Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Clockwork Rhetoric

Clockwork Rhetoric: The Language and Style of Steampunk

Edited by Barry Brummett
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 224
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Clockwork Rhetoric
    Book Description:

    This unique book explores how the aesthetic and cultural movement "Steampunk" persuades audiences and wins new acolytes. Steampunk is an aesthetic style grounded in the Victorian era, in clothing and accoutrements modeled on a heightened and hyper-extended age of steam. In addition to its modeling of attire and other symbolic trappings, what is most distinctive is its adherents' use of a machined aesthetic based on steam engines and early electrical machinery: gears, pistons, shafts, wheels, induction motors, clockwork and so forth.

    The aesthetic was first articulated in literature in the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. The American West later contributed images to the aesthetic--revolvers, locomotives, and rifles of the late nineteenth century. Among young people steampunk has found common aesthetic cause with Goth style. Examples from literature and popular culture include William Gibson's fiction, China Miéville's novels, the classic filmMetropolis, and the BBC seriesDoctor Who. This volume recognizes that steampunk, a unique popular culture phenomenon, presents a prime opportunity for rhetorical criticism.

    Steampunk's art, style, and narratives convey complex social and political meanings. Chapters inClockwork Rhetoricexplore topics ranging from jewelry to Japanese anime to contemporary imperialism to fashion. Throughout, the book demonstrates how language influences consumers of steampunk to hold certain social and political attitudes and commitments.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-053-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Editor’s Introduction The Rhetoric of Steampunk
    (pp. ix-xiii)

    THE NINETEENTH AND EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURIES CONTAIN A VAST REPertoire of images and themes taken from industrialization in the Age of Steam. Factories contribute images of boilers, pipes, gears, cogs, pistons, the helmets and goggles of workers in the factories, the belts and chains driving gears and wheels. Firearms of the period show their mechanisms with cylinders, blued metal, pawls, hammers, tubes. The locomotives of the American West provide their own boilers, heavy metal moving at dangerous speeds, pistons, and gears. This time period also contains the imaginary mechanical images of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, fantastic machines made...

  5. Introduction A Rhetoric of Steam
    (pp. xiv-xxxii)

    BRUCE STERLING, COAUTHOR OF ONE OF THE MORE INFLUENTIAL NOVELS INvoking steampunk ideas,¹ spoke those words at an early steampunk convention—a meeting of individuals who are committed to expressing themselves through steampunk. Steampunk conventions are distinct from other kinds of popular culture conventions (comic book conventions, science fiction conventions, historical reenactment get-togethers) in significant ways, although it is a steampunk presence in those other pop culture gatherings that introduces a wider array of people to what steampunk is.

    I first encountered steampunk in comic books, whenThe League of Extraordinary Gentlemenreintroduced nineteenth-century adventure heroes into high-tech adventure comics....


    • “There Is Hope for the Future” The (Dis)Enchantment of the Technician-Hero in Steampunk
      (pp. 3-18)

      WAVE-GOTHIC-TREFFEN (WGT) IS ONE OF THE WORLD’S PREMIERE DARK MUsic and arts festivals.¹ Held annually in Leipzig, Germany, the event attracts more than twenty thousand enthusiasts for four days of concerts, films, readings, and workshops. Fans of Steampunk have joined the gathering in surprisingly large numbers over the past several years. In addition to the longstanding Victorian picnic at Clara-Zetkin-Park, WGT now has its very own Steampunk picnic at Schillerpark, located near the city’s landmark cultural center, the Moritzbastei. A steady stream of online photojournalism from 2013—distributed by such international news agencies as the Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence...

    • Victorians, Machines, and Exotic Others Steampunk and the Aesthetic of Empire
      (pp. 19-37)

      HOUSED UNDER THE CATEGORY “NOT REMOTELY STEAMPUNK” ON THE HUmorous website Regretsy (a spinoff of Etsy) sits the defamed “Steampunk ‘Compass Cyborg’ Altered Art Plush Teddy Bear” still available for purchase for only twelve dollars. Borrowing many of the stylistic signifiers of steampunk’s subculture, the bear is “decorated with a working compass cyborg eye with a brass gear, brass and black chain on his arm, connected to silver and brass gears on his chest.”¹ Below the shamed “steampunk” teddy bear are eighty-one comments highlighting the laughability of this steampunk imposter, and with a whole category dedicated to “things that aren’t...

    • Liberation and a Corset Examining False Feminism in Steampunk
      (pp. 38-58)

      IN A RECENT CONVERSATION ABOUT THE INCREASING PRESENCE OF WOMEN in steampunk culture, a writer for Steampunk Empire, one of the more prominent online forums for the steampunk community, said that it would be hard to identify a more egalitarian or democratic cultural forum than steampunk. This progressive notion of a democratic and equal ideal was followed by a posting claiming that “the result of an increase in women is welcome because it means I get to see more hot chicks at conventions.”¹ Even if this gendered posting is not representative of the treatment of women in steampunk culture, any...


