One week after Beyoncé ‘s newest single and music video “Formation” was dropped, voices from across the aethernets are still buzzing. The video collapses historical linear time, unapologetic and demanding in its visual college of the complicated history of southern US black culture. It is not steampunk, but engages in the historical narrative in the tradition of other African diasporic art movements I admire, such as afrofuturism and steamfunk, and deserves to be highlighted.
“Formation”‘s launch is deliberately-timed for powerful political, commercial, and mainstream impact: released on Trayvon Martin’s birthday and two days before Sandra Bland’s, and also before Beyoncé’s planned performance at the SuperBowl. Many commentators, black and non-black alike, have taken to the task of analyzing and critiquing the levels of meaning behind it. Below are some of the many insightful, dynamic viewpoints from the black community written over the past week.
But first, check this video out:
If You Ain’t Got In-“Formation” by Tiffany Lee from Black Girl Dangerous
If these aren’t your experiences, references or reactions, that’s okay. And if this video didn’t give you life, that’s okay too. But if these aren’t your experiences and you’re out here saying any variation of “this video makes no sense/is dumb/kinda scary,” “she’s not even singing,” “Beyoncé fans are stupid,” “what’s she even saying?” or anything that has anything to do with a politics of respectability, then you need to stop.
We know that Beyoncé isn’t necessarily our Black Feminist Hero – there are way too many activists and folk who are out there fighting, supporting, and holding together Black communities for us to be under the simplistic illusion that Beyoncé does all of that for us. And I look forward to all the juicy Black folk critiques – because nothing is Blacker than reading and being read.
Getting in Line: Working Through Beyonce’s “Formation” from Red Clay Scholar
Beyoncé said “I’ma make me a world.” She conjured New Orleans’ past, present, and future, calling upon the memories and sounds of New Orleans pre- and post Hurricane Katrina. Because rule number 1 in the south is that the past is always present and the past and present is always future. Still shots of preaching reverends, half-drowned buildings, the weave shop, and plantation houses against a sparse synthesizer that sounds like a tweaked electronic banjo from the Bayou sonically position Beyoncé squarely in the middle of a messy Black South. Katrina is not just a historical event. It is a springboard for re-rendering southern trauma and its association with blackness. Trauma is the spring board of southern blackness. But its foundation is resilience and creativity. Beyoncé’s New Orleans – because there are multiple New Orleans and this one is undeniably hers and her sister Solange’s rendering/conjuring – doubly signifies resurrection and the city of the dead.
Dear Beyoncé, Katrina is Not Your Story by Maris Jones from Black Girl Dangerous
This could have all been different, Beyoncé. The disconnect between what is being said in “Formation” and what is being shown cannot be ignored. You inspire while you slay, but know that all of the glorious Blackness in this video is really just a film reel for a sound bite espousing Western capitalist ideology with lines like, and “Earned all this money but they never take the country out me.” Even in showing me how down with the struggle you might be, you are still dredging up images of Black suffering without forewarning an audience that continues to be marginalized in both their city and country or following through by critically engaging with those images. Your anthem doesn’t match your outfit. You might get me to turn up at a party, but you’ll only find me in formation when your words and actions line up.
Hot Sauce in Her Bag: Southern Black identity, Beyoncé, Jim Crow, and the pleasure of well-seasoned food by Mikki Kendall from Eater
During Jim Crow, Black people could pick up food at establishments that served white people, but they often could not eat in them. When custom demanded that Black people be served separately from whites, they were often required to have their own utensils, serving dishes, and condiments. So it was customary for Black families who were traveling to carry everything they might possibly need so that (with the help of the Green Book, the guide that helped Black travelers eat, sleep, and move as safely as possible) they could navigate America in relative comfort.
On ‘Jackson Five Nostrils,’ Creole vs. ‘Negro’ and Beefing Over Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’ by Yaba Blay from Colorlines
I cheer Bey on as she sings, “I like my Negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils.” But I cringe when I hear her chant, “You mix that Negro with that Creole make a Texas bamma” about her Alabama-born dad and her mom from Louisiana. This is the same reason I cringed at the L’Oreal ad that identified Beyonce as African-American, Native American and French and why I don’t appreciate her largely unknown song “Creole.”
Having grown up black-Black (read: dark-skinned) in colorstruck New Awlins, hearing someone, particularly a woman, make a distinction between Creole and “Negro” is deeply triggering. This isn’t just for me but for many New Orleanians.
