tbh i find solarpunk kind of naive and self-congratulatory but at the same time it’s tremendously hopeful and also i’m super weak to art noveau aesthetic, so why not! i’m really interested in if this is going to go anywhere or just be one more quick little n-punk fad.
Ok well, coming from decades of engagement, participation, and contact with holy crap just so many strains and permutations of punk and *-punk, anyone who thinks punk isn’t or can’t be optimistic and joyful is sadly misinformed. Even at its most nihilistic and bitter, punk is a refusal of despair-submission-conformity and a wish for something better than the bag of flaming shit you got handed in this life. And yeah, at times that’s expressed through destructive rage, if you got handed a life that is a bag of flaming shit then it’d be weird not to get angry about it ever. And yeah at times punk scenes and movements get shit so magnificently wrong you just sit there and go did you need a map to achieve this amount of fuck up or what. But at its root, punk is about knocking shit down and experimenting with the rubble to see if you can make better shit, which is intrinsically idealistic.
Even the wonderful steampunk scene I was part of (which granted I have since learned was REALLY unique and I was just damn lucky to be in the place I was at that time) was breaking apart the things other subcultures got wrong and making a better community, even in the absence of defined politics or the slightest interest in anything that looked like one.
Solarpunk interests me because it’s unashamed of its optimism and celebration of beauty, and that actually is kind of a revolutionary stance in a disgusting meathook dystopian present. When despair is the order of the day and people deliberately affect jaded cynicism, it’s radical to be hopeful. When death and horror assails us from every screen and paper, it’s radical to be innocent and enthusiastic. Surrounded by ugliness, beauty can be resistance—have you ever seen a dandelion growing out of a crack in the pavement?
Which leads me to another point. Even though the selection of Art Nouveau as a guiding point was ostensibly arbitrary, it’s interesting because Art Nouveau emphasised harmony with the natural world and advocated a whole-life approach, it was effectively an early lifestyler counterculture, and was itself a reaction against over-formal, rigid aesthetics and cultural structures that demarcated sharply between production and consumer, human and nature. It’s a no-brainer to extend that to tech. Solarpunk, instead of rejecting the smooth and inscrutable modern object (as Steampunk does), takes hold of it and demands it give up its secrets (as Cyberpunk does) and also be prettier (as Art Nouveau undoubtedly would), all the while infused with righteous equality and viridian environmentalism.
Finally, as a meta side-note, there’s an interesting continuation playing out, from apocaplytic, to post-apocalyptic, to regeneration, and I think Solarpunk may be a rare manifestation of the regeneration phase. See, when people or cultures are traumatised, their narratives and inner worlds become apocalyptic. Then, they become post-apocalyptic, as they struggle to survive in the scarred emotional landscape. But given time, the inner/emotional world never goes back to the way it was, but it can regrow and be good again, like Oo in Adventure Time. With Steampunk, I encountered a theme of recovering dignity and civility in the post-apoc wasteland, which signals the beginning of regeneration; Solarpunk strikes me as a natural progression, and it’s a point in the progression that is too seldom reached at a community scale, so I am fucking thrilled to see people are latching onto this idea and running with it.
I realise this is all far more academic than practical, but meh.
What wonderful commentary! Thanks for laying this out. And yeah, I think that’s one of the most delicious hooks of Art Nouveau, that desire for technology to be beautiful and harmonious, the rejection of separation between man and nature. It’s the perfect thing to enjoy a revival now.