    • Antimodernism as the Rhetoric of Steampunk Anime Fullmetal Alchemist, Technological Anxieties, and Controlling the Machine
      (pp. 61-79)

      ANIMATION IS A PERFECT VEHICLE TO CARRY THE AESTHETICS OF IMAGINED worlds: pasts that never quite were and futures that may never quite come to be. Animation creates the Rube Goldberg machine that, no matter how overengineered, always delights viewers in its perfect completion of its task. It animates the tin man, the floating island, the clockwork girl, the moving castle. Animation, especially of imagined machines, reveals to viewers not how things do work, but how they could work, alternatively. In the same way, alternative, animated worlds reveal the horrors that could occur without care and tending, and amazing possibilities...

    • Jumping Scale in Steampunk: One Gear Makes You Larger, One Duct Makes You Small
      (pp. 80-93)

      STEAMPUNK IS AN AESTHETIC STYLE GROUNDED IN THE VICTORIAN ERA, OR the age of steam. It borrows the clothing of that era, but what is most reliably distinctive is its use of a machine aesthetic based on steam engines, locomotives, and early electrical machinery: gears, pistons, shafts, wheels, induction motors, and so forth. The aesthetic was first articulated in literature during that period in the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. The American West has contributed images to the aesthetic, many of them grounded in the revolvers, locomotives, and rifles of the second half of the nineteenth century....

    • Steampunk and Sherlock Holmes Performing Post-Marxism
      (pp. 94-112)

      JEAN BAUDRILLARD WARNS US OF THE POWER WIELDED BY OBJECTS IN A SYStem of meaning.¹ These warnings serve as post-Marxist predictions of unpredictability—that Marx underestimated the power of the object; that the force and vigor of technology are powers beyond the capacity of human management; that the destructive telos of our post-Victorian Industrial Age will continue, by any means necessary, into the foreseeable future. Meeting semiotics with a system of symbolic exchange, Baudrillard provides a method of reading the transformation of tech into a structure of meaning. Basically, he takes high sociocultural theory and applies it to our everyday...


    • Kenneth Burke Meets a Time Lord Steampunk’s Grammatical Disruption
      (pp. 115-134)

      ACCORDING TO THEGUINNESS BOOK OF WORLD RECORDS, THE BBC’SDOCTOR Whois the longest-running science fiction TV series in history.¹ A Google search on the terms “Doctor Who steampunk” returns eight million hits. These range from fan blog posts² on the steampunk aesthetic found in the show to toys and trinkets in steampunk style that were fashioned lovingly by fans as a demonstration of their devotion to the show.³ In the nature of Google searches, this one is no more exhaustive than any other pop culture search performed on the Internet. I use it as one bit of evidence...

    • Clockwork Counterfactuals Allohistory and the Steampunk Rhetoric of Inquiry
      (pp. 135-158)

      ALLOHISTORY IS THE HISTORY THAT COULD HAVE BEEN, BUT BY HAPPENstance was not. Also known as alternate history, virtual history, or counter-factualism, allohistory revisits “what if” scenarios from our past and posits new answers. The allohistorical perspective is dependent on a commitment to exploring historical contingency, what Joel Mokyr describes as the idea “that the things that really happened in history did not have to happen, that something else could have happened” (277). Those who consider allohistorical and counterfactual scenarios range from serious academics, to fiction writers, to virtually anyone with an active imagination and an interest in history. Steampunk...

    • Steampunk’s Identity Horizon and Contested Memory
      (pp. 159-176)

      STEAMPUNK, A PORTMANTEAU COMPOSED OF TWO WILDLY DIVERGENT SUBterms—a backward-looking and conservative “steam” and a forward-looking chaotic “punk”—invokes an inherent tension between historical fidelity and aesthetic transgression. It is at this paradoxical junction between backward glances and redemptive destruction that Steampunk constitutes its primary creative tension. An aesthetic that couches itself in memory yet depends on bending that kind of memory risks undoing its own legitimacy, but in so doing sets up the engine of its creative possibility. At a historical moment when people document their quotidian life details with hundreds of Facebook friends and when factual claims...

    • Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes Steampunk Superhero?
      (pp. 177-202)

      THE RECEPTION HISTORY OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, THE MOST FAMOUS CREation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the renewal and re-creation of the character through film and television have varied enormously with the waxing and waning popularity and shifting interpretation of the Victorian period.¹ Although portrayals of Holmes have proliferated on the small screen, since the death of Basil Rathbone in 1967 only three feature films have attempted seriously to represent the character as Doyle drew him within the period in which he was created.² On Christmas Day of 2009, a feature film again brought the characters of Sherlock Holmes and...

    (pp. 203-205)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 206-210)