:: Article

Steampunk’s Not Dead

A Short Appreciation of the Cabinet Of Wonders that is ‘Anonymous’ Tony White’s Albertopolis Disparu by Richard Marshall.


This is a free book from the Science Museum in London given out to taxi rank hinnies, museum visitors and internet scanners. Its original conceit is that it takes us to the rooftops as well as to the tunnels. It has been claimed as an example of steampunk but it’s a double bluff text playing large with its historical eye-wash. White uses primary texts to create his secondary ones and overtly cites five sources, plus the James Colvin ‘Terminal Session’ triple bluff that cavorts back to the great Michael Moorcock who started it in the first place and then back again (which adds up to three) plus the ‘listening post’ pothook of the South Kensington Science Museum plus the American Technical Society of 1911 publication. It might be a story but more likely it merely reads like one to the casual peruse. As was said of Proust, ‘he who has not the strength to kill reality has not the strength to create it.’ White is a killer. He’s the deal.

Depend on it, White has other sources anonymously strewn like nasal breeze to the dada knife. We look at the November 1916 edition of ‘Flight: Airisms From The Four Winds’ where we read: ‘In the south Kensington Museum, Science Section, there are on exhibition several models of aeroplanes and gliders, besides a scale model of a Zeppelin of the Schwaben type: and for those interested in research work but who have been unable to manage an inspection of the wind tunnels used at the NPL at Teddington a model of a wind tunnel is in evidence.’ Later on the same page but in a small paragraph we read: ‘No wonder the price of glass is going up by leaps and bounds. According to a London Borough Council report, after the recent Zeppelin raid 14 tons of broken glass were swept from the streets’ (page 1006).

The first Zeppelin to crash in England was of course not on South Kensington but on Potters Bar in September that year, eight days after tanks were used for the first time in the battle of the Somme and its 1.5 million casualties and five days before John D. Rockefeller became the world’s first billionaire. The remains of the downed Zeppelin were seen by Edward Alexander Packe in a museem and get a mention in his war diaries. Packe died of flu in 1919 after getting through the trenches. We are sombre as we read of the lamentable deaths over Tring and then read of the total numbers of the dead: 670 corpses in London alone and nearly 2000 wounded through Zeppelin air raids.

The first Zeppelin raid, on 8th September 1915 at 8.30 pm carried with it a wartime first, a 300 lb liebesgabe and a technology that far outstripped anything that London could throw at it. Heinrich Mathy captained his airship which was capable of moving at 49 mph and could rise faster than anything that London’s pathetic anti-air raid defences could throw at him. He began his bombing run at Red Lion Square and in twenty minutes had killed and injured 95 people along a route that cuts across Gray’s Inn Fields, Leather Lane Market, Farringdon and Smithfield, Gresham Street to Finsbury Circus and Liverpool Street. Mathy missed the Guildhall by a matter of feet and was questioned when he got back to Germany by the Kaiser. The official line was that the Kaiser was concerned that he hadn’t damaged any of London’s historic buildings and hurt any of his far-flung Royal family.

However, it was actually to find out whether the raid had removed the slum dwellings of the Holborn working site of Kingsway, a plot between the Covent Garden and Holborn Stations where the Grand Masonic hall would eventually be completed in 1933. This the raid had failed to do. This links with dreams of the dead that were born in the freezing cold of these dreaming death machines. All crew members had nightmares and visions of Zeppelins falling from the sky. Victor Woellert the chief Machinist Mate on the L31 super airship wrote that ‘I dream constantly of falling Zeppelins. There’s something in me that I can’t describe. It’s as if I saw a strange darkness before me, into which I must go.’

Mathy and his L31 Zeppelin was shot out of the skies in October that same year by a BE2c plane piloted by Second Lieutenant Wulstan J Tempest flying at 14,500 feet. As the Zeppelin fell out of the darkness like a gigantic Chinese lantern tempest struggled to avoid it engulfing him. Mathy jumped from the fireball wrapped in a scarf his wife had given him and his Zeppelin crashed into the Zeppelin oak which no longer exists near to the upper pol in Oakmere Park, Potters Bar, Hertfordshire. His body was found to have become embedded some inches into the soft earth.

