post oil, high cost energy world appropriate technologies are needed. For example: Steampunk can easily co-opt the urban agrarian movement with greenhouses and conservatories, a status symbol of the Victorian elite, and a necessity for local produce variety, as well as potential income. Solar power, lauded by 1970s Eco technologists, can be integrated easily into a self-sufficient Steampunk ethic. Technology and science, unless it is culturally acceptable, is marginalised.

women are more aware of their personal needs and desires for their life. Unlike the Art Nouveau period, or even in the Hippie revolution, women now comprehend that the social contract of romanticism must be balanced with real economic power. The decent into war/corporate culture is anti-romantic and soul-eviscerating. Barefoot and pregnant is stagnating and an underutilisation of talent. For women the shifts in ephemeral culture signal real shifts of power. Civilising stories that prepose gentility and kindheartedness as lauded cultural values are not just arbitrary constructs, but trends of behavior. Neither too romantic, nor not romantic enough will benefit womens' status. Nor is the chimera 'gender neutral' enough. Steampunk is female positive. (And with all the gadgets, male positive too.)

... So as I was saying, when this art form appeared last as Art Nouveau, marrying emanations of the soul to the products of the hand, they got one thing wrong, a part of history that Steampunk must do its best not to repeat. And that it can only do by knowing what came before. Significant creations are not the same as meaningful creations. Artifice is not the same as ingenuity. Darkness does not necessarily imply evil, nor light good. We must distinguish, in our own hearts, a spiritual dimension of our creations. We should say of those who make important and significant works: How clever of them. But for those who make creations that touch our souls we should say: Bravo!

If you can't tell the difference between brass and gold, then it's all brass.

Mr. Kingfisher

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Jiminy Cricket!

They say that one out of a hundred people is a psychopath.

They say that one out of every hundred people is a sociopath.

So one in fifty people is potentially very dangerous...

Personally, I think the number is a lot higher. More like nine out of ten people are dangerous. Perhaps not to the serial killer level -- but just their biases, their prejudices, can be very very dangerous. Take the statistics above. They seem reasonable. We assume they are vetted by reasonable people without agenda. But are one fiftieth of the population as dangerous as the charged words 'psychopath' and 'sociopath' imply? Seems like there should be a lot more murders than there are.

How about this stat: Women hold 65% of the total wealth in the USA [Fortune Magazine]
Now, I know women earn less than men. Or I've seen a statistic. So one assumes the 65% is partly on account of men dying seven years earlier. Is the transfer of 50% of a couples' assets to the survivor considered income? No. What about divorce settlements, are they included? No.

So what is with the Fortune Magazine statistic? Or the other one about income? What is the whole picture? Am I to infer that women earn less money while they are young and then end up with more assets when they are older? Is that the real picture? We also have heard that the top 20% of society has 84% of the wealth. Does that mean that generally working women are even worse off than the stats imply, while at the top there are a disproportionate number of superwealthy women?

The problem is that when we get fed these statistics in this way, piecemeal, we can cite statistics for our own purpose. They seem to imply so much and yet really mean so little. And if I may suggest, that is the agenda. To allow us fragments of truth that without support, entice us into our own prejudices. For and against. Do we know lots of statistics that prove our point of view but can't think of any that disprove it?
Forty-nine out of fifty people (excluding psychopaths and sociopaths) believe their own stories. Who needs a conscience when you have the facts?

Stats are the methamphetamine of prejudice. You seem so much smarter with them, so much more. Pretty soon you use them all the time. Can't you see how right I am? Just look at the damn statistics!

Lies! Lies, damned lies, and statistics!

Mr. Kingfisher

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Steampunk Effect

The eventual co-option of steampunk into psuedopunk, tailored to mass media consumer-frenzy tastes, will miss the point entirely. It will be assumed that steampunk is just anachronistic cosplay. Trekkies with brass goggles. Nonfunctional gears becoming aesthetic jewelry (and probably ruining many functional watches). And for many that is what it is: fashion, but it is more than that.