For generations, Creoles—people descended from a cultural/racial mixture of African, French, Spanish and/or Native American people—have distinguished themselves racially from “regular Negroes.” In New Orleans, phenotype—namely “pretty color and good hair”—translates to (relative) power.
Slay Trick: Queer Solidarity (?) in Formation from Queer Black Feminist
But, this movement is all about self-identified Black queer women, transwomen and genderqueer folks leading this movement. So, in some ways this call ignores that, a movement already established. I know folks say it calls attention to it, but it feels just the opposite to me when we have a full fledged movement happening that is full of leaders, actually, predominately led by Black queer women, transfolk and our allies. Just look at the leadership in almost every BLM chapter: Chicago (BYP), Minneapolis, Oakland, Los Angeles. The “ladies” are already in formation, leading the work. So, though this may be a “nod,” a recognition as many are suggesting, the explicit acknowledgement of the queer work in this movement–the queerness of strategy, tactic, and focus–is muddied by the safe position that Beyonce continues to occupy. And while she is being targeted in some ways (I’ll say more when endorsements/collaborations start to fall), can we put that into context of the everyday targeting that Black Lives Matter activists face on the front lines? That Black queer (cis and trans) women and transmen face everyday?
We Slay, Part 1 by zandria from New South Negress
“Formation” is an homage to and recognition of the werk of the “punks, bulldaggers, and welfare queens” in these southern streets and parking lots, in these second lines, in these chocolate cities and neighborhoods, in front of these bands and drumlines. Movements for black liberation are led by black folks at the margins who know we must all get free to sink that car. Folks who know that we must be coordinated, and we must slay. And because I recognize black southern country fence-jumping feminism as a birthright and imperative, I have no tolerance for the uncoordinated–those who cannot dance and move for black queer liberation, black trans liberation, black women’s liberation, at all intersections.
Black Lives Matter Co-Founder to Beyonce: ‘Welcome to the Movement by Alicia Garza on Rolling Stone
Black Lives Matter is rooted in some of these fundamental principles. We have come together to fight back against anti-black racism and state-sanctioned violence, in all forms. We are complex, multi-faceted, and led by what are still unfortunately considered to be non-traditional leaders: folks who are women, queer, trans, disabled, immigrant, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated, poor and working class, Southern and rural, urban and coastal. We are comprised of the complexity of who black people are, not just in the U.S., but around the world.
Response to Formation in List Form by rad fag on Radical Faggot
(The whole list is worth reading for some pithy points of critique)
21. Beyoncé is a logo. Beyoncé is a commodity. Beyoncé is a production. Beyoncé is a distraction. Beyoncé is a ruse. Beyoncé does not actually exist.
22. You–not her–are the Black visionary, the budding potential for revolution.
Filed under: Beyond Victoriana Odds and Ends, Linkspams Tagged: Beyoncé, music
For our second giveaway for Steampunk Hands Around the World, I’ll be giving one lucky reader an advanced reader’s copy of A.J. Hartley’s Steeplejack, which will be published this June from Tor Teen. This book has already gotten some nice reviews, and I’ve already shared some of my thoughts about it too in my recent podcast with Minorities in Publishing. After the jump is a brief book description, and how readers can enter.
Seventeen-year-old Anglet Sutonga, Ang for short, works repairing the chimneys, towers, and spires of Bar-Selehm, the ethnically-diverse industrial capital of a land resembling Victorian South Africa. The city was built on the trade of luxorite, a priceless glowing mineral. When the Beacon, a historical icon made of the largest piece of luxorite known to exist, is stolen, this news commands the headlines. Yet no one seems to care about the murder of Ang’s new apprentice Berrit. But when Josiah Willinghouse, an enigmatic young politician, offers her a job investigating his death, she plunges headlong into dangers she could not foresee. On top of this legwork, Ang struggles with the responsibility of caring for her sister’s newborn child.
As political secrets unfold and racial tensions surrounding the Beacon’s theft rise, Ang must navigate the constricting traditions of her people, the murderous intentions of her former boss, and the conflicting impulses of a fledgling romance. With no one to help her except a savvy newspaper girl and a kindhearted herder from the savannah, Ang must rely on her creative intellect and strength to resolve the mysterious link between Berrit and the missing Beacon before the city is plunged into riotous chaos.
