Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Steampunk is Geistpunk - The Annual James Watt Steam Address

 [Annual James Watt Steam Address, Pentecost 1901.  King’s College, London]

Meinen Damen und Herren, Ladies and Gentleman:

I am pleased to speak to you on this most glorious day, a special honor to me as an outsider to the vast world of Steam though I am a fervent student of Geist.  The charge for this address is to speak of Steam and its power.  I shall do just that.

I come to you from the North, from the frigid lands, to tell you that this day, this festival of Pentecost, that our Steam is Geist.  The steam that runs our engines, our calculating machines, our cine-tropes, yes, even the steam that is now in capillary tubes communicating this message throughout the Empire is what the Germanic tongue calls Geist, the subject of my special study.

The common view, I will admit, is that Steam is nothing more than forced air, water vapor that turns wheels and turbines.

But on this day, the 125th anniversary of James Watt’s first steam engines, I must say to you that Steam is Geist.  Geist is a strange substance that is no substance at all.  It is breath, mind, and freedom all in one.  It is the air that we breath that gives us more than just motor and skill.  It comes from me to you and it binds us and sends us in separate ways.  Geist is known to the ancients as Ruach and Pneuma, to their early science they called it “that which searches the depths of God” and “an advocate” of sorts.  All these things seem more than just the result of Watt’s boiling water. 

Watt was no fool.  He had imbibed Geist.  As this college has his writings and speculations, we know that he thought this Steam was that from which all things came and though we pretended to be its master in our Engines, we knew that it was itself laboring to free us.  Not by making our labor easier but by binding us together when we fled our separate ways.  Not by allowing some to benefit from the Machines and others to merely be counted by our calculators.  Rather, Watt wrote “that it is the same Geist that binds us all together, though its gifts are many.”

I cannot say that I have known whether this Geist has a mind, if it is like a person.  But when I see what it is drawing us to, what it seems to signify, I see nothing more than a truth, the truth of Geist, the crossing of ways, the lowly, and the discarded.  I see no grand Man supported by Steam but a lowly person, despised.   This Watt saw as well.  May we remember these fifty days of festival as that of Steam that is Geist.

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