What steampunk means

Henry Jenkins, my favorite pop-culture scholar, has just posted the first part of a long essay dealing with the theoretical origins of steampunk. Jenkins connects steampunk to the eBay retro-collectibles urge and dead media -- themselves products of inhabiting a high-speed world where the things we love go obsolete fall to rot in the blink of an eye.

We might take two big ideas from Jameson's account of retrofuturism- that past imaginings of the future need to be understood as historical artifacts of older ideologies about human progress and that their remobilization in the present can be used as a means of reflecting on the failures of those dreams to become realities. While Jameson's work on postmodernism suggests that the redeployment of these older images of the future might amount to little more than an empty nostalgia, he seems to be hinting here that these images might function as vehicles of historical consciousness and thus as the basis for critique. Jameson's contemporaries were quick to explore the idea that "yesterday's tomorrows" might provide important clues into earlier moments in the history of the 20th century, a project reflected not only by the contributors to Corn's collection but also by essays like Andrew Ross's "Breaking Out of the Gernsback Continuum." But far less time has been spent exploring the contemporary deployment of earlier science fiction iconography as a way of working through the gap between an anticipated future and the lived reality of the late 20th century.

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