Providing a fresh take on historical fantasy attune to today’s demand for multicultural YA, A.J. Hartley’s Steeplejack will also resonate with readers of all ages.
How to enter:
1) This giveaway will be for one hard copy of the ARC. Readers can only submit one entry per household. US and International entries are welcome.
2) Enter between February 8st 2016, through February 13th, 2016, at midnight EST (GMT -5:00).
3) Winners will be chosen via their comment number using Random.org. Winners will be contacted via email and must reply within 24 hours with their mailing address to claim their prize. Otherwise a new winner will be selected.
Filed under: Announcement, Beyond Victoriana Odds and Ends Tagged: giveaway, Steampunk Hands Around the World, Steeplejack
#SteampunkHands – On Crafting a Subcultural Lifestyle: Objects and the Search for Home in Steampunk (Part 1)
Thinking about my contributions for “Steampunk Hands Around the World” this year made me reflect upon my time spent in the community. There have been highs and lows, and admittedly enough, I had no idea how much my life would change in the past eight years because of this aesthetic and the creative community inspired by it. One of the reasons why I have stuck around has been the belonging I have found through the people, places, and things we have created.
A few years ago in graduate school, I took a class called “Performance of Everyday Life”, which interrogated how we understand ourselves and the way we move through the world as acts of performance. From religious ritual to amateur hobbies, from gender roles to cosplay, from sports to clubbing to fashion — what all of these activities have in common is the idea of how different levels of theatricality, presentation, and action is incorporated into our daily identities.
My final paper was an ethnographic study contemplating making and community spaces in New York City and the convention scene. Reading this over, I see how this can be interpreted as a counterargument of a recent critique of the maker movement written in The Atlantic. Unlike The Atlantic‘s critique of the capital-driven, competition-oriented DIY movement, I think steampunk community’s values provide an alternate view to making which is tied into group identity and fostering spaces of non-competitive creativity that values both traditional masculine and feminine arts. Artistic camaraderie endows the steampunk object with affect value that grows into something greater than the object itself. Though it was written in 2012, and some of the steampunks featured in this article I have lost touch with or left the community for one reason or another, this essay overall embodies many thoughts I have about the inherent beauty of creation and sense of home I get with fellow steampunks. This is, more than anything, a love letter to an art movement.
I’ll be posting a new part of this essay every Sunday this month.
Objects footnote meaning into people’s lives, and for steampunks, this is especially so. Steampunk subculture first emerged from fiction, drawing upon 19th century scientific romances, historical records, pulp novels, penny dreadfuls, and other forms of low-brow literary sources as its primary form of inspiration. In recent years, however, the steampunk aesthetic has evolved into a lived lifestyle and a visual subculture. Steampunk subculture today has placed an increased importance upon steampunk “objects”: namely, clothes, fashion accessories, prop weapons, artworks, and music.
More than just passive consumerism, steampunks also create and distribute their own self-produced subcultural products; the steampunk “prosumer” – in reference to futurist Alvin Toffler, who coined the term1 – problematizes the capitalist system, and this challenge to capitalism is one of the many qualities that have labeled this aesthetic movement as being subcultural. Moreover, the use of technologically-enhanced media centered around the steampunk object – in the form of blogs, websites, online zines, and virtual communities – creates what Benedict Anderson calls an imagined community: by which, with the aid of print media (and online media, in this case) a physically disparate group of individuals formulate a sense of collective identity which can be politically utilized. In fact, the growth of the steampunk community is also tied into a productive imagination that draws motivation from steampunk’s literary sources to build real things. This process can be compared to an actualization of Mikhail Bakhtin’s literary chronotope, “the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature.”2 In steampunk subculture, the literary becomes literal in its engagement with reality.
When speaking about a steampunk lifestyle, then, it is important to recognize how much the community values the actualization of the imagination through the creation and maintenance of steampunk objects. When speaking of a lifestyle, quotidian practices are coupled with materialism, and inside the steampunk subculture, mundane mechanical tools are transformed into signifiers: the toothed cog, the interlocking gear, a pair of goggles, rust and copper, brass and mahogany. Yet how can we evaluate the meanings behind these signifiers as part of a larger social or ideological framework?