He was buried in the local churchyard. His wife visited in 1926 to find it neglected. The German Embassy erected stone headstones. By 1933, as the Masonic headquarters in Kingsway was being opened, the annual November 11th Rememberance event begun by the Potters Bar Toch-H had mutated into an almost completely Nazi do with Nazi salutes and the ceremony taking place in German. In 1939 von Ribbentrop attended but after that the war ended all this.

After the war, the graves were removed to Cannock Chase in Staffordshire where all German graves in Britain are concentrated. Back in Potters Bar a street near the park is named after Temple who flew on the Western Front until June 1918, left the RAF in 1921 and died in 1966. The church of St Mary the Virgin and All Saints at Potters Bar has an alter cross made from metal taken from the wreck of the downed Zeppelin. The oak onto which the Zeppelin crashed was caught up in an expansion of housing which left it stranded in the driveway of number 9 Tempest Avenue. There were complaints about it from number 7 in 1930 because it seemed so twisted and wrecked and might kill playing children. Bill Crawley sawed it down, complaining of the embedded metal within its trunk. Since then the houses 9 and 11 have gone and have been replaced by a private road named Wulstan Park. The precise location of where the oak used to be is where the Wulstan Park name sign just happens to be.

Tony White’s Albertopolis Disparu is not, therefore, just what it seems, which is the point. Tony White is an actor often playing the role of Stewart Home. This is attested by no other than Bill Drummond in a Guardian newspaper interview of 2004. Stewart Home is a multiple-name project invented in 1979 by Fiona MacLeod and KL Callan. Stewart Home books are written by a collective that constantly walks through Bunhill Fields cemetery, last resting place of Blake and Defoe. Clearly Potters Bar and the locations indicated above are part of this group’s occult theology and have far greater importance than merely a belief system based upon pagan nostalgia.

The avant-garde is a highly advanced outgrowth of post-Masonic culture and though the conservative impulses of the United Grand Lodge are usually decried by the avant-garde there are obvious connections which the Stewart Home collective has made clear over the last couple of decades. Dada connects us to the Cabaret Voltaire which connects us to Voltaire, a mason and architect of the French Revolution. Lettrism connects us to Isidore Isou and Lemaitre and so to Louis Pawels, co-author of Morning of the Magicians. Isou’s adopted name, as Home points out, can be read etymologically as Jesus which links up with Lettrism’s real purpose to hide from the profane the real under the guise of an ‘art’ movement. Situationism links us to Ivan Chtcheglov who, in his Formulary for a New Urbanism, makes a typically ambiguous use of Masonic coded language to lay the foundation for the Situationists’ esoteric use of architectural and geographical imagery.

Beginning ‘There is is no longer any Temple of the Sun’ there is a disturbing resonance with the recognition by both Lettrists and Situationists that the 33rd degree Masonry embodied the final syllable of the secret word JAHBULON as a reference to the Biblical city of On – more recently Heliopolis – refined by ANONYMOUS to the deceitful (cunning) Albertopolis — a name which covertly draws in the European Monarchical cabbala linking the Kaiser to Ra, the sun-God, rededicated to Osiris, God of the Dead. Home cautions us here, pointing out that ‘As far as these post-war Parisian Qabalists were concerned, most Masons were making a fundamental theological error in taking their light solely from Lucifer — referred to as Baal but corrupted to BUL within the secret word of God. Both the Lettrists and the Situationists felt that ON symboloised a broad period of Egyptian history and thus a sense of balance between darkness and light.’

Home and thus Tony White consider this obsession with harmony — usually understood politically under the term ‘reification’ — an error of one-sidedness. The neoist Alliance was a movement that emerged to correct this despite recognising the beauty of the deeply coded form of Qabalah Marx learnt from Hegel. Albertopolis Disparu is therefore a work that requires reformulation in terms of latent avant-garde theology. Tony White is Anonymous is James Colvert is Michael Moorcock is Tony Austin is Jenny Mitcham is William Barclay is John Merrett is D Occomore is Arthur Train (all cited authors of various texts drawn into the offering, there to bemuse us and mess up our heads) and of course within that list we acknowledge the blending of the everyone and the no one (Anonymous carries the potential of being everyone, at least someone, though hidden) and James Colvert (who is a named absence, being the ventriloquised gob of at least one other).

