Monday, June 22, 2009

Steampunking: Wildean Dreams

While participants of the steampunk subculture generally call themselves steampunks, I find myself calling myself a "steampunker".

I have a saying which goes, "It is not enough to do, one must be. It is not enough to be, one must become."

This was drawn from an Oscar Wilde quote from the second The Critic as Artist dialogue in which he expounds a kind of blend between critical theory and philosophy:

"... the contemplative life, the life that has for its aim not doing but being, and not being merely, but becoming - that is what the critical spirit can give us."

By the critical spirit, he meant the ability to judge something by various standards, rather than accept something at face value. He was writing about art, obviously, aesthetic art. But I took it to heart, and applied it to more than just art - I applied it to that great Work In Progress that is the Self. To always improve one's self, to always become something, preferrably something better that one's self.

For example, not just do generous things. Be generous. Not just be generous, because it implies hitting some certain(ly low) bar of generosity, but to become generous, wherever I do. I could always do more, be more, become more.

It ties in nicely with a revelation Garion has in the final book of the Mallorean, where he realizes the difference between Dark and Light: "Dark crouched in perceived perfection, while Light was always progressing forward, informed by a vision of perfection." (I may be getting this quote a little bit wrong, but that's the main gist of it. Yes, I'm a nerd.)

It is the same with my feminist philosophy - feminism moves forward, informed by a vision of equality, happiness and liberty. Its anti-thesis and great enemy, Patriarchy (or kyriarchy), crouches in what it thinks is a form of perfection, never moving. There's nothing wrong with this, but if you freeze your muscles in one place too long, it begins to atrophy, and pain sets in. It's not healthy.

Everything can be and should be subject to revision if it is not up to par. Like Captain Janeway, I am always looking for better ways to do things, revising my opinion if necessary, strengthening my stances, educating myself. Because it is through the process of education that one gains the knowledge to properly inform choices.

Certainly, Wilde is a poor choice to draw inspiration from for my feminism - he was white, he was male, he was pretty damned rich, intelligent, well-educated. He passed as straight for a while, and his marriage actually sounds kind of pleasant, since his wife was also well-educated and they remained friends even though his various affairs, his trial and after.

But he had some damned fine advice and observations we could do well to apply: the need for an artist's distance from art, in order to fully critique it and make it better. This was the man who said, "shallowness is the supreme vice". While he was oddly devoid of malice, oblivious to envy, (both if which led to his "downfall", if indeed it is a downfall at all, because he was never broken, and his last quote showed that brilliant wit that characterized his writing career), he was deeply moral, deeply concerned with -- beauty. Not just having it, but truly enjoying it, appreciating it, feeling it. In a paper I wrote three years back on his philosophy:
The uncontemplative person allows things to happen and does not care,taking the world as it is. Wilde’s philosophy, however, encourages the use of thought to challenge, transgress and reject acceptable notions of morality. These challenges, combined with aesthetic ideas, would inform society on paths to progress on by presenting it with ideals to work towards. These ideals, however, cannot be presented if the critical faculty is left idle. Thus, without the exercise of the critical faculty in contemplation, beauty loses its effect, experiences become mere consumption for the appetite and any ethical action becomes meaningless because it is form without deliberation.
Yeah, I was pretty deep back in the day.

What does this to do with being a steampunker?

Part of my steampunking involves a step back from what I'm doing, eyeballing the past with a critical eye, seeing what I like, and what I don't like, in the past, in the present, and the possible future, and re-arrange things, improve stuff, add in and take out elements.

Part of my steampunking involves going against the culture that tries to tell me I am worth little, that my actions will mean nothing, that my thoughts are easily dismissed. The culture that tells me that hatred and power combined is a strong force to be reckoned with and I should bow down of face erasure.

Part of my steampunking involves becoming a better person so I can help transform the world into a place where goodness and beauty reside.

To do all this, it is necessary to maintain the critical faculty, to be able to first see the world as it is, own it, and then transform it.

To do can be merely superficial (although I do not hold it against others for merely doing. Sometimes we just do the best we can!). To be can lead to stasis (although some people are just perfect the way they are, bastards!). To become is... like doing and being at the same time, always in a kind of motion, hopefully, ideally, towards progress.

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