As Dick Hebdige argues, subculture is constructed out of a language of signs to be read within style, and he suggests the existence of a subversive coding where challenges to hegemony are expressed in stylistic choices. To Hebdige, style is weaponized, and the body becomes an ideological battlefield those struggles happen on a quotidian level: “a struggle for possession of the sign which extends to even the most mundane areas of everyday life.”3 The sign today, however, is a broken one, whose meaning is interrupted in today’s postmodern, post-industrial world. Style has for the most part lost its ability to signify in part because of the impact of the mediatized image and consumerism speeding up the disassociation between the sign and its meaning; as David Muggleton observes, “Perhaps the very concept of subculture is becoming less applicable in postmodernity, for the breakdown of mass society has ensured that there is no longer a coherent dominant culture against which the subculture can express its resistance.”4 In the postmodern desert of the sign, where can meaning be derived?
I propose an alternative way of viewing the object in subculture and the meaning of its signification. Rather than nit-picking over the interpretation of signs, and thus flattening the object into a mere image, I will focus on the creation of the object itself in all of its dimensions, a turn toward form over function as a doorway that we walk through into a lifestyle without any particular ideological claim.
As Pierre Bourdieu notes in his work on habitus, a lifestyle cannot be assessed merely through material calculation, but in the engagement of the material with the embodied: “The world of objects, a kind of book in which each thing speaks metaphorically of all others…is read with the whole body, in and through the movements and displacements which define the space of objects as much as they are defined by it.”5 Signifiers of a lifestyle mean nothing without recognizing the history that comes with their creation. These aspects embody a lifestyle of the everyday, and thus, taste cultures can be defined not in terms of ideological or social standpoints, but by the imaginative space generated by subcultural objects that translate into lived experience.
Through analyzing what would constitute a steampunk lifestyle, not only it is a matter of evaluating the social manifestations of its style, but it is also recognizing the habitus that is partly created by the impact of objects in everyday life. Aesthetic objects in steampunk in particular exist to enrich the participants’ lifestyle by evoking an alternate temporal and spatial reality apart from the larger world. Citing Adorno, aesthetic scholar Sandra Corse refers to the everyday, usually utilitarian-oriented objects as “craftworks” that symbolize the value of individualized human relations in an alienating, mass-produced world:
“What they offer the public is an alternative aesthetic (even when the actual object may be similar), an item that has been shaped by human hands rather than machines, that has been individually designed and planned by the person who produces it, rather than being produced or manufactured by machines and designed by a person or persons obligated to the profit process of manufacturing. What craft objects offer is an aesthetic value that is related to, though not identical with, the aesthetic value of ‘fine’ art. They offer an aesthetics of the everyday.”6
By distinguishing steampunk objects as craftworks and as signifiers of individual style, I want to emphasize the importance of the steampunk object – whether it be a modded piece of technology, an item of clothing, an art piece, a book, or a playful accessory – in subcultural lifestyle. Thus, I will approach how steampunk lifestyle functions through ethnographic stories from my own life in the steampunk community focusing around the objects that have fallen into my hands over the years. Moreover, I supplement my experiences with those from other members of the New York and New England area steampunk community, drawing from a series of interviews I conducted in February through March of 2012.
Along with the object, the central focus for my stories also involves the spaces where steampunk lifestyle is enacted. Physical places can become sites of imaginary greater worlds where, in the words of Gaston Bechelard, “The exterior spectacle helps the intimate grandeur unfold.”7 Together, the object, the story, and the space all constitute an inter-relational dynamic that affirms the existence of lifestyle practices. The movement of oneself inside that lifestyle can be described as a process where identity shifts and changes – from steampunk to non-steampunk and back again – inside a liminal node, a space betwixt and between hegemonic and minoritarian cultural existence.
1 Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave, (New York: Bantam Books), 275.
2 Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialectic Imagination: Four Essays, Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press), 84.
3 Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style, (New York: Routledge), 17.
4 David Muggleton, Inside Subculture: The Postmodern Meaning of Style, (New York: Berg), 48.
5 Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice, Trans. Richard Nice, (Pala Alto, CA: Stanford University Press) 74.
6 Sandra Corse, Craft Object, Aesthetic Contexts: Kant, Heidegger, and Adorno on Craft. (New York: University Press of America), 17.
7 Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, (Boston: Beacon Press), 192.
Filed under: Conventions, Essays Tagged: "personal essay", academia, On Crafting a Subcultural Lifestyle, Steampunk Hands Around the World
John Graham replied to E. A. Hennessy's discussion New Novel, Grigory's Gadget, to be published in March! ARCs available if interested
"Has anyone tried to use the ideas that you have come up with in a book or art piece and tried to make it fully functional in real life?"