The text itself incarnates a link with various other avant-garde strands (it’s notoriously difficult to pin down a tradition or influence within such a diverse and deliberately secret and tricky network). It works as an installation and as a gift, a secret message that links with the ideas of the now defunct Fluxus and Mail Art groups, and the easy reifying notion of genre label ‘steampunk’ becomes more a cloak than a source of light.

Key to the text in question is the relation of the Listening Post to Tesla arrays and sonic weapons, used to such devastating effect as Zeppelins thus become monstrous; they descend from the rooftops, are the toothed beast that attacks the tick-tock lad in Stewart and Riddell’s Barnaby Grimes: Curse of the Night Wolf as well as Dracula sinking down from Whitby’s East Crescent dreaming in sounds unearthly and lycanthropic ‘the music of the night’. But what White is signalling through all the impacted detail of the telling is that there is a link between what he tells and the mystery of the Tunuska event, the largest impact event in earth’s recent history that took place on the evening of June 30th, 1908. Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower, also known as the Tesla Tower, an early wireless telecommunications tower located in Shoreham, Long Island, New York, designed by architect Stafford White in 1901 and closed down in 1917 when the US government feared that both German spies were using it and that it was being used as a landmark for German submarines, is the unnamed, secret correlative of White’s South Kensington Imperial domain. It still stands and is currently up for sale at $1,650,000.

White discusses the use of the old Science Museum as part of the developing darkening of war where ‘telegraphy was far more than a civil enterprise’. He describes how when closed under the pretext of protecting the national treasures the old museum opened up its halls‘ and the tunnels below the Imperial Institute were given over to the creation of a species of ‘listening post’. Across the North Atlantic under Tesla’s Tower sank a shaft 120 feet down where the telluric currents of earth could be trancseived. Of interest, Tony White’s biographical contingency includes his work in the British Post Office and this resonates with the chance connection that the New York structure is located near the Shoreham Post Office on Route 25A.

Tesla assumed the earth is a charged body floating through space. This weird concept links with shamanistic notions of heat and cold transmutation and the art of Joseph Beuys whose use of felt as an insulating material made from animal hair was aimed at keeping the spiritual hot and divine rather than stone and cold. Tesla wrote in Wardenclyffe – A Forfeited Dream: ‘blind, faint-hearted, doubting world… Perhaps it is better in this present world of ours that a revolutionary idea or invention instead of being helped and patted, be hampered and ill-treated in its adolescence — by want of means, by selfish interest, pedantry, stupidity and ignorance; that it be attacked and stifled; that it pass through bitter trials and tribulations, through the strife of commercial existence. So do we get our light.’

Link all this with Colvin and White’s mysterious eye-wash about the night of the Zeppelin Raids in 1916 and its clear that the multi-text of Albertopolis Disparu is literally about disappearing this particularity and instead invites us to look beneath that apparent surface. Tesla is the key in the end, and the Tunguska Event the abattoir of White’s intervention. Tungusta was an event that had no witnesses. Although it happened in June 1908 it wasn’t confirmed, nor its consequences photographed, until Leonid Kulik’s expedition to the blast site epicentre in 1927. It is in effect the Anonymous event of devastation, linking the telegraphic developments of warfare, the deadly incursions of Masonic ritual in the form of Zeppelin air raids over London that happened in between its happening and its record, with the avant-garde tectonic structures as delineated by the actor Tony White in the guise of both James Colvin and Anonymous. The South Kensington/Shoreham link is a pointer to the Zeppelin Oak of Potters Bar and creates another force field in the psychogeographical mapping of history charts.

Albertopolis Disparu is neither story nor installation, guise nor disguise. Rather, it is because our soul has no footing that its species of agitation reigns. It is Montaigne, reclaimed by Cixous who writes of repentance thus; ‘If my mind could gain a firm footing, I would not make essays, I would make decisions.’

Meantime, make mine a Laphroaig. Cheers Tony!

[More Tony White in 3:AM here.]


Richard Marshall is contributing editor to 3:AM and lives in London.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, May 7th, 2009.