The 'steampunk' label is already outdated, but the movement doesn't bother to rename itself because:
1) it would have to just change that name in a few years after further co-option, and
2) it has an ironic sense of humour for passé pop-IDs and self-identification, for example: Gentleman's Emporium (who sell old-fashion clothing), and the The Royal Ladies’ & Gentle-mens’ Experimental Madness Society (who make ghost hunting equipment). But it is more than a cheeky ironising of industrial / commercial society. Real steampunk will never be seen by consumers, in the same way that a graffiti style tag on a manufactured t-shirt will never be about street art.

At its truest heart, steampunk is part of maker culture. Why steampunk is important is because of the implications behind what is being made. A friend, who was just dipping her toe into the idea of steampunk pointed like a two-year-old to a stripped down Terminator doll, all of its pistons and cables showing and said with the glow of labeling: 'steampunk.' Not so, I replied. The mechanical man was too slick, he was the product of an industrialised process. Steampunk objects are one-offs. There is only one Nautilus, one Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory, one Tesla. Even in the case where objects are made in factories there is an element of customisation. Huge electrical generators were made to order, not for Walmart. Mass culture, mass production, mass media are for a by-gone age: the later twentieth century. Steampunk is about customisation. Whether modification, accessorisation, or ground up machining, we desire to give our creations life. I won't bore you with pointing out that this is Toffler's third wave, nor that it correlates to the ikea effect. Suffice to say: diy good, me too bad.

But it is not just an ego-trip about being 'special.' External forms of dress, and decoration are not the key to specialness, they never were. They simply are a calling card telling others that we are in the same pursuit for a personal life. It is ironic to say there is movement towards choosing one's own values. But this is the key to steampunk and why blunderbuss marketing will only delineate the wanna-bes from the true believers. Steampunk is a multivalent movement. It isn't just about one thing, but everything.

Steampunk is about being conscious of not only our personal but societal facticity, what we have been, and looks at what we wish to become, and how that our personal choices effect the group choice. A flexible and creative commons will never arise from complacent consumers. The tragedy of the commons has to do with marketisation, which can be understood as a monovalue, tit for tat, this for that, purely functional, relationless, zero-sum, cost-benefit analysis. Any individual who is operating on a monovalue system is an addict. And as Ariely notes, it negates the multivalent social system of give and give back, gift and reciprocation, by leveraging a single value (often money).

The more values a system can cohesively contain, the more robust the system. The fewer values it can contain the weaker it is. Cohesion is the by-word here. A value 'system' is not just a bunch of values thrown in together, but a systemic outgrowth of a central idea, (which can begin as a more nebulous feeling). Steampunk is still in the feeling stage, but is, excuse the pun, gathering steam. The external forms are telegraphing the internal structures that are being assembled. They aren't just for fun, they constitute the visible outer shell of a deep cultural transformation.

A science-friendly, fallibilistic, humanistic, aesthetic, community oriented (manners and such), gender neutral but not neutralising, polarity embracing, art-embracing, mystery and philosophy positive, literary, personally empowering, decentralising, anti-bureaucratic, guerilla movement means it is a new age and we are ready for something wonderful.

It is time to write a new constitution.

Mr. Kingfisher

Friday, March 5, 2010

Long Time- short time

Long time - since I've written.

Short time - another friend is gone.
Passed away from cancer, everywhere. We travel by sea tomorrow to go to his service.

Still the cherry blossoms are out, and life is beautiful. This moment is beautiful, and we are... our feet and legs and hands and arms and butt and liver and fingernails, all beautiful. If you've never held a baby you have no idea what I mean.

Ms. Sparrow has taken up painting and is quite good. This is not a shock. Ours is not the problem of lack of talent but rather discipline and organisation. We soon will have to organise a new location as our lease is up. C'est dommage. 

May all beings be free from suffering.

Mr. Kingfisher.