Just Thought I Would Say HelloWell I just started here so I guess it would be good to introduce myself. My name is John and I'm from Texas. Been into Steampunk for about 10 years now and like most things that are addictive its been my constant thought through out the last 10 years. I am currently working on a novel set right about the time of the Romanov's demise. I do most of my writing on either 2 1920's L.C. Smith & Corona typewriters or by fountain pen. Tried writing on a computer once till I put the floppy disk in that I had saved it on and about a years worth of work was gone. So I just stick with the classics. When I am not writing I am normally working on converting my land into a self-sustaining farm in the Steampunk style or obsessive compulsive reading. Thats about it for me. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me. I'm all ears.See More
Currently working on a Steampunk Intrigue novelHello everyone. The novel I am currently working on has a little bit of mad science, political intrigue and of course sketchy figures. Can't really reveal much just yet since it is still in the research phase. Havn't been able to work on it in a couple weeks due to work and it is real hard for me to get into the writing with a noisy background and on a computer. I've always kind of preferred the old manual typewriters and a fountain pen myself. So I guess till I get back from work it will have to be on hold for now. Thank goodness for writing notebooks though I would probably have forgot most of the late night sleep deprived ideas I get for the book.See More
"At work dreaming of my 1920's Corona typewriter. My writers notebook is starting to get full with ideas for my book I have been working on."
Undoubtedly, some of my favorite aspects of the steampunk community are the social gatherings, especially conventions. Motor City Steam Con is a new convention in Detroit, and I’m excited to be one of their guests this year. Beyond Victoriana will be offering one free weekend pass to a lucky reader this week. Follow the rules below to enter!
1) This giveaway will be for one free weekend pass. Readers can only submit one entry per household. US and International entries are welcome.
2) Enter between February 1st 2016, through February 6th, 2016, at midnight EST (GMT -5:00).
3) Winners will be chosen via their comment number using Random.org. Winners will be contacted via email and must reply within 24 hours with their mailing address to claim their prize. Otherwise a new winner will be selected.
Filed under: Announcement, Beyond Victoriana Odds and Ends, Conventions Tagged: giveaway, Motor City Steam Con, Steampunk Hands Around the World
For the third year in a row, Kevin Steil the Airship Ambassdor and steampunks around the globe will be celebrating as part of “Steampunk Hands Around the World,” running from February 1st – 29th. This year’s theme will be “My Favorite Things”, where some of the community’s loves will be highlighted across several blogs and websites, including this one.
Readers can follow the blogging event on the Airship Ambassador blog site. You can also check out links via this event’s Twitter hashtags #SteampunkHands and #SHaW , and on the official Facebook event page.
Stay tuned here for some special contributions BV will be making this month as well.
Filed under: Announcement, Conventions Tagged: Steampunk Hands Around the World
"Thank you everyone for allowing me to be apart of your group. I look forward to working with all of you on our Steampunk goals."
New Novel, Grigory's Gadget, to be published in March! ARCs available if interestedHello all!I'm getting ready to publish my debut novel, Grigory's Gadget - Book 1 of the Gaslight Frontier Series! It's currently available for presale in paperback and ebook form on Amazon, and in ebook form on Barnes & Noble, Kobo, andiTunes. It will go on sale on March 12 :)Here's the synopsis:Lodninsk, Morozhia is a frozen, industrial wasteland. Isolated by steep mountains and ruled by an authoritarian government, it isn’t anyone’s idea of home-sweet-home.Zoya and her friends Demyan, Lilia, Anya, and Nikolai decide to leave their freezing home to start a new life. They set their sights on the tropical paradise of Mirgorod, Vernulaia, where they can study at its prestigious university while taking in the sun and sand…but nothing ever goes so smoothly.When pirates attack their passenger ship, the friends are shanghaied and forced to be part of their crew. What’s more, the pirates have a particular interest in Zoya’s family heirloom: a small gadget of compacted wires and gears. Unsure what power the gadget holds, Zoya knows she must protect it with her life.Trapped with pirates, caught in the struggle for the mysterious gadget, will Zoya and her friends be able to make it safely to their new home?If anyone would be interested in receiving an Advance Review Copy, please let me know! The eBook formats (epub and mobi) are currently available, and paperback will be available soon.See More