Steampunk, a hybrid genre of new-Victorianism and science fiction, until recently has suffered from a lack of academic attention, on the one hand criticized for romanticizing the Victorian era, and on the other, disregarded as nostalgic and perhaps even juvenile pulp. However, unlike other genres, steampunk has first emerged as a primarily performative aesthetic movement, and more significantly, promoted itself as “more than just a fad or fashion”, but rather a lifestyle and a “politics of presentation” (Stimpson Kristen, 22). Through these visual bodily expressions, steampunk addresses ambiguities which exist at its key junction point of the past and the present, the mechanic and the organic as well as social gaps, characteristic mostly of 19th century England, but which also apply to contemporary society. In this paper, I intend to discuss representations of prosthetics and disability (which are notable in Victorian street literature concerned with working classes) in steampunk texts to claim that such maimed bodies, which are reliant on the technology of their prosthetic, in fact allegorize the conflict between man and machine that concerned Victorian society as well as ours. In these contemporary texts, such as di Filippo’s Victoria(1991), Malzieu’s A Boy with a Cuckoo-Clock Heart(2007), Kent’s “The Heart is the Matter” (2012)and more, the steampunk fictional world does more than offer an aesthetically pleasing industrialized utopia; it addresses widely spread social concerns of 19th century as well as contemporary perceptions of body versus society. In short, this essay intends to demonstrate how the historical background of prosthetics and disability, specifically in the Victorian era, and its class connotations, are addressed in steampunk and its reclaiming of human body in face of industrial repercussions.
About the speaker
Chen F. Michaeli has recently completed her English MA at McGill University, and is currently a PhD candidate at the English department at Tel-Aviv University. Other than writing her dissertation, focused on post-apocalyptic adaptations of Alice in Wonderland, Chen is a committee member at Tel-Aviv University’s international Science-Fiction Symposium and is currently co-editing a science-fiction essay collection for the Cambridge Scholars publication.