In a online comment to a 2007 Wired article, Derek C.F. Pegritz includes a satirical pitch for what he called “blakepunk.” “William Blake,” Pegritz narrates, “is an angel-possessed warrior in the post-nuke remains of London, leading a crack squad of cybernetic poet assassins to eliminate the Mad King George’s army of interdimensional Mechano-Hessian soliders.” Pegritz’s comment is largely tongue-in-cheek. Yet the combination of angelic imagery, lasers, gothic horror, cybernetics, and H.P. Lovecraft-styled weird fiction paints a picture that parallels the attitude involved in what Jussi Parikka calls steampunk’s embrace of “alternatives,” “quirky ideas,” and “novel paths that fall out of the mainstream” (“What” 2). Steampunk is often seen as “Victorian science fiction,” but it also acts as a genre that retrofits new technology onto the nineteenth century. Many popular steampunk novels draw inspiration from William Blake, including the the appearance of William Blake in R.F. Nelson’s Blake’s Progress, the noted-influence of Blake on Felix Gilman’s Half-Made World, and the use of Blakean concepts in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.
Parikka’s brief discussion of steampunk in What is Media Archaeology? celebrates the ability of the genre to repurpose and reprogram the past by encouraging fans to create iPod decks that look like gramophones or laptops constructed to seem like they were sold at a nineteenth-century craft fair. For Parikka and Critical Making advocate Garnet Hertz, repurposing “is concerned with media that is not only out of use, but resurrected to new uses, contexts and adaptations” (“Zombie” 429). Blake’s own investment in repurposing technology, mythology, and history is clear from the work of Mei-Ying Sung, Saree Makdisi, and Jason Whittaker, but few scholars have investigated Blake’s critical making methodologies in the context of steampunk practice. This presentation will show how Blake’s approach to history and technology creates a model for critical making in the humanities, culminating in a study of Blakean artifacts read in the context of steampunk. In particular, I will examine Viscomi’s printing experiments, Edwardo Paolozzi’s Newton sculpture, and Graham Harwood’s London.pl as critical making and historicist methodologies that parallel the DIY-spirit of steampunk. My purpose is to tease out a critical punk culture present in Blake and work inspired by him in order to implicate both in an emergent scholarly practice inspired by steampunk and devoted to repurposing.