The long-Awaited Acknowledgement of Historypunk
"Historypunk is the end of history on repeat."
—The Endless Utopian Experiments of Historypunk / Ihab Sabbah
The following -punks are not worth explaining: Bio-, Nano-, Steam-, Diesel-, Stone-, Clock-, Now- (the saddest of them all), Elf-, Deco-, and Atom-. Mythpunk is okay when done by Neil Gaiman (as in The Sandman series) or similarly talented writers. Cyberprep is proof that every (supposedly) subversive artform will be gentrified (as long as it sells enough (and has a corny enough spokesman like William Gibson at the helm)).
Loosely defined, Historypunk is hardly an action film with a couple cheap throwaway axioms nor is it playing more Final-Fantasy-esque roleplaying games than actually reading, let alone reading to research and learn something. It crosses between pseudo-history, alternate-history, and speculative-history categories. It knows what’s come before and mimics, blends, and fabricates it further. It draws you in and inspires compulsive reading. In many ways it's entirely removed from technological fetishism and certainly inane internet forms of communication. While it may dive into the future, it goes forth with ideas from the past and now. Ideas are its electric current. Style its force. It's playful, serious, expansive, and equally cynical and utopian. It's certainly not Historyprep: a scholar with their strudel smudged finger fumbling at another yellowing page of Aristotle—unless the intention is to shame Aristotle to the core. For Historypunk is most certainly subversive and liable to be incorruptible, more heat than most tenured professors can deal with.
Roberto Bolaño is a recent example of Historypunk's scope, his By Night in Chile relives the Pinochet dictatorship through the eyes of a collaborationist poet/priest. A priest who happens to in one scene teach General Pinochet the history of Marxism so the General may be more knowledgeable of his enemies. Bolaño's last work 2666 mythologizes a reclusive fictional German author who at least two scholars drive themselves mad trying to find and understand. At the gruesome center of this 1,000+ page novel is the endlessly horrific real life killings of women in the border town of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The overall vision is pitch-black with the ominous tension of senseless violence at the edges, wicked dark humor, and welcome moments of pathos—a novel that asks us to confront the everyday horror of history.
Ursula K. Le Guinn's The Dispossessed is a premiere example of futuristic Historypunk. It contrasts the harsh ambiguity of anarchy on a desert moon with the nauseating stink of hypercapitalism of a planet gone wrong in glitz, pomp, and sickening poverty. It knows its history and like the best of fiction it knows how to plant us outside our conditioned societal views, to envision ourselves on the other side of the coin.
In Enrique Vila-Matas' A Brief History of Portable Literature we see historical artists and writers such as Federico Garcia Lorca, Marcel Duchamp, and Georgia O'Keeffe conspiring to dastardly absurd pursuits involving Shandies (the drink and the name given to members of their secret society), bachelor machines (resisting marriage by any means), inscrutable Odradreks (think Kafka’s worst suicidal nightmare), and portable literature (varied, but always portable) itself across the globe in antics all of their biographers seemed to miss.
Other examples include: Philip K. Dick's alternate-WWII-history novel, The Man in the High Castle, where the Nazis and Japanese have defeated the Allied Powers; William S. Burroughs' Cities of the Red Night where a red metallic-tasting plague spreads across time from queer pirate utopias to the ancient magical cities that existed before white people came into existence; Virginia Woolf's Orlando: A Biography in which a poet who changes sex from man to woman and lives for centuries gives us a sarcastic history of English literature. Outside of literature, the pseudo-shamanic performance art of German artist Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) with his fur, fat, and frolicking with coyotes serves as another form of Historypunk. In film examples include: Oliver Stone's JFK, Richard Linklater's Slacker, Todd Hayne's Velvet Goldmine and I'm Not There, Gus Van Sant's Elephant, and Jean Luc-Godard's Pierrot le Fou.
Historypunk sees no end of history, thus no end of the form—however it does see the inescapable end of humanity (by stupidity or entropy) and thus we advise everyone to keep reading, and acting once in awhile (with and against history) to stall the inevitable as